The Movie Waffler Interview - HAROLD BUTTLEMAN: DAREDEVIL STUNTMAN Director Francis Stokes | The Movie Waffler

Interview - HAROLD BUTTLEMAN: DAREDEVIL STUNTMAN Director Francis Stokes

The writer/director of the cult John Hawkes vehicle discusses the film and its new VOD release.

When John Hawkes was cast in Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman, he was a nobody and had no name recognition. Umpteen years later, the cult classic is getting an overdue VOD release, and now Hawkes is the main selling point - as writer/director Francis Stokes explains.


It’s hard enough to come up with a good movie idea, let alone a good, original movie idea. Well done! Did you toy with different concepts before settling on this one?

Thank you! I always have lots of different ideas for movies, rough sketches, so I'm sure I did. This resonated with me because I relate to Harold's unwavering belief in himself, which borders on delusion. Well, in Harold's case, it maybe more than borders on it.

Clearly, Evil Knevel inspired the movie. Can you talk about how he directly and indirectly influenced the script?

I actually don't even know much about Evel Knievel. There's something sort of kid-like about being a fan of his. Like Monster Trucks. I think Harold is sort of a grown-up kid.

And of course, Evel is one of the few people who is a household name for doing stunts. The stunt people in Hollywood do these amazing feats, but don't achieve fame for it. On the contrary, they're anonymous. Harold doesn't want that!

Can you talk about your writing process? Did you knock it out rather quickly or let it simmer, in its own time, over a few months?

It varies. Harold Buttleman was maybe six months, if I remember correctly. My new film, Wild Honey, took longer - over a year. I think of myself as a slow writer. I would love to knock a script out very quickly, but it always feels like a struggle at some point. That's writing.

Anyone you’d read the pages to to get their feedback as you went along?

Probably - I can't remember! I definitely have a few writer friends that I will pass pages along to. I remember a teacher saying that you should only get feedback from other writers. Non-writers just know if they like something or not, they can't help solve a problem. I don't know if that's good advice or not, but it's something I've generally stuck to.

Where do you think your strengths as a writer lie?

I believe every writer's strength lies in their personal voice. That's what makes you unique. That's your best asset. My best work has been when I'm writing what excites me, and what I want to see on the screen, and not filtering it or trying to write for an audience other than myself.

Is there anything you had to chop from the script due to budgetary issues?

No, but that's because I wrote it with a low budget in mind. I could've done a better job, in hindsight - we had something like 50 locations! Some indie films take place in one room. My mom was our location scout, which might've helped us get a good deal: this white-haired woman walking in, “Hello, my son is making a movie...”

Was John Hawkes a big name back then?

No. He was a working actor, but this was his first lead role. He wasn't a name at all. I remember a story he told me from A Perfect Storm, which filmed around that same time. It was all on location in Massachusetts, and the people there actually lived through this horrific event, this storm. Someone from the crew overheard them griping about Hollywood coming to their town, casting George Clooney and big stars like that. Apparently Hawkes walked by right then, and they said, “Well, at least they cast one local.”

When did the idea to re-issue the film happen?

I met Erik and Maria from Leomark Studios at a party. We were sitting with a few young filmmakers, I think they might have been students, and they were grilling me about my career. I mentioned Harold Buttleman, and Erik and Maria jumped in: “You directed that movie? We've been trying to get the rights for years! We were told they're unavailable!” I was like, “Unavailable? I have the rights!” So we worked out a plan. Erik and Maria have been amazing in shepherding the film through this lengthy process - we had to rescan the whole movie, because it was originally finished in SD. We never struck an answer print, it was never projected on film. We're really seeing the movie how it was supposed to look for the first time. It's been great.

Stokes' next film is Wild Honey. It's an offbeat comedy about a lonely phone sex operator in Chicago who falls for one of her callers, and goes out to LA to find him. It stars Rusty Schwimmer, who plays Ronnie the bartender in Harold Buttleman, as well as Timothy Omundson, Stephnie Weir, and Todd Stashwick.