Out on DVD today, Beverly Lewis’ The Confession continues the adventures of young Amish woman Katie Lapp (Switched at Birth star Katie Leclerc) as she attempts to reconnect with her birth mother (Sherry Stringfield).
Unfortunately, her mom’s gambling addicted husband (Adrian Paul) attempts to pass off another woman as Katie, thereby complicating matters.
During our phone interview with director Michael Landon Jr. talked about working with his actors and he also gave us valuable insight on the directing process.
Hollywood Outbreak: You’re also a co-writer for the teleplay on Beverly Lewis’ The Confession. How did that process help you as the director?
Landon: It helps in the sense that you get to kind of guard the storytelling. So when I’m doing that, I’m seeing the film as well. I know visually and from a storytelling standpoint - I’m seeing the film played out on paper. So in that respect, it’s extremely helpful. The downside probably is that it’s another person you’re not collaborating with who brings potentially great stuff to that table. I co-wrote The Confession with Brian Bird so I’ve got his input as well so it’s not single-handedly done. It’s fortunate that I’ve been able to work in those different capacities just in terms of being able to oversee the entire process.
Can you talk about what Katie Leclerc brings to the table as a collaborator?
She’s the gal next door. It’s probably a combination of life experiences with her and the fact that she’s not allowing the business to override her personhood, if you will. She’s not being tainted by the business. So many times I feel like there’s so many agents and managers and their intentions are good but I think they begin to…they create a different person that what was initially there sometimes.
So they build kind of a wall around the actor?
Well, there’s amazing actors that have been in the business and have all sorts of people who have been helping them in their career. Sometimes you have a person who gets affected by the business and no longer has that spark, that interest in everyone in the first place. And Katie, she’s been on Switched at Birth for a few seasons now, she’s the same person and she is a natural. She’s a dream to work with. You ask her for something and she gives it to you plus ten. She can be in the moment instantly. She’s got a great sense of humor and is very easygoing. Loved working with her and would love to work with her again.
Is putting the story ahead of everything else a lesson you learned from seeing your father (director/actor Michael Landon) work, or is it something you learned as a director yourself?
Definitely a combination. What I gained from my father were these things. I fell in love with the family genre through my father. I not only was impacted but I was seeing how he was impacting other people in a positive, which is becoming rare these days.
The other thing I learned from my father was how he dealt with his crew and his cast. He was very respectful. He treated everyone respectfully - it didn’t matter if it was the guest star or if you were the grip. He was faithful to them. He created an atmosphere where people could enjoy themselves but had to work hard. From there I started to hone in on my own craft and I feel like as I continue to make films I feel like I’m becoming more confident and I’m executing things better.
In terms of execution, the chemistry between Sherry Stringfield and Katie Leclerc is very natural. Is chemistry something you create or is it just luck?
Most directors will tell you that a large percentage of our job happens before the camera rolls. Instinctually casting the right people and then the second part for me is creating an atmosphere where they feel safe and comfortable to work in. The other thing is hopefully finding bits and bobs that will help them get them where they want to.
For example with Sherry Stringfield, I showed her a YouTube video that I found very powerful of a father and a child being reunited. That became the inspiration on when she first thought she is meeting her daughter. I felt that gave her a direction and a place to go. So it’s anything you can do to get the actor in the mood or in that place is obviously beneficial.
What kind of reaction do you get from your films?
You definitely want to make an impact. I’ll screen my edit several times. In television, you’re on a pretty tight schedule so you don’t get to do as much as perhaps you would like to do in terms of test screenings and getting input from various people. I did one film that I edited as well - again that’s one of those things that I won’t do again. Making movies is a collaborative art form. You need great people, giving you great input, to make a good movie.
And it’s not about who’s right or wrong in this collaboration, correct?
Exactly. I believe that’s very true. Sometimes there’s a bit of right and wrong that could happen just in terms of certain things that are entering the story or something that has to happen to push the story forward. There are 1,000 ways to skin a cat and at the end of the day depending on who gets final cut, they have to go with their instincts and what they believe.
The Confession ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Will there be a third installment of the series?
There is The Shunning which is the first installment of this story and it has a bit of a cliffhanger. The Confession has a bit of a cliffhanger. There is a third book and it’s called The Reckoning. We’re waiting on Hallmark to give us a green light. The numbers were very strong. It took the night for cable television and was third in all of cable for the week. The numbers were very strong. Beverly Lewis has a great following and the movies have a great following now. We are definitely hopeful to finish up the trilogy and we believe we will.
Even though you’re veteran filmmaker, do you feel like there are still lessons you have to learn?
Oh my goodness yes. I have so much to learn. Because nothing is ever the same in this business. The people you work with, the situations you come in contact with. The stories that you’re telling. Nothing’s ever the same. There’s certain ground work you can build off of but you’re constantly learning. I’m so far down on the totem pole in terms of great other story tellers and directors so yes I have a ton to learn.
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