Today on Oct. 23, 2014 we are excited to share our exclusive interviews about “Low Down,” which hits theaters this Friday, Oct. 24. The film’s New York premiere was held at Sunshine Landmark theatre. “Low Down” is based on the memoir, “Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales from Childhood” by Amy-Jo Albany. The movie is a compassionate, tender look at the complex relationship between teenage Amy-Jo (Elle Fanning) and her father and jazz musician, Joe Albany (John Hawkes). Joe is a father raising his teenage daughter alone in 1970’s Hollywood who struggles between his musical ambition, his devotion to his daughter and his crippling addiction to heroin.
The movie evokes a colorful yet seedy world of struggling musicians in which Joe and Amy-Jo strive to live the lives they want against seemingly insurmountable odds. In addition to Fanning and Hawkes, the cast of “Low Down” includes Glenn Close, Peter Dinkage, Lena Headley, Flea and Taryn Manning. At the