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Director Series-Emilio Estevez-Bobby


Emilio Estevez is the director, writer and an actor in Bobby, a featurefilm about the events surrounding the tragic assassination of Sen.Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968,just after he won the California primary as part of his campaign forthe presidency. The film opens on Thanksgiving Day.Estevez has donned all three hats before, but Bobby is the mostambitious project he has ever taken on. The film represents a strongpersonal statement by the multi-talented Estevez, who first drewwidespread attention starring in mid-80s ensemble films The BreakfastClub and St. Elmo’s Fire. The death of Bobby Kennedy—who appears in thefilm in original documentary footage—is depicted by Estevez as a kindof hinge in history, marking the end of a more idealistic era inAmerican politics.The cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, William Macy, DemiMoore, Harry Belafonte, Lindsay Lohan, Elijah Wood, Ashton Kutcher,Helen Hunt, Laurence Fishburn, Freddy Rodriguez, Christian Slater,Martin Sheen (who is Estevez’ father), and Estevez himself. They play ascore of characters—representing a microcosm of the 1960s—staying orworking at the Ambassador. Their disparate lives come together justbefore Kennedy gets shot.Estevez assembled an equally distinguished group of professionals ashis keys on Bobby. The film’s director of photography is MichaelBarrett, who won an American Society of Cinematographers award for hiswork on the pilot of CSI: Miami, in addition to three other ASCnominations. The editor is Richard Chew, whose credits include StarWars, for which he received an Oscar as co-editor, One Flew Over theCuckoo’s Nest and The New World. Production designer Patti Podesta isknown for her work on Memento. And Julie Weiss, the film’s costumedesigner, won an Oscar for her work on Frida and a Costume Designer’sGuild award for American Beauty.Below the Line: The word is you made Bobby for around $10 million. Howdid you manage to pull off such an ambitious film with its large andstellar cast and seasoned production keys for so little?Estevez: The original budget for the film was actually only $5.5million, if you can believe it. By the time we got financing andfinished it up through postproduction, it ended up at about $10million. But that was still pretty tight. The main reason was thatmembers of our great cast and crew, because of their belief in theproject, agreed to work for far less than what they normally get paid.First, all the actors worked for scale. And then we were able to strikespecial low-budget deals with all the below-the-line people. Thesepeople were working at one third of their normal rate. But there wasn’ta day when a crew member wouldn’t come up to me and say, “I would walkthrough fire for you. I love this movie and I love the message. So I’lldo anything to help get this movie on the screen.”BLT: In watching the film you get no sense that it’s so tightlybudgeted.Estevez: Production designer Patti Podesta had very little money towork with, and along with Michael Barrett, our cinematographer, andJulie Weiss our costume designer, they substituted imagination formoney. It did not make anyone’s life easier to be told to shoot only inthis direction, because we only have half of a set. Many times I wouldwalk onto the set to shoot, not having seen it before that moment. Itwas a factor of our complex schedule and the enormous budget restraintwe were under.BTL: Sometimes such pressure can stimulate more creative responses.Estevez: No question. I wonder whether we would have made a bettermovie with $50 million, or would we have gotten lazier? It’s a questionI just can’t answer. But under the constraints we had, everyone pushedtheir creative imaginations to the limit to pull it off.BTL: Besides the budget, what was the hardest part of making the film?Estevez: We were under a lot of time pressure because the AmbassadorHotel was being torn down while we were shooting. Besides that, we hadto deal with actors’ schedules. That was tough with such a bigcast. Some actors could come in for only two or three days. But theirschedules wouldn’t always coincide with that of others you needed forthe same scene. We had to be so flexible in how we shot this; and itreally put the crew on edge. We never knew what we would be shootingthat day—it was outrageous.BTL: How long was the shoot? Estevez: It was a 37-day shoot. We startedOct. 31 last year and wrapped up before Christmas.BTL: All done in the LA area, I understand.Estevez: My desire was always to make this movie here. I startedwriting the script in 2000 and finished it in 2001, just a week beforethe 9/11 attacks. At the time, I was getting together with a fellowfilmmaker, [screenwriter] Roger Avary, and we were trying to figure outhow to keep production in LA. There were so many of our friends, filmtechnicians and others, who were having to rethink their careers at age35 and 40. Runaway productions to Canada, Australia and New Zealandwere costing a lot of them their livelihood.It wasn’t until I went to the Ambassador Hotel for a photo shoot inspring of 2000 when the idea of a movie about Bobby Kennedy started tocome together. I called Roger and I said, “this is a perfect location,and it can’t be replicated anywhere else.” “What’s the story?” heasked, and I said “I don’t know yet—I know it’s something.” I got atour of the hotel the same day, and I was shown the