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D.B. Sweeney on 'Two Tickets to Paradise': An Exclusive HTF Interview With D.B. Sweeney

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#1 of 7 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted September 12 2010 - 10:47 AM

Recently, HomeTheaterForum spoke with actor, producer, and first-time director D.B. Sweeney about the upcoming release of his film, Two Tickets to Paradise. Co-written, directed, produced, and starring the popular actor, Two Tickets to Paradise - a festival circuit favorite - follows the story of three good friends approaching their mid-lives with trepidation, failure, uncertainty, and regret, who take to the road to see a football game thousands of miles away, and who discover more than just the meaning of friendship along the way.

 

D.B.Sweeney, star of films such as The Cutting Edge, Eight Men Out, Memphis Belle, and Miracle at St. Anna, as well as a prolific career in television starring in the mini-series Lonesome Dove, Harsh Realm, and guest starring roles in everything from House, M.D., to 24, shared his experience getting his directorial debut off the ground, working with great actors, and what it was like running the show.

 

 

HTF: Thanks for spending a little bit of time with me today…

I had a chance to watch your film a couple of weeks ago when they sent a screener and I’ll tell you, I read the description and I have seen road movies before, it’s almost a genre in and of itself, but I really related to the characters and I wasn’t expecting to because I grew up in England, primarily in the late 70’s and eighties and my life really didn’t seem like it would connect with these characters, but one of the things I found was just how well rounded and vulnerable these characters were, so I guess my first question is where did these characters come from?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Well thank you so much for saying that by the way, the character that John McGinley plays is based on a lot of my own experiences – I was an athlete growing up in high school, then I had an injury and I was sidetracked from that future, and had to pick up the pieces, I had some experience with gambling which didn’t go as badly as his gambling went, but you know, I was in that world a little bit so I sort of extrapolated from some of those experiences and started to write that and the character of Billy McGriff that I played sort of the guy I wish I had been in High School, instead of being so serious and such a jock, I wish I’d been the goofy guy with the guitar that could make everybody laugh and the third character of the valedictorian is meant to round out group, I was very aware of trying to make archetypical characters that would, you know, if you took away the football and turned it into soccer, English football, that you’d have these three guys in your high school, or if you put these guys in wherever, Argentina, that the movie – these kind of types exist in every teenage world – the athlete, the scholar, and the musician, so I wanted to try to universalize it as much as possible so there was something that everybody could related to, and so it went from there. And everything had to pass the test with me and my writing partner, it had to either move us or make us laugh over a series of many, many drafts of else it went out. So, writing took a long time and every single line in the movie is scripted, and we’re trying to make it sound ad-libbed, so when people say they think the movie is ad-libbed we always take that as a great compliment because we were always trying to capture the way people really talk where nobody actually finishes a sentence, but they get to a point in the sentence and the other people think they know what they mean and then interrupt them, and that’s what we were trying for and what took a lot of precision from actors and the writing.

 

HTF: You know it’s funny you say that because there is one scene in particular that I remember thinking to myself ‘I wonder how much of this was scripted and how much of this was ad-libbed, and it’s pretty early on in your road trip, and its where you’re talking about music and about how the bad songs or the song that has to take the hit because it follows such a good song, and you’re discussing

 

D.B. SWEENEY: The scrudge song

 

HTF: Yeah, and you’re discussing albums that I am intimately familiar with, and that’s a spontaneous kind of conversation that I can imagine takes place amongst people who are that enthusiastic about the music that they love and listen to, and I was sure that some of those conversations were ad libs, so you scripted all of those?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Yeah, every word of that is scripted, and one funny thing to me – and I’m gonna tell you a secret that I have never told anybody until now because I was hoping that someone was going to catch on to it, every one of those things that those guys say about those songs, the song that follows the great song, every guy gets the album he alludes to wrong. For example, he (John C. McGinley) says what’s the song that follows Freebird, and the other guy doesn’t know and he goes “Exactly”, you don’t remember the other song, you don’t remember that song because Freebird is the eighth and last track on that album. And on the U2 song, I say Bullet the Blue Sky is the song following Where the Streets Have No Name, but Bullet the Blue Sky is the fourth song

 

HTF: Yeah, With or Without You is the third song!

