To be completely honest, I was offered an interview with a director I had never heard of. Easy fix with a hop on over to IMDB and look him up. I was shocked to see he had directed some of my favorite movies and tv shows. Top of that list is Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. But that’s not the only pleasant surprise I found. He was from Cleveland, Ohio! As if talking with the director of the season finale of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series wasn’t enough, now I was beyond thrilled! Check out Dwight’s great insight into the film and television industry as well some fantastic reminiscing about Cleveland!
NL: Hi Dwight, how are you today?
Dwight Little (DL): Hi, good morning Jim, how are you doing?
NL: Awesome, thank you.
DL: Where are you?
NL: I’m in Las Vegas, Nevada.
DL: Oh, okay. Got you, not too far away.
NL: Not too far but, I actually looked at your bio and I saw we share a little history, good or bad. We’re both from Cleveland, Ohio.
DL: Oh, no kidding. Where are you from?
NL: Medina, about 45 minutes south.
DL: Yeah, I know Medina. I know Cuyahoga Falls better.
NL: Oh, yeah?
DL: I know Cuyahoga Falls really well and of course I was really from the east side of Cleveland up in the suburban area on the east side so I know Medina.
NL: That’s great. If you don’t mind that leads to my first question, being a kid growing up in Ohio, did you ever dream that you would be in television and movies?
DL: I didn’t really get the bug till about 10th grade in high school. Once I had got a super 8 camera in my hand in high school, I did take to it and at that time of course I didn’t know anybody that has anything to do with the movie business and no family or relative or relatives’ relative knew anybody in the films business. It seemed like the only way to even make a start was film school and interestingly I got turned down at Northwestern and Boden and a couple of others that had film schools. But I got into USC which was the hardest one to get into. It was crazy. Yeah, I know, isn’t that crazy? It was like a 3rd round draft pick.
NL: You got into USC, that’s great.
DL: Yeah, they put me on hold, I didn’t get in at first but they said we’ll consider you and then at the last minute I got the green light so I came out here and by going to USC, by the time I had finished film school some of my colleagues, they knew people or they knew something that was going on so at least I made a few contacts that way.
NL: I’m looking at your filmography and it’s incredible. You run the gamut of horror, action, drama. Which one is your favorite genre?
DL: To me the perfect action movie is the perfect movie. I love horror movies if they’re smart and different. I can’t bear most of it but the good stuff, the smart horror movies are great. Although I have to say, the Bullet, French Connection, Lethal Weapon, that kind of movie really interests me and I did a political thriller called Murder at 1600, which was reminiscing a movie I really liked growing up called Three Days of the Condor, sort of in the same spirit.
NL: Sure, I know that movie.
DL: Then there’s my oddball family movie in there too. It’s been an interesting mix of genres. I think what’s great about From Dusk Till Dawn for me is that it’s an action horror movie and it’s the kind of material that you would’ve made to feature 10 or 20 years ago, now television is really opened up so you can do enter your material on television and it doesn’t have that network feel, it feels like a long indie movie.
NL: That leads me to my next question. You’ve been in the industry for quite some time. Have you seen a big difference in the distribution model? Specifically, networks like the El Ray Network and how did that change how you look at directing.
DL: It’s changed really massively. When I was doing most of the heavy studio films that I did, it was in the 90′s. Back then every movie required theatrical distribution in order to set up the DVD and then what was the VHS market. There was no streaming, no digital, people didn’t have computers at home. You either saw the movie in the theater or you rented it in VHS or DVD and that’s the way you could consume and I really believe that getting a movie in to the theaters now has become epically difficult without huge branding through Marvel or whatever the Godzilla sort of situation may be and all those movies like Marked for Death and Murder at 1600 and Rapid Fire, those movies wouldn’t been made today, because they don’t want to see $15 million marketing spends. Also there were 20 maybe 30 theatrical distributors when I was in there from Orion and New World and Canon and New Line and there was lots of independent theatrical distributors and now there just … Even MGM is gone. There’s just … If you’re going to release theatrically, you have to be released by a studio or a very small independent, you’re only going to be out on a few screens. Then at the same time now that happened, television, a lot of the constraints of censorship just went away and that’s why you’ve got all the Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, the HBO stuff folks, True Detective, these are all basically feature films done for television in terms of cinematically and character wise.
NL: Along those lines, you’re taking a very popular movie franchise with From Dusk Till Dawn and have now directed two episodes. How did it feel jumping into a world that a lot of people know and changing the story a little bit and taking these characters in different direction? How was it directing that?
