David Mickey Evans [Interview]

Today’s interviewee is the writer and director of The Sandlot. Just have to through that out there right from the damn get go for you fine readers. Yes, David Mickey Evans is the man behind one of the most iconic children’s movies of all time. Probably one of the greatest sports films of all time. Hell, one of the GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME!! At least for us 90’s kids out there, there was not better baseball legend than the one about Denis Leary’s goofy step-son joining a rag tag group of kids in the California summer of ’62 to discover the myth of the great and might Hercules hanging out in James Earl Jones’s backyard living of leather and twine as meals. Yes, it is one of those gems of a perfect film that never seems to lose its glory.

But, there is so much more to this man, and we really wanted to stress this. Of course we can’t have a talk with Mr. Evans without talking about how glorious The Sandlot is, but we wanted to touch on so much more. The man has brought us some of the greatest cinematic childhood adventures in recent history, including his own installments in the Beethoven series, one of my favorite buddy films of all time First Kid, the amazing and haunting personal journey of his known as Radio Flyer, and just so damn much more!

So with that, please sit back and enjoy an absolutely amazing conversation with our new friend David Mickey Evans! For me personally, this is a serious milestone in my life, and I am so damn happy to be sharing it with you today! Enjoy!

Why did you decide to get into the world of film? What were you watching as a youth that led to want to make motion pictures for a living?

Movies saved my life as a kid. The movie theater was both my escape and my refuge from what was not a particularly happy childhood. Vivid early movie-going memories include Born Free, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (and all the Harryhausen films for that matter), pretty much all the Disney pictures from the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s (Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea were a big deal for me). Later movies and movie-maker influences spanned the pantheon of greats from Kubrick to Wells to Truffaut to Ford to Kurosawa to Stevens to Wyler to Malick to Allen to Spielberg and all the Master’s of the Craft – or as Dostoyevsky said about Tolstoy, “The God(s) of the Art.” But the former were the experiences and the early films in my life that instilled my great love – passion – for movies because they took me to other worlds, where, at least for a couple hours, I could leave my own behind. But the one film, the single movie-going experience, that had the biggest impact on me, the one that (and I can remember this like it was yesterday) instantly sealed my fate – made me want to make movies there and then in the theater – was Star Wars. I remember thinking, “I don’t know what that is, and I don’t know how they do it, but one day I am going to do that.”

When you kicked off your career, you were developing scripts for more action and horror related stuff, but seemed to have swiftly moved into another lane. How did this transition come about?

I went to college from 1980 to 1986 – the beginning of the VCR and VHS video rental explosion. Most of the early adopters of the rental market were low rent productions companies who flooded the shelves with cheap b-grade action and horror pictures. I figured it would be an easy sell if I wrote genre pieces – and it turned out that while in college I sold a couple and was hired to write a few. Looking back it was more of a, “I need the practice” sort of thing rather than any real interest in horror and action pictures. Combined with film school it was a great way to sharpen my skills – actually writing scripts. I never had any real passion for the material at all. That changed when I met Ray Bradbury when he came to my University to speak. I got to meet him for maybe two minutes – maybe only a minute. He gave me the two most important pieces of advice I’ve ever been given about writing, and ever needed. He said, “Writer’s write. Write what you know.” He meant, of course, that “you” the writer needs to be “in” everything you write, and I certainly wasn’t anywhere to be found in any of the horror or action pieces I’d written. That’s pretty much how I ended up turning inward (a writer’s lesson I desperately needed to learn), and the result of that was writing Radio Flyer.


When you were in the process of bringing The Sandlot to the world, could you have ever imagined the lasting effects it would have on people? In your opinion, what do you believe it is about this film that has made it a mainstay in people’s lives?

In a word, “No.” There’s never really any way to know if a film will stand the test of time or not, and it’s certainly nothing that should be on a writer or director’s mind when they’re making the film. I think the film remains evergreen because everyone identifies with the characters; you either were one of those boys, wanted to be one of those boys or knew boys like them. And the fact that it will never become anachronistic – it’s a story stuck in time, and the characters are stuck in a time and place, which if you’d ask the characters themselves to pick the one moment in time they’d like to spend eternity, they’d all have answered “The summer of 1962…” the one great summer they ever had – and all of us, no matter who we are – had at least that one great summer. At a screening once, a mom of three boys said to me, “Mr. Evans you don’t understand, The Sandlot is not just a movie to my sons, and the boys are not just characters in a movie… Benny and Scotty and all the boys in the film are my sons’ friends.” I think that’s a pretty good way to answer the question.