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Yeah, so in other words they are all intentional mistakes which is meant to be a window into these characters who are adamant that “I know”, that “I’m an expert and here ‘s the way it is”, and yet, they completely get the facts wrong which to me is an endearing thing about people; you hear in in political discussions, you hear it all the time where they feel like if they are more fervent they will become more accurate, and that is what we were going for in that scene. But I thought people were going to call us on that scene more and you know it was going to be one of those bloopers where they’re like “Come on, you know you got that wrong”, and it’s like, of course we got that wrong that’s the idea, but nobody even noticed it

 

HTF: And that’s probably because you captured characters to well, because I would consider myself to be the world’s biggest U2 fan and it didn’t even occur to me that Bullet the Blue Sky didn’t follow Where the Streets Have No Name…that’s really funny

 

D.B. SWEENEY: That’s awesome!

 

HTF: But you know I think in the midst of those kinds of conversations, unless people are acutely aware that the other person is likely to make a mistake, you know they’re not going to catch that…you know it’s like when you read a sentence with two occasions with the word ‘the’ and ‘the’ next to each other, people read right past that, it’s probably similar to that…

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Yeah, it’s interesting like you say, if you are inclined to think that the other person knows what they are talking about you’re not going to study their facts, and that’s human nature I guess, but it’s a great thrill when you watch that, and I have seen this in the theater a few times and when you see people laugh at something you’ve watched forty times and they still work and, I had such a good time making this movie and I am so excited that people are finally going to be able to see it.

 
 

HTF: So tell me...why write, direct and produce a movie – what was the impetus, what was the spark?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: I wrote it initially with my friend Brian Currie so that I could play the part because I felt like I was at a point in my career where I was getting a lot of very serious roles and I wanted to be the goofy guy, the funny guy, and I wasn’t getting any scripts like that, so I thought I’d write one, and then so I tried to take it around to the studios and have them buy the script with me attached, and we started having conversations, and the actors they thought should play these parts I thought there was such a disconnect. I don’t want to embarrass any actors by saying who they were, some of them were actually good actors, but you know, you wouldn’t put me in a movie with Jude Law and say that these guys grew up together – and nobody suggested Jude Law, he’s a very fine actor, I’m just trying to make the analogy of what they were suggesting – guys from obviously different backgrounds from me that I thought were never going to believe these guys were friends or even know each other – and this kind of casting when you watch a movie like Wild Hogs, there’s no way that John Travolta and Martin Lawrence ever had a coffee together in their life and here were trying to be asked that these guys were buddies

 

HTF: Right

 

D.B. SWEENEY: And to me that makes the movie hard to watch.  I don’t buy the basic premise of the life-long friendship so I sought of pulled the movie away from trying to make it with the studios and I thought how much money can I raise, and how much money do I have, and the answer was I had bought a house in the early 90’s in California and the real-estate market raised the price of it and so, with the money I had earned as an actor in my entire career and with the equity in my house I was able to raise about a million dollars, and we got the budget for the movie down to $1.8MM, and I thought I would just shoot it and the $800,000 was mostly for music and finishing the movie, and all the completion of the movie, so I thought we’ll shoot the movie and then I’ll take that footage and I’ll go raise the rest of the money. And two weeks before we started filming, I was introduced to a guy who was a billionaire and had invented video poker, and I told him the story of my movie and he said “so you’re gonna go ahead and do it even though you don’t have all the money”, and I said yeah, I’m not comfortable with the idea that someday I could be 65 years old and be sitting on a porch saying that I wrote this great script but I didn’t have the nerve to do it. And he got out his checkbook and wrote me a check for $800,000! So, that sort of took some of the pressure off, so now I had a partner and I was going to be able to make the movie without having to go fundraise after we finished shooting it. His name is Ernie Moody and he really was in the classic sense my Angel.

