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Dark Blue - Ron Shelton Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q: How much did you have to work on the material when you first got your hands on it?
A: I did several things with the material but they were more textual. I made more of the riots than there was in the original script.
I wanted to revisit the riots, in 10 years no one had revisited them yet. I made them a larger part of the story, but the biggest thing was to make sure that Kurt Russell's character, Eldon Perry, who had become a deplorable human being, was humanized.
So you knew that this was a good cop that had become a bad cop. We could watch him, with fascination and not just judgment, and so that when it starts to dawn on you who he has become, we can realize that there's some guy in there, that's trying to be reborn.
That was the key to both Kurt and I, there's a good guy here, and he's just gone wrong, as opposed to a guy who was just evil.

Q: Why do you think that people haven't really touched upon the subject before?
A:
Well they've made a lot of bad gun movies….

Q: The riots I mean.
A:
Good cop movies and bad cop movies have come, but the riots are a continuous boulder. It took 10 years to make a movie about Vietnam and, in this case, I think the wounds are still open and real in the city.
It's easy for people to turn away, it's easy to put your head in the sand and I thought even though this movie was more about a cop than the riots, the riots were a background. It was time to say: "This is what happened folks, are we going to pretend it didn't? No, could it happen again?"
Let's just get this stuff out there. There's nothing to be gained by saying, 'let's avoid the riots'. Let's put the riots out there and see what happens.

Q: You also put a spotlight on the police department, which wasn't very complimentary.
A:
Really?

Q: I read in the notes that you didn't get the co-operation of the LAPD. How did that manifest itself in the production?
A:
Well it meant that I couldn't shoot at the academy and the Parker Centre; places that I would have liked to. Still, I had a lot of ex-LAPD cops that worked with us as technical advisors and they said: "Look, if you're going to tell a story of a bad cop, let's do it right. Let's do it honestly." And I think they helped us to do it right.

Q: In terms of politics are you saying the 'good cop, bad cop' thing is necessary for crime to be fought in the city?
A:
No. What we're saying is, if you create a culture in the police department that fosters a gun fighter mentality, even though it was the public that asked for that in the forties, things are going to get out of control.
If you allow greed to go unchecked and let one bad seed to impact the whole department, as the Brendan Gleeson character does, things go wrong.
In LA, we had a police department that didn't have to answer to anybody for 50 years, and it was known as a violent and corruptible department, and New York was known to be corrupt, but not violent, this was the difference between the NYPD and the LAPD.
You also have problems that are understandable for a cop. There are 8,000 cops in LA, there's 45,000 in New York, so guess what, they're going to have to be aggressive. We've got problems that have been set in motion for decades, that can't be solved overnight.
This story is just about one guy, his fall from grace and his recognition of his fall from grace. I don't think this paints a picture of the whole department at all. Most cops are great cops, but even though they are under-manned and over-worked, we can't pretend that this isn't part of the picture.

Q: You contrast Eldon Perry with a rookie with a conscience. What's interesting is that the corruption within the department is on the increase...
A:
Well, I think the fact that Eldon Perry, Kurt Russell's character, is a cop gone wrong is something we can accept. We find that the deputy chief is as dirty as this guy and that's disturbing, but that is a dramatic invention. I don't think it's based on anything or anybody.
It certainly has historic precedence in other departments around the country, but it's a dramatic device to show the culture that exists from generation to generation.
When there's a dirty cop, somebody's covering for them. You can't tell me that in the Rampart division, nobody knew what was going on, and Rampart happened after the Rodney King controversy. The interesting thing about James Ellroy is that he keeps writing what looks like wild stuff and then the headlines keep catching up to him.

Q: I think Kurt did a great job. What do you think of his performance?
A:
I think Kurt Russell should get an Oscar nomination for this performance. I think it was a career performance.
I think he took an operant, a guy that had become an operant human being, and then humanized him every step of the way, so that you can watch him plainly anguish, you can watch his struggle to tell the truth and you can watch him wrestle with who he's become.
This is why we made the movie, not just to say: "He's a bad cop, take him out and we can watch his difficulty in recognising that he's become the enemy."
That's the point of the story. It's a world where redemption is possible if you're willing to tell the truth. The LAPD have been working on these problems for the past several years. We've had three chiefs that have tried to fix it and every one of them has made a little bit of progress. That's three chiefs in 10 years and I'm a tax payer, I live here, I grew up here, I know 20 cops and they're all good cops, but sometimes they will tell you about guys like these and they don't want them to go to jail either.

