Hello reddit. I am the writer / director / editor of the independent film Go For Sisters (http://goforsistersmovie.com/), opening this weekend in New York and then around the country. And Edward James Olmos (/u/EdwardJamesOlmos_)is one of the producers and one of the stars of the movie. He will be answering questions with me for the next hour or so.

This is my 18th feature. And probably the most well-known of the features that I have directed are Lone Star, Matewan, The Brother From Another Planet, Passion Fish, and my first movie, The Return of the Secaucus Seven.

Ask away!


edit: Edward has to leave but I will be taking more questions. Edward says Los Quiero Mucho.

Update- John Sayles has left the building--- but Edward Olmos will be back in an hour or so, so keep the questions coming. And tell your posse to check out Go For Sisters.

Update 2 (4:53pm EST) - Edward James Olmos had so much fun he's come back for a bit to answer a few more questions- fire away for the next few minutes and he'll get to as many as he can!

Last update- ok, Edward has some questions and will be back with answers shortly. Thanks everyone!

Comments: 623 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

Prufrock45183 karma

Matewan is devastating. The Howling is hilarious fun.

What's it like shifting between commercial work and serious drama like that? Do you see genre work as sort of a necessary evil to keep the lights on, or do you love making people jump as much as you love making them think?

I'm also interested to hear more about your work on Apollo 13 - Brian Miller, the original writer, was hired to redraft a script I sold to Warner Brothers.

Thanks so much for your time!

JohnSayles76 karma

Every movie is a world that you enter with its own rules. And its own vibe. And it can be more of a real world vibe, or a fantasy vibe, and what you have to do making or writing the movie is be true to that world. So that as a writer, I take a world like The Howling as seriously as I take the world of Matewan. But those two worlds can't coincide. And as Apollo 13, I was the last writer on it before they shot it, and my job was to actually bring the script back closer to what actually happened. So the most fun was getting to talk to Jim Lovell and Dave Scott (two astronauts) about what really happens up in space. And to find a way to bring the science and technology back into the story so that people understood just how incredible that situation was. How dangerous and how incredible that anyone would dare to go into space with walls that were no thicker than canvas in the landing module, and a computer so primitive they had to re-check the math with a pencil.

uberlad42 karma

For either or both of you:

What's your very best life advice?

JohnSayles61 karma

I think really listen to your gut instincts.

DidItAll4TheWookiee39 karma

Mr. Sayles:

Are there particular obstacles to making certain films more widely available for digital download/purchase? I'd love to be able to buy Matewan, for instance, but there isn't a legal, digital copy available. Meanwhile, I've begun phasing out DVD in favor of Blu-ray and digital copies.

JohnSayles45 karma

The obstacles for Matewan is that we are fighting to get the rights to it back so it's really only available right now in pirate copies. And we have at our own expense done a much better looking negative, so when we get the rights back, we will be releasing it with interviews and a whole package, and we hope that is going to happen sometime next year. And then when we are done with that, we are going to try to get the rights to City of Hope, which has never been done on DVD, and then release that.

GiantsInTornado39 karma

SeƱor Olmos,

First off, I appreciate you allowing me to shake hands with you and say "hello" when my stunned wife and I ran into you at Orlando International a few Christmases ago. You made our Christmas that year.

Secondly (for both you and Mr. Sayles), I enjoy following involvement of directors/producers/writers pushing for strong stories with female leads. Have you heard of the Bechdel Test and what are your thoughts on having female leads carrying a movie?


JohnSayles49 karma

I would say that truly, because I work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, that some of the lack of good roles for women is truly lack of interest on the part of the people who say yes or no to movies. Some of it is economic - they show you that those movies don't make as much money - but I think truly it's that the executives just aren't that interested in women in general. So the stories don't pop out at them. (*And that includes a few female executives)

digital31 karma

Mr. Olmos - I really enjoyed 'Miami Vice' and thought your character Lt. Martin Castillo was very cool and interesting. My question is, how much partying was going on back in the 1980s on/off the set of 'Miami Vice?'

Any interesting stories to share about Miami in the 1980s?

EdwardJamesOlmos_30 karma

SO MUCH that it was unbelievable. We had forty-one first AD's in a year and a half. The sign of good times.

