It is no joke that bullying needs to end. How and when that happens is unknown, but if we ever want it to stop, we have to keep the lines of communication open with our own children. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Michelle Danner, Artistic Director at Edgemar Center of the Arts and one of the most successful acting coaches in Hollywood. She is the director of the film version of John Buffalo Mailer’s “Hello Herman” starring Norman Reedus, Martha Higareda and newcomer Garrett Backstrom.
“’Hello Herman’ is the story of a teenager who, out of confusion and rage, carries out a high school shooting that mirrors the tragedy of Columbine,” says Danner. ” Certain members of the media only heighten the tragedy by sensationalizing it and setting out to televise his execution.”
What is the message behind “Hello Herman” ?
The message is definitely bullying, I mean, it’s a difficult subject matter, its a difficult movie to make, and there have been a couple other movies in the last few years that have been made about the subject matter but dealing with the parents. This movie deals mostly with the kids that did it. It does have the character of the mother, a single mother of two children, who had been disconnected with her child. The movie talks a lot about how desensitized we can become. Some of it has to do with the fact that technology is different today than it was 10-20 years ago, so its effected us in good ways and in not such good ways and its effected our children. The message in the movie, “Hello Herman” is a message about connection, the connection to other people, reaching out to other people and it’s about love. There’s a line in the movie that I always say that we ended up not using, “Maybe people will learn to be nicer to one another.”, and when you watch the film that message is certainly inherent in the movie.
What have parents gone away with after seeing this movie?
Many parents who have come to see the movie have walked away with, I think wanting to go and hug their children for one, and two, it raises a sense of awareness that every parent can be more aware and by being more aware, they can have more in depth conversations with their children, especially since life gets so busy. Some times in those in depth conversations what happens in school comes up, and how were kids teased and treated, and that there are different varying levels of bullying. It’s different with boys and girls, but with both comes physical, brutal and verbal abuse. I think one of the things that escalated has been cyber-bullying, and in the old days you went to school and you got bullied and that was during school. Now it’s a 24/7 thing that continues on the internet at night while you are in your own home. The phenomenon of the internet and what has that done for bullying has really upped the stakes as more people can be reached, and it can be more cruel. It’s something to talk about and I think children need to have the conversation and schools, administrators, teachers, and at home with parents, the conversation has to be had. The conversation has to be had with kids who have seen children bullied and do nothing. What happens is that kids just stand by and that alone gives the bullies fuel to continue to do it. We have to communicate to our youth that if you see something, you need to do something about it, you need to step up to the plate.
How was it to direct this type of movie, with such a strong subject matter?
I was really driven by the message and it reminded me that in the future if I keep directing, the subject matters that I want to tackle, I have to believe in. It’s difficult to make movies with a strong subject matter and it really helps as an artist if you believe in the message that your saying. It helps to put one foot in front of the other and take all the steps that you need to take on a daily basis to move the project along. It really makes you want to get out of bed faster in the morning because every time I walk into the editing room I’m excited and filled with passion.
Why is this movie different?
We are doing some test screenings which have been very well received and that’s been exciting. Its all fueled by the message. I think its a good message for our youth and even though it’s a very provocative movie, it’s very cutting edge. The film is about a student who goes into a school and kills students, a teacher and police officers and a journalist who goes into the maximum security prison and interviews this kid and through a series of interviews, you begin to know this kid and he gets to talk about what happens when you cross the line. Through the movie, the journalist has to deal with his own demons because he too has a past that has haunted him. The movie examines both these lives, these two people who have crossed that line and it has the subject matter of bullying. The theme is cruelty and racism, and youth violence but we never show blood in the movie. There no gore, no blood because that is left up the imagination.
Do you think this is a type of movie that can be used as a tool in teaching?
We were told that “Hello Herman” will have a second life in the schools because it’s something that can really spark debate and fuel the conversation in high schools and colleges. Even though its a drama it could be a psychological thriller edge to it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with Tots To Teens Magazine. We fully support you in the fight against bullying and it is our hopes that “Hello Herman” can spark the dialogue that is so needed in our society!