DL: What was great is the casting which I cannot claim any responsibilities for because DJ and Zane were cast by Robert and they have this amazing chemistry and the Gecko Brothers you know, I guess everybody thought, well who’s going to do Clooney and Tarantino, how are they going to duplicate or recreate that? DJ and Zane brought something completely of their own to the Gecko Brothers and I think they just blew it off. They were both so amazing together and the way Robert Patrick stepped in for Harvey Keitel and the way the Fuller family sort of interacted. I just thought, it certainly tips its hat to the movie but it become it’s own thing right away, it just became its own vehicle and Don Johnson who I have worked with on something else was just so incredible on that pilot episode, just rounding it out and giving it the weight of who he is as that Texas Ranger.
NL: Obviously Don Johnson is an icon in television with Miami Vice and Wilmer Valderrama with That 70′s Show, how was it directing these icons in a completely different series than what they’ve done before?
DL: I didn’t know Wilmer but he is such a complete pro and so prepared and a real professional, I think he was super happy to be there. I didn’t work a lot with Don Johnson on this because he was only in one scene in mine but I did work with him extensively on the show called Just Legal which was, unfortunately it didn’t go forward but it was a great show. He is just really a good actor, he’s just a fine actor. He was great and so was Robert Patrick but I think the real, the heart of this series really was in the Gecko brothers and these two … They’re both known actors but they’re not known the way Don Johnson is known. I think you’re going to see a lot from DJ and Zane going forward just that kind of chemistry they were able to bring to it and really step into two iconic roles and make it their own.
NL: If I remember correctly, you were the one that brought these guys to the famous Titty Twister, the whole group. How are we going to … All right, don’t get too much away because we don’t want too many spoilers or anything like that but how are we going to go with this final episode? Where are the groups going, the Gecko’s, Fullers, where are we going with this?
DL: Do we want spoiler alerts? Let me put it this way, each of these characters has an ending ark you know, the Fuller family does, the Gecko Brothers do, Santanico does and Carlos, the Wilmer character, in episode ten, each of these characters comes to a surprising but in the end, it feels like a place where they were destined to go and that was the real challenge of doing episode ten is making sure that each of these characters wound up both organically and in the way that could tee up season two. That was the fun of doing it, is completing a ten episode journey for each of these major characters.
NL: Very cool. Now if you don’t mind, our little slogan here is a place for you inner nerd and I’m going to let my inner nerd out. You directed Halloween 4, correct?
NL: In my opinion Halloween 3, it’s not that its bad, it’s just when you don’t have Michael Myers, it’s not Halloween. The way you got the franchise back on track is amazing. I just thought that film is one of the best in the franchise, not to mention the fact that it’s the 4th one. What was it like working with an iconic character like Michael Myers?
DL: That was my first collaboration with my writing partner Alan McElroy. How can I say this, I loved that script, I love working with Donald Pleasence, I love finding the two sisters. We screen tested Danielle and Ellie Cornell, both extensively. I felt like Michael was just… If we treated him you know, just kind of with a certain honesty and not over the top. He was just this sort of relentless searcher for his niece. I don’t know how to explain it, it was so… That whole shoot was so interesting. The look of the Midwest. I try to bring all of my personal Halloween experiences into that movie. I really felt like all the fallen leaves and all the decorations. I really made it very personal and I think that’s what maybe comes through and is the reason why people are so fond of that movie. I think it’s because they just … It feels like a personal film, it feels like an indie movie. It doesn’t feel in any way like a slasher movie, do you know what I mean?
NL: Yeah. It really does amaze me. It’s the 4th in the horror franchise and it’s one of the best ones. That really doesn’t happen, that’s impressive.
DL: It’s very unusual and I think it’s because we just… we stayed with the characters and didn’t… we weren’t trying to do jokey you know, slasher jokes or we weren’t trying to be real clever, tongue and cheek. We were just like, here is a town and here are these characters and here comes this devil on two legs and what are we going to do. Donald Pleasence you know, he really came back and grounded it and I thought that was his best Dr. Loomis by far.
NL: I completely agree and it’s sort of funny you mentioned tongue and cheek jokes because you also worked on Freddy’s Nightmares. How did that go?