EdwardJamesOlmos_30 karma

The Miami that we see today was literally spawned from what was represented in that show. There was no South Beach, there was but it was decrepit, it was completely a wasteland, and you could not walk on that street at night. The hotels all redecorated to look like the show, every single one of them.

JohnSayles39 karma

in 1981, the gang wars in Miami were so intense, they ran out of room in the morgue, and had to rent a refrigerator truck from Burger King to put the bodies in. The style of the show was revolutionary, but everything they were talking about was true.

catsrule36228 karma

Barbeque sauce or honey mustard on chicken tenders? I can't decide, and lunch is looming.

JohnSayles62 karma

Honey mustard.

toulie24 karma

Mr. Sayles: I just wanted to pop in to say thank you for all your wonderful work. So many favorites including Matewan, The Secret of Roan Inish, Passion Fish, Lone Star and Sunshine State. I can't wait to see Go For Sisters and hope that it will be released near me.

JohnSayles27 karma

Thank you! Tell your friends to go the first week, if they see it somewhere, because that is how more people will get to see it. You have to vote with your feet to support an independent movie in the theaters. http://goforsistersmovie.com/

deadandmessedup24 karma

Mr. Sayles: I'm a big fan of many of the movies you've been involved with over the years, including "Brother From Another Planet," "Secret of Roan Inish," and - God help me - "Piranha." How do you write differently when you're writing for someone else to direct? Do you have to adjust your writing style or how you approach the material?

Mr. Olmos: I can't think of any questions. I just want to say that your comments on race at the U. N. knocked my brain off its axis (in the best way). Helped change how I think about race and cultural identity. Thank you for that.

JohnSayles16 karma

Yes, you adjust it to the tone of the movie you've been asked to help to tell. So it's much more of a conversation between you and the eventual filmmakers, and it's almost like speaking a different language that you're trying to help them get a greenlight for their story not yours, so you use all the technique and skill you would use on your own project, but you can't have the same emotional connection to it, because they may want to change something totally, and you have to understand if they want to go in a different direction.

ubiquitousmixie17 karma

Go For Sisters looks like an exciting, inspiring project. What things inspire you, Mr. Sayles and Mr. Olmos?

JohnSayles20 karma

I'm inspired by good work. And people who are digging for the truth of something. And that can be scientists doing research, that can be imaginative artists whether they are sculptors or actors or writers, or people teaching, and they are not just spouting the official story, really talking with their students about what really happened. And so one of the best things about making movies for me is that it's a collaborative medium, it's not just me looking for the truth of the moment, it's me and the crew and the actors, and I think it's a great thing for human beings to get to do together when you get to do it right.

Haddosdelight15 karma

Mr. Sayles, you are one of my favorite directors past or present. Whats one project you would love to work on that you have not been able to thus far?

JohnSayles15 karma

I have more than one. We've been trying to get a movie about the Rosenberg trial off the ground that I have written. I have a movie set in the Tasmanian penal colony in 1830 that I would love to make, called Nora Keane. And I have a screenplay called Jamie McGillivray that I would love to make into a movie, but if I don't get to, I may make into another novel.

GarcondePisse13 karma

Hi John and Edward. Huge fans of both of you. Question for John. Do you believe with the recent evidence, potentially exculpatory, that Shoeless Joe Jackson was not actually part of the BlackSox Scandal? He did hit .375. Also, if you were in the position of Kennesaw Mountain Landis (not a good man in my opinion) what would you have done with the players considering the evidence?

JohnSayles16 karma

No, because he confessed that he was browbeaten into joining the conspiracy. But he was very bad at faking it, so his heart was not in the game, but he was so good he still played a great world series. Kennesaw Mountain Landis had been a federal judge and was one of the most overturned judges in the history of that position, then he was made a Czar of baseball, could not be fired, his word was the final word, there was no appeal, and so he basically ruled like a king for many, many years after that and banned players who had nothing to do with the scandal but had played in exhibition baseball with some of the banned players. So he ruined a lot of lives. I would say that the ones who were involved in the scandal, who actually took money, should have been banned from baseball, not so much that they betrayed their owner (who had betrayed them several times) but they betrayed their teammates and their fans. In the case of Buck Weaver, who knew about the scandal and just didn't rat on his friends, but didn't take money or throw games, I would have given him a one-year suspension and then let him come back into baseball. But nobody has ever made me commissioner of baseball.

