Q & A with Director Justin Golding

The Gods of Circumstance Director Justin Golding

Director Justin Golding

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to director Justin Golding about his drama “The Gods of Circumstance” from Catapult Pictures, which had its world premiere May 3 as the opening film for the British Film Festival in Los Angeles.

The film will have its European premiere May 31 at the Swansea Bay Film Festival, whose patrons include Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Sheen, who like Golding are Wales natives. “Gods” will also be screened June 12 at a second U.K. festival, the Heartland of England International Film Festival.

Directed by Golding, “Gods” was written by Michael Thacker and produced by Daniel Sollinger, Michael Fischler and Thacker. Starring are John Schneider, Cate Cohn and Brian Krause.

Schneider plays a classic American movie hero named Mick Jeremiah — a blue-collar single father and a bankrupt homebuilder who’s driving to Colorado from California to build spec houses if he can borrow some money to get the job done. Schneider’s perfect in the role. He’s been working for about 30 years doing series like “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Nip/Tuck”, mini-series like “Shark Swarm” and features like “Rebound” opposite Catherine Zeta Jones, but he’s just not an actor you instantly recognize. That’s great because he comes across as his character rather than as a movie star.

Although the movie was shot long before today’s recession, it seems very timely from the start when Mick’s turned down by his banker for the construction loan he so badly needs. When he sets out to try his luck in Colorado he stops en route to look up an old girlfriend Toni (Cohn), who surprises him by agreeing to drop everything and go with him. Unfortunately, Toni’s got an ex-husband (Krause) and that leads to big problems for everyone.

Golding started his career as an actor with Britain’s National Youth Theatre before turning to directing (“God’s Forgotten House”, “The Pondhoppers”). I was happy to be able to talk to him recently about the making of “Gods”.

Q: Your film has an unusual title.
A: It’s one of those mythological concepts where a man gets up to plow the fields, gives homage to the Gods to not destroy the crops, but then of course you wake up the next day and a storm has come in. It’s that ode to the hard working man who realizes the world is not in their control, but they get up each day and try to do the best they can. That’s what this says.
Q: How would you describe Mick?
A: The character is an ode to (people who) get up, take responsibility for their life and the people around them, their families, but as I said, you can’t control life. It’s the fire that comes and takes your crops or right now it’s the downturn in the economy. Generally, for (most people) it’s not their fault, but they have to deal with the consequences of it even though they had nothing to do with it.
Q: How did you come to make this film?
A: This is the first feature film I’ve done that I didn’t write. The way it came about is that I have a producing partner, Daniel Sollinger, who is one of the producers on this film. I was involved with something else so initially I really loved the script but I couldn’t get involved. I guess the director they had on board just wasn’t capturing (what) they wanted so then they flew me out and asked me to do it. I was overjoyed to actually get to do it because this is the type of film that I grew up watching. It’s what I call the American story. Growing up in Britain, this is very distinctly American. And also (it was appealing) to be able to go out to shoot the great landscapes that I knew would be needed, which you can’t do in small countries.

I call (the landscape) the fourth character. It’s America. It was something that was exciting to me because it’s so distinctly American when you see it in the (films of) John Wayne and John Ford and even quite recently with the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men”. When you see those type of shots, it’s like that’s America. It was an homage to that old frontier style of hurt and the psyche of America — you know, “I’m going to get up and go to where I need to to make my fortune. I’m not going to quit.”
Q: “Gods” seems very timely with Mick not being able to get the bank loan he needs, but you made the movie before we actually got into the current recession.
A: We were in the boom times when we were making it. In fact, this is a bit of an autobiographical piece for the producer-writer, Mike Thacker, in the sense that he was talking about the 1987 crash of the real estate market. (When shooting began in November 2007 and continued into February ’08) there were whispers of concern, but no one had actually said the recession word at that point.
Q: What attracted you to the screenplay?
A: I’m interested in social dramas. When I read this script, (I found) it was a story we don’t often get told. Right now I guess we’re being told a bit more about it because the recession’s happening. But he’s just a regular guy. You know, we hear that the housing market’s collapsing and construction’s not happening. Well, this is the face of one of those people.
Q: Casting seems to have been even more important than usual because you needed to put a face on the script’s “everyman” type of American blue-collar hard-working guy.
A: You are completely correct. I knew of (Schneider’s) work. He’s been in the industry for a very long time and I’ve seen him play so many different roles. He has what I call that grassroots connection to the working class. When we were out shooting this film at different locations, it was amazing who would come up to say hi. It would be police officers and firemen and the local guy in the store and he had time for all of them. You could really see that they looked at him as one of (themselves), which was so important for that character of Mick because it’s the kind of character you don’t see portrayed that often any more.

I go back to John Wayne, Henry Fonda and James Stewart. They’re not super-heroes. They’re you and me. Whatever difficulty (they encounter), they keep going even if they get knocked on their butt. And John has that. He’s believable. You put him in denims and a jacket and workman’s boots and you believe he can go build a house. When you turn a camera on somebody, there has to be a belief (that they are what you say they are) and that was the beauty of it when John decided to take the role. This was truly an independent film. He’s used to working on much larger projects, but I think he connected to the character (and recognized) that this is a character he could bring something to.
Q: How did you work with your actors?
A: I was lucky with John, Cate and Brian as they embraced the process. We did get to rehearse and we’d always get together and have long chats before they’d go on set. You know, you have those wonderful conversations that go off sometimes on tangents about different aspects of life but they all get incorporated into that moment when they deliver (their performances). I was lucky to have actors who enjoyed acting, who enjoyed the process of discovering those special moments. So I had tremendous fun with them.
Q: Where did you shoot?
A: In many different locations around L.A., in Lancaster, on the road to Vegas, Barstow and on the Arizona border. A lot of that road footage (that’s supposed to be en route to Colorado) is from L.A. to Las Vegas, basically. We were able to get the casino (just outside of Las Vegas) called Eureka. Our production budget didn’t stretch to being able to get one of the big casinos. They were very kind to let us shoot there. They allowed us to do what we had to do early in the morning. It was one of those early calls. I’d say we were doing that shot three or four in the morning, but amazingly there were still people there trying to make their fortune.

I had one of those epiphany moments while driving in the middle of nowhere between Barstow and Vegas. We had this convoy of vehicles — the wardrobe and makeup trailer, the actors’ buses and all these things. I’m in one of the vehicles sitting there. You know, I’m a lad from a small town in Wales. And I’m like, “Wow! How the heck did I get here shooting this American film?” It was just one of those great moments where you go, “Hey, life hasn’t turned out too bad, has it?”
Q: And it sounds like life could be getting even better for you since I understand you’re putting some new projects together.
A: I’m now living in L.A. and I’m very lucky to be in a situation where I’m in talks with a bunch of executives about my next feature film and a pilot. I’m very lucky that I’m here and people are willing to listen to me.
Q: What’s your next feature about?
A: It’s a comedy that I wrote called “The Devil’s Bride” and the basic concept is that sane people are afraid of the devil (but) Jack’s going to go kick his butt. A guy ends up in an insane asylum for 15 years because the devil kills all his friends, but everybody believes he killed them. So he spends the 15 years getting ready to go back out and get even with the devil.