MM: It strikes me that you, as an artist, still believe that you can make a difference. You’re not someone to say, “If McCain gets elected, I’m moving to Canada.” You stay here and do your work and you try to make a difference in the best way you can, even though you’re only one guy. You have as broad a voice as you can muster, and you do what you can with that, and you’re content. That’s what I mean about your optimistic nature. What gives rise to that spirit, Haskell?

HW: What gives me my spirit is feeding on and listening to people who have the power to say, “Look, I’m a good person, I’m doing what I can, I’m struggling to make a living.” And I know that I’m not alone. I know I have a weapon, if you want to use that word, which is called a camera. And I want to try to have that communicating device as a part of who I am. That makes me feel good. And if somebody pays me some money to feel good, so much the better. And that’s what keeps me optimistic.

MM: How do you look for your next project? Is it always something you’re already impassioned about? How do you take that germ of an idea and muster the personal energy that it takes to turn that into a feature film? And when you have that idea, how do you pull the trigger?

HW: Well, between Latino and now, I’ve made quite a few films. And I’ve worked for John Sayles on a number of films. I like to work with good directors and good friends. I shot a thing with Billy Crystal called 61*, a baseball movie. And it was a pleasure. Because doing your work is part of life, and if you enjoy the people you’ll learn a lot, and the film will be a success. The thing is, if the box office isn’t great, you’ve still done something good. I’ve been very fortunate that way with the people I work with and the kind of films I’ve made. And, of course, I’ve made documentaries. I made one called Who Needs Sleep? about the film business. And I’ve worked on many other peoples’ films, and even TV. I worked on a segment of “Big Love.”

MM: You did a documentary about the nuclear issue, as well.

HW: Yeah, I’ve made several films about that. I made War Without Winners. I made No Nukes, a concert film. I made Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang, which was about atomic fallout of a test here. I shot up in St. George, Utah where the government went and gave iodine pills to all the kids and kept things quiet.

MM: That’s why I brought that up. Once again, your moviemaking is very timely. What do you think about what happened in Japan, in light of what you learned from making that film?

HW: Well, I was really excited to hear that the water cannons they used to dispel anti-nuke demonstrators are now being used to try to cool the reactors (laughs). But basically, it’s no nukes. It doesn’t make any sense business-wise, and it doesn’t make any sense health-wise. It’s cruel and insane. And for us to live in this world and hear all these scientists on TV saying, “Well, it’s just a little more than you’d get from a regular X-ray.” No one says anything about radiation being cumulative. No one’s saying the incidence of world-wide cancer has increased partly because of nuclear tests. The stuff is in the air for, they say, 250,000 years. So, you know, I shot [One Flew Over the] Cuckoo’s Nest. And I have a scene from Cuckoo’s Nest on my blog where one of the actors says “I’m not talking about my wife, I’m talking about my life. I’m talkin’ about content.” And all these things that are said by the people in Cuckoo’s Nest are saner than what’s [actually] going on, which we accept as normal things. Just on TV, you know? We accept it all, we accept the frame.

MM: So many environmentalists called nuclear energy “green energy.” At least until this latest incident.

HW: But that’s how it’s sold to them, you know? Just look at cigarettes. My dad died of cigarettes at 57 years old. I did most of the Marlboro commercials. Everybody had known that cigarettes were deadly for years, since when I was a kid. But they were able to sell us because it was making money. They knew it was addictive. Those people don’t go to jail. The idea that the whole system would take something like that and go with it is the same thing that’s going on with nukes and pollution. And now they’ve cut the money for public broadcasting.

MM: You’re still very passionate about these issues.

HW: Of course. We’re in the film business. The way things are now, we can’t get jobs. A lot of my friends who were actively making films all the time, there’s just not the work out there [for them]. They’re ready to work, they’re good at what they do. But we’re not separated from the rest of the work force. These are difficult times, and there’s a lot of talent that is not going out there that could be shooting things and doing things to feed optimism.

MM: Just to follow up on that thought, the people who do have work, are they doing the 12 on, 12 off? Your 2006 documentary Who Needs Sleep? is about working conditions in the film industry. Have they changed?

HW: A number of really good directors have now said, categorically, “We don’t work more than 12.” My son Jeff’s on a picture with Cameron Crowe. The crew was so happy, they’re working, getting done on time. Everything is good about it. And I think that, just from a practical sense, directors find that that they don’t have to beat up their crew, and everybody can do better work and come out alive and healthy afterwards.

MM: You’ve made so many films, but I want to talk about two in particular. Both Medium Cool and Bound for Glory are among my all-time favorite films. I saw Bound for Glory again just last night with my wife, who had never seen it before, and she was amazed by the film, as well.

