The Movie Waffler Waffling with... Pat Healy (Part 1) | The Movie Waffler

Waffling with... Pat Healy (Part 1)

With outstanding performances this year in "The Innkeepers" and "Compliance", Pat Healy has established himself as one of America's most interesting actors. He spoke to us from Los Angeles about his career as both a writer and an actor and where he thinks modern cinema is headed.

Pat Healy: Where are you based?

The Movie Waffler: I'm in Dublin, Ireland. This is a mainly Irish based webite.

PH: My parents were just there for the first time, I've never been. They were visiting the old country.

TMW: Yeah, I was thinking with a name like "Pat Healy" you must have some Irish connection.

PH: Yeah, my Great-Grandfather was from Cork. My parents got all excited because they went over there and said that they met all these Healys and I'm like "That's like Smith over there". 
So has "Compliance" opened over there?

TMW: I haven't heard anything about a theatrical release, I'm guessing it'll be straight to DVD here. (Since our interview, a release date of March 22nd 2013 was announced)

PH: Yeah, the U.K seems to be the same. It's opening in France and Scandinavia, even places like India and Turkey, but I haven't heard anything about the U.K which is strange.

TMW: I think it would do well if it was released here.

PH: I do too. Glen Greenwald wrote a great op-ed piece in The Guardian and he seemed to have a good grasp on what the movie politically was. I think a lot of people in the U.K would go for that, but what can you do?

TMW: A lot of independent American movies find it very hard to pick up theatrical distribution on this side of the Atlantic. 

PH: We have a hard time even getting them released over here.

TMW: It seems video on demand is becoming really popular Stateside.

PH: Yeah, it's a big thing, my feelings are mixed on it. I think it's great that the film gets out to as many people as possible. At this point in time it's still sort of frowned upon. A theatrical release still carries a prestige and when a film goes out on demand it may make a lot of money but it then guts the theatrical release, so they'll release it say six weeks before theaters and by the time it makes it to the theater it doesn't make any money. Those are the numbers that people see, the theatrical release numbers, so people think the film didn't do well when in actuality it did quite well. A film like "The Innkeepers" had the same release pattern. With "Compliance" it was in the contract to not do that, to give it a strictly theatrical release. That's pretty rare and it's very rare for Magnolia, the company that distribute it here in North America. We felt like it was a film that qualifies for awards and people tend to look down on video on demand releases when it comes time for award considerations. I wish they would just do it at the same time, I don't understand putting it out six weeks before it hits theaters. Of course everyone's just gonna watch it early at home. The distribution companies make a lot more money that way, they don't have to pay for advertising. They get ten bucks every time someone clicks to watch the movie and they don't have to put out ads in the paper. It's sort of straight profit. I understand it from a business model but from a creative perspective it's not ideal. 

TMW: Personally, I'm a cinema junkie so I'd always choose the theatrical option.

PH: I'm a huge cinephile too. I don't know what it's like over there but there are more problems here now with people talking and texting in the theaters.

TMW: It's exactly the same here.

PH: Also it's sad to see 35mm film die. Everywhere now has gone digital, the studios have said they won't even make film prints anymore. It's great to live in a place like L.A because we have places like the Cinematheque that show 70mm prints but it's more like a museum now. For example, "Looper", which was shot on 35mm, isn't available to see anywhere in Los Angeles, (the city of film), on film. My local theater, the Vista, which is an old single screen movie house, switched over to digital just before it's release. You know, it's a nice system, 4K projection looks fine but it's sad that we can't have both. It's strictly a cost measure, they save money on shipping without having to ship prints around. 

TMW: My biggest gripe with the digital switch-over is that all the projectionists have been made redundant and now there's nobody who knows how to project the image correctly. 

PH: That's been a problem even going back to film where the prints are scratched, the bulbs are too dim, the sound is bad. When I was in high school I worked in a movie theater and the projectionists all belonged to a union but they kicked them out in the early nineties. Now the person who tears your ticket and makes the popcorn is the same person who runs the projector, which is usually just run by computer now anyway.

TMW: The problem I have a lot now is that the aspect ratios are projected wrong. You leave the screen, go find someone to tell and they don't even understand what you're talking about.

PH: They just give you that dead eyed stare. 
I have a brother who works in film preservation and restoration, he runs a cinematheque at a university now. He tells me it's next to impossible to convince people in the film business that it's an art. Places that keep the original negatives that prints are made from will probably inherit all these prints that the studios throw out because they won't even ship them to rep houses anymore, but it'll be impossible to show them anywhere. As the economy gets worse, even though entertainment is a strong business, it's impossible to make people care about anything other than the bottom line. It's always been a business but it used to be run by people who enjoyed, if not the art, the craft of it. Now it's strictly a business and if a good movie gets made it's almost by accident. 

TMW: I'd almost forgotten how good film looks until the press screening of "The Dark Knight Rises". Christopher Nolan insisted on all the press screenings showing a 35mm print and the difference was amazing. 

