Color us black and white – it’s almost Halloween! It’s this time of year when parents think of sharing with their kids the one ’80s horror comedy that seems appropriate – Beetlejuice! And, in the ’80s, the Tim Burton classic was considered a children’s film with special effects makeup and monster creations all wrapped up in a wacky comedy. (Doubt it was considered a kids film? There was an cartoon series spinoff featuring our lovable demon and young teen Lydia adventuring around the Netherworld.)
The film is a bit problematic in regard to kids and teens. On this episode of our podcast ’80s Movies: A Guide to What’s Wrong with Your Parents (listen here or on Stitcher, iTunes, and BlogTalkRadio), movie critics Tara McNamara (Gen X) and Riley Roberts (Gen Z) explore how this beloved Michael Keaton film poked fun at suicide at a time when it was at an all-time high for teens. The two also examine how it holds up in today’s environment.
As always, we’re eager to hear your analysis and opinions. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter,Facebook, or Instagram.
Thirty years ago, Daniel Waters wrote Heathers as a response to the John Hughes perspective of teen life, reflecting that getting through high school wasn’t just a struggle, it was survival. Hosts Tara McNamara, Gen X, and Riley Roberts, Gen Z, discuss how the Winona Ryder-Christian Slater classic delivers substantial insight into what it was like to be a teen in the late ’80s and compare it to what high school life is like now – and the impact of Heathers on today’s high school situation.
It's the 30th Anniversary of Say Anything, the film that truly launched Cameron Crowe as a filmmaker (yes, he'd written Fast Times at Ridgemont High and made The Wild Life, but was nowhere near the household name he'd become). Crowe proved himself to be the only true rival to John Hughes when creating teen films drenched in authenticity. The one element of the film that steps outside of that is the one the script mandate coming from the higher ups - an issue that reflected the times but sent '80s kids a message that hammered in what they were already being taught: Don't. Trust. Parents.
In this episode of '80s Movies: A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents, co-hosts Tara McNamara (Gen X) and Riley Roberts (Gen Z) discuss how the John Cusack classic holds up today, how it reflects the teen experience then and now, and that one sticky issue. Listen above or listen/subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, and BlogTalk Radio.
We share a mission with Ted Logan and Bill Preston, Esq. Cinema’s favorite air-guitaring airheads know that to move forward most righteously, you’ve got to travel back in time to understand history. And, that’s exactly what we do in the ’80s Movies: A Guide to What’s Wrong with Our Parents podcast. In this episode, we look back at why Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a “dumb” comedy about two guys who appear to be stoners, turned out to be most triumphant and how it does and doesn’t hold up today.
Just One of the Guys has aspiring journalist Terry Griffith going undercover as a guy to fight the sexism she perceives is keeping her from landing a coveted internship at her city newspaper. However, the film puts its hand up at the idea that a girl gets sexist treatment or even get her own story told. Instead, Terry builds empathy for the challenges of the put upon male. In the process, she throws her own gender under the bus.
’80s Movies: A Guide to What’s Wrong with Your Parents podcast hosts Tara McNamara, Gen X, and Riley Roberts (pictured above in what we admit is some terrible Photoshop, but fun nonetheless), Gen Z, look at this and other examples of how Just One of the Guys affected a generation, for good and bad. Along the way, they discuss what’s outrageous about high school life today.
Xanadu is a pure, sweet romantic musical fantasy down to the kissing animated fish. Wait…what? You know, like the man dressed like a spider crawling under women’s legs. Huh? Xanadu is a fever dream: crazy imagery and chaos that seems awesome but when you wake up, you realize none of it made sense. But, just Olivia Newton-John sings, it’s hard to deny that Xanadu is, indeed, “magic.”
’80s Movies: A Guide to What’s Wrong with Your Parents podcasters Riley Roberts (pictured above) and Tara McNamara give their take on the roller disco musical fantasy that will leave you both humming and scratching your head. They cover the What the Heck elements, what makes it hold up, and how – even in a squeaky clean PG film, it delivered another chip in the Gen X psyche.
Give the podcast a listen and then check out our Xanadu guide page for the full explanation of what went right and went went wrong.
If you haven’t seen Casual Sex? starring Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson, you must. At first glance, it’s a cute rom-com about two women who are looking for Mr. Right after the AIDS health crisis scared them off Mr. Right Now hook-ups. It takes place at a Club Med knock-off, the exercise fad, jokes about mineral water, and Lea Thompson’s hair are so, so ’80s. But, on closer look , it’s a tale of ’80s Hollywood history. As the “making of” story is unwound, it’s an education in how male-dominated Hollywood stuck their thumb into and managed to totally alter and mangle what is likely the most female-centric film production of the 1980’s.