 

HTF: That was quite the chance encounter

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Yeah! And then I ended up directing it because basically all the people that I wanted to direct it I couldn’t afford on that budget and so the list of names that agents were submitting to me as the producer, they were like, I don’t know. I’ve been working in this business for over 20 years, I know what I’m doing and you know, I would rather mess it up myself than turn it over to you to mess it up

 

HTF: And did you enjoy the freedom of control that you had as a result of that, or was the artistic side [of directing] a lot of pressure?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: It was a lot of pressure every day. I did have a freedom in a sense in that any mistake that was made was probably mine because I was making all the decisions, but at the same time there were these warring impulses, because, you are supposed to stick to a 12 hour day, and you are supposed to have lunch or a meal 6 hours after you start filming, and if you break either of those barriers, there are penalties that you have to pay to the crew – which are well and good, they should be there because I am sure there has been a lot of abuses in the past, and those penalties are something that I had heard about as an actor over the years, and I knew is they had a meal penalty and we went 15 minutes past when lunch was supposed to start on my next paycheck I’d see an extra $30 or something like that, but now when I’m the producer and it’s my own money, I know that amount to pay everyone the penalty on the crew is like $1850, and at the time we were shooting I had a 4-year old son, and I’m thinking if I put $1850 in McDonald’s stock, that could pay his freshman year of college, or I could do one more take and that’s not a conversation you should be having with your producer/self, so you tend to me at war and a producer needs to take care of the budget and a director needs to take care of the movie, it’s quite the situation.

 

HTF: It’s a totally different situation when it’s coming out of your own pocket

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Yeah, and it makes you much more sympathetic. When I work for the networks or anyone now, I have never been the guy that was slow or late or anything like that, but I know the value of a dollar in a production day and I really try to work to get us home early anytime I can

 

HTF: And one of the things I observed knowing this was your directorial debut was how well you moved the camera, and I say that not just in how the camera was panning around or dollying around, but in where you put the camera to augment dramatic scenes or capture comedic scenes, so who would you say you learned primarily from in your years working in film and television? Who would you say has influenced you, what is now your emerging directorial style?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Well, It’s hard to say that. I definitely watched a lot of people do it the wrong way, and I think I knew more about what I didn’t want to do than what I did want to do, and I was definitely very interested in having a lot of scenes where you see everybody the whole time because then I think as an actor you see that all these actors were good in the same take, and that’s fun to watch them playing together as opposed to cutting from one guy to the other guy and assembling it later. So that was one thing that there were some very specific scenes where I wanted to have multiple people in the frame at the same time, because I think in comedy that helps a lot. And the other thing that I have found in my experience as an actor is that you should watch the actors rehearse the scene and then see where they move and what they do, and their work suggests to you were the camera should go and if nothing organically comes out of that, then I think you make suggestions or move people around or create some kind of semi-artificial cross that motivates a camera move. But I feel like if the scene works you can find a lot of different ways to shoot it and I often wanted to be, I have watched a lot of first time movies and the directors always doing some art shot of like the birds out of the trees, which has nothing to do with the scene, and I just felt like I didn’t want you to notice me the way in a sports event if you notice the referee or the umpire, that guys probably not doing a great job, he should be allowing the thing to unfold in its normal way, and so I was trying to hide as much as I could as a director and just try to facilitate the actors and the script unfolding in that particular scene.

 

HTF: Two last questions, the first, one of my favorite experiences with your work was actually, and don’t take offense to this, but it was your voice in Disney’s Dinosaur, and you sounded...[/center]
 

D.B. SWEENEY: I love that movie

 

HTF: Yes, it’s a beautiful movie to watch, and I think you have a young sounding, youthful sort-of inexperienced but wise sounding voice in that movie, so are you inclined to do more, and I know you have done a couple of video game voice-overs, but any other animated films that you’re interested in doing in the future?