pantry area whereRobert Kennedy was shot. I saw that small space and started to imaginethe 77 other people crammed in there and who those people were, and theidea for the film began to gel.BTL: How much of the hotel were you actually able to use for shooting?Estevez: Five years after that 2000 visit, when the financing finallycame together, the hotel that had inspired me in the first place wasbeing demolished. It had been given to the Los Angeles School Systemand they were going to build a school named after Robert Kennedy. Wegot down on our knees and literally begged them to allow us to shootthere. I felt we needed the hotel as a visual anchor, and forsentimental reasons, because I knew this would be the last movie thatwould ever be shot at the Ambassador.We knew we would have to use some matte paintings to recreate it forthe late-1960s period, but we wanted something real to build on. Wefelt it was important that we be there. The agreement that we finallystruck is that they would leave part of the hotel, but not totallydiscontinue the demolition, which was going on 24/7. There were momentswhen the beep-beep of the tractors and the machinery wound up on thesound track, which then had to be cleaned up.BTL: You shot many of the interiors at other locations around LA?Estevez: My original plan had been to shoot the entire picture in theactual Ambassador, using long-running Steadicam shots, à la Paul ThomasAnderson and Robert Altman, who were two big influences on me,especially in connection with this picture. Patti, with herproduction-design skills, was able to create the same kind of flow atother locations around town.We shot at the Santa Anita Racetrack facilities, where we recreated thehotel’s bustling kitchen where a lot of the early action takes place,and the Ambassador ballroom where Kennedy speaks just before he leavesthrough the pantry and is shot.BTL: Most of the film was shot on Steadicam? Estevez: Either that orhandheld for nearly 90 percent of the shoot, but mostly Steadicam.Cinematographer Michael Barrett and I decided that using a Steadicamwould give the film a sense of constant motion. We both looked at anumber of Michael Mann movies, especially The Insider. We learned a lotfrom his lens choices and his choices for camera movement. We decidedthat the use of Steadicam for most of the shoot would help set up theclimactic pantry scene. By the time you got to it, you were conditionedto view this film almost from a documentary perspective.Because we needed to b
e able to shoot quickly, that also argued forlots of Steadicam. And we were lucky to have Craig Fikse, a terrificSteadicam operator.BTL: Your editor Richard Chew is one of Hollywood’s most renownededitors, going back to the original Star Wars. How did you land him?Estevez: He is a very patient man and he’s been very patient with me.He read the script and liked it. I told him, “I would love for you tocut this film, but we can’t afford you, unless you’re willing to dosomething at a fraction of your regular rate.” He said yes, and woundup doing a remarkable job.One of his big contributions was toward the end of the film. We weredoing a lot of experimenting on music and sound. For the last 10minutes we were thinking about using music over the originaldocumentary footage of Robert Kennedy when he delivers his eloquentspeech in the ballroom after winning the California primary. At exactlythe same time, both of us thought of using The Sounds of Silence bySimon and Garfunkel.He then suggested editing some further archival footage from thetumultuous events of 1968 into the speech. We worked on that for a dayand put a rough cut together. Then we put Sounds of Silence over it.When we viewed it, Richard was so overwhelmed, he had to get up andwalk around the parking lot. It was like divine intervention hadinspired this.BTL: Since Bobby premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late August,you’ve re-cut the movie.Estevez: At Venice we were at 1 hour and 50 minutes. We’ve since cutthat down by about 10 minutes. After Venice, [producer] HarveyWeinstein suggested we make some trims to improve the pacing. Hethought that the last third of the film worked very well, but we wereinstructed to get there sooner. I don’t think it hurt the film.BTL: But your initial edit must have been much longer. Did a lot offootage wind up on the cutting room floor? Estevez: The firstassemblage of the film was three hours and 10 minutes. That was witheverything. So there was a lot left behind. We can put some of it backin the DVD version. Maybe there will be a two-night version of it ontelevision. I had asked for some pretty big stars to come and work forfar less than their usual rate, and they all did such phenomenal workthat it did make for some very, very difficult choices when entirescenes had to be left out. But the movie is bigger than any onecharacter, and in the final version I feel they all got a genuinechance to shine.BTL: You used a few digital tricks?Estevez: Stargate Digital came in and shot some plates for us and somepaintings on top of that for exteriors of the hotel as it looked in1968. Everything else was all on location.BTL: Do you have something new on tap? Estevez: I’ve written a script,an inspirational sports story, set in the world of harness racing. It’scalled Johnny Longshot. I’m putting the project together right now andI’m going to be in it as well as directing.

Written by Jack Egan

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