The founder of ’80s Movie Guide, Tara McNamara, will interview actress-director Lea Thompson for “Iconic ’80s,” a week-long special airing July 22-27 exploring the ’80s through its movies on HDNET Movies. The duo provide insightful discussion on each film in the lineup, which includes St. Elmo’s Fire, Stripes, Short Circuit, Christine, and more.
It’s also a Some Kind of Wonderful week because the event takes place during the 30th wedding anniversary of Lea Thompson to that movie’s director, Howard Deutch; the couple met while working on the film (Amanda Jones DID get the guy she wanted, did you expect anything else?) Thompson shares insights on what it was like to work on John Hughes’ final teen film. She also talks about working with prolific ’80s producer-director Ivan Reitman on the comedy Casual Sex?, the first studio film to acknowledge AIDS.
Additionally, Thompson shares stories about what it was like to be an actress during that decade and what it was like to work with other ’80s icons like Steven Spielberg, Cameron Crowe, Robert Zemeckis, Patrick Swayze, and Michael J. Fox.
Interview snippets are airing on the network NOW to remind viewers of the upcoming movie marathon. HDNET Movies shows films uninterrupted and unedited, just as they showed in the theater. They lean toward showing ’80s movies, box office hits and award-winning films, often packaged in creatively-themed memorable movie marathons. Enjoy the ’80s movies and insider info – and support 80sMovieGuide.com! – by watching and sharing your thoughts on social media Monday, July 22- Friday, July 27.
Thirty years ago, Dwier Brown had a small but significant role in Field of Dreams, playing the late, estranged father of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner). The movie is a fantasy for sons and baseball fans, a special piece of cinema that transcends the screen, and contains one of filmdom’s most touching, rewarding scenes. On June 16 and 18, TCM Big Screen Classics is teaming up with Fathom Events to put the 1989 sports classic back in theaters for Father’s Day. Brown spoke to us and gave us some quick hit fascinating facts, such as:
Jim Carrey was also up for the role of John Kinsella.
Brown opted not to pursue a friendship with Costner during filming because the familiar strangers vibe was a better fit for their characters.
After the first screening, Kevin Costner predicted Brown would be a huge star in five years. ” That wasn’t what happened to me,” Brown said. “But I was pleased to hear that was his opinion at the time!”
And then, Brown revealed phenomenal insights about the film that might just blow your mind:
4. Something eerie happened to Dwier Brown before shooting began.
“One of the strange things about the whole experience for me was that I got cast a few months before we went to shoot it. I grew up on a farm in Ohio, so I was going to visit my folks on the way to Iowa to shoot the movie. About a week before I was heading home, my mom called to say, “Your dad is in the hospital, maybe you should come home.” I said, “I’ll be home in a week.” And she said, “Oh, that’s okay, no problem.” But I had this feeling I should go home early, and I did. My father died that night, I got a chance to talk with him. He died that night, so this is 30 days before I’m going to shoot in Iowa. The significance of the movie changed for me entirely.
“I left my father’s funeral and then went to play a father coming back from the dead to have a catch with their son.”
5. Dwier Brown believes his dad was present among the ghost players.
“The odd thing was that my father, who was a pretty stoic World War II-Depression era guy, when he died I couldn’t get over this feeling that he was free. I had this feeling that he was flying through space, he was soaring off to Jupiter, and then coming back and laughing in a way which had never been in my experience of him. That was confusing to me. I couldn’t feel very sad about [his death] because my dad had this pretty rough life and was suddenly unburdened with all of that, [like he could] just do whatever he wanted and was free. That confounded the situation even more because I really felt like my dad was in the cornfield and kind of flying around with the ghost players in the movie. “
6. The film generates a magical healing connection for viewers.
If watching the film makes you have warm, fuzzy thoughts about your own dad, well, you’re not alone. Brown says he’s become a conduit for viewers to channel the memories of their father.
“After the movie came out a year later, I began these strange encounters where somebody would approach me tentatively and once they realized I was in the movie, their eyes would glaze over and they would start telling me about their dads. It became this strange, kind of regular occurrence. Either their father was great and they played catch every night with them, or they never played catch with their dad, or their dad died when they were 3 years old and they never had a chance to have a relationship. I started becoming this surrogate father or this priest about their dads and their relationships with them. “
Brown assumed Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and the other actors were experiencing the same thing. They were not.