HW: Actually, Medium Cool’s playing at the Aero Theater [in Santa Monica, California] on Sunday. I’m there for Robert Forrester, the actor who played the cameraman in that movie. It’s been playing quite a bit. It played in San Francisco at the Castro Theater last week to a full house, sponsored by the San Francisco Museum. Great discussion. And when I was shooting in the north of Ireland a few moths ago, near where I shot The Secret of Roan Inish, the Belfast Film Festival was going on and they heard I was in the country. So they invited me down and played a print of Medium Cool. They had a great discussion about having armed soldiers in the streets, and tying that into what was happening in Chicago. But they were also interested in seeing the city of Chicago. There were slums. Some of the scenes in Medium Cool, I never thought about, but there are scenes where you see little kids with bloated bellies. People outside of the country would never think it was set in Chicago.

MM: It’s still considered one of the most influential films of all time and is studied in film schools around the world. You’ve done many of these screenings. You and I first met at a DGA screening a couple years ago. What are some of the questions that routinely get asked from audiences after you screen the film?

HW: Well, a lot depends on the audience, but usually they get into thinking of it as a documentary. And basically, it was written about a month, and finished about a month-and-a-half, before the convention.

MM: You even anticipated the riots, didn’t you?

HW: In no way did I anticipate the size and the scope of it. And what is not in the script was the way it ended. There were police dealing with demonstrators at the end, but I knew that if the government rejected the anti-war movement, there were going to be demonstrations in Chicago. I knew a lot of the anti-war people, the “hippies,” as they were called. I knew that they were going to demonstrate in Chicago.

MM: So you knew that there would be demonstrations, you just didn’t know the extent of it or where it would happen.

HW: That’s right. I was sent to Chicago by Paramount to do a film called The Concrete Wilderness. It’s about a young boy who finds animals in the city. And it was written by a friend of mine, the cameraman Jack Couffer. And Peter Bart was an officer of Paramount, and he knew I wanted to direct. And so he said, “Well, this book would be a good film for you to do.” And they had bought the film rights. It’s written for New York, but when I went home to Chicago I realized all the things that were brewing. So I wrote back to Peter and said, ‘You mind if I change the script a little bit?’ And he said “No, it’s okay.”

MM: How did you manage to get complete creative control?

HW: Well, it was a negative pick-up deal, so Paramount didn’t have any money in the film. I had to borrow the money on the basis of Paramount’s distribution. It was $600,000. And my brother Jerry helped me with that.

MM: Did Paramount try to influence the editing at all? Or was it completely done by the time you delivered it?

HW: Yeah, but where Paramount came in is… see, in a negative pick-up you have to comply with all Paramount’s regulations, with the Director’s Guild and with all the other Guilds. And you have to have a certain sound system, certain givens. And then, when you deliver the film to them, having complied with all those things, then you’re supposed to get your money back. But when they saw it, Bob Evans and the guys there, they just shit (laughs).
MM: Didn’t they make things up to delay it? You needed clearances for people in the park, all that kind of thing?

HW: Yes. There were all kinds of things. Paramount did everything to not have the film go out. And then, finally, a year after it was ready to go out, it came out with an X rating, so they let it piddle out. Even now, you can’t buy a DVD of Medium Cool. They have individuals and people on Amazon selling DVDs of Medium Cool for a hundred and fifty dollars. And I’ve been trying to break through that and make it available on DVD. And I did get them to make a new print for the showing up [in Belfast]. But it’s on the list of the hundred most important films in the last century.

MM: So Medium Cool was suppressed, and Latino was sabotaged much later and didn’t get the distribution it deserved. Did you ever get discouraged? At any point did you feel like you weren’t going to be able to say what you wanted to say as a moviemaker?

HW: All I know is that I don’t measure the success of what I do by the box office. To the extent that box office represents people seeing the film, it’s a compliment, but I also know that the commercial world has control over presenting things that would impact the box office. I’ve never felt that I was wasting my time or, hopefully, the audience’s time (laughs).

MM: What advice you would give to young moviemakers about how to choose projects so they don’t waste their time. So many people are making movies right now that will just never get out there. It sounds like a Yogi Berra-ism, but there are so many outlets now for films that nobody sees the films.

HW: I think I’d give ’em the same advice I give my grandkids, or anyone else, and that is to just live a life. In other words, if you’re interested in making movies, don’t just saturate your eye with other peoples’ films or what’s selling or not selling. Be connected to the world. And have your pores open; if something interests you and turns you on, explore it. Then, if it means something to you that you’d like it to mean to someone else, and if you have a device like a camera, then create something.

