Wired Exclusive: ‘Hello Herman’ Director Michelle Danner

As promised, in my film review of ‘Hello Herman,’I have followed up with an interview with the talented Michelle Danner.

michelle danner

She is multifaceted when it comes to her life. You can count acting coach/teacher at Edgemar Center for the Arts, producer, director, actress and loving mother to the point she paused the interview to give one of her children a kiss, as her strongest suits. Perhaps, being such a devoted and nurturing mother is what really gripped her when it came to bringing ‘Hello Herman‘ to life.

She first explained that the project took years to build.

I read the script about 5 years ago. Since then it was project I felt needed attention,” Michelle said with gusto. “The general reception sparked conversation and that is one of the goals of ‘Hello Herman.’ We had screenings and hour long conversations would follow.

Michelle directed, produced and even portrayed the troubled teen’s mother in the film that took another look at bullying and the growing violence in our schools. Gun laws and debates happen on a daily basis, but I was curious as to what she felt was the right path to walk when it came to preventing tragedies like this from happening.

There is no ‘one answer’ or singular solution, but this film focuses on bullying. It is just one of the underlining issues that we need to tackle. We underestimate what our children feel and go through on a daily basis. When researching for the film, I felt I had to see it through. My hopes is that is starts the dialogue and continues it. Our government has made attempts at addressing the issue, but then nothing seems to happen,” Danner said with a sadness in her voice that I can tell is fueled by a little bit of frustration. “But the bottom line is that we need to talk to our kids.

We continued the dialogue on a parent’s role in their children lives. As I pointed out in my review, the film does take a look at Herman’s remaining parent in a polarizing moment. Danner’s character begs Lax (Norman Reedus) to stay because she feels so ostracized. She is basically punished by association, but Michelle surprised me with her feelings toward the role.

As I played Herman’s mother, I tried to understand her and not hold her choices against her. She states that she was single mother who made putting food on the table and a roof over her kids’ head her main priority, but her son is making pipe bombs and hiding them under his bed. The moment she sees Herman in jail and he retreats from her, she finally realizes that she failed him.

Upon researching the topic of violence in schools, I found nearly 180 cases of school shootings since the 1999 Columbine massacre. Nearly 80 of those have happened in the last 4 years. It’s terrifying to realize that this is a rapidly growing occurrence, but what is even more alarming is that I had no idea of these appalling numbers. We talked about becoming de-sensitized to the issue and defined the line between a horror/thriller film and reality.

Absolutely!” Danner said without a hint of resignation. “Most people are so deep and dependent on wifi and technology. You will see a family sitting in a restaurant and they are all clocked out on their smartphones and tablets. I am not bashing technology and I use it myself, but we need to learn to unplug ourselves and connect with each other. It’s not just monitoring, its developing positive relationships that give people, not just kids, a healthy outlet and support.

Norman Reedus and Garret Backstrom were amazing in the film. This was Garret’s first film. He carried the stew of emotions incredibly well. I had to ask about working with the 17 year old and what she hoped the audience would take away from his interpretation of the troubled teen.

Garret was amazing! I actually saw about 100 kids for the role and he came in and had read the script 3 times. He showed a drive for the work. As far as handling the role, we talked…a lot. I use dialogue and exercises to work with actors and he put in so much time, effort and work. The goal was to show that even attractive and seemingly normal kids are victims too. It’s not just about a psychotic kid. Take Columbine, one of the shooters was psychotic, the other was not. I didn’t want Herman to be viewed as psychotic. I needed the role to be played by someone who could carry that and eventually, we see that he is kid who has been backed into a corner and this was how he escaped. We see his fears of death, coming to grips with what he has done and eventually he reaches out for help, but it is far too late.

As for Norman, his popularity is flourishing as Daryl Dixon on ‘The Walking Dead.’ Did you work on any techniques to ensure fans wouldn’t pigeonhole him as the crossbow wielding resident right hand man?

I wasn’t really familiar with ‘The Boondock Saints,’ but I knew he had sort of a cult following. I finally spoke with him and skyped with him and we were able to connect after his name was mentioned for the role of Lax. He wanted to do the work and make a movie. He had never taken an acting class.” Here is where I note the admiration in her voice as she talks about her experience with Reedus. “Everything he learned was on set and he just has a natural ability. We did do some exercises and worked on techniques, but he carried the role well. We actually only had 19 days and it was filled with hard work. The thing about Norman is that he is so fun. He is just a fun person and he can shift between the fun and the serious professional moments with ease.

I hated to compare films in the school violence category, but I wanted to touch on the growing genre. I found myself hesitant to ask, but I found a small segway to Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant’ or Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’.

I have seen them, but I took more inspiration from films like ‘Dead Man Walking’ and real life situations like Megan’s Story and read ‘We Have to Talk About Kevin.’ Those topics will actually come up in an educational DVD featuring the hour long version of the film.

On October 8th, 2013 the film will be released on DVD. An hour long version has also been created to use as an educational tool for schools. It’s not just about Herman’s fictional tale, the educational version will also include the stories of those tragedies that, sadly, were someone’s reality.

For more information on the movie, visit HelloHermanTheMovie.com. Also, please visit Michelle’s website by clicking here

For resources to prevent bullying, visit thetrevorproject.org, Pacer.org/bullying or stompoutbullying.org

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