7. Perhaps the magic comes from weeks of shooting the same scene over and over during “the magic hour.”
“When we shot those scenes, the final five minutes, we ended up shooting it over two weeks time because they wanted to shoot at magic hour: just after sunset, there’s those 15 minutes of golden light in the sky. They wanted that light, so as a result, we only had 15 minutes every day to shoot as much of that scene as we could. Essentially, the camera crew would run out just before sunset and set everything up and then we’d wait and wait until the light was just right. Then, [director Phil Alden Robinson] would say “Action!” and I’d say, “Is this heaven?” “Okay, great, do it again..” “Is this heaven?” “Okay, let’s do that and come back tomorrow.” The next day, we’d set up around Kevin and he’d say, “No, it’s Iowa. …No, it’s Iowa.” It became very magical because we’d try to shoot this same scene over two weeks in snippets. Kevin and I would have to get ourselves in that same emotional state day after day. “
8. The crew felt something special and acted unusually reverent.
“I think the crew kind of got into it too, and in a funny way, they all brought their own fathers to that field. They worked very quietly and respectfully that film crews aren’t known for – usually, guys are having fun and cutting up. That scene became a little sacred while we were shooting it, and I think that’s reflected in the final product.”
9. Those involved in the production were speechless when they saw the final product.
“I think we were all surprised. Film crews can get to be pretty cynical because we shoot a lot of movies and we know what’s going on behind the curtain. The cast and crew screening was the first time many of us realized what an interesting phenomenon we’d created. Cast and crew screenings are ribald events, where everyone’s teasing each other, pointing out little things the audience member wouldn’t see like, “oh you painted the bar the wrong color. ” It started out that way, but a half hour, 45 minutes in, it started getting quieter in the room, there were probably 300 or 500 of us in the room. And, by the end of the movie, we were all crying, I mean, we’re the people who shot the movie and it’s my face up there, and, we’re still deeply, emotionally affected by this. So, the lights come up and it’s the quietest cast and crew screening room I’ve ever seen. We all looking at each other like, oh my gosh, what happened?”
10. There’s an academic theory that John Kinsella is a redemptive avatar for Holden Caulfield.
“Somebody wrote their academic thesis titled “Catcher in the Rye versus Catcher in the Corn.” Very interesting theory was that in the book “Catcher in the Rye,” Holden Caulfield has this dream that he’s in this field and children are playing and there’s this big cliff. The symbolism being that you lose your childhood innocence, that falling off that cliff was losing your innocence. It was Holden’s dream to let people keep their innocence. In Catcher in the Rye, he fails to do that. The similarity being that I play a catcher, I’m in the corn, and I sort of do succeed in letting everyone gets to keep their innocence. Doc Graham gets to play baseball again, Ray gets to see his dad, Terence Mann writes again and goes into the corn, Archie plays ball again, anyway – it’s an interesting theory. As cynical a guy as Bill Kinsella is, his early story, Shoeless Joe, is really an upbeat ending.”
11. During downtime, the cast and crew became a Field of Drunken Dudes.
“Most of the guys were from LA or Chicago or New York, and they were just bored silly. Dyersville isn’t much of a town now but it was less then. There was not a hotel or anything. The farm itself was literally on dirt roads. You had to drive for 10 miles on dirt roads. By the time I got there, which was late in the shoot, the art department made a dozen different Shoeless Joe t-shirts, just because they were bored and they’d toss them off to everybody, and we all wore these baseball shirts with little corn icons on them. They started a bowling league at the local bowling alley. I have a bowling shirt still that has embroidered on the back: Shoeless Joe bowling team, we all came up with fake bowling names, my name was Lou – and that’s on the front. We’d go bowling. And, when they would close, we’d go to the dog tracks…we’d go en masse and bet on the dogs. We had all this per diem burning a hole in our pockets. We’d go to the bars, they’d close at 2 o’clock in Iowa. But if you cross to East Dubuque, then you’re in Illinois; because of the exploits of Al Capone and prohibition, those bars stay open til 4! Then, we’d go to this little town – which is not a town at all, It is just a strip of bars, 2 blocks long. It’s just all of the raunchiest basic pour alcohol down your throats bars, and we’d go there until 4, then stagger home and be ready for the next day.”
