Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: When did your interest in making films begin, Harry?
Harry Greenberger: It began like it did for a lot of people in my age range, with the original Star Wars. I thought “whoever did whatever THAT was, I wanna do what they do”
After that my dad showed me 2001 on television and said something about it being a masterpiece, which he didn’t say about a lot of movies, and then we watched it together and I was floored. I felt like Star Wars made me love movies, and 2001 made me love film-making, if that makes sense. Probably a common story.
John Wisniewski: .any favorite filmmakers?
Harry Greenberger: Probably the obvious ones, Kubrick of course, Scorsese, David Lynch, Coen Brothers, Coppola, Tarantino, and I love Sofia Coppola’s early, poetic films, and Miranda July’s first two features were really inspiring.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about making Here After.
Harry Greenberger: It was a long road. I wrote the script in 2011, and it took many years to get it made. Then it was finally finished right when the pandemic hit, so like everything, it had to wait.
It went through many different ups and downs of scheduling, and many kind people helped me get it made.
It seems like a lot of people think the premise is somehow a statement on either how I actually think the afterlife works, or how I think it should work. It couldn’t be further from that. It was meant originally as a satire about how it felt to be single and lonely, and to feel invisible in a world that seemed to me at the time was structured around couples. You know, restaurants, shows, it all seemed to be unfairly and even sometimes cruelly designed for groups of two. I’d had a bad breakup, and I noticed that that was exactly when you’re supposed to go out and try to find someone, right after your heart has been broken, and that’s the worst frame of mind possible to meet a new person in. And once I started going out I realized that I was now older and felt invisible in the places I used to frequent. I felt like a lonely ghost, and that’s where the idea came from. Some people seem to be taking the trailer online as if I’m saying only people in love have value, and that’s the opposite of what the film is saying. Like, Planet Of The Apes isn’t saying the world should be run by apes, it’s a storytelling device, but I’m sorry if I offended anyone. It was written from a place of loneliness that thankfully turned into hope
while I was writing it.
John Wisniewski: Angelo Badalamenti wrote the music, and Debbie Harry is on the soundtrack. How did this come about?
Harry Greenberger: Angelo Badalamenti, who is incredible, wrote the song, which is the main theme for the film, but the score was composed by the also very great and talented Joseph LoDuca, who wrote the music for the Evil Dead film trilogy, among many other things. Joseph incorporated Angelo’s theme woven into some of the music, but the rest of the score is his own terrific compositions. Angelo, after screening the film, had the idea that he and I should write a song together for the movie. He asked me to write lyrics for him, which of course I was excited to do, and then he set it to gorgeous music, as he does.
I’d worked with Debbie Harry on a couple of things over the years but didn’t really know her too well personally, but I knew she was nice and very cool. I asked our mutual friend Adam Yellin, a wonderful guy who’d produced a record for her, if he thought she’d be interested, and he asked her. To my surprise and eternal delight, she said yes, loved the song, and recorded an amazing vocal on it. The combination of Angelo’s incomparable music and Debbie’s stunning voice is unique and I’m thrilled to be any part of bringing those two together.
John Wisniewski: Can we talk about Staring at the Sun? The film asks questions, like is there such an idea of having too much freedom?
Harry Greenberger: Sure! (Did you get to see that film? So far it’s only played a lot of festivals. I’m curious )
For me, it was asking that, yes, but I was also trying to say that for these particular characters, Hasidic girls who run away from home, they assumed that what they fantasized was total freedom is everywhere except their isolated, rule-intensive community.
They immediately learn that since they’re not at all prepared for the rest of the world, they’re in danger, because while they think that in the wild open spaces of America there aren’t any rules, in fact the “game” is being expertly played by others by complicated rules they’re not even aware of, and they’re really not even aware they’re already part of that game just by being there, and therefore they’re easy prey for potentially predatory people they might meet.
We also tried to make it a recurring theme that wherever they went they were being told the rules of that particular situation, much to their surprise.
I don’t know if that comes across, but that’s meant to be in there.
I really don’t think there is such a thing as too much freedom generally speaking, as much as I was trying to explore what total freedom might mean if you were never exposed to it, or prepared for life before you encounter it in adulthood. Freedom almost always comes with compromises.
We actually made that film while Here After was taking a long time to come together. It was originally going to be made first, but film making is a complicated and crazy business.
John Wisniewski: What will your next film be about?
Harry Greenberger: Well, that will depend. I have three or four possible projects that could come next. I’d always expected to make this horror film script next that I’ve written, but the pandemic complicated some things about film production that would make certain things harder to shoot logistically. So, I’ve got a smaller, more personal sci-fi script I’d love to shoot, also a truly broad comedy script, and I wrote an adaptation for television of my pal Daren Wang’s beautiful Civil War novel. Would love to get that made if I could. a lot will depend on the post-pandemic world we’re in. We’d hoped originally to shoot the horror film in fall 2020, but obviously Covid changed everything for everybody.
John Wisniewski: Can we talk about Lbs next. How was the experience making that film?
Harry Greenberger: Lbs was one of the great experiences of my working life. If anyone reading this hasn’t seen it, they should try to at all costs. A beautiful, funny, profound, important film. It was directed by my great friend Matt Bonifacio, and co-written by him and Carmine Famiglietti, who starred in that and also who fortunately produced both of my feature films. He’s an amazing actor, writer, director, and producer and neither of my films could have gotten off the ground without his kindness and incredibly hard work. Lbs is the story of a 385lb guy who loses almost 200lbs to try to change his life, and Carmine, the lead actor, lost more weight on screen than any actor we know of in film history, but that aside, it’s a deeply felt, deeply humanist piece of work, and it’s what I got into film making to try to be a part of, so it was 100% positive experience and I watch it every so often just for pleasure. Also, a knockout performance from the very gifted and brilliant Michael Aronov. You should check that one out.
John Wisniewski: How is Here After doing at the film festivals?
Harry Greenberger: Well, funny you should ask. My first film did really well at a lot of festivals, won 41 awards, and was very well- received, so we assumed we’d go that route with this one. Makes sense.
But while we were lucky enough that Here After premiered at a great Film Festival called Cinequest in San Jose California on March 7th 2020. If you think about that place and that date, that’s right where and right when the pandemic started, and so that Festival was in the process of shutting down the night we premiered. And though the Festival’s great team tried everything they could to save the Fest, our premiere was sort of unavoidably a bust. March 2020 was a tough time to draw a crowd.
The thing was, though, a lot of great Fests went virtual, and we could have played the film online in many of those, and I get why many did, but we’d put a lot into trying to make it a big screen film, and we had a distribution deal lined up, and it just seemed like it was worth the long wait through the pandemic to try to have the film play in theaters the way it was meant to be seen. So, the long answer to your short question is the pandemic made us step away from the Festival approach. I wish we had gotten to do more Festivals because one thing I learned from the first movie’s festival run was that Festival audiences are very wonderfully open minded. They’ve come out and done the hard work to try to find unusual, outside- of-the-mainstream films, and they’re usually looking for things to like, not to hate on, and not just something to watch, and that makes them a filmmaker’s ideal audience. That said, anyone who’s kind enough to watch either of my two films is an ideal audience, even if they wind up not caring for it, as long as they gave it a chance, watched it to the end. It’s all you can really ask. Nothing is for everybody, and that’s part of the fun.