April 2002
FLYING HIGH WITH CARL : An interview with Director Carl Franklin

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

FLYING HIGH WITH CARL : An interview with Director Carl Franklin

In the early 90s, a new wave of directors was coming into the spotlight. Small black films were making some change at the box office. F. Gary Gray, John Singleton, Matty Rich, and the Hudlin Brothers were arriving. One director who stood out from making the conventional “black” film was Carl Franklin. In 1992 his debut film ONE FALSE MOVE landed in the top ten films of most critics’ list. He has gone on to direct Denzel Washington in “Devil in a Blue Dress” and Meryl Streep in “One True Thing”. His latest feature is “High Crimes”, which gave him the opportunity to with Morgan Freeman. In an interview with blackfilm.com, Mr. Franklin discusses some relevant issues of the film.

WM: Is Morgan detailed oriented to the character as you make it?

CF: He pays attention to details quite well. He’s a stickler at making sure he doesn’t take any false turns. Morgan is someone who does a lot of work before he comes on. He’s prepared and very familiar with the character he’s playing. We had discussed this character quite a bit so he definitely had strong sense of who this character was before he took the role. He follows directions very well. It’s interesting that the first time I was intimidated by someone who might have questioned my skills was Meryl Streep; and once Meryl was directable, I thought anybody is. I did Denzel when he wasn’t a big star as he is now.

WM: Did the government give you their stamp of approval?

CF: We actually did have some military cooperation because we were at Pendleton and saw a trial. We were also down at a base in San Diego. A kid who accused of statutory rape was on trial. A lot of the extras that you see in the film are guys from the Marine Corp. There were guys in the courtroom, and also on the jury, different personnel walking around. We wanted the authentic around the setting; guys who were in shape and who knew the protocol. We wanted the real deal. So we did get some cooperation from the military but I don’t know if it was official.

WM: Do you think Ashley and Morgan had a shorthand in this film based on working with each other before?

CF: They had a bit of a shorthand. They were kind of discovering themselves in this film in terms of these roles. The chemistry they had in “Kiss the Girls” was an established thing, and was a proven success in terms of the combination of two elements, the two of them. In this one, I think it was the comfort factor that they had worked with each other before, and so well at that. But they were in different capacities and I think it was refreshing to see themselves, because there were times when they had a chance, to add some comedy. They didn’t do this in “Kiss the Girls”. They were both on the same side working towards the same endeavor in the same capacity, which wasn’t the same thing in their previous film. She was the victim and he was trying to help her out. The discoveries that needed to be made in this film were an advantage, and they were off and running by the time we got started. They actually did have rapport and they do like each other. That kind of stuff shows up in the film.

WM: Can you talk your vision for the film in terms of scenery?

CF: We wanted to have that kind of industrial military civil service look. The studio to do something with the courtroom, maybe theatrical prided us. I didn’t want to go with the traditional military look that one finds at an academy, where there’s lush greenery all around and the buildings are like the ones you would see at West Point. I wanted to have a colder feel. For the most part, the West Coast facilities are a lot more like that. They’re younger and were probably built during WWII in preparation for the war. And there is that post modern art deco thing that was going on, which I think is a beautiful look. I like the lines of planes on it, and the starkness of it because the military to have that feel. To be a bit of an adversary; to be a bit of a daunting opponent because they’re taking on the military. So that's the reason for the production design. We felt it made it more serious, less elaborate indeparitive

WM: How did you get involved with this film?

CF: Well actually Janet Yang who brought it to us. Janet Yang and Lisa Henson had a company called Manifest Film which had the project first and I believe it was at Sony first. I was doing a pilot at the time, a TV pilot, and my wife Jesse, who’s my producer, and Janet had known each other a long time. They ran into each other on the lot and they talked about this project and Janet said, “You guys ought to check it out”. She sent to Jesse and Jesse liked it. I read it and liked it and we signed on and then began to shop it to get interest. Actually, we didn’t have interest at the beginning and that changed. We went out and got Morgan and had a film.

WM: How important is it that the Morgan’s character is colorblind?

CF: I think it’s really important. It gives us a lot more latitude. In fact, the film I entering with Denzel wasn’t written for a black actor either. What’s nice about that is him coming in; it changes the whole role so it creates an opportunity for multi-ethnic casting. I think it’s great when you can do that. Seems like the industry is more and more accepting the role.

WM: With this film reaching a wider audience, will you be able to cast blacks in colorless roles?

CF: There are sometimes when you have to stick with it. For instance, if it’s an historical character, you can’t really change the ethnicity of someone that actually there. In “Devil in a Blue Dress”, even though it wasn’t a historical character, it was an historical period time era, location, and moment that had to stay black. I think then you rob yourself if you start monkeying around with that because you revise history.

WM: What can you say about the music?

CF: Graeme Revell did a great job of composing the music. I loved how he used the ethnic instruments from Central America. He got voices from Central America. He got the ethnicity to be grounded in the proper area. The source music, that particular song, was great. There’s a mixer I’ve worked with twice now, Matthew Iadarola, and he’s a freak. He listens to lots of music. Anyway, he suggested I listen to this song by Lina. The song speaks as to what’s going on in the film without necessary hitting it on the head and I wondered if I was listening to Tupac here and I dug it. Dr. John is from my library. I remember him from the days at Berkeley. Leon Parker is a current artist, a jazz percussionist. I hope he gets exposure from this. We came up with the Ohio Players because I love their music. It was easy to choose the music.

WM: What’s your next film?

CF: “Out of Time” with Denzel.