12. Everyone knew they were experiencing the crossroads of Kevin Costner’s career.
“Bull Durham came out while we were shooting Field of Dreams. So, we were in Iowa and we’d go out with him and it would be all mellow. But, as soon as that movie came out, within a week, we could hardly go anywhere with him. We’d have to leave bars because women would just flock around him, and we’d exodus and head somewhere else until people caught on there. It changed.
“The thing that makes it particularly odd with Kevin, was that during the breaks of shooting Field of Dreams, Kevin went to his trailer with Michael Blake and they were writing Dances with Wolves. So, it was a real crossroads in his career: there’s the movie that made him a sex symbol movie star, to the one we were all in together, to the one he won an Oscar for a year later. “
13. The actors didn’t say that magical last line as we hear it.
The audience hears, “Dad, wanna have a catch?” But “dad” wasn’t in the script – so the actors didn’t say it: the audio was recorded and added later. However, John Kinsella reacts as if that is what Ray says.
“I felt like from reading the script and the book, that’s there some sort of magical aura about the field, that nobody quite understanding what’s going on. Early on, when Amy Madigan invites Shoeless Joe into the house for coffee, he says, oh, I don’t think I can, and he looks down at the baseline. When Archie Graham steps over the baseline and immediately his feet turn into Doc Graham’s feet. There’s a mystical something going on that nobody understands. The way I played it personally – and I think Kevin and I talked about this – I knew that he was my son, but I don’t know if he knew that I was his father, and we say that, will all this disappear? Will the magic will be broken and I return to purgatory or wherever I appeared from in the first place? I like playing subtle tensions like that, I think it adds to the movie’s delicate balance that happens in the end.
“I was frankly disappointed that they put the word ‘dad’ in there. When Ray introduces me to his family and he says, ‘This is my — . This is John.’ I shoot him a little look that says, “Are you going to say this?” People don’t see that or notice that, but that’s part of what an actor does, play subtext and subtleties.
“But Phil said in audience screenings that people were kind of mad at Ray for not saying he’s your dad, they thought it’s kind of cruel not to say, ‘Hey, I’m your son.’ I can see that, I certainly wouldn’t want people to leave angry. In retrospect, I was hoping my brilliant performance would let those understand (laughs). It’s a small concession to make.”
14. Kevin Costner and Dwier Brown tried to rewrite the last line.
“Among the things Kevin and I talked about when we were getting ready for that scene where we stood around for hours waiting to shoot, both of us said, “Hey what do you think about this ‘wanna have a catch’ thing?” Kevin grew up mostly in California, and he was like, “Yeah, that’s so weird. We used to say ‘wanna play catch.’” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, me too!” And, I was from Ohio. We didn’t think Phil was particularly athletic, so we thought maybe he was one of these guys who doesn’t really know, because “wanna have a catch” is such a dorky way to say that line.
“We went to Phil together and said, “Hey Phil, there’s this one line that we both feel awkward saying and were wondering if we could change it to “you wanna play catch?” Phil said, “Oh, no, no, no. I grew up in Long Island, and that’s what we say, ‘wanna have a catch.’” Sure enough, it’s been verified by many people, East Coasters say, “wanna have a catch.” As odd as it was to say that, in retrospect, I really am grateful we worded it that way for several reasons. One is that “have a catch” is more poetic than “play catch.” Catch in this movie is not a frivolous play or game, it really is the basis of how they heal their relationship. So, “having a catch” makes it sound more significant which is really right for the movie. The other thing is, when someone says “wanna have a catch,” you immediately think of the movie. Even if those New Englanders, it sounds like their childhood. The rest of us hear it in a different way. I can only think of the movie when I hear it.”