DL: That’s because I had known some people, I’m trying to think maybe it was Mike Deluca I knew who asked me to join that project. It was the very first thing I did for television but what was good is that I got that relationship going with Robert Englund and we made The Phantom of the Opera together, which by the way just had its 25th anniversary. Blu Ray is coming out this July and there’s a lot of excitement. That’s a movie that’s really built up a fan base over the years. I get more comments really now about Phantom of the Opera than anything and interestingly, although it was considered a disappointment at the time because all the Broadway, Phantom of the Opera people were horrified, the Andrew Lloyd Webber people. Once everybody got over the shock of the fact that this was not a Lloyd Webber musical and saw it as a Hammer horror movie, then everybody just really came to it. For Robert and I, it’s been great, because we had a clear vision of what we wanted to do on that.
NL: Very cool. Again, looking at your filmography I’m just very impressed, like you said Murder at 1600 was a fantastic movie and you worked on X-Files, 24 and The Practice. But one that my wife and I enjoyed very much, Drop Dead Diva. How did that come about?
DL: That grew out of personal relationships, I had worked closely with Josh Berman, who’s the writer, show runner. He was one of the writers on a show that I’ve done a lot of called Bones. Josh knew me from Bones and asked me if I wanted to be part of that and of course the opportunity to do something that was light and funny and just very light on its feet, was a nice break for me because you can’t be dark and moody all the time. There’s a wonderful director of photography down there, named Lloyd Ahern. And Brooke, she’s a Broadway actress and her timing and her comedic timing and her sense of how to pace a scene, she is so… I just think intuitively as a performer, that I think she’s really been the reason that show is still on the air. She just… I don’t know, she’s lively. You watch the show a little so you know what I mean. Dropdeaddiva
NL: I absolutely know what you mean.
DL: She’s very talented and I’m sure that after Diva she’ll go back to Broadway or find other things to do but she’s got a lot of spark.
NL: Well Dwight, I don’t mean to put you on the spot but we always end our interviews with three very tough questions.
NL: What is your favorite comic book or comic book character?
DL: I don’t have an answer and I’ll tell you why, it’s because that was never my way into genre. Isn’t that a weird thing? I know that’s going to be a surprise but comic books really weren’t my way into genre as a kid. I was definitely more interested in B movies. I know all of them mostly because I have teenage boys now. I mean I know them all but it’s not like I live and breathe for any one particular one.
NL: This is going to be a tough one. I know you’re a director and you have your own movies but what is your favorite movie?
NL: Ever, all time.
DL: Just one?
DL: Okay, this is going to surprise you. It’s Amadeus with F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce. Milos Forman directed.
NL: That does not surprise me at all because it has about everything that you do in movies with action and drama and craziness. That does not surprise me at all.
DL: It’s a stunning movie.
NL: Then finally, what is your favorite video game?
DL: My favorite video game. Okay, I’ll say Madden NFL.
NL: Does this mean that you enjoy football and if so are you a Browns fan?
DL: I’m a crazy Browns fan.
NL: Have you seen Draft Day?
DL: Yes I have.
NL: Do you feel like that movie was made just for you?
DL: It’s very funny because I was thinking to myself, do they really think that they’re going to get their $20 million back just from Browns fans?
NL: I’m sitting in a Las Vegas theater watching that movie with my wife, she’s also from Cleveland and we’re looking around and I don’t think anybody else understood what was going on but we sure enjoyed that personal film.
DL: That’s right, it was like … It was a personal film and … The real draft day has been you know, it’s been a wild ride and I know sure Brown’s fan, we’re all on pins and needles waiting to see what’s going on with Johnny Football, we’re waiting to see what’s going on with Josh Gordon and we’re all on it.
NL: That was some of the excitement growing up being in the suburbs in Cleveland. My neighbor growing up was Brian Schottenheimer and then I went to preschool with Brian Sipe’s daughter. And you would see these people around and think nothing of it, but now as an adult I realize it was very special.
DL: I go way back to Leroy Kelly and Frank Ryan and Gary Collins and Lou Groza and some of those great players from the 60′s. I’m definitely a branded Browns fan.
NL: I’m envious because you lived through a point where they had a championship. I’m still waiting.
DL: It’s coming. Don’t give up. It’s coming.
NL: Dwight, thank you so much. This was a fantastic interview. Thank you so much for your time and energy. We cannot wait to see the final episode of From Dusk Till Dawn The Series!
DL: I appreciate your interest and enjoy episode 10.
And there you have it, director Dwight Little!
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