Q&A: John Schneider Talks the Grind of Making “ANDERSON BENCH”Movies/TV,News Brian Steward
John Schneider is on the phone explaining the thought process behind grinding up your wife in a huge shredder. Let that sink in a second…
Obviously known to many as the fun and adventurous Bo Duke from THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and the wise moral compass Jonathan Kent on SMALLVILLE, Schneider is a lot more than just a good-guy actor and musician. He is also a writer and director who most definitely has a dark side—one that serves him well. FANGORIA caught up with Schneider on the eve of the release of his script-flipping killathon SMOTHERED (which he discussed here) to inquire about his new effort ANDERSON BENCH, a well-crafted, character-driven tale of self-discovery and, well, grinding people up.
FANGORIA: Where did the idea for ANDERSON BENCH come from?
JOHN SCHNEIDER: I’m at the tail end of a divorce, and anyone in a long relationship can relate to, at one time or another, wishing their spouse or significant other was easily disposed of in a 300-pound shredder in their driveway. I think if we’re honest with one another, we’d be able to say that [laughs]. I first wrote ANDERSON BENCH after I was at a fast food restaurant, and there was a guy about my age in Anderson’s position. He was being reprimanded, obviously in the back room, by a 22- or 23-year-old pimply-faced manager, and I thought, “I’m certain this 50-something-year-old was not planning on being here at this age.” That’s where the inspiration for Anderson actually came from.
Originally, Anderson and Bethany, the two main characters, were both older people who felt like life had passed them by, and the brass ring had sharp edges on the inside when they reached for it. When they grabbed it, they cut their fingers off, which is how I think a lot of people feel. Social Security and many people’s retirement plans have fallen apart, and people are pretty upset. What happened was that Alicia Allain, the producer, and I did a movie called LIKE SON, and a girl came in and just worked for a day—a local girl—and absolutely knocked two lines out of the park. If that’s possible, she did it. That was Maddie Nichols.
Jordan Salloum, who plays Anderson, was also in LIKE SON and in the movie Alicia and I met on, HATE CRIME. Alicia said, “I want you to sit down and think about something for a minute.” She knows that when you write something, it comes from your soul, and she said, “What would you think about making ANDERSON BENCH, but rather than old people who feel their lives have passed them by, make it about young people who have had such a rough life that they already feel that way in their 20s?” I said, “Who do you have in mind?” She said, “Jordan and Maddie.” I thought for about a minute. I had to go through all the scenes in my head, and how that would look and what the ramifications would be, and I said, “Yes, absolutely, that’s a great idea.” We started not long after that.
FANG: The non-linear storytelling really jumpstarts the movie.
SCHNEIDER: It was a beautiful accident, starting and ending ANDERSON BENCH with that one particular scene. That’s not how it was written. I was sitting in the edit bay one day and thought, “I need to start this movie sooner.” It originally began with a girl being thrown out of a car, and then it moved to Anderson working on the GL-01, which is my throwback to [DUKES OF HAZZARD’s] General Lee, of course. The movie did not start soon enough for me. I hate sitting in a theater thinking, “When is this damn thing gonna start?” It’s OK if a movie begins and really gets going. I’m fine with that, but I don’t want people to sit in a John Schneider film and go, “Jesus, really?” [Laughs]
FANG: Oh, sure. Non-linear storytelling, when it’s not just being used to save poor writing, can work really well.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah! I was talking to Alicia about that. Many times people have read scripts of mine and said, “This should also be a book.” I don’t write long screenplays—about 100 pages is all. ANDERSON BENCH might have been 96-97. When you read, you’re more forgiving. A book starts when you pick it up and a screenplay starts when you pick it up. Something should happen around page 10 to pique your interest, but you’re far more interested in the inner turmoil and the world of the main character than when you see it on film, I’m realizing. That’s why the adjustment happened with ANDERSON BENCH. I just did it on a lark. I thought, “Son of a bitch, I wonder if I started this right there and ended it before he rolled over, but I had the gunshot in there, people would be wondering who got killed.” Hopefully that works.
FANG: Well, by bringing that around to the beginning, you have something for people to hold onto during the “getting to know you” relationship portions of the film.
SCHNEIDER: Good! It’s something I just used in the next one we did, INADMISSABLE. I picked a particularly gruesome, hard-hitting moment. In the movie, it’s actually voiceover in a dark room. The lights are out; you have no idea what’s going on. I put about 20 seconds of a scene right in the beginning under black, which I think is going to be pretty effective too. We took it from TWO AND A HALF MEN [laughs]. The title of every episode is a line of dialogue from somewhere in it, and you end up waiting for it.
FANG: There is nothing wrong with a hook. The trick is for it not to become a gimmick.
SCHNEIDER: I feel like M. Night Shyamalan kinda screwed the pooch right off the bat. I loved THE SIXTH SENSE and I loved UNBREAKABLE; I was one of the few people who had no idea what THE SIXTH SENSE was about. Nothing, not a single clue. But he stuck himself to a model where the second time, the movie doesn’t work at all. Once you know, you know.
FANG: I thought THE VILLAGE worked pretty well, even knowing the ending.
SCHNEIDER: I did one called OGRE for the Syfy channel and other than the dreadful CGI monster, I thought it was a better story—and it was the same story, except it was actually real. A guy in the town had made a deal with the devil hundreds of years ago, and rather than have a plague kill everybody all at once, the plague, which was the ogre, could take one person a year, and we kinda lived in Brigadoon because of that. It was pretty cool. Everybody in our little town knew that was going on.
FANG: Are you a horror fan, or is horror something you fell into?
SCHNEIDER: I was a horror fan, always. We’re doing a movie in May called ONE MONTH OUT. Barry Bostwick is gonna be in that. He’s read four or five of the scripts now, and he pointed out to me that they are not all horror, but they are all dark at their core. “They are dark in their light places,” he said [laughs]. The movies make people feel more comfortable with their uncomfortable thoughts. In that, I guess I am writing horror, but I don’t think in a traditional sense. Maybe that’s ending your own game on your own terms.
FANG: If you are making the uncomfortable comfortable in your writing, there must be a lot of naked honesty there.
SCHNEIDER: Oh, absolutely. The one he’s going to do is about dementia. Everybody writes about dementia being, “Oh my gosh, poor Frank is falling apart and it’s very sad.” Well, that’s not what I write [laughs]. Morgan Fairchild is also going to be in that.
FANG: Being an actor for so long, do you feel like you handle directing differently, having been in front of the camera so much?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, completely differently. I know what’s going on in some of the actors’ minds. For most directors, it’s a complete mystery. And because I’m an editor, they will trust me when I tell them, “Don’t worry about that.”
FANG: That’s where the story is really told.
SCHNEIDER: Yeah, absolutely! And I tell people all the time, “Look, this is my movie, this is my script and my name is on this thing, so I promise you, I’ll do everything I can for you not to suck. If you suck, I won’t use that part.” [Laughs] People generally trust me because I’ve been around doing this since before their parents were wiping their asses. I’m an old guy. But I feel like I’m 5 years old. Especially now that I’m getting to tell my stories.
FANG: Where are you most comfortable: Writing, directing or acting?
SCHNEIDER: I’m just comfortable! I’m pretty much comfortable wherever I am. I am more comfortable doing a movie. I’m not real comfortable in a convenience store or at the Nordstrom rack. But I’m very comfortable in front of 500 or 100,000 people or 40 people and a camera. I get up and I write constantly. I’ve got a folder on my computer called First Draft Working that I’ll bet has 37 scripts at some stage of being done.
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