15. Dwier Brown felt he was undeserving of people’s affection for the film.
“To be honest, for the first 25 years of the movie and frankly, until I wrote the book [“If You Build It…”, I was a little embarrassed for the attention I would get for Field of Dreams. I always enjoyed coming to the reunions, but I was a little bit surprised. Here, I have this 5-minute role. My feeling was that the rest of the cast spent the whole movie and all their efforts to open the audience’s heart, and then I get to take off a catcher’s mask and walk into anyone’s heart. I always felt like anybody could have done that. This is borne of my own lack of confidence, but I was a little embarrassed when people would make a big fuss, and I thought, c’mon, anybody could’ve done that. It was only after I wrote the book and realized how many factors moved me to be in that part and how many parts I didn’t get. I was up against Tom Cruise for the lead in Risky Business and I was up against Brad Pitt for that great role in Thelma and Louise. I didn’t get those movies, this is what I got. Its five minutes. It didn’t make me a super star, but if I’m going to beat myself up for missing out on those other roles that I was close to, I might as well as accept that the fact that this is the part I got. And, I did a good job in that movie. I realized I brought that part as best I could and I brought something to this role that a lot of people wouldn’t have. Maybe Tom Cruise, maybe Brad Pitt, maybe I brought something that isn’t in their acting repertoire. I forced myself after I wrote the book to own that’s the movie I’m in. People recognize me on the street for it and they tell me magical things, which I probably enjoy more than Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or Jim Carrey, because I don’t have to deal with superstardom every single day. When people recognize me from that movie, it’s in the best possible way. They’re usually emotionally touched by it and grateful to me for my little part in it. I try to complete that transaction by saying, ‘Thank you very much, it was an honor to be in that movie.'”
16. Dwier Brown hasn’t seen Field of Dreams with his own children.
The real children of “John Kinsella” are now a 26-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. He says he’s never sat down and watched the movie with them, but yes, he’s had some Field of Dreams moments with them.
“At the 25th anniversary, I took my son with me, and people were crowding me because they’re fans of the movie and here we are at Dyersville right on the field. Woody was just standing off at a distance, just watching because it was something he’d never seen – the phenomenon of his dad as a “famous” dad. He was 15 at the time, and he was taking it all in. I was having a catch with strangers on the field. We had the interview with Bob Costas and Kevin, and the whole day passed in a blur. The next morning I was starting a book tour [for “If You Build It…”]– and Winnebago had sponsored me – so I was driving to Ohio in this giant Winnebago. We were just ready to head out of town, and my 15-year-old son – and the worst part of a father-son relationship is about 15 when they want to be their own man and dad’s being bossy or trying to keep them as a child – he says to me, “Hey dad, you played catch with a lot of people last night, but I didn’t get to play catch with you.” It just broke my heart. I was like, okay, let’s go! So, we postponed our sendoff and drove the Winnebago to the field at 6 in the morning. I played catch with my son Woody on the field. It was just so special to me, and hopefully to him. We took batting practice and it was just magical. Then, at 9 a.m. a Little League team arrives and I was mobbed again. So, I did my duty and said hi to everybody and then we got in the Winnebago. But, that was as close as I got from a full-circle, father to son, son to father reenactment with my own son, and it was every bit as emotional as the movie.
17. Cinema’s Beloved Ghost Dad Doesn’t Get to Spend Father’s Day with His Kids
“I’ve been away for every Father’s Day since I wrote the book because ball clubs want me to come be their guest of honor on Father’s Day. It’s been kind of ironic that I’m the famous father who has to be away from his own family on Father’s Day. I do get my time with my kids in…I hope they don’t begrudge the general public for stealing me on Father’s Day!”
Of course, I suggested that since the TCM Big Screen Classics 30th Anniversary screening of Field of Dreams is ALSO playing the Tuesday after Father’s Day, the opportunity was there to experience the same magic with his own kids, now grown, just like Ray and John. To get more information and find out where screenings are in your area, go to the Fathom Events siteHERE.
This weekend, Field of Dreams celebrates its 30th Anniversary by returning to theaters for a special Father’s Day screening June 16 and 18 as part of the TCM Big Screen Classic with Fathom Events. Truly, it’s hard to name a movie that’s more appropriate for that holiday – in fact, it’s a movie that will make the most hardhearted lug shed tears. Director Phil Alden Robinson talked to me about what makes the movie so magical.
‘80s Movie Guide: Tell me what was it about the book “Shoeless Joe” that captured your imagination and you knew you wanted to make a movie from it?
Phil Alden Robinson, writer-director of Field of Dreams: The book wasn’t like anything I’d ever read before it had such original situations and characters. There’s a moment, I think it’s on page 2 in the book when Ray says to his wife after hearing the voice once, “I think I have to plow under our corn and build a baseball field.” And, I was all ready for the wife to do the stereotypical “oh, you can’t do that.” But in the book she says, ‘Well, if you feel you have to, then do it.’ And I thought, wow, I’ve never seen this character before. It was really the character of the wife that first opened my eyes to realizing something very different was going on with this story.
“It was really the character of the wife that first opened my eyes to realizing something very different was going on with this story. “
’80sMG:Annie is the most supportive wife in the world – tell me about crafting Annie and was there ever anyone who wanted you to write her differently?
