Back in college, studying Media Studies, I delved into a huge project designing a production package for a film, real or not. I would very soon go overboard with the whole thing, on an exhilarating journey to an A+. On the brink of taking my screenwriting (over directing) ambition by the balls, I created a film dossier for ‘The Lives and Loves of Grace Kelly’, adapted from a biography by Jane Ellen Wayne – an actual book, but a made-up film. The finished project had details of the production, how they recreated a golden age of cinema, the casting (which included a fresh-faced Amy Locane as Grace Kelly, Tom Hanks as Prince Rainier, Sadie Frost as Ava Gardner etc), as well as the film’s awards campaign on its way to a very successful Oscar victory.
That kind of fiction-within-fiction mentality is a clear sign of creative passion and pride in craving to be part of the film industry. I got a strong whiff of this when I sat down to watch writer/director Scott Fivelson‘s genuinely funny Hollywood mockumentary Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story. Portraying the gigantic legacy left behind by Fivelson’s film-making legend Oskar Knight, the picture shows not only a satirical view on near-enough a hundred years of film history, but also in its details and accuracy demonstrates a true love and respect for cinema.
Interweaving photos of Knight with great stars from yesteryear, as well as those of an isolated man, and footage of him with his wife, pull together to form a character so familiar you feel you were a fan of Knight, his movies, and his legendary long-time pursuit of the Oscar all along. Featuring some actual acting talent offering their opinions on the man and his work, decades of the director’s career depicted in documentary form, as well as Fivelson showing his own knowledge of Hollywood’s history – the ins and the outs.
I got the opportunity to throw some questions at Scott Fivelson about the project and his love for the business.
ROBIN WRITE: Icebreaker, what’s your ideal snack/beverage when going to a movie theater?
SCOTT FIVELSON: If you’d asked Oskar Knight – Knight being a classicist – he’d probably have said Orville Redenbacher’s. But you ought to come out and see what’s happening at the Arclight Hollywood. These days, their concessions include things like Australian Catch of the Day. You need to be Thor to finish the large Coke.
What are some of your favorite movies, and what impact have they had on you as a filmmaker?
Now that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired and the artform is over… He’ll come back. He’s gotta come back. “Shane, come back!”
There are so many movies I could name, but I’d like to devote the space to remembering a talent who was so special, and he worked in TV and movies. And that is the actor, writer, and director, Robert Culp. Recently, I’ve been watching and re-watching episodes of his groundbreaking series, I Spy, which fortunately is quite available online. He brought something so fresh to the screen that it can only be defined as Bob Culp. Bill Cosby was equally brilliant in the series and he took home the Emmy every year, not Culp, who was graciousness personified, and neither of them ever said the words black or white.
Robert Culp had a long and prolific career, but where it all came together for him like I Spy again – in a haunting noir way – was the film, Hickey & Boggs, which he also directed – with such an L.A.-world-weary soulfulness.
His talent is greatly missed.
What did your parents do? Any involvement or interest in movies for them?
My mom was fan bananas for the Oscars. My dad, he was more interested in who won the U.S. Open (golf).
They are greatly missed too. They’re probably hangin’ out with Culp.
What movie stars have you adored or admired?
I think I’ve been pretty clear on Daniel Day-Lewis and Robert Culp. Add to the list – Colin Farrell. Or anyone Irish who’s ever taken an acting class. But most especially Colin Farrell. And Peter O’Toole, who when he finally received his Oscar – his long-overdue honorary one – announced to the auditorium, “You are ALL… very, very good.” Yes, he was.
I’d love to work with Rooney Mara. Brit Marling. Guy Pearce. John Hawkes. They are actors I’m continually inspired by. Many others.
So, the Oskar Knight film, although a mockumentary, it has some real truths about Hollywood. What are your own peeves regarding actual people in history who had to wait so long to win the Oscar?
In Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story, we’re not just telling the story of a director who worked year in and year out in the eternal hope of winning the Oscar… until he finally did… or didn’t… or did… no spoilers here. (You can Google it if you want. We won’t stop you.) It’s a tragicomedy about a man whose glass was seven-eighths full for a very long time. It’s a Hollywood story.
Who are some of the characters based on, whether obvious or not?
Orson Welles, Orson Welles, and Orson Welles. Actually, Oskar was like a lot of the greatest directors, who were his buds – David Lean, John Ford, Truffaut, Fellini, throw in a little Coppola. Orson Welles is a character in the film, so Oskar isn’t Orson. Oskar’s Oskar.
There is a guy in the picture – serious white beard, gruff voice, wide-brimmed hat. That might be John Huston.
How did you cast this?
I had the greatest luck with the cast on this picture – real-life stars who were happy to sit down in front of the camera, be themselves, and share their memories and feelings about Oskar Knight. Oskar would have been the first one to call it a who’s who of Hollywood: Academy Award winner Margaret O’Brien, International Emmy winner David Suchet, Portugese Golden Globe winner Joaquim de Almeida, Julianna Guill, Kristina Anapau, Rudolf Martin, Randall Batinkoff, Lawrence Pressman, Noel Neill, Jon Provost, Maya Stange.
And Lenny Von Dohlen, epic as “Oskar Knight”. He felt like he’d known the man.
And what made you do the narration yourself?
The thinking with Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story was, here’s a writer/director making a film about a writer/director inspired by the lives of writer/directors. Narrating it myself seemed the right thing to do. It simply feels more personal.
Plus, Morgan Freeman was busy.
What are some of your favorite documentaries?
I’ll tell you some great ones on fellow filmmakers. George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey, John Huston: The Man, the Movies, the Maverick, Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick. Oskar knew all these guys.
Do you follow the awards season? What in your opinion are some of the best films, performances you’ve seen so far for 2017?
I haven’t seen the new Sharknado, but I’m watching for the screener in the mail. And you know, it’s not too late for an honorary Oscar for Oskar Knight this year… He can put it on his mantelpiece… right next to the Oscar he already has… or doesn’t… or does… No spoilers here.
What is next for you, personally and professionally?
I have a number of new features in the works. The Vicar’s Wife, a romantic-comedy mystery that I wrote with Caroline Allward. We’ve got a world-class cast coming together on it, and we’d like to shoot it around Somerset. It’s like a modern Pride and Prejudice, a very British picture.
Meanwhile, director David Barrett (Fire with Fire, starring Bruce Willis, Josh Duhamel, Rosario Dawson) is on board to direct our international cast in The Guardian Angel, a World War Two film about the making of a spy, also for 2018.
What else on the movie front? Watch for A Christmas Cop as well.
I also like to work in the theater. My one-act plays, Dial L for Latch-Key and Leading the Witness, which have been performed as a double bill in London and San Francisco, look like they’re heading for a latest booking, this time in Dublin.
Of course, with the 2018 Oscars on the way, my eye is on Oskar – and the international release of Near Myth: The Oskar Knight Story.
Thank you, Robin. It’s been great speaking with you. I hope your fans will follow us. Happy Holidays.
And remember – if Oskar Knight was still directing, Daniel Day-Lewis wouldn’t have quit.