MM: So much of your body of work is meaningful. That’s a testament to your tastes and, I would imagine, your ability to make those choices by not needing to take the very next job. How much does the pragmatic aspect of this business have to do with your project choices?

HW: It’s safe to say that most people don’t make a choice. They might say, “Look, this is a thing I will not do.” But it depends on where they are economically. I’m just thinking about the last commercial I shot. I’m a vegetarian. The last commercial I shot was for Carl’s Jr. (laughs). And I had to shoot this guy eating this big, greasy, hamburger. And what am I gonna say? I had an assistant, Ralph Gerling, who’s now dead, and we did a lot of films. Sometimes those films were not going well, and I’d be complaining. And so he had a chant he told me to say: “I need the job, I need the job, I need the job, I need the job.” And then he’d tell me, “If we weren’t on this job, then we’d be on some other fuckin’ stupid job.” So you know, none of us can be the artist all the time.

MM: True enough. But you come close, it seems. Where do you think your deep sense of social responsibility comes from? Your parents?

HW: Some people would call my sense of social responsibility irresponsibility. What are you always bitchin’ about, always complaining? Like my relative down the street, he’s got Fox News on all the time. All the time! So he limits himself. I don’t know. It’s not a personal thing, you know.

MM: How do you mean? It seems like it’s very personal.

HW: Well, there are certain basic things. You need to start on the big side. You’ve gotta look at the globe the way the astronauts looked at it, with no borderlines. Then you can see that it’s one world, which includes all of humanity. And you can see that all of us, in one way or another, are interrelated. And that interrelation can be for life, for future, for nature, for God or for your great, great grandchildren. Or it can just be for winning, defeating, conquering and exploiting. And then, when you have those balances in mind, you have to say ‘Which side am I on? Do I have a feeling of responsibility?’ And then you mentioned the word “practical.” That’s true, but you have to know where pragmatism starts and where it ends, you know?

MM: I read one interview with you from quite a while ago where you said you wanted to switch hats and do much more directing than cinematography. I think you were talking to Roger Ebert. So what changed? You obviously didn’t stop shooting.

HW: Well, it’s not like you decide to be a director. In the first place, I’m from Chicago, so I shot documentaries and I also shot industrial films. And then I worked on other people’s films. I just didn’t decide. It just sort of happened, you know?

MM: I would imagine you kept getting offered great projects as a DP because you were so good at it.

HW: No. I was blacklisted. And I didn’t have an opportunity. I worked for Encyclopedia Britannica films. I had an opportunity to shoot a bunch of Shakespeare films in England. And all I had was the passport I had during the war, my military passport. And I needed a passport to go to England with John Barnes, who was a director for Encyclopedia Britannica films. It was my big break to work on dramatic films. And my passport was yanked. And if I wanted it back, I had to come in and talk to people, talk to the FBI and so forth. And then I had my father come with me to a Congressman we knew, and we asked ‘What the hell is this?’ And he said he couldn’t do anything about it. And so I didn’t go in and talk to the FBI, because I knew what that meant. Because all around the country, people were being blacklisted. And out here people think blacklisting means a lot of big-time writers sitting around their swimming pools reading books and things because they can’t get jobs. But the blacklist went out all over the country to teachers, to workers, to heads of unions. And I was active in the student movement early on. So they had five hundred pages on me, I found out. I was not able to work out here in Hollywood.

MM: The FBI called you potentially dangerous because of your background, your emotional instability…

HW: (laughs) Oh, you saw that!

MM: (laughs) …your activity in groups that you were engaged in, your activities not amicable to the United States.

HW: One of them said early on that I wouldn’t make it in the film business because I was “too finicky.” I remember that phrase.

MM: How long did that go on for you?

HW: Oh, I don’t think it ever stopped. It doesn’t stop with a lot of people. It just changes forms.

MM: How do you mean? Do you think you would have gotten offered other work?

HW: Well, the blacklist was worked out with the studios the unions. Certain pictures you don’t work on. Certain people don’t call you. It’s not just because of political things, but now they, the studios, have “shit lists.”

MM: So you think you’re on some of the shit lists—

HW: Oh, of course!

MM: This long after the blacklist period?

HW: Oh, sure. Sure. And I know other friends [who have the] same thing.

MM: Because you’re outspoken and lean so far to the left?

HW: What’s left and right? (laughs) You just realize what’s going on. Why aren’t there people in the streets screaming about public television, public radio? Screaming about Bradley Manning, an American soldier who’s being tortured without charges? Not to mention just the smaller things all over. The closing of schools, the lack of money for Planned Parenthood, all the assaults on everything that’s decent and human in our society because “we can’t afford it.” Don’t people realize what’s going on?

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