A pact to commit suicide is one tough promise.
Based off a true story, “37: A Final Promise” is about a musician who promised himself to commit suicide on his 37th birthday due to certain event in the past. But, a woman entered his life and began to change on how he saw love, hope and loss.
Randall Batinkoff (“Kick-Ass”) starred, directed and wrote the script based on the novel “How Angels Die” by Guy Blews. The film also starred Scottie Thompson (“Skyline”), Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Galactica”), Kate Nauta (“Transporter 2”), Scott Wolf (“Party of Five”), Leon Robinson (“Cool Runnings”) and Bruce Davison (“X-Men”). It is the debut directorial feature film for Batinkoff.
Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with director/actor Randall Batinkoff for this movie. We discussed about the book adaptation, the true story, directing challenges, the music and acting in his own movie.
“37: A Final Promise” has a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York now. It is also available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.
Read the interview transcript below.
Latino-Review: What attracted you to this film? I’m assuming it’s the book, right?
Randall Batinoff: It’s a book based on a true story. I know the guy in which the book is based on when he was thirty-six years old. He was fully tattooed and had this 37 [tattoo] on his arm. I asked him on what the 37 stood for. He told me that it’s how old he was going to be when he dies. I was immediately intrigued and asked him again. He was just telling me that “it was my lucky number.”
So I asked him again and he insisted that’s when he was going to off himself. So it began this odyssey with this guy. I learned more that he had a brother who died young when he was ten [years old]. His brother died of Batten disease. It devastated this guy. He was crushed and confused by the fact the world kept on moving forward as if nothing had happened. And his grandmother at one point commented that old age had nothing to commend with it.
In his mind, he came up with this formula that the only way he can reconcile the loss of his brother and not wanting something to happen to himself. So at 37, he was going to off himself.
I tried to talk him out of it. He told me that there’s nothing I or anyone else could do to sway him. Lo and behold, I didn’t see him again till about a year and a half later. At this point, he had to be at least 38 [years old]. I saw him at the gym. At Gold Gym’s, there he was. I said, “Wow. You’re still here. You didn’t do it.” He said that he chickened out. He was too happy and healthy to go forward with it. He didn’t want to devastate his mother. I said, “That’s what I was telling you.”
And I asked him about his girlfriend. She told me that she had died. I continued to ask him on how she died. He told me that she killed herself. That was sort of the beginning of the movie. I learned more and discovered more things about her and their relationship. I thought it would make a great film. We started talking and he started to write the book. He and I started working on the screenplay. All of that happened about six years ago.
It’s an incredible story as more I dived into it. I discovered things that were pretty fascinating. That’s on how it all started.
Latino-Review: In reality, you didn’t base it off a book. You based it off a conversation that you had with Guy Blews.
Randall Batinkoff: Yes, it’s based on the conversation and his experiences that formed into a book. Of course, there’s a lot more material in the book. There were a lot more of the dynamics of the relationships conveyed within the book. Ultimately, the movie and the screenplay are quite different than the book with the actual events. It’s a more lyricized and poetic version of what actually transpired based on the same key points from reality.
Latino-Review: So when you developed this film, you decided to basically changed the names and a little bit about the characters too? And for what purpose?
Randall Batinoff: Yes, we did. The real story was very difficult to relate to in many ways. It seemed like it potentially was a little too dark. As far as commercial appeal, we felt like we needed to become more poetic. We decided that we didn’t need to stick to this story exactly on how it happened. We took some creative points and made the movie.
That’s why we said it was inspired by true events. That’s more of the point.
Latino-Review: Did Guy actually helped you guys out throughout the process? Did he give you his blessing for the film?
Randall Batinkoff: Yeah, he is actually a producer on the film. And he’s in the movie as well. He was very active and integral in the entire process.
Latino-Review: Oh? He was in the movie? Who was he?
Randall Batinkoff: He plays Mikey. He’s the first guy you see in the movie. When the door opens, he’s the Englishman. He’s the English guitarist.
Latino-Review: Well, that’s interesting.
Randall Batinkoff: We had to cover up his tattoos. We had to camouflage him a little bit.
Latino-Review: Why the number 37? That seems like an odd number for an expiration date for a person.
