Exclusive Interview: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini Discuss TEN THOUSAND SAINTS
Shari, I know that you had first-hand experience in the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot. But as for the straight-edge punk scene and Hare Krishna, were you guys familiar with those subcultures beforehand? And if not, how did you guys immerse yourselves into those worlds in order to authentically depict it on-screen?
Robert Pulcini: I had a niece, who was actually born in Panama, who was really into punk. We were a little older for that scene; I was more of a New Waver. I remember she had the x’s on her hand. She was really clean living, and she came from a troubled home. That was the first time I really heard about it, and it’s amazing that it’s big in Latin America and other places.
Shari Springer Berman: It is an international movement, and it still exists. I mean, I see kids all the time now, young people walking around, older people, too, with x’s.
Robert Pulcini: Krishnas really helped us out and were very focused in being participants in the movie.
Shari Springer Berman: I remember, again, growing up in New York, I remember seeing the Hare Krishnas all the time. One of the things I did do is [had] really great vegetarian lunch at the Krishna Center in Brooklyn. I did go there a few times. I was never really a part of the community, but I was certainly very aware that they were very present in New York… I have to say they were incredibly welcoming and lovely. They were very open in that a lot of people come to us from similar situations that Johnny and Jude were in. They’ve either had parents who were troubled or substance abuse or they come from substance abuse. We’re the place to help them find their way. So they were very open to us. We didn’t want to create the Krishna wedding, the rituals. We didn’t want to make them, like, Hollywood version of it, so we actually let them lead the way. All of the people in the scene — the dancers and the music and everything — come from the Krishna Center and were brought to us.
I think it’s commendable that in spite of having a film with such mature material, you actually cast teenagers to play the two main leads.
Robert Pulcini: It’s really important.
I’m 23, so when I see people who are obviously older than me, playing ten years younger, I’m always distracted. (laughs)
Shari Springer Berman: It’s funny. You get really, really fought on that, because the rules for shooting with younger people is just tougher. But we felt that it was really important to be authentic.
Since you were working with such a young cast, and the material is quite heavy and mature, in making the film, did you have an idea of what rating you were aiming for? If so, did that pose a challenge in what you were able to show on screen?
Shari Springer Berman: I never think about ratings just ’cause it’s so crazy. American Splendor got an R, and there’s, like, nothing in it — I think we use the f-word. I’m sure executives think about ratings, but if you’re a director thinking about ratings, you’re in trouble. You just tell the story. That being said, we knew this was tough material, to not sanitize it to the point that it really is not truthful to the book. We assumed this would would be an R-rated movie. We didn’t want this to be misery porn, you know, which we could’ve really done, made the beginning just be filled with misery. I don’t think the book is like that. I think the book is very spiritual and uplifting. We really took the lead totally from Eleanor.
Even though his character [Teddy] doesn’t really have much of a physical presence in the story, he is felt throughout the entire film. For Teddy, his death is the inciting incident that forces every other character to make a change in their lives. Do you think the message of how his life still has meaning after it’s ended proves that there’s still hope in a place of tragedy? Life doesn’t finish just ’cause of something like that.
Robert Pulcini: Yeah, that’s in the Krishna concept of rebirth and reincarnation… I think that Teddy is really a story about how one’s life and one’s death really resonates and joins a bunch of people who probably would’ve never been brought together and have them continue on in life.
Ten Thousand Saints opens in theaters, iTunes, and On Demand on August 14. Watch the trailer below.