Phil Alden Robinson: What’s interesting is that in my first draft, I did what the book did, which is, Ray hears the voice once, goes to her and says I need to do this and she says okay. What worked in the book did not work in the screenplay. I realized I needed to give Ray – not Annie, but Ray – a little more doubt…I needed him to acknowledge for the audience, “Okay, this is nuts, I really can’t do that.” That’s why he hears the voice a few more times. It was saying to the audience, we know this is crazy, we acknowledge that, and come along for the ride.
‘80sMG: This film is so different, especially different than what we see now. Tell me about the fight, if there was one, to get this movie made.
Phil Alden Robinson: It wasn’t much of a fight, they all just said no.
“I have a framed letter on my office wall that’s a piece of coverage from one of the studios saying you can’t make a movie out of this, it would just seem ridiculous.”
It really took Larry Gordon, who was at Fox, and Scott Rudin, who was working with them – both very smart, interesting guys – they loved the book and they took the leap of faith with me that we could make it into a movie. It didn’t seem to me to be so far-fetched. When I read the book, I just kept seeing these really visual scenes and really compelling characters and surprises every few pages. The plot would carry in a way that the very best movies do. I always thought, this is such a movie. It just took some executives who understood that who saw it also.
80sMG: Do you think that’s what J.D. Salinger saw in it as well and was so quick to act to prevent being a character in the film? [In the book, J.D. Salinger is the author Ray seeks out to join him on the journey.]
Phil Alden Robinson: The publisher of the book got a letter from Salinger when the book was published saying, “We reserve our right to take action if you exploit this book in any other medium.” What’s interesting is that in that letter it says, “Our client protests this fictitious and sentimental portrait of himself.” And, I thought, that’s perfect. He’s really pissed off that it was sentimental!
“Interestingly enough, I didn’t want to use J.D. Salinger in the film anyway.”
Phil Alden Robinson: I thought it would take you out of the movie. I thought, we’ve asked the audience to take enough of a leap of faith with us and now to have someone play J.D. Salinger felt like one crazy thing too far. So from the first draft, I’d always envisioned a different character in that role.
‘80sMG: I thought it might’ve given more attention to J.D. Salinger, the fact that he protested it, which then everyone would know.
Phil Alden Robinson: The funny thing is that’s what Bill Kinsella said [the author of “Shoeless Joe”]: “What fascinated me about Salinger is that he made himself more famous by rejecting fame!” And that interested Bill, so Bill wrote about that. And Bill found in two Salinger stories, a character named John Kinsella. Bill thought, that’s my in. I’ll name the main character after myself and he finds these Salinger characters named after his father.
‘80sMG: So, you fictionalize J.D. Salinger and make him an entirely different character. What about the other real-life ballplayers you then had to fictionalize? What was the responsibility you felt, or did you feel any?
Phil Alden Robinson: We used the names of the original Black Sox players. We took real liberties with portraying them. Certainly, Shoeless Joe in the movie speaks with real eloquence, almost poetically. In real life I think he was illiterate, he certainly wasn’t someone who spoke that way. But, it was a work of fiction so I didn’t really mind. We got a little bit of criticism from a small corner of people that Ray Liotta batted right-handed when the real Shoeless Joe batted left-handed. I have to say, I truly didn’t care.
“There’s nobody alive who has seen Shoeless Joe swing a bat.”
But, everybody has seen a professional baseball player swing a bat, and I had an actor who looked like a professional baseball player when he swung a bat from the right side, but not from the left side. So, it was a pretty easy decision for me. When we did get the criticism, I remember saying to someone, you know, there is a bigger inaccuracy no one has picked up on in how we portrayed Shoeless Joe: the real Shoeless Joe Jackson is dead and we show him walking around, talking to people! It’s fiction, folks!
‘80sMG: Well, that brings up…I love the quantum physics of it all! Tell me about the thinking that went into the timelines. Back to the Future and Bill and Ted, and all these time travel movies…they think very deeply about it! Did you think about it?
Phil Alden Robinson: I did think about it and what I finally came around to believe is that the less we explain and the less logical framework we gave to the magic, the more magical it will be. What we’re asking for the audience is to not sign on to our version of events, but just experience something that doesn’t have an explanation and see where that takes you – because that’s the journey the main character has to go on. Ray is not given by the voice a road map, or an explanation, or a logical underpinning for what he has to do. He’s just told to take a leap of faith, do this thing he knows is crazy, and see what happens. And, I thought that to be true to that vision, we had to do that also. We had to say to the audience, we’re not going to tell you what it means, who the voice is, where it comes from, and why it’s talking to him.
