After a Tribeca screening of The Killing of John Lennon at Pace University last week, director Andrew Piddington hung around to answer some questions from the crowd. The biggest question, which someone finally dared to ask, was how come when we see Mark David Chapman visiting New York City, it's unambiguously the New York City of 2007? We clearly see Chapman pass by Planet Hollywood, Toys R' Us and every other Times Square fixture you could possibly imagine. Piddington's answer? He needs more money to CGI that stuff away, and hasn't raised it yet. Other questions during the talk touched, of course, on Chapman's motivations, the whole conspiracy angle, the central performance of Jonas Ball, how Piddington went about casting Lennon and Ono, whether he actually met with Chapman and a number of other issues.
Crowd: Talk a little about the research and the casting process for the film.
AP: Considering research and casting, the gestation for this movie began four years ago -- it's taken four years to make. I first came across a book by Fenton Bresler called Who Killed John Lennon? This was a conspiracy book that set out to prove that Chapman was a Manchurian Candidate. There was a lot of evidence in it, but no proof. What it did have was a lot of depositions and transcripts, court information, all of which was public domain. And once I started to read the psychiatrist reports I became fascinated by the actual character. That was what drove me, and that's what started it. I then went onto the Internet and you can imagine the sort of stuff that's on the Internet. It's full of very difficult things to believe, and so therefore I then went to Ebay, and over the course of a year, I purchased nearly every single newspaper that was published during that four or five month period. That became my prime research material.
My instinct was always to cross-check three times and if the same information came through, then for me that was valid, and that's how I built up the screenplay. The screenplay took a while to write, and the film took four years to make. Jonas Ball, who I believe gives a magnificent performance in this film, the fascinating thing about Jonas Ball is that he is very young -- he hasn't done a great deal, but everything up there is very real and very solid and very mature. The great thing about any movie actor is the ability to hold the camera -- to have this relationship with the lens -- it's a cliche, but it's true -- and Jonas Ball has that. If an actor can carry a big close-up and give you the emotion that you require, that's a marvelous tool to have, and it's great for a director to use that tool. So I think he's gonna do really well. It's his first film, and he can't be here tonight because he's working, so that's good.
Crowd: Did you try to meet with Chapman?
AP: No. I never met Chapman, I didn't wanna meet Chapman, he's not somebody I want to get involved with. He's a very manipulative person, he's a very skillful, clever ... I wouldn't say smart, but clever. He knows how to play the media very well, as this film tries to demonstrate. He's been on the Larry King show, he was interviewed by Barbara Walters, and on each occasion, you can see him playing off the interviewer and thinking very clearly about what he wants to say and what he thinks he wants to give them. He plays the card all the time, so I didn't want to get into that. I didn't want certainly to make the film post-modern, I didn't want to make it from 2007, I wanted it to be very firmly rooted in this period, so no, I didn't meet him. I don't want to.
Crowd: If Chapman was seeking notoriety with his crime, does this film help grant him that in some way?
AP: This film does not condone or exonerate the act. Without question, this film does not give sympathy towards Chapman. I think the issue that's important is the psychosis here, the pathology, I think its fascinating to explore. I think you have to explore these issues in order to try and make sense of them. This film could not have been made in the 80s, it was too raw. John Lennon's death was a tragic event, but it was a public event, and the circumstances leading up to that event, I think, are fascinating to explore. Now we have this whole issue of personal security, celebrity stalking ... this was the first rock n' roll assassination. This was the first time that people were able to get up close and do something bad. Now people surround themselves with various devices that prevent that. I think exploring what goes on behind the lines is pertinent.
Crowd: Talk more about the iconic imagery.
AP: He was very much and is very much involved in the whole pop culture issue. He's very aware of iconic imagery, the whole nature of what he was doing -- he was preparing himself for that fame. When he's laying out his possessions for instance, he's very aware of how it's going to be seen. When he's practicing with the gun in front of the mirror, he's very aware of how he's going to look. This is not the act of a madman, this is a very calm person who's actually thinking things through. So the notion of using iconic images, references that affected him, is very pertinent. I also found out that he was fascinated, like most of these people are, with Travis Bickle. It's a very obvious connection, you can see that. Taxi Driver was four years earlier, and he had an obsession with it. Rosemary's Baby, of course. These things I think are important inner layers in the film, to try to reflect the inner thinking of this film.
Crowd: You talk about the psychosis of this man and then you say that this is not a madman -- aren't those conflicting views?
AP: I don't believe so, no. This was not a political killing. This was not something that was done for any reason. Most political killings, assassinations, are done in order to attempt change. This was done for some sick thing inside his own head. So how we actually begin to understand those things is very difficult, but I don't think its contradictory at all.
Crowd: I know its difficult to block out the 21st century in a period film, but I couldn't help but keep noticing it -- was that done intentionally or what?
AP: There was no intention -- as I say, this was not a post-modern. I did not include those things out of choice, that's just budgetary constraints. This is the first print we've had, and we've just for the first time seen it in this matter, and now that we've gone to 35 anamorphic, some things are very clear and very obvious, and if we can raise a little bit more money, then we will paint those out. It wasn't intentional, it was just pure lack of money.
Crowd: Is there any evidence of conpiracy you've come across?
AP: For a start, there is no Manchurian candidate evidence, or rather there's no proof. There's lots of conspiracy theories, but I've not yet come across anything that gives that any credence. There's all kinds of theories about the trajectory of the bullets, that one bullet hit him from the front, which is not right at all. There's not a single conceit in this film, everything that you see is actually as it was. So there is no validity in that. You can talk about it, but it's not something that I have any more information on.
Crowd: The security guard at the scene surprisingly tells Chapman to flee -- is that accurate?
AP: Absolutely, it's a strange thing, it's a strange anomaly that the security guard runs up to him, shakes the gun loose, as he does in the movie, then kicks it and tells him to run away. The possible explanation for that is that the guy was Cuban, and may well have been an illegal alien, in which case he didn't want to get involved. It's a peculiarity. There's no other evidence or information on that at all, but its accurate.
Crowd: Talk about the casting of Lennon and Ono. Did you cast models or actors?
AP: I cast lookalikes, obviously, and I never wanted them to be a feature, because I've always wanted to see John Lennon as he saw John Lennon as he saw John Lennon, which was either in books or stills or TV or something of that nature. I didn't want to give them high-profiles ... there's no dialogue. It's just a glimpse. The only time we see him full-figure is actually when he's shot. So they were just cast as lookalikes, yeah.
Crowd: What are your filmmaking influences?
AP: I've been making films for a long time and I love cinema, so my influences? They're very New York, very American. Obviously Coppola is there. John Ford. Kurosawa. The greats. When I look for inspiration, I always look at Coppola, because I think he has a wonderful way of having a discreet, yet subjective camera. That was one of my aims. He uses the camera in a very interesting way. Well, used -- he hasn't made a film for a long time. You treat a camera like a character, and he does it superbly, and I've always tried to follow that as a style.