Q: Can you discuss your casting choice of Scott Speedman?
A:
Scott is perfect for the part because he's very physical. You could believe he was a young cop because LAPD cops are big and strong and physical and he's also young and naïve and innocent and wide eyed.
I wanted someone who was assigned to this cop, assigned to this department that was so far over his head he didn't know what hit him, and you can see at every moment of the movie that Scott is reacting: "Where have I landed?"
He is innocent, he has sacrificed, he's more brutal because he is innocent and he is all conscience as you say. He's a guy that doesn't belong here but he's more like us.

Q: Do you square up to the notion that the LAPD does what society tells the LAPD, or that the police department goes ahead and does its job, even if they have to go a little over board or cross the line?
A:
Well, it's a great point, and I bring it up all I can, I say to all of us, by the way, I don't take a particularly morally superior view in all this, I'm just a story teller, all of us are accountable in some way and I think that I'm no different in being somewhat hypocritical in this regard, because we want the cops to be there when we want them there, not to be there when we don't want them there; we want them to be tough and ruthless when it serves us, we want them to be kind and gentle and understanding when it serves us; we want them to make our neighborhoods safe and, if there is some really bad guy in our neighborhood and they can take him off the street, we really don't want to know how they did it, and so in that regard I think we give them a completely ridiculous mixed message.
Plus, we don't put enough of them on the street, this is the other side of the coin, by the way, which I've made another movie about, but I think if I was I cop I would hate people like me for it.
I'd be saying, 'what do you want, do you want us to be tough or do you want us to soft'?
Well, I want you to be both, whenever it's right, and I don't know when it's right, it's your call, and I don't have to make the decision you have to make with people that will shoot guns at me.
You know, I get bad reviews, good reviews, they get guns shot at them, so I think it's a big problem, and when you have 8,000 cops where you should have three times that many, somebody's got to be aggressive, so I'm glad you bought up the question because it's the other side of the coin and it's part of the whole picture, and it's why I have good cops in this movie and cops in the middle and cops in between and why it was important to show why this wasn't all about bad cops.
People like us probably don't think of a bad cop, it's just clean up my neighbourhood and don't tell me how you do it; we all have that, it's human nature, but it's not particularly honest.

Q: As a storyteller what was your visual strategy?
A:
We wanted to shoot an earthy, grainy, gritty picture, we didn't have any sets to build, it's all shot in real liquor stores and real streets and real locations so that it felt like this was really happening on the streets of LA.
I didn't want it to feel like a big fancy movie and the fact that we had little money, it was a very inexpensive movie, I think helped, we could never do anything really fancy, except the riots, which were kind of fun.

Q: Your colour pallet, was that tied to 1992 in LA….?
A:
Yes, it was, we wanted to, we shot everything with certain filters to give LA that warm, gritty, smoggy, sweaty look, and feel, and we were in buildings with fluorescent light, and I wanted the fluorescent lights to feel cold and hard and blue, very little in this movie do we let any romantic lighting in, I wanted to feel as though we were in the streets and there was a riot about to happen.

Q: Well there was a romance in it and a very nice one to….
A:
It lasted two days. For those who say I'm not romantic, he had a date with her for crying out loud, what more do you want?

Q: You know, the situation with the romance in the film, it broaches the subject of racism in the department as well, of the different races and the two getting together, how real is it?
A:
In which part?

Q: The rookie and the ………
A:
The inter-racial couple?

Q: In the LAPD?
A:
That's why they're sneaking around doing it; there are two cops, one black female, and one white male, and they are lovers but they aren't public about it, I mean I have to point out that the department has changed enormously over the last 10 years, if you walk in any division, wherever, you will see women and men and many ethnic backgrounds represented, it's like a real representation of Los Angeles, and that is an enormous change in the last 10 years since the riots, for the better, for the better.
I mean, 10 years ago you would have walked in and you would have seen a bunch of white guys, that's changing already, people are working on it.
Do cops date cops? Yeah, yeah, I mean our couple of advisors told us many stories of romance in the department.

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