The Frame

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'Sully': Clint Eastwood & Tom Hanks want to prove grown-up movies are worth making

by John Horn and Jonathan Shifflett | The Frame

Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks after an interview with The Frame's John Horn for the film "Sully." The movie debuted at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival. Keith Ladzinski for KPCC

Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood have such powerful reputations in the movie business that when they agree to make a film that's just what happens.

Lucky for Frank Marshall because the producer had run out of options by the time he got to them. Despite his own successful career (the Jason Bourne and Indiana Jones movies," The Sixth Sense," "Seabiscuit" to name a few) he couldn't get anyone to greenlight the film. The so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" simply wasn't seen as a good bet given that the whole world already knew the ending.

In 2009, a U.S. Airways flight left New York’s La Guardia airport with 155 people on board. Moments after takeoff, the plane struck a flock of geese, damaging both of the plane’s engines. In a feat of flying unrivaled in modern aviation, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, known to everyone as "Sully," landed the plane right in the middle of the Hudson River. Everyone survived.

What you might not know is that Sully's judgment was then called into question both by investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, and by the captain himself. That story is at the heart of the movie, “Sully,” which had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. You can see it in theaters on Sept. 9.

“Sully” is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks in the title role. The two veterans sat down with The Frame's host, John Horn in Telluride to discuss "Sully" and the state of the movie business.

See highlights below or hear the entire conversation by clicking the play button at the top of the page. 

Interview Highlights:

How this is a movie about "grown-up people doing grown-up things":

HANKS: If you're in the commerce of making movies, then you want a different movie than this is. Essentially, movies about grown-up people doing grown-up things in grown-up circumstances are not known to be big money makers. Now, they might make fine films, but big money-making is the thing they're all on the lookout for. So, therefore, this might be a quiet little film that might be perfect for [cable network] Lifetime, but then if Lifetime says no, oh my lord, what do you do? Where do you go when that happens? 

On the challenge of being a known story:

HANKS: On one side, the question is: if people know the story they're not going to bother showing up; the other side is, well, if it's a great and fascinating film, they will. We had the same thing, believe it or not, with "Apollo 13." We had people telling us, Everybody knows how it ends. Again, they bring up, It sounds like a Lifetime movie to me. But when you get into the details, it doesn't take into appreciation the true power of what cinema is. 

(L-R) Tom Hanks, "The Frame" host John Horn, "The Frame" producer James Kim talking about "Sully" at the Telluride Film Festival.
(L-R) Tom Hanks, "The Frame" host John Horn, "The Frame" producer James Kim talking about "Sully" at the Telluride Film Festival. Keith Ladzinski for KPCC

Why Eastwood wanted to make the movie:

EASTWOOD: Well, I thought I knew everything about Sully from reading the papers and press seven years ago. But I really didn't. I didn't know that they had this transportation board query that has to keep going this whole time. It produced great doubt in Sully and made him wonder: If someone tells you that you did a lousy job long enough, pretty soon you're going to say, I did a lousy job. I like the story. It had good conflict. Tom hit it right on the nail. You know what the answer is, but the how it comes about becomes interesting.

How the real Sully wasn't interested in being on set:

EASTWOOD: I met with him and the first thing I asked him was, "How did you like the screenplay?" He says, "I thought it's a good screenplay." So then I asked him, "Who would you like to portray you?" "Oh, I don't know, Clint. You'll find somebody." I said, "How about Tom Hanks?" He said, "That'd be great." But Sully doesn't modulate up and go, Oh! That would be great! That's the way he is. He's a machine when it comes to details. That was the last time I talked to him. I said, "Do you want to be on the set?" I made a couple of questions like that because I thought, Is he going to be one of these guys who's gonna want to sit around and nitpick while we're trying to do a film that's going to be played to a lot of people who don't know what went on anyway? He didn't. He said, "You'll do it fine. I'll be there if you need me." So that was the end of it. 

Tom Hanks recording an interview with John Horn for "The Frame" at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival. theframe.org
Tom Hanks recording an interview with John Horn for "The Frame" at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival. theframe.org Keith Ladzinski for KPCC

On the idea of heroism and the role of movie heroes in our lives:

EASTWOOD: Tom gave a definition of hero that I thought was spot on. It's someone who does something extraordinary, yet he doesn't think it's extraordinary. He might think, I was on my game that week. But it is extraordinary in our eyes. 