Someone at the studio came up with the whole quantum physics of it all, and I said, “I don’t know where this magic comes from. If I knew and I put it in the movie, I think it would hurt the movie.”
“I think it’s better letting the audience decide for themselves what it means.”
And, we did change things. “Moonlight” Graham actually died in the late ‘60s and I had him die in 1972 simply because I wanted to have a Nixon poster in the shot.
‘80sMG: Why was that?
Phil Alden Robinson: Well, I gave Ray and Annie a little more background in the ‘60s than the book did because I thought, just from my own experiences, it sort of explained the counter culture background, it helped explain why Ray and Annie were so open to taking this leap of faith. I’ve always been interested in what do we do with the youthful ideals when we’re no longer youthful? For those who cut our teeth in the ’60s, and thought we were so groundbreaking and rule-breaking and iconoclastic, how do you carry that through into adulthood? In a way, that’s what Ray’s story is about.
‘80sMG: And, what we look
at is the generational differences and the way people see things. I find that
people born in the mid-‘40s are so different than those born in 1950.
Phil Alden Robinson:
‘80sMG: And, you really
tap into that. I was wondering in the PTA meeting about book censorship. It’s
also in Footloose. I was a teenager at the time, and I don’t remember…was that
really going on?
Phil Alden Robinson: Oh my goodness, yes. They were banning books! Certainly “Catcher in the Rye” was banned in schools. And, “The Wizard of Oz” did because it celebrated witchcraft, in the minds of some folks. I believe there were some schools that banned “The Diary of Anne Frank.” It’s nuts! And, I needed something to connect Annie and Ray to Terence Mann, because his was a completely new character. I had to give Annie a reason to connect to him that didn’t involve hearing the voice or seeing a vision. She had to have something more real world, so I thought, the banning the books was kind of a cool thing in this moment. It really allowed that character to spread her wings and show what she’s about and what she’s doing with those feelings when she was younger.
‘80sMG: Kids like me in the ‘80s, we found our parents were pragmatists, who preached, “What makes you so special? You need to just buckle down and grind it out.” Whereas, the parents who were born in 1950 started “You can be anything you want to be, you can do anything you want to do!” Will you speak more about how that thinking affected Ray and Annie?
Phil Alden Robinson: That is a good question…I was born in 1950 and I always felt that my generation may have been the first to not give up those things that defined us as teenagers when we left our teens. In other words, my parents, when they grew up, they stopped dancing the Charleston and they stopped saying “23 Skiddoo” or whatever it was they used to say. And, they put on grown-up clothes and got jobs and had 2.3 kids. My generation, we were teenagers who were very proud of the fact that we wore our hair long and we wore blue jeans and we questioned authority, and we just didn’t stop doing that. I think that’s very interesting and very freeing in some ways, and in other words, it’s challenging because it delays coming of age. I was always interested in finding that character, and Ray was that character for me, that I could explore that with.
“What do you do with those ideals when you’re no longer a teenager, do you have to give them up? “
Here’s a guy who obviously felt for a while he had to grow up. He has a wife and a child and the responsibility of a farm. And now, here’s this opportunity: this voice and this vision come to him, and he thinks, this may be my last chance to see if I can still be that person. And he uses it as an example to be the opposite of his father who never did a spontaneous thing in his life or an illogical thing.
‘80sMG: What was going on
with you at this time at the time you wrote the book and wrote the script.
Usually, we want to write about things we know. I was curious if your
relationship with your parents or your father played into it?
Phil Alden Robinson: I
had a pretty good relationship with my folks and my dad. Probably my happiest
memories of was childhood was playing catch with my dad on the lawn on a summer
night. He took me to my first baseball game. I still have pictures of me at
Ebbets Field in my little Dodger uniform at 5 years old. So the notion of a
father and son connecting over baseball was something that very powerful to me.
Fortunately, I didn’t have the estrangement that Ray had with his father, but I
sure knew a lot of people who did.
‘80sMG:This isn’t just a story about a father and a
son, it’s also a story about a father and a daughter. It seems like the obvious
choice was to make Ray have a son. How did you decide to go with a daughter and
did anyone ever try and get you to change that?