Randall Batinkoff: That was his number. He came up with that number. I think he thought Marilyn Monroe died at 37 so it was related to her death. It was his number so I wanted to stick with this number. We do play it off in the movie.
His rationality and reasoning for the number 37 was necessary so we didn’t really get into that. It wasn’t really on what the movie was about. It was more about the love story. It’s the love for his brother and his love for Jemma. His reasoning and explanations didn’t seem to have a place in the story. We left it mysterious and opened. We paid if off in the end.
But, you’re right. The number should’ve been 27 since most rockers seem to off themselves. In this case, he needed an extra decade. [Laughter]
Latino-Review: What was your personal relationship with Guy Blews exactly? You weren’t his best friend. Were you just another friend and acquaintance to him?
Randall Batinkoff: He was a very good friend to my girlfriend at the time. I saw him on stage and watched him play. We became friendly. We went out together and I was always fascinated with his tattoos—particularly with that 37. And then the fact he actually wanted to kill himself.
I never really was around somebody who wanted to do that. I was very curious and really wanted to talk him out of it.
Latino-Review: Could you talk a little bit more about replicating his tattoos on to yourself? Are those all of his tattoos on your body?
Randall Batinkoff: Not at all. I ended up using different tattoos. It would’ve been too difficult to replicate and do it properly on a limited budget. I just found that the tattoos are pertinent to the character. It means something to a person. It’s the different philosophies to the character. He was exploring the dark side and trying to make sense of his brother’s death. There was some Aleister Crowley stuff. There was some cabala or mystical tattoos that the character was interested in to make sense of life and the afterlife.
Latino-Review: The film could’ve easily taken a dark turn. That’s the feeling I got from the dark, depressing character. Why did you come up with the decision to make the movie with more of a romantic tinge to it?
Randall Batinkoff: Well, I think at the heart of the piece that it’s really a love story. I was really set out to do a love story. Then we added the mystery and thriller elements with the dead brother. Primarily, it was to make more commercial. I also knew the relationship and experience with his brother was really inciting incident in his life. It made him the way he is and that he wanted to die.
It was really with those two conflicting events. It was the love for his brother—his guilt was one driving force. Then it turned into a love story when he meets her and falls in love with her. We have those two worlds and we haven’t seen that before.
Latino-Review: I understand that it’s your first directorial gig. How was that experience?
Randall Batinkoff: It was awesome. It was amazing. It was really challenging and overwhelming at times. By just having an idea; seeing through; getting it done; and having it go out to the world—was great. I learned a lot. I had no idea on how much work it was just to make a movie. Now having been through it, I can’t believe on how many movies have been made. It’s a herculean task to get it done even on such a small level.
You can appreciate everybody’s job in a way you can’t. As an actor, you sort of hide in the trailer and then work with everybody on your part. As a director, you’re interacting with every aspect. You’ll see it all go down. It was a great learning experience for me.
Latino-Review: Is this also your first script writing experience?
Randall Batinkoff: I’ve written some scripts before, but this is the first thing that got produced. So yes, it’s officially the first. It’s the first on my sense. It’s also the first time I’ve produced. I wore a lot of hats and picked up a lot of skills along the way.
Latino-Review: What was the most difficult aspect on this project for you since you did wear many hats?
Randall Batinkoff: That’s a good question. I think the most difficult thing was actually wearing all the hats. It would’ve been a lot easier if I’ve done one or the other. To be honest with you, I don’t know really since they’re all pretty difficult. The acting was hard. The directing was tricky. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing cast and a strong crew. I really didn’t just have to do too much. I mean I was doing tons, but I could also rely on other people to do their job. I was lucky and my actors knew their parts. It was wonderful.
It is a great way to lose fifteen pounds though by directing and acting in your own movie. It’s stressful since we’ve did it in seventeen days.
Latino-Review: Why did you come to the decision that you should be playing the starring role rather than having someone else play the part?
Randall Batinkoff: I tried to and I couldn’t get the person I wanted. My friend actually suggested to me [to play the part]. He said, “Randall, this is a great part. Why don’t you do it? I think you can do it.” I said, “Yeah, but I’m directing it.” And he responded, “Just do it. You’re not getting any younger.”
I thought, “Geez. I spent six years working on the project. It’s an amazing part and I could pull it off.” I felt like I could sink my teeth into it and challenge myself in that regard. I knew if I could get the acting down, then I could figure out the rest.