 

D.B. SWEENEY: I would love to, it’s been my dream to have Pixar call me to come in because I think Pixar makes the best movies in Hollywood, animated or otherwise, the scripts are unbelievable, the characters are great, all the production values, I would love to, but I would voice any movie that, if Disney had another that they wanted me to do, I really love doing that work. My bread and butter over the last few years has been voice-overs for TV commercials, right now I am doing John Deere, Conoco-Phillips, and a couple of other companies, and the American Egg Board, and I love doing it. There’s a very short amount of time that you have to make your voice work in, and you have to sell something without sounding like you are selling it, and be interesting and subliminally reach people, and so I really, it’s one of my favorite parts of the job, but I don’t think I had more fun than Dinosaur,  some of the directions I got on that thing were are like, you’re in a sound stage recording with no picture or anything like that, and the director says something to you like “alright, let’s do another one, but remember, you weigh three tons”(laughs), so when you say it, just remember you weigh three tons”. It was just the greatest thing ever – that’s like working in the magic kingdom or something. I never wanted that job to end.

 

HTF: Ok, so last question, I think one of your best performances was in 1993’s Fire in the Sky, and looking through your career you were in Spawn, you did an Outer Limits episode, and you were in a couple of TV shows that were sadly short-lived, like Harsh Realm, and they all had a supernatural or, that type of genre, is that a genre that is personally interesting to you, or was it simply that the character within that supernatural or other-worldly environment appealed to you?[/center]

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Those characters were all great characters, but I am very much attracted to that genre it goes back to, going to the movies was always a great treat in my family growing up and some of the best experiences I ever had at the movies were, I remember when I was 14-years old or something when Star Wars came out, and I remember going to see it and thinking ‘oh my god’, I’d never heard the term suspension of disbelief at that point but in science-fiction, once you open the door to some story which is different than kitchen sink realistic drama or current day American or British story, or whatever country you are from story, you open a door to where you can reset all those rules and I remember thinking that this was just fantastic as a way to tell stories, and I think my skill as an actor is that I can ground some very crazy given circumstances with my style, so I feel like if I can walk in to the right movie I can have a lot of success in that genre, in fact I keep trying to find the right one, and Fire in the Sky came close, and I watch a movie like The Matrix, and I am just like “Wow - ah man I would have loved to have that part”, as I’m sure everyone would. I really, really like the genre, and I’m on this TV show The Event (NBC), which has very supernatural elements to it even though I am playing a normal, more-or-less guy, but I would love to find another story like that feature.

 

HTF: Wonderful.

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Going back quickly to your question about camera movement, there are two films by Bertrand Blier, in the 1970s, Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (1978) and Going Places (1974), that I stole from (laughs), two French road movies but again, full disclosure, I didn’t admit the thing about the songs before so I’ll admit that to you as well!

 

HTF: Well, congratulations on Two Tickets to Paradise, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I am glad that its getting a proper release now and I’m glad that I get to review it for the forum to so I can tell others to go pick it up as well, and much success to you for the future and the best of luck with The Event!

 

D.B. SWEENEY: Thank you so much, and thank you for taking the time, I really appreciate it!

 

You can see more about Two Tickets to Paradise at the official site:

http://www.twoticket...adisemovie.com/

 

The HomeTheaterForum review of the DVD will be posted shortly.[/center]
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#2 of 7 Timothy E

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Posted September 12 2010 - 11:33 AM

Great interview, Neil.  I am interested now in seeing the film.



#3 of 7 Mike_Richardson

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Posted September 12 2010 - 04:28 PM

I don't get what the big deal is about this film being released on DVD -- it was released by another label on DVD in 2008 and has been available in bargain bins since then.



#4 of 7 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted September 13 2010 - 04:46 AM

The big deal is this film is coming back from out of print and is being released by Paramount Studios (versus First Look Pictures that originally released it). This hasn't been widely available until now, and though this is a 'reissue', it is being released with the promotion and hoopla that it did not get the first time.
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#5 of 7 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted September 16 2010 - 03:31 PM

The review is now posted:

 

http://www.hometheat...ets-to-paradise


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#6 of 7 Cameron Yee

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Posted September 17 2010 - 12:43 PM

Great job Neil. I appreciated all your background prep and I'm sure Mr. Sweeney did too!


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#7 of 7 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted September 17 2010 - 01:01 PM

Thanks Cameron.

 

I did want to add that Mr. Sweeney kindly offered to answer any questions folk out there may have about his directorial debut, or other matters. If you do, please PM me your question I and we will relay your question to him directly.


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