Interview with Josh Stewart
Fellow horror family, you know who Josh Stewart is. He’s Arkin from The Collector and The Collection. He starred in The Hunted, an effective bare bones ghost story that he also wrote and directed. You’ve seen him as Barsad, Bane’s right hand man in The Dark Knight Rises, you’ve watched him on Criminal Minds, he recently starred in The Neighbor (our review here) and we can look forward to seeing him in Insidious 4. Mr. Stewart is a down to earth man with a generous soul and he’s asking us to help him with a project that is very close to his heart.
He has written a script, Back Fork, that focuses on a family who experiences tragedy. In the aftermath of that, our protagonist finds himself addicted to opioids and dealing with all of the ugly things that tend to come along with that. It’s a sobering look at an epidemic that keeps getting swept under the rug.
LF: So, you’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign for your film Back Fork.
JS: I never thought I’d find myself in the crowd funding space, but here I am.
Lots of people do it, though.
Yeah, they do. They do wander into those waters and, look, I’m happy to wander into them as well. Since diving into this publicly with a script that people have been reading or haven’t been reading, they really don’t know what the story is outside of me talking about it for 70 seconds, I’ve had an unbelievable amount of people over the past several days reach out to me and say, “I’ve had three people die in my family the last year because of oxycontin. “My mother lost her legs and I lost my brother in this last year because of these drugs.” It’s kind of crazy in the best possible way.
I saw that you were having some conversations on Twitter and people were being really candid about how this has affected them.
Yeah! I’ve always had this attitude, since the beginning of time art has been used to exemplify beauty, to bring things to our awareness and promote social change. To give a voice, maybe, to those that don’t have a voice, which will illuminate something that needs a light shined on it. I’m staring down the barrel of turning 40 years old and I think I’m really understanding that.
I have to ask. Is there a personal reason that you wrote this script? Are you comfortable sharing that?
100%. Growing up where I did, there is nobody, and I say this in the Kickstarter campaign, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by this directly or indirectly. There’s no one that I know that hasn’t been touched by this in some way and it’s heart breaking. To see what’s going on, and its not just West Virginia, it’s nationwide and it’s turning into this global epidemic. These pills have not discriminated.
When I submitted this script to the West Virginia film commission for the tax credit, I questioned if they were going to approve it. Everything has to be approved by the film commission whether you’re going to get the credit or not. And this is really exposing, this is really telling, this is really honest and they approved it.
There’s this mentality back there: West Virginia, Appalachia, Kentucky, Tennessee, it’s like a forgotten group of people. Where I come from, you’re either a logger or you’re a coal miner and people don’t want to to own up to the fact that 40% of energy comes from coal and that comes form a group of people who are literally pushed under the ground every day to dig something up to light the country. So, the country is being lit on the back of these people who are literally being shoved underneath the ground and forgotten about. And the only time anybody ever shows up back there is when a mine explodes or collapses and twenty or thirty people die. Every news source shows up in West Virginia for a week and then they get up and they leave and they forget about them. And people are shoved back down underneath the ground until it happens again. What are people supposed to take from that?
Living on the west coast, I’m definitely naive to this situation. How long has this been brewing in your mind?
The universal truths that are inside the script are things that I have lived with my entire life. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been something that I’ve lived with or dealt with in some capacity. Just to set the record straight, I’ve never had a problem with addiction in any sort of fashion. I’ve never been down that road. You know, Steinbeck said, “Theres nothing to writing. You just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” In a lot of ways, that’s what I did when I wrote this. Just sat down and bled because it’s all true. There’s so much in this script that’s so real and so raw and so truthful. It’s real life, it’s what people are dealing with. We’re all wounded animals. You can travel to the end of the road and that’s what you learn. No one is perfect. We’re all just doing the best that we can do and we’re gonna throw the rest of it up in the air to fate.
It looks as though your peers are coming out to support you.
It’s true. The only way crowdfunding works is if you put it out there, people actually donate and whether that’s ten dollars or a hundred dollars, it doesn’t matter. They just make that pledge and they share it. But if they don’t do that, it’s not gonna work. Look at the extreme examples. Look at Zack Braff: he had thousands and thousands of people donating, but they have to do it in order for it to work.
Well, you have AJ Cook committed.
Yes, I do.
That must at least help with getting the word out. People who watch Criminal Minds really love you guys together. That seemed like a really good coup for the movie.
AJ is the absolute best. I’m not the type of person who would sacrifice story for a friend or a movie getting made. I would never put someone in a role just to get something done. AJ, you know, she’s so good and she’s so talented and on top of it, she’s just an amazing soul. I went to her and said, “Read this thing and tell me if you dig it. If you do, I’d love for you to do it.”
I’ve gotten people who have contacted me saying, “What are you doing? You’re some rich prick and you’re asking your fans for money. Have your rich friends do it.” The reality of the situation is, I’ve been trying to get this movie financed and made for a year now. Independent film is such a labor of love. Any movie you see in these film festivals are people working for little to no money.
You’re scheduled to start shooting in April?
Yes, if everything goes according to plan, I would shoot the first few weeks of April, knock this thing out and hopefully the world can see it.
Did you give yourself a month to raise the funds on Kickstarter?
Yeah, just a month. I did all of the research I could. I spoke to so many people who had successful and unsuccessful campaigns and thirty days seemed to be the way to do it.
Let me flip this for a minute because I’ve been talking a lot. What did you think of the script?
I liked it. I thought it was really dark and sad, but it achieved it’s purpose of making me think about something that I have not been touched with. I thought about it and thought about how quickly people can get into it and it ruins their lives. Waylon is just a guy who something bad happened to. He could be anybody. Its like you said, it doesn’t discriminate. So, it really brings it to the surface, “Oh, this could happen to me.”
Let’s assume it’s going to be funded. What do you hope happens with the film?
I feel I have something special on the page and I’ve got a story that I really want to tell. I’ve put some amazing people together that I feel like we could get it done. Look, I’m a story teller at the base of it all and I’ve got what I think is a cool story that people have responded to and I’d love to share that. I’d love for people to see it. You’ve read the script, it’s far too true and far too real in order to be accepted on a mainstream level and I’ve known that from when I started writing it. When I started, I knew I could either write what you read or write an after school special. If I was going to tell this story, then it had to be told one hundred percent the way I saw it, what is reality and that’s what I did. You know, I thought Steve McQueen did an amazing job with Shame. It’s a movie that deals with addiction and that movie was hard to watch. It was so beautiful, but it was hard to watch, to watch somebody struggle with something , but that’s real. That’s the stuff that hits me in the heart. Picasso said, “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” Art comes from hurt: take your heartbreak and turn it into art. That’s what it is. It’s turning that heartbreak into art. If it breaks someone else’s heart, then we’re doing justice to what it is, to that message that we’re trying to get across and thats the only thing I can hope for in Back Fork. I just want to tell an honest, truthful story that people can respond to.
Well, I really enjoyed the script. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. I really hope this works out because I’d love to see the finished product.
Well, thank you darlin'. I hope that I can move some people with the stories that I can tell. That’s all I hope for.
I think that’s really noble and I think it’s great what you are hoping to do with this. Is there anything specific you want to get out about the Kickstarter?
If it speaks to you, then make a pledge. We can’t chop down a tree with one swing. A ten dollar pledge is just as valuable to me as anything above that. It’s gonna take a shit ton of swings to get this thing done. So, if it speaks to you, then do it and tell other people about it. All you can ask from someone is a chance.
You can visit Josh’s Kickstarter page here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1159798350/back-fork and get all of the details.
Lisa Fremont | Twitter: @lcfremont