It was a lot. I don’t know if I could do this again. But, in the end, it was an amazing experience. Luckily, I got through it.
Latino-Review: Was it difficult to direct yourself?
Randall Batinkoff: Of course. You can’t really be objective. Luckily, I’ve studied with this guy named Harry Mastergeorge for many years. I got taught by the best acting teacher out there and the whole thing is about being self-reliant. You can’t really rely on the director.
At a certain point in my acting career, it’s not to look for everything from the director. If you’re feeling it and it’s there—then you know it’s good. You do as an actor—know when it’s real and when you’re not. It’s great to get the approval of the director. You don’t really need it. In this case, I didn’t really have it.
I do give myself notes like any actor would do. I would try things a little differently. It’s very tough, but you just got to do it.
Latino-Review: How did you develop the rock music for the film? Is that your actual singing?
Randall Batinkoff: This is a great story. My entertainment lawyer is also a rock n’ roll guy and has a rock band. It turns out that his music is perfect for the movie. I was looking for music and all of this fell on my lap. The themes and the lyrics were all appropriate with Adam. The rest is with Kate Nauta, who plays Dani, in her song called Photograph which I’ve seen before I’ve cast her. And that song is in the movie. She has an incredible voice. Kathleen Flynn, the composer, did an amazing job. One of the band members from my lawyer’s band, he did a lot of the composition stuff as well.
It’s with a small group of people and luckily the music came together. Did you like the music?
Latino-Review: I did like the music. It was a great blend throughout the movie.
Randall Batinkoff: Cool. It wasn’t just one note. There’s a lot of different types of music and a lot of different emotions. Adam is a complex guy. We tried to convey the emotional states through the music too. He changes from the beginning till the end.
Latino-Review: You know what I also liked? It’s that house in Malibu.
Randall Batinkoff: The house in Malibu is incredible. Here’s a story. I really wanted to do this helicopter shot. So it’s a scene with the ghost finding Adam. It’s not obvious, but that’s what I was thinking in that sequence. I had a helicopter pilot, but for whatever reason—we couldn’t get the crew to agree to shoot the helicopter stuff. The cameras were complicated with the setup. There are no guarantees that it was going to work. It was very expensive.
So I started looking for some existing aerial footage. There’s one clip of aerial footage that exists with this house—where the footage lands on this house. It turns out that footage is the same house where we shot in. That was one in a million.
That was our house. It was impossible. That’s how we got that footage. Isn’t that crazy?
Latino-Review: That’s nuts.
Randall Batinkoff: And it’s a house that is available for rent. That’s on how I found it. I was looking for houses in Malibu for rent for a week.
Latino-Review: It’s a beautiful house. You did recruit several pretty well-known actors in your film here like Tricia Helfer, Scott Wolf and Bruce Davison.
Randall Batinkoff: Scott is an old buddy of mine. We actually studied acting together for a bunch of years the Playhouse West. We’ve been friends ever since. Bruce and I have done a few movies together. One of the movies was called “Touched,” in which he played my dad. In fact, the kid who died in that movie, Charlie Lea, I cast him as young James in “37.” I worked with Leon Robinson, an incredible actor, on my first film “Streetwalkin’” with Melisso Leo back in 1985. I’ve known him for twenty-five years.
I’ve heard about Scottie [Thompson] through a friend of mine. They said great things about her. Kate [Nauta] was found online by watching her music video. And Tricia [Helfer] was through my old manager. That was a huge coup.
Latino-Review: It seems like you had an interesting experience on this project. Would you try to do something like this again?
Randall Batinkoff: I definitely want to do it again. No question. I don’t think I would play the lead part again though. The most fun I had was when I was not acting. I had a lot of fun as a director and focusing on what’s happening. I felt like I didn’t get the real full directing experience by acting in the film too. I got the taste of it, but there’s just too much stuff going on. I primarily focused on the acting for this project, because I knew if there’s no acting then it wouldn’t work.
Next time around, I’ll not play a part of play a smaller part.
Latino-Review: Anyways, I enjoyed this conversation. You provided a lot of information.
Randall Batinkoff: I appreciate it. I had a great time talking with you.
“37: A Final Promise” has a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York now. It is also available on VOD from Gravitas Ventures.