The_Music12 karma

To Mr. Olmos: What was it like being a part of such a long running show? What kind of bonds were made with your co-stars? Do you still keep in touch with any of them?

And for Mr Sayles: What about your movie has been a different experience compared to your other projects? In film-making you constantly run into new obstacles and challenges. What are some of the challenges you've found in creating Go For Sisters?

EdwardJamesOlmos_42 karma

Yeah I keep in touch with all of them. We were a family. We meet at least once a year at Mary's house. And Hogan was just living with me at my house, and James lived with me for six months in my house.

JohnSayles13 karma

One thing that was different in Go For Sisters is that it was the first time that as I was writing it, I knew who the actors I wanted to work with were. So, I had worked with LisaGay Hamilton before on Honeydripper, Yolonda Ross had auditioned for the part that LisaGay played in Honeydripper, and Eddie Olmos I had met at film festivals over the years. And they just seemed like the perfect actors for these part as I was writing them. And the biggest problem was time and money. We had less than a million dollars, we had 19 days to shoot the movie, and we had 65 locations. So the real problem was feeling like you were giving your coworkers (both crew and cast) the chance to do their best work.

Chastain8611 karma

Gentlemen -- thanks for doing this AMA.

A question for either of you, or both -- what is your favorite dirty joke?

JohnSayles9 karma

Hmm! Let me think.

blurii9 karma

I just want to say thank you. Your role as Jaime Escalante was inspiring in Stand and Deliver and remains one of my favorite roles to this day. Do you have any memorable experiences from filming that way back when?

EdwardJamesOlmos_16 karma

Yes. The truth of the scenes that we did were personified by Jaime being on the set every day. He was there every day. And he would watch me perform, and then would stand in the back behind the camera with his arms crossed, and his hat on, and when I would finish a scene, he would give me a small thumbs up. And he was so inside of what we were doing that he took me through the journey of exactly what happened to him. So when we were doing the scene where he is dying and having a heart attack and falls down the stairs, the reason that it looked so honest was the fact that he literally showed me how it happened and what happened. The bending of the feet, the holding of the chest, the falling face first down the steps hitting the ground with my head on the final step. We did it one take.

JohnSayles14 karma

That's twice that the person you are playing was there. That could either be incredibly helpful or incredibly intimidating or both.

Hank_Fuerta9 karma

Mr. Sayles, thanks for doing this AMA. I missed you speaking at the El Paso library a couple years back and I'm still kicking myself for it. My question is, what interests you so much about Latino issues? Lone Star is wonderful, btw.

JohnSayles11 karma

I started learning Spanish when I was a kid and my grandparents lived in Hollywood, Florida before, during and after the Cuban revolution. Then we lived in Santa Barbara in a Chicano neighborhood and I learned some more just to be polite. You can't really talk about America without including that heritage and history- and there are so many great stories left to be told (just ask Edward Olmos).

galwegian8 karma

john sayles, the secret of roan inish is one of the best films set in Ireland. my kids and I have enjoyed it many times over the year. what was it like shooting that movie?

JohnSayles15 karma

Roan Inish was a very special experience. We shot in Donegal, on the northwest coast, got to work with semi-wild seals, which are beautiful, and we went there not knowing who any of our actors or who most of our crew would be, and found terrific people. Jenni Courtney, who played the lead, Fiona, was kid everybody looked forward to seeing every day. There were no hotels so we were scattered around in little cottages, nd the production office was the one pub in town. We had Guiness and popcorn at night when we showed the dailies- how can you beat that?

baconhampalace7 karma

Mr. Sayles! I hope I didn't miss this, but I just wanted to commend you for producing a body of work that is at once artistically accomplished a politically astute. You're a beacon of progressive politics in an otherwise wishy-washy world of American cinema. Also, I tried to go to Matewan (and the town Matewan was filmed in) this summer all the way from Canada. Didn't quite make it, but became fascinated and well read about mining labour struggles.

