Give Joshua Seftel some credit; he didn't pull any punches on War, Inc. In his first feature film, written by star/producer John Cusack, Jeremy Pisker, and Mark Leyner, Seftel attempts to make a scathing commentary on the War on Terror, the privatization of the military, the commercialization of societies all over the world, and other shenanigans. In a former life, Seftel was a former network news producer, and became known around Hollywood circles for directing documentaries like Breaking the Mold: The Kee Malesky Story.
He was nice enough to speak to me about the experience from a very blue room at the Tribeca Film Festival press office. Text and video are after the jump.
According to Seftel, he and Cusack were introduced to each other by Sideways director Alexander Payne. They were interested in working together on another screenplay that Cusack and company had written, but War, Inc. was the first to get greenlighted. Seftel not only liked the script, but he liked the fact that the three writers felt like "co-conspirators" with him, with similar world views and views on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the clip below, Seftel talks about how tough it is to get a screenplay made into a movie, even if one of the writers is John Cusack:
Because of his news background, Seftel said he identifies the most with Marisa Tomei's character, hard-nosed reporter Natalie Hegalhuzen. How did his documentary and news experience help him with this movie? "I've been in war zones, I've run from bullets, I've run from explosions," he says. "Of course, in this case it was a little different because I was moving closer with the camera. I know how it feels, how it smells to be in a war zone. I hope that (my experience) brings a certain level of authenticity (the the movie)."
In the clip below, Seftel talks about a specific example from the movie that relates back to his days in the news industry (let's just say that Barbara Walters doesn't like certain war zones). He also talks about the differences between being a documentary director and a feature film director. Finally, he talks about Hilary Duff, who plays Turaqi teen pop sensation Yonica Babbyyeah, and a scene with a scorpion that got a lot of people on YouTube all atwitter.
War, Inc. sports an impressive cast. Besides Cusack, Tomei, and Duff, the movie also has Joan Cusack, Ben Kingsley, and Dan Aykroyd in smaller roles. Seftel certainly thought that gave him a better chance of getting a better product on the screen. "You'd rather be the coach of the Dream Team than of another team," he says. "It gives you a better chance of winning." The cast was attracted to the low-budget project -- everyone took a pay cut from their usual rates to be in the film -- by "John and his passion for the project and how he expressed his passion to others."
Cusack's politics are controversial, to say the least, and the film's references to what's going on in the world are anything but subtle. In fact, they almost point directly back to the real people and events that they're making fun of. "I think it makes the film funnier," Seftel says about direct parodies of real-life people and events. "It helps you connect."
In the clip below, Seftel talks about whether he was worried if people might be offended by aspects of the film, how Joan Cusack brings out the best in her brother, why the dialogue in the film is so dense and fast (he said they made it even faster in post-production), and how that anyone who sees the film, regardless of their views, should take away their own message from it.
By the way, what does Seftel think about the news world he left almost a decade ago, now that it's rife with punditry, opinions, and a 24-hour news cycle that examines Britney Spears and Iraq with equal seriousness?
"I was at CBS in the mid-to-late nineties, which was the final years of the heyday of 'the Tiffany network' and of TV News. It's certainly turned into something else over time. It's not as glamorous, as esteemed as it once was. But it was fun to be a part of that, and see the world."