The story goes that you were sitting on a park bench when the idea for this movie came to you...
Actually, it starts a little before that. I had been thinking about making a film for years but was caught, as many of us are, in the practical grind of making a living. At the time I was a chef. One day I was talking to my wife and we realized that in order to do this kind of work (filmmaking) you have to really do it. So I quit everything. And it was because I quit my work that I was sitting on that park bench, working on a screenplay, when this man came and sat down next to me. Like me, he was watching his son in the playground. He had just moved from Utah and asked me what I did. I said I was a filmmaker.
He then started describing this friend of his that he knew in Utah, this guy who he said was kind of hard to explain, who wanted to help some blind veteran find some jewels in Austria that he stole during the war. I just looked at him and said, I wanna make that movie! He said, "What films have you made?" I said, "None." And he said, "Perfect." [LAUGHS] I'll produce it." That was (producer) Dan Campbell who was just so taken with the thrill of this journey. He never really had aspirations to make tons of money off it. He just wanted to see this thing happen. He felt it burning him up. And when we met he knew this seemed right. And we just took off and made it.
He then started describing this friend of his that he knew in Utah, this guy who he said was kind of hard to explain, who wanted to help some blind veteran find some jewels in Austria that he stole during the war. I just looked at him and said, I wanna make that movie!
What were your first impressions when you met Lance, the man Dan was describing?
The first time we met was a very strange moment. I think he had some idea that I was some snob from New York who was making a reality show or something. So it took awhile for that to take off. We then met his friend Daryl, this blind veteran, and we did this incredible interview with him. And then we said very spontaneously, how about we go tomorrow to Montana and meet this friend that you stole these jewels with? And Daryl, who's this eighty-three-year-old guy who didn't know us at all said, "OK."
And we took off the next day and went to Montana and met his friend. Flying back from Montana, Lance mentioned very casually, "I'm going to Arizona." And we said, "Why?" and he said , "I know this other guy. He's got treasure, too" I said, "Treasure? What do you mean?" and he says , "He fought in World War II in the Philippines, so I'm gonna go. He has a map." He always spoke in little sound bytes - map, treasure, Philippines. You don't get that much, which I love about Lance. He just says these things, and you go, "Well, I'm coming too." So we flew to Vegas, then we drove to the desert in Arizona, and found Andy with barely an address. And that was how the whole second story got launched
Was there a particular moment when you realized you had a movie?
I knew we had a movie the moment we met Andrew, it was clear that here was a story of tremendous depth and darkness and intrigue. We drove away from that meeting with Lance just pondering and speculating on the incredible things we had just heard: this whole story about samurai swords, and these emotional tales of heads being cut off. You don't hear stories like that about the war. And it was amazing because it was at that moment that I knew that it would be the contrasting stories of these two veterans being told through this one central character of Lance. And that's when the whole thing fell into place.
What did you discover that intrigued you so much about these men's lives?
There's something so sexy about treasure, something so alluring and elusive about this fantasy of finding gold.
I always wanted the story to be more than what it looked like on the outside. There was always this feeling that we were on this Heart of Darkness kind of journey with this brewing history that kept bubbling up to the surface.
We think of history as something that comes and goes, but it really doesn't. These events happened. These men fight in a war and it doesn't end for them. The war isn't over. That was true for both Daryl and Andy. The war was very much alive. And it was really clear that they were going on this journey for that reason, because there was something still there. Especially in the case of Andrew, this thing that was living inside of him, it wasn't something he really could look at. It was gnawing away at him relentlessly sixty years later.
There's also a part of each of them that doesn't want to find the gold...
Yes. And so you have the obvious metaphor of the treasure and having buried these things where the war was fought. The question is, "Do I wanna look at that and engage in what that was that I really buried, or do I wanna bury it further? There's the surface wanting to find something and at the same time, there's another voice saying, I don't want to find this.
And I love the idea that the viewer goes through a similar process; because there's something so sexy about treasure, something so alluring and elusive about this fantasy of finding gold. And to some degree, you have to engage in what part of us lives in this fantasy, and what part of us is willing to see the other thing that's occurring; because we all want the fantasy. But there's always something more.