Earlier this week, I sat down with DC native Anthony Greene, writer/producer/director of the independent crime drama “The Henchman’s War”. Greene was selected as September’s Filmmaker of the Month by the Washington, DC Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, which honored his diverse breadth of work including several documentaries and short films. Greene is undoubtedly a role model for aspiring local talent in the industry. He is currently producing the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza which runs from October 11th-17th at the District’s West End Cinema. “The Henchman’s War”, Greene’s feature debut, which stars Rick Kain, Robert Leembruggen, Jane E. Petkofsky and Paul Sieber, will also be playing at West End for a week-long run beginning this Friday, September 20th. The film follows a mob enforcer (Kain) who seeks retribution in the wake of a fatal incident, creating a ripple effect through the organization that employs him.
Anthony Greene: Well, once you’ve worked in the pre-trial mentally insane ward, it’s nothing. As a matter of fact, nothing prepares you for it more. Forensic psychiatrics, maximum security pre-trial. I did that for eleven years before I got into filmmaking.
PPR: Wow. What inspired the transition?
AG: I just love movies. I had a son when I was sixteen, graduated when I was seventeen. Didn’t go to college and went straight into the work force. Then I had a daughter when I was twenty. So my whole life was “get up and go to work.” Everything else got put in the “hobby section”, so in that regard, it was depressing as hell. My familial base wasn’t really “find what you love and do that”. So I kinda had to crash against my upbringing and everything I knew. There’s a way to make money at your passion, no matter how great – or degrading – it may be. But there’s also that feeling you get where it’s not about the actual money, it’s the feeling you get about yourself. That’s really the definitive segue into filmmaking for me.
PPR: What are some of your favorites?
AG: My favorite movie is “Cinema Paradiso”. I mean, I love movies, so how can I not love that movie? Second is “Casablanca”. My favorite director is probably Hitchcock. So, you know, it’s serious. (Laughing) I mean, once you’ve seen “Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II” in the movie theater, you know there’s no turning back.
PPR: Ah, so you’re a horror buff!
AG: I was probably twelve when that came out, so it was probably the greatest shit of my life! Now if I look at it, I’ll be nostalgic….. like “Sleepaway Camp”, it can never go wrong, because it introduced me to hermaphrodites (laughing). My grandmother used to let me watch horror movies, so I would tape movies on Beta off of HBO – “Phantasm”, “Shocker”, all those. Horror movies are a segue to all other types of movies. Horror is universal.
PPR: Tell me about “A World at Work”.
AG: It’s what I did to meet executive producers. I wrote four short films, brought in different directors for three of them and did one myself. I produced all four, put them all together, put everybody under one roof, and filled up the movie house. Then you invite an executive producer to come check it out, and they walk in and see a bunch of people and movies that look halfway decent on the screen and say, “Okay, let’s work together in the future.” So “A World at Work” was a calculated stepping stone for me.
PPR: How did your first documentary come to fruition?
AG: I was going to Catholic Charities School to become a certified drug and alcohol addictions counselor. I was educating myself to be a working stiff. But I’d been thinking about trying to do [a film]. I saw these guys singing doo-wop in the subway station. I went to Circuit City, bought a camera, bought an editing machine, ordered some books online, and just did it. I actually rented out a movie theater to show it. It was awful, but I learned a lot. I accomplished it from inception to distribution.
PPR: Was your goal to eventually break into feature films?
AG: At first, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. There are so many intricate details in filmmaking. Like now, I would never touch a camera again. The technology changes too fast, I can’t really talk “tech”. I hate when people’s first question is “What do you edit on?”. Most people who work on movies don’t even watch movies – the technology is so accessible. But the whole feel and mood and involvement that comes with watching movies isn’t necessarily there. Kids watch movies on their phones now. When I go to make a movie, I think about it being on a movie screen. Because that’s my connection to it. As a director, if I could get one DP and one editor that I’ve locked with, the battle would be halfway done.
PPR: Let’s talk about “The Henchman’s War.” It’s not your typical gangster-genre picture. How did the script get started? Is it something that distinctly represents a point in your life?
AG: Between the time I made it and now, there are certain things in the movie that only I will think about or can confer with myself about. I’m better at opening up and talking about things that are personal now than at that time. And I think it’s because I got that movie out of my system. I wrote the script in one week. There weren’t that many different drafts. I came back from seeing a midnight showing of “Thor” – stayed over at my girlfriend’s house, came home the next day and my house was robbed. I had like 350 Blu-ray movies, an HD projector, 2 Playstations, an Xbox. Didn’t take my books, though (laughing). Anyway, all my stuff was gone. I remember Sean Penn saying “You haven’t really lived until you’ve lost everything.” The thing about it was – the night before I had just cleaned up – you know how you clean up, everything’s neat, the bed’s made perfectly. I really didn’t wanna leave because everything looked so nice (laughing). I come back, and it’s like, “reset”. I was upset, then I wasn’t. I had all these thoughts and all these feelings. The thing is, when you’re in the quiet, and when there’s nothing to distract you – I was just with myself. I was in my own head. And then the movie started coming out. Between that day and when the insurance check showed up to go get more “distractions” is when “The Henchman’s War” was born. It’s a perfect match of where my mind was at that moment.
PPR: How long did it take to shoot?
AG: Well, we shot on weekends mostly. But about fifteen days altogether.
PPR: I read that most of the cast are theatre actors. Did you find yourself tailoring the script to match their respective styles and capabilities?
AG: Absolutely. I love theatre actors. They study the craft more. It’s very hard to go on stage every night, be a character, remember lines, have the energy, exuberance, diction and clarity – and to do it for an hour or two on stage. So the actual craft of acting is already imbedded in stage actors. So for the most part, all you have to do is tone them down. The way I like to shoot is with multiple cameras – it’s best to capture everything all at one time.
PPR: Was your intention to make the film feel like a play?
AG: I wanted to make an American “foreign” film. I wanted it to be about what was said – and what was not said – more so than about a “gun” movie. The quieter films, the foreign films, don’t waste their time with a lot of camera tricks. I got drawn into that, it worked for me. I like giving the viewer the option to look around and see what else is there. Like the opening scene – it was really important to me. Because if you dig the opening scene, you might dig the movie. If you don’t (laughing), sorry, I got your money anyway. I learned from watching Hitchcock films that the viewer’s imagination is far more cost efficient (laughing) and works so much better than tons of blood and things smashing. When you’re working with a micro-budget, that’s the best way to think.
“The Henchman’s War”, from Barking Ira and Skyrocket Productions, opens at West End Cinema in Washington, DC this Friday, September 20th. For tickets and showtimes visit http://www.westendcinema.com. The film is also available as a novelization by Emorelle Leach.Visit http://www.thehenchmanswar.com/ to learn more about the film, and click here to read our review.