PH: I saw it in an IMAX here, which is 70mm. There's a theater called The Academy here and all summer long they had brand new 70mm prints of "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Spartacus", John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix", and "South Pacific". I guess they're going to stop making 70mm prints too. I'm looking forward to "Skyfall" but it'll probably be the last film I see in 70mm. I don't want to sound like a dinosaur but it still looks a thousand times better and involves you in the film more. Most people don't know the difference but most people don't know the difference between Cordon Bleu and McDonalds. 

TMW: I think people have gotten so used to TV screens that they don't care about image quality. 

PH: They're not even watching TV screens now, they're watching movies on computers. Maybe it just means there will be a new movement. Nolan, his cinematographer Wally Pfister, Guillermo Del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson are all big proponents of film so maybe it'll be a separate movement. Every time I go to these 70mm screenings they're always sold out so you can't tell me there isn't a market.

TMW: I can't help think the whole found footage genre is being promoted by Hollywood as a way of getting audiences used to watching poor quality images. After "The Blair Witch Project" we didn't have this because Hollywood thought people wouldn't pay to watch something shot on video whereas now these movies don't look much worse than mainstream films. The irony is audiences flock to these movies with no stars but Hollywood still thinks people only want to watch a movie if it has Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt in the lead.

PH: Sure, there's people like Cruise and Pitt who often do bring people to the theater but what happened about twenty years ago was they started raising salaries for these actors. Jim Carrey was the first one and ironically the first movie they gave him all this money for was a bomb, "The Cable Guy". Because of this, production budgets have been cut back and production values have really gone down. Movies like "War Horse" and "Prometheus" have real production value because they don't have giant stars and the money can be spent on locations and on the artistic side of things. I'll be the first one to say that actors have been responsible for gutting production value in movies. You don't need big stars and the proof is how often these movies with big names keep tanking, but the economics are such that it's harder to make a good movie. It's much easier to just make a bad movie and then spend a load on advertising, you make your money back and it doesn't matter that everyone says it sucks. It's incredibly cynical but that's the current business model.
On the other hand you take a movie like "Compliance" which admittedly doesn't have a huge audience but it's doing better than you would expect. It's still playing after two months, still getting reviews, and I did a Q&A at a screening just the other night. 

TMW: It seems like such a bad business model. Why spend $200 million to make a profit of $100 million when you could make ten movies for $20 million that might a profit of $20 million each?

PH: I've been saying that for fifteen years but look what's happened, not just with entertainment.

TMW: With 3D now it's even more difficult to get a smaller movie in theaters because they take up twice as many screens with 2D and 3D showings.

PH: George Lucas pushed the idea of the multiplex as somewhere that could show both blockbusters and smaller movies but it doesn't happen that way. Eight of the twelve screens will be showing the "Total Recall" remake, three will still have "The Dark Knight Rises" and the last screen will have some other piece of shit. 

TMW: You're actually a writer as well as an actor...

PH: I'm a cinephile, always have been since I was a kid so the idea was always to get into the business. I made short films well over a decade ago and they played Sundance and other festivals here. Over the last five or six years I began writing scripts that I wouldn't necessarily try to direct and those scripts, while they haven't been made yet, have garnered a lot of attention and got me other jobs. I've written for a show starring one of your countrymen, Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment". I got a job recently writing a film for HBO called "Eating with the Enemy". It's a true story about a guy who ran a restaurant in New Jersey and became an unlikely conduit between North Korea and the United States government for about fifteen years starting in the early nineties. He was just a regular guy who used his gregariousness and friendliness to try and bridge the gap between two countries who don't speak to each other. 
That's where the bulk of my living has come from lately and when I started getting paid well for writing I stopped auditioning regularly because it's really the worst part of what I do. Because I was making money writing it meant I was able to do these smaller independent films. I have significant roles in them and they've showcased me now in a way I hadn't been before. The attention is coming back to my acting career which is great. I'm really proud of the work I've done over the past few years and when you're not relying on it for a living you can relax and focus on doing good work and choosing good projects. 

TMW: How does the process of writing for TV compare to writing a feature film?

PH: On a TV show you have a staff of six or seven people, maybe more. You start with an outline of the season and then you break down the story arcs and the episodes get divided up between writers. Once you go and write your episode, which you might write with a partner, the show-runner will generally rewrite the script. A lot less of your work makes it to the screen than with a film script. I prefer a collaborative process which is why I enjoy acting. Writing can be a very solitary process so working on a show with a team gives you some of that camaraderie. 

TMW: Do you find it easier to write a character who has already been established?

PH: Character's never been difficult for me to write, probably because I think as an actor. I just start writing a conversation, get two people asking questions and suddenly I've got a scene and an idea of who these people are. I think that comes from my experience as an actor. 
I will say I had been a fan of "In Treatment" because psycho-therapy is something I believe in and have participated in. I was really taken with the first season and I lobbied hard to get a job on their staff. I felt I had something I could add to it, felt I understood Byrne's character and could do well with his voice. That being said, there were writers who had been on the show longer and knew the character's voice better than I did. That's why it's important to have a show-runner to oversee it all. A show has to remain consistent over several seasons. In that way I guess it's a little more difficult to write something that's already been established, you need a little more help. 

End of part one...
(In part two Pat tells us about his recent and upcoming acting projects.)

The Movie Waffler