Phil Alden Robinson: In the book, it was a daughter, and I liked that it was not on the nose. Someone at the studio did suggest, “Hey, why don’t you make it a son?” And I thought it was too on the nose. I liked there was something the father and daughter could connect over.
‘80sMG: “If you build
it…he will come.” How often have you thought of that phrase? What has it come
to mean to you? Did you expect to be talking about this film 30 years later?
Phil Alden Robinson:It doesn’t come into my brain. I often
hear it misquoted, there are websites devoted to the conspiracy theory that the
line was originally “they will come.”
‘80sMG: That’s probably because entrepreneurs hear it as encouragement. I know having started a few digital properties, that phrase is in my mind all the time…although it doesn’t always come to fruition!
Phil Alden Robinson:The act of creation is a total act of faith. You can’t do it unless you suspend your pessimism. If I do this, it will work somehow. One day when we were shooting, I woke up a little early in this half dream state. I had this epiphany. I called our producer, “Larry, Larry, I figured out what the book is about! It’s about art: the artist is someone who has a vision, who uses the materials at hand, who perseveres even when it threatens the stability of his family, some people can see it and some people can’t…”
“Don’t you ever tell anybody that!” Larry Gordon said. “If the studio thinks this movie is about art, it’s over!”
‘80sMG: I know you didn’t
expect to get Kevin Costner – who were you thinking of for the role?
Phil Alden Robinson:
We had a long list of actors who were the right age and we were going through
the list and putting it in order. We had our priorities and the studio had
certain feelings. It was a long process of discussion, at which time an
executive at Universal saw Kevin and told him, we have this script we like and
told him about it. He read and said, “I like this!” It came together very fortuitously.
Kevin was originally at the top of our list, and they said he said just got
done doing a baseball movie [Bull Durham,
and so the thinking was there’s no way he’d
do another baseball movie]. Kevin’s very resistant to conventional wisdom,
he really marches to his own rhythms and he’s willing to take the consequences
if the decision doesn’t work out.
‘80sMG: How was Amy
Madigan cast as Annie?
Phil Alden Robinson: That
was tricky. We could not make up our minds. We read every wonderful actress at
that time. We had callbacks on a lot of them, they came back and read with
Kevin. We screen tested three or four women, and I still couldn’t make up my
mind. I said to myself, “Who is Annie? Annie is spunky. Amy is spunky! Amy is
‘80sMG: And what about Gaby Hoffman? She’s the most
precocious child actor of the era and you got her at the beginning! [Field of Dreams was Gaby Hoffman’s first
Phil Alden Robinson:
She showed up at a casting in New York and everyone fell in love with her.
‘80sMG:Working with Burt
Lancaster must’ve been awe inspiring but a bit of a moviemaking generation gap
– was there anything you learned from him, or he from you?
Phil Alden Robinson: Part of my thinking was that I wanted a movie star from a different era for that role because the real Doc Graham was a star in his town. I thought juxtaposing a movie star from a previous generation with Kevin who was really just reaching the heights of movie stardom in his generation, would be a really fun thing to do and it would balance the scene well, that there would be someone of great stature that Ray would be dealing with. Burt, when I first met him at the read-through he showed up and took me aside and said to me, “I want to wear a little cap and a little mustache.” And I said, “why?” He said, “I don’t want to look like Burt Lancaster.” I said, “Okay!” He had certain things already worked out in his head. There was a little piece of physicality that he liked doing, which was to start to walk away and then stop and turn back, and he worked that into a couple of scenes. It was very interesting seeing how they used to do it. He’s not a method actor, he’s not someone whose loose and feels like, well let’s see how the moment plays out. He’s someone who likes to work it out in advance and know how he was going to do it. And, it was hard. He was not in great health, it was summertime, it was hot he was wearing that heavy wool jacket – which I so regretted having to make him wear, but we were kind of stuck in that.
“Burt toughed it out, but it wasn’t easy.“
‘80sMG:I’m curious, what was going on in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s where there were so many baseball movies? And, movies focused on the 1919 World Series?
Phil Alden Robinson: I think it was just the backlog. For so long, baseball had been considered box office poison, and an awful lot of filmmakers grew up loving baseball and just had these ideas. Major League  got made, which was really funny, Eight Men Out  and us , and Bull Durham of course. I just think it was filmmakers had a passion for telling these stories. There wasn’t a meeting where the studios all decided, I guess these are commercial. It was quite good. I think it was kind of lovely, we all helped each other.