While The Sandlot was definitely a huge film for me as a youth during this period, I have to say that First Kid is a true gem of a kid-friendly film that I still enjoy, and have forced my children to enjoy. What was it like directing an already established comedian like Sinbad in a film of this caliber? Was the shooting experience as fun to do as it was for us to watch the final product?

Absolutely! Sinbad is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and has one of the fastest senses of humor you can imagine. He’s also a master of improv – and that’s something I value very much as a director, it was always a thrill to see what he would come up with next.


From a filmmaker’s stand point, what is it like to jump into (or at times, back into) a franchise that has already been established and has an adoring audience? 

You always feel the pressure, because, of course, you’re aware of the audience’s expectation that the sequel better be as good or better than the original. But that’s a very tall order – or to put another way, impossible – because in the Direct-To-DVD world (not the theatrical sequel world) you never have anything remotely resembling the resources you had for the original. For example I made The Sandlot 2 for one-third the budget and in less than half the time as the original The Sandlot. Critics hammered the movie, but it became and remains the most successful Direct-To-DVD live action family film ever made.

When you are writing and/or directing films that are geared for younger audiences, what would you say are your biggest concerns? What do you feel that you have to get exactly right in order for the film to work?

Both when working with young actors, and writing or directing a film for young audiences, if you talk down to them, patronize them or are in anyway disingenuous with them – you’re dead. You’ve got to be honest and authentic with the emotions. When I write an 11 year-old character I try to write them as my 11 year-old self. Younger audiences are far more savvy than most of us remember being when we were young. So the way younger characters speak is something I always strive to get just right. If a younger audience hears a character they want to identify with talking like some world weary adult you’ve lost them.

And in these types of films, you have directed some MAJOR players in the world of film. In 2012’s Smitty alone, you had a two Oscar winners, the legendary Peter Fonda, and one of the London brothers! Not to mention the dozens of others, especially professional stand up comedians like Sinbad or Julia Sweeney. Basically, what is the process like to direct such high level actors in a film that is meant for a younger audience? Is there ever a time you have to tell them to pull back a bit, or to do something entirely different?

The process – relationship is what it is really – is the same. The difference is that experienced actors generally come fully prepared. Yet, some actors need more than others respecting their characters. More communication, which is a large part of a director’s job, to discover how to speak to an individual actor in such a manner that that actor gets what they need to render their character fully authentic. So long as the director and the actor are “on the same page” with regard to the script, then the material itself (e.g. material that’s meant for a younger audience) shouldn’t be an issue.


 

Can you tell us a bit about the book you released in 2014, The King of Pacoima? What made you want to bring the legendary tale of Radio Flyer to the literary world? And what is the correlation to this book and the classic film? Have you simply had this manuscript lying around?

I wrote The King of Pacoima as a novel first (it was not published at the time), then adapted it as a screenplay. The book manuscript sat on my desk for 20 years, and in that time I received thousands upon thousands of inquiries from all over the world about the story as told in the film. Specifically “What happened to Bobby at the end of Radio Flyer?” Many people seem to think he either committed suicide or never existed in the first place and was a figment of Mike (his brother’s) imagination whom Mike created in order to mask the pain of his own abuse at the hands of The King. Well, none of that is what I intended. So I finally published the book to answer the question once and for all. In short, Bobby survived because the Radio Flyer worked. Here’s a link to an interview I did abou the question from my blog:

http://davidmickeyevansblog.blogspot.com/search?q=what+happened

Here’s two links to get the book:

https://www.createspace.com/4698231

What is next for you? Got anything coming up you would like to tell our readers about?

Sure… I wrote and am directing a movie about Coach Ed Thomas from Parkersburg, Iowa called The Sacred Acre. Just finished a Little League oriented script based on a true story called Junior Americans, about the only American Little League team ever coached by kids the same ages as the players on the team – 14 years-old. I’m doing a picture I wrote with my partner Paul Jaconi-Biery, called Hemingway’s Heroes that we wrote for Peter Fonda to star in. And trying to find a home for a television show called Pacific Coast Highway which spans 1958 to 1970 in Southern California against the background of the rise of surf culture and the American anti-establishment youth movement. And probably ten other projects all in various stages of financing or development… it’s what we do.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

** My wife. My German Shepherd Dog. Florida sunshine. 🙂

Check out the trailer for David’s 1992 classic story directed by Richard Donner, Radio Flyer here courtesy of Sony Pictures at Home UK:

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About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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