Taking the time to fully get to know and understand the history and motivations of strangers before you judge them is an arduous task to many people, as they seem to think that they immediately know a person’s complete personality and situation within their first meeting. But if they actually took the time to look past other people’s current situations and emotions to discover what truly propels them, they’ll realize that those around them aren’t necessarily the unfortunate failures they automatically assumed they were. That’s certainly the case with the main character, George Hammond, in the new independent drama, ‘Talks Time Out Of Mind,’ which is set to be released in select theaters tomorrow night. Writer-director Oren Moverman powerfully created a stunning exploration into the everyday struggles George faces as a homeless man, including the harsh presumptions the people around him make about his personality and life choices.
‘Talks Time Out Of Mind’ is a haunting look at life on the streets, immersing viewers in one man’s daily quest to survive. The drama begins with George (Richard Gere), a man who’s struggling to find a permanent place to live in New York City, as he’s woken up in an empty apartment by its building manager (Steve Buscemi). The manager informs him that the friend he has been staying with has been evicted, so he, too, must leave the apartment. As George sets out to located his friend, Sheila (Kyra Sedgwick), he has nowhere to go and nothing else to do in particular, except search for his next meal and place to sleep.
As he then reluctantly accepts the fact that he has to enter the unforgiving bureaucracy of a men’s shelter, George seems destined to wind up as just another lost soul in the system. His sense of purpose and connection to the world begins to change, however, when he meets a gregarious, down-and-out ex-jazzman, Dixon (Ben Vereen). George’s new friend inspires him to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Maggie (Jena Malone), and try to reclaim the prosperous and promising life he once had.
Moverman generously took the time recently to talk about writing and directing ‘Time Out Of Mind’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how after previously working with Gere on the 2007 biographical musical film, ‘I’m Not There,’ he was intrigued to reunite with the actor to develop the story about a homeless man struggling with his identity for ‘Time Out Of Mind;’ how it was a profound experience that people on the streets of New York City didn’t recognize Gere as they were filming the drama, since they didn’t look at him, as they felt he gave off the vibe of a homeless man; and how the film didn’t fully reveal George’s complete backstory, in an effort to show that people often instantly view the homeless as failures, even without taking the time to truly getting to know them.
ShockYa (SY): You wrote the screenplay for the upcoming drama, ‘Time Out Of Mind,’ after Richard Gere approached you with a conventional, classic narrative script idea about his character, George, contending with his homelessness. Why were you interested in crafting the story to showcase what the world in the shelters is like, and a character who no one wants to examine in films?
Oren Moverman (OM): I fell into it, like all good things. I knew Richard from another movie I co-wrote, called ‘I’m Not There.’ I later ran into him at an event, and he started telling me about this old script that he had. The story focused on the main character, who’s a homeless man, which was a role he always wanted to play.
That immediately sounded interesting to me, because the last person I would ever think of playing a homeless man would be Richard Gere. So I felt that if he wanted to go so far outside his comfort zone, there must be something really interesting there.
The script needed some updating and rewriting, so we started over with the basic story. We started going to homeless shelters together, and interacting with people on all sides of the issue. It became a world I really felt was worth exploring. Having Richard as not only the actor who plays the main character, but also a producer and partner on the movie, made it an inviting proposition.
SY: The drama takes away much of the public persona Richard has garnered throughout his career, as the story focuses on him blending into his environment as he struggles to figure out how to contend with the route his life has taken. Why was it important to you to feature such a well-known actor in such a realistic and relatable story about identity crisis?
OM: Well, people like Richard who are on his level have a persona. People who known him from his famous movies know him as one thing. But Richard is much more layered, textured and complicated than that. He has been involved in homeless and other social issues for many years, for example. So when I found out about that side of him, it made perfect sense (to cast him in the role of George).
I think there’s an extra element when you do something like this in a more or less realistic way. We took Richard and put him in live environments. We were far away from him with the camera, and shooting the world moving around him. He was in character, but was still Richard Gere.
There was a way to recognize him. If someone looked into his eyes, they would see that it was Richard Gere. But people didn’t recognize him, because they didn’t look at him. That happened because he gave off the vibe of a homeless man. I thought that was a profound thing for us to work with. If you have one of the most famous movie stars in the world being ignored in the middle of a New York street, because people think he’s a homeless man, that makes a bigger statement. It shows that any one of us can be in that position, and actually humanizes the experience.
SY: While the drama focuses on George’s struggle to contend with his realization that he is homeless, not much information about his past is given, especially in the beginning of the story. Why was it important to you to not reveal his entire history in the film? Was that an effort to show that people often immediately judge other people, especially before they find out about their life experiences?
OM: I think that was really the point. I live in New York City, and every night it has about 60,000 people who are in shelters. On top of that, there are a few thousand more who are on the street. So I think they automatically become part of the landscape.
For many of us, life is complicated, as we’re dealing with our own issues. We’re dealing with such things as our emails and relationships, so there are things that we don’t notice. So we don’t really know anything about the people around us; it’s not just with the homeless people, but everyone in general, especially in a city that has eight million people.
I think our relationships with the homeless has to do with what we perceive to be their failures and misfortunes. That’s usually where we stop thinking about them. So the movie wasn’t going to be about a regular drama that landed someone on the street. It shows that our relationship with the homeless consists of things we don’t understand. So showing more of those relationships in each scene than the background, rhythms and process of living in shelters and interacting with people as a homeless person became our main focus.
