Heaven or hell?
In “Walter,” it follows a shy and complex movie ticket-collector who believed he is the son of God who has the power to judge every human being on whether they’re heading to heaven or hell. Until one day, a ghost visits him for a judgement—Walter realizes more about himself in terms of grief and the meaning of life.
The film stars Andrew J. West, Justin Kirk, Neve Campbell, Leven Rambin, Milo Ventimiglia, Brian White, Peter Facinelli, Virginia Madsen, Jim Gaffigan and William H. Macy.
This wonderful comedy marks the directorial feature film debut for Anna Mastro. The story is by Paul Shoulberg.
In a phone interview earlier this month, Latino-Review had a discussion with Mastro about the film. We discussed various topics, including the themes, original idea for the film, the cast and challenges. We even talked in detail about the most memorable popcorn scene in the film (yes, you have to see this).
“Walter” is in theaters for a limited in select cities. It is also available on VOD.
Read the interview below.
Latino-Review: Let me jump right in. Why were you attracted to this project?
Anna Mastro: I really loved the characters and the setup of the situation. I loved on how it was written—I’m more attracted to something that has universal themes. I thought about on what lengths you would go through in dealing with grief. Have you seen the movie?
Latino-Review: I have seen the movie. Yes.
Anna Mastro: So it’s the fact that this kid would go through all of this extent to keep himself in this bubble and prevent him to deal with the loss of his father. I really, really loved that. It was a really cool way to tell the story in which I’ve really haven’t seen before.
Latino-Review: I understand that this was based off of Paul Shoulberg’s short film.
Anna Mastro: It’s actually based off a short story and then they made a short film.
Latino-Review: Oh, I see. How was the transition? And how was it also different?
Anna Mastro: I think it was pretty different. I didn’t see the short film, because I wasn’t really involved with it until long after I was already working on the script and movie with him. I think it was pretty different.
The only similarities are on what he does. Both characters are played by Andrew West, someone that Paul and producer Brenden Hill went to college with. The movie is definitely much different.
For me it wasn’t a transition at all. It was just something that was made.
Latino-Review: So the decision to keep Andrew J. West was basically the production’s decision despite the fact that you haven’t seen his work before?
Anna Mastro: It was both. I’ve seen Andrew’s work in television. I already knew him, but not necessarily from the short. I think Andrew is [perfect], because he created that character. I couldn’t really see anyone else playing it.
Latino-Review: Tell me about the rest of the cast. You have a pretty good cast here in the expansion of their quirky characters.
Anna Mastro: We have an incredible cast. We’ve got extremely lucky. Virginia Madsen plays Andrew’s mom. She is like super-neurotic for a mom. It was really cool working with her. She was amazing. Justin Kirk who plays Greg, who is the ghost causes Walter to revisit his life and ultimately leads him to why he is in this strange existence for himself. Justin has this great comedic timing. I loved him in “Weeds.” He was really the last person we’ve cast. I was holding out, because I really wanted it to be him. He’s amazing and one of the most underrated actors ever. He’s incredible.
William H. Macy plays the therapist Dr. Corman. He is such an incredible talented person to work with. Their sessions are definitely key to the movie.
Latino-Review: Now the film has some kind of religious overtones while you’re keeping the film as a comedy. How do you try to balance all that out?
Anna Mastro: We really didn’t think of it as a religious movie. It’s sort of God in a relatable sense. The movie is not meant necessarily to be a religious movie. I think that when people go through loss, grief or losing people—they will look at things outside of themselves. God and religion are definitely one of those things.
Once you get into the movie, it’s been treated like a fantastical thing. I think people are growing up to the idea of religion and comedy in a crossing. “Jane the Virgin” is on TV and people do watch it. They’re not offended by the religious crossover.
Latino-Review: I do want to talk about one of the particular scenes, which is very memorable. The scene is very similar to “American Beauty.” You have your actress on top of all that popcorn. Can you tell me about the development of that scene?
Anna Mastro: Yeah, definitely. It was not in the original script. In the very first week of shooting, we were shooting inside a cinemaplex that was opened for business. We couldn’t really afford to shut it down. Every day, from five o’clock in the morning till eight at night, we were shooting in a movie theater that was popping popcorn. The smell was overwhelming.
One night, I basically had a dream. Levin [Rambin] was on the ceiling and popcorn was everywhere. Then it sort of turned into this nightmare. It was a very subconscious dream I had and the next morning on the set I told Paul, “Please write this scene for us. We have to do it. It’ll be so fun in the moving.”
A lot of people loved that scene. Levin had such a good time on shooting that scene. We were just brining popcorn all day. It was a really fun part of the movie.
Latino-Review: Just out of curiosity, how much popcorn did you use for that scene? [Laughter]
Anna Mastro: [Laughter] It was about eight foot by eight foot kiddie pool full of popcorn on a gymnasium floor. [Laughter] It was everywhere! Her skin was like yellow. It was so much fun and she was eating it. I thought it was hilarious.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] What did you suppose was the greatest challenge for you in working on this indie film?
Anna Mastro: The greatest challenge in a lot of new films and definitely ours was raising the money. It was something that I’ve never done before. As a first time director, it’s damn near impossible. This isn’t a horror movie, genre movie or anything that fits into one’s little box to be financed. We had producers that hadn’t made movies before.
We started out with an unknown lead actor. Now Andy, of course, is on “Walking Dead” and everywhere as a future star, but at that time it was different. I think when we got William H. Macy, Virginia Madsen, and Neve Campbell—those people really definitely helped. It was still a movie that was really, really hard to get financing. We pulled together with money from here and there. It was crazy. So we shot it for very low money.
That was definitely the hardest part. I’ve done a lot of shooting from commercials to music videos to TV to short films. Shooting this was an absolute joy. I think that putting together the money was such a challenge.
Latino-Review: I understand this is your first feature film as a director. How was the overall experience? Would you do it again?
Ann Mastro: Of course. I can’t wait to do it again. Once you do it, it was like the seal was broken. [Laughter] You want to do it again immediately. Hopefully, you’ll have one of those careers that you’ll get to tell a lot of different stories and really make cinema magic.
Latino-Review: Let me start to wrap things up. Can you talk about some of your next projects for yourself?
Anna Mastro: I’m working on a six-part television series. It’s a drama called, “Guidance” about a high school guidance counselor trying to solve this mystery amongst the students. I’m also working on a feature remake on a Belgium film called, “Moscow, Belgium” that came out in 2008. I wrote a script for that and we’re casting it right now. It’s a romantic comedy about a women rediscovering things in her 40s with a younger guy.
I have a few other projects and been keeping really busy. I’ve been shooting fashion films for Zac Posen. I’ve been traveling around and did a series in Europe in the fall. I’ve been quite busy.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] And one last question. In your opinion, if you had to judge Greg—do you think he went to heaven or hell?
Anna Mastro: The only way to answer that is—what do you think?
Latino-Review: [Laughter] I wouldn’t like that power to judge.
Anna Mastro: Exactly, right? I think the cool part of the movie is that we don’t tell you. I really want the people to make that decision for themselves. A movie shouldn’t be giving you every answer. I really wanted the people to make up their minds about it.
Latino-Review: Terrific. That’s a good answer. I enjoy this conversation and I wish you good luck with the film?
Anna Mastro: Thank you so much, Gig.
“Walter” is in theaters for a limited in select cities. It is also available on VOD.