HANKS: There is this projection that is put upon you that, because you played these guys, you actually have some of the attributes. Believe me, my skill set is to make it appear as though I have these attributes without having any of the actual attributes. That being said, as an audience guy, as a guy who saw movies as I was growing up, the power of the cinema and the power of the heroic vision ... the guy who you can rely on in motion pictures makes you feel as though — when you leave the theater — that you spent that time very well and that you have some degree of greater confidence that you belong to something bigger than yourself, and that there are people that you can have faith in. 

Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks talk with KPCC's The Frame about their new film, "Sully." The movie made its debut at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival.
Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks talk with KPCC's The Frame about their new film, "Sully." The movie made its debut at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival. Keith Ladzinski for KPCC

Making the case for movies like this one:

EASTWOOD: I'd like to make films that I'd like to see, but by the same token, I think there is some obligation to keep alive the fact that there are a lot of different stories. Comic books are wonderful. I grew up with comic books and thought they were great, but I don't want to go see those movies ... I think I want to do stories. When I did "Gran Torino" as an actor/director, everybody said, Wow, dicey stuff! I said, Yeah, and you know something — somebody needs to talk about the PC world that we're living in. And it's a great story in the sense that it's showing that a man at a certain age can still learn. So there's just a lot of things that can happen. There's not a lot of scripts like that come across the board, but when they do, I jump on them.

On the state of the movie business and the allure of TV:

HANKS: I think there's a huge difference between cinema and television because in many ways television really outdoes the motion picture industry on so many levels. One is diversity. There's a lot of women and people of color who work in television that do not have the same exposure as they do in motion pictures. Everybody says, Why? Well, it's because movies have to make money, and in order for people to keep their jobs at the studios, they have to make a lot of money. So therefore it's a safe bet, it's a formula that they often start to adhere to, there's a herd mentality. You know, Irwin Allen disaster movies there were like 19 of them until you couldn't stand them anymore. 

When "Gladiator" came out, I remember when Gladiator won best picture somebody saying, man a lot of people are going to lose money on making movies like Gladiator now. You know, it was true! So the take no prisoners aspects of the financials of making films and distributing them, it's cruel and it's rough. Look, at the end of the day you can't be too surprised that they'd be willing to take a remake or have a movie with a sequel or pre-awareness, tent-pole sensibility that goes along with it.

But there's also this other thing that can happen, which is often fostered by film festivals like Telluride...here's this one-off, this unique thing that you've got to catch. Now, the question that comes up every year for definition is: How much of the paying movie audience, those people that understand that they'll have to go at 7:10 pm to be at a very specific place and get a ticket to sit in a room with 600 other people and see a movie. How much faith are you going to have in these original films that are not pre-aware, tent-pole, sequel types of films?

EASTWOOD: Television has taken over all of the B-movies that we used to go to as kids and the serials and the Pete Smith specials. Television now does a lot of things that movies don't do, but a lot of times it is formula made. Like, we've got to have so many people of Latino origin and so many women. Here you just do, what it was, it was. Now, if this is a fictional picture, you can do any thing you want. You can change the scheme of things. But with this picture, it's got to be like it was. The people that got on have to be like the people that got on. The people that rescued... You can't make Sully something that he isn't.

On being a lead actor:

HANKS: The thing about doing these [roles] is that you've got to stand and deliver. There's a couple of lessons I learned a long time ago that I must say came in very handy when it came down to working with a boss. I'm used to showing up on time, and I've since learned actually to get there early because you don't want to [hear], They're ready for you! I like to be there with plenty of time and know what you're going to say and be prepared to do it when the time comes.

EASTWOOD: I think the actors are very important. It's where I started out. I think the actor tells the whole story. The director just is a go-between ... I love watching actors work because I love doing it myself. And when people come along that aren't as experienced as [Tom Hanks] is, it's fun to do different things to get the performance out of them.

"Sully" is out in theaters on September 9. 

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