The reasons behind why he became homeless should be explored, but it’s not the subject of this movie. So there is a little explanation about his life in this film, like that he has a daughter and a bit of a drinking problem. We also know that there’s probably some sort of low-grade mental illness, which is dominating his life. So we have this unique position of being observers and going with him on this journey. Hopefully, we’ll develop a compassion for him and what he has to go through.
In terms of feeding a conventional narrative background to it, that was a minor element to us. That comes after the movie, when people will hopefully leave the theater and go up a homeless person and ask them, “What’s your story?”
SY: Even though George’s history isn’t fully examined, the drama does show his strained relationship with his estranged daughter, Maggie, who you just mentioned, and is played by Jena Malone. Why do you feel it’s important to include the struggles between them, particularly Maggie’s reluctance to see her father? How did you know that Jena would be the right person to play the small, but important, role?
OM: Well, we knew from our personal description that she wasn’t raised by him, and was abandoned by him. He moved on with his life, and didn’t pay much attention to her. He popped back into her life mainly when he was in a needy position. As she got older, she was expected to give him money and temporary shelter, as well as pay attention to him. So it seemed as though their relationship forced her to grow up fast, and be an adult about it. He was never responsible or trustworthy in their relationship.
What you see in the movie is his slow reintegration into a place of responsibility and society by the end of the story. Part of that consists of him making amends with his daughter, and having their feelings about each other come back up to the surface, so that they could deal with them.
Jena was someone we thought about early on. She’s such a strong actress who’s able to take on these kinds of roles, and make them very real and emotional. So I approached her, as I worked with her on ‘The Messenger’ a few years ago. I love her work, so I brought her into the fold.
We didn’t really do a lot of work between (Gere and Malone), as (their characters) were estranged. So I didn’t want them to get to know each other too well. I just wanted her to exist in his world, and he has to approach and get to her. Jena was very strong about the process. I remember the first time they did a scene together, Richard was really impressed with how strong and present she already was in their (characters’) relationship, even though it was a work of fiction.
SY: ‘Time Out Of Mind’ marks the third time you directed a feature film, after you helmed two of your previous writing efforts, ‘The Messenger’ and ‘Rampart.’ How is penning the scripts beneficial to, and influence, your directorial duties?
OM: Generally the two jobs do affect each other. But what I try to do is write the script without thinking too much about directing it. Then when it’s in good enough shape to begin to talk about it as a director, I switch hats. I start analyzing it as though I had nothing to do with the writing.
I think, what is the script trying to tell me, in terms of what it needs? That’s a fun process, because it takes it to the next level, including the visual aesthetics and the sound, which are all a part of making a movie. What happens next is that I’ll start looking at photographs and thinking about the world of the movie.
I’ll also start talking to the Director of Photography I always collaborate with, Bobby Bukowski. We start analyzing it, and thinking of a strategy of how to find the visual equivalents of what’s in the script. We also think of how we communicate the world of the characters behind the script.
SY: There are many scenes in ‘Time Out Of Mind’ that feature unique cinematography, particularly when George blends into the crowd on the streets of New York City. Why were you interested in making the film this way? What was the process of working with the drama’s cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski, who you just mentioned, to create those wide shots, and the film’s overall look, as you were filming?
OM: Well, we wanted to take away the camera from these live environments, and let the city move around Richard’s character without people noticing that we were shooting a movie. That process showed the point of the movie, that the homeless disappear, and people don’t notice them.
So we were always far away, and kept the camera hidden. Basically, we would film from an apartment or a Con Edison tent on the street. So that helped life flow around the character. We wanted this movie to be about a character you wouldn’t notice until you made an effort to see him. So the movie made an effort to find the character.
We would also shoot through windows, from rooftops and all these distant prospectives. We gave ourselves the opportunity to be observational. But also filmed on zoom lenses, so that we could also move closer to the character, and also reframe as we saw what was happening to, and around, him.
SY: Overall, how does filming a movie like ‘Time Out Of Mind’ independently influence the creative aspects of writing and directing the drama?
OM: Well, I know no other process. (laughs) I have always worked on independent films. We knew from the beginning that we weren’t going to have a big budget for this movie, as this isn’t subject matter that warrants it. So that freedom to have control over these elements, and really shape the movie with this independent spirit, was really important to us. There isn’t a lot of backstory in the movie, or conventional elements that feed expectations. I don’t think you can really do these things outside of the independent sphere.
SY: Since ‘Time Out Of Mind’ was shot so differently than how dramas are usually filmed, what was the process of working with the film’s editor, Alex Hall, to obtain the overall look and emotional feel that you wanted?
OM: It was a pretty smooth process, to tell you the truth. We had a cut in a few weeks, because we shot it in such a specific way. So there weren’t a lot of variations on how the movie would work. So the film’s editor, Alex Hall, and I worked on the cut for a few weeks and put it together.
We then did a ton of work on the sound. We really wanted the sound of the movie to not only reflect the soundscape of New York City, but also the character’s mental state. So we kept playing with that, and recording more things to add. So we put a lot of work into that, but overall, it was a joyous post-production process. We didn’t have to figure out how to tell the story; it was already there for us.
SY: The drama has played at several film festivals, including having its world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the New York Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival. What was your experience of bringing ‘Time Out of Mind’ on the festival circuit, and how did audiences react to the movie?
OM: I received a lot of strong, emotional responses. But as you can probably guess, not a lot of people who hated the movie ran over to tell me that. (laughs) So I tend to be in that bubble, and receive the positive responses. Many people’s responses seemed very genuine about their own aversion, and when they then walked out of the theater, they would pay more attention to homeless people. It made me happy to hear that.
Written by: Karen Benardello