JohnSayles9 karma

Thank you. The town of Matewan has finally put up a placque commemorating the heavy labor history that went down there. West Virginia is still in the throes of labor and environmental issues that have to do with coal, but the people remain among the best on the planet.

jdmax7 karma

John Sayles: I'm a huge fan of your work. Lone Star, Brother From Another, PassionFish, Roan Inish. Keep it up and I hope the next academy award you are nominated for you win. No questions. Just a shout out from an aspiring filmmaker to say that the subtleties of your work does not go unnoticed.

JohnSayles7 karma

Thank you.

elphabaisfae6 karma

To EJO: What made you choose to do this project specifically? I've been following it a bit and was curious as to the desire. You've played such varied roles - it didn't surprise me, but it did basically mean that I'm going to watch this because you are in it.

To JS: What is the most challenging part of writing a movie script? I'm a writer but I'm not sure I'd ever be able to write a script. Are there any tips or hints you can give (aside from keep writing, which I always take to heart)?

JohnSayles12 karma

I think the most challenging thing is the ending. And that a movie has to earn its ending. So a movie can cop out by having a happy ending that it does not earn, or a sad ending that it does not earn. Occasionally I've written movies where I didn't know how they were going to end when I started on the journey of writing them, and those have been the most difficult. And then once you find the perfect ending for it, you have to go back and re-write it so the movie really earns that ending.

7086787598766 karma

Hello John Sayles, if it means anything to you, the pretentious little independent film rental shop where I work has a special section for you. Anyway, I watched Secaucus Seven recently and found it surprisingly relevant. I went to university in the UK during the big anti-war marches of the early 2000s and now I'm on the cusp of 30 myself and things maybe haven't worked out quite the way I expected them to (nor has the predicted revolution materialised). I guess my question is, since you started your career (yes I know you worked for Roger Corman before, but let's leave that to one side) with a film reflecting on how people change with age, what do you think about your own career trajectory? Do you think you've stayed true to the principles you had when you started out?

JohnSayles7 karma

I think I've been very lucky in that I've been able to have a bread job as a writer for hire, helping people tell their stories, and every couple of years I've gotten to make something of my own. So I have kind of been able to function with one foot in each world. So I have not been too frustrated as a sceenwriter who sees their scripts changed until they are unrecognizable or not made at all, and not too frustrated as a filmmaker who never gets to make a film. And the principles we started with we've been able to maintain at some cost. But the people I know who work in the mainstream industry are always a little envious and say "how did you get away with that?"

aceluckstar6 karma

I have watched the trailer of Go For Sisters and read a bit about it. This movie looks AWESOME! I cannot wait to get this movie into my collection. Thank you both for making a good film that isn't watered down like so many today.

JohnSayles8 karma

Thank you!

shooteredditor5 karma

First, thank you for doing this. One of the first books I read that got me in to the idea of being in the Film/TV industry was Sayles on Sayles. That was a little over ten years ago and now I'm somewhat in the industry, but that knowledge, all though a bit hazy now, has never left.

One of things that fascinates me is the relationship between actors and directors. How would you describe your relationship, or how do you direct them?

Also, in what order do you block/work with talent, place camera, and shoot the scene?

And if you have time, just to pick your brain - Do you give yourself a lot of coverage? Thoughts on the use of multiple cameras? Which do you love more, wides or close ups?

JohnSayles7 karma

Firt of all I try to hire actors who are not only 'right' for the part but generous in their working style- meaning they are totally there for the other actors, even if they're off screen at the moment. Directs only direct other people's talents, so a lot of what I do is suggest slight alterations in intent or emotional with each new take. I write a bio for every actor, no matter how small the part, that goes to the actor before they get to the set, and explains things that may not be clear from the script. On the day I do blocking rehearsals but 'no acting'- I want to see the shock of the new, and try to do as few takes as possible. Two cameras can be great- as an editor I always have a match cut, and the actors don't have to repeat themselves so much. But the second camera is almost always pointing right at where the boom operator wants to be, so you have to think about priorities. Wide, tight, high, low- it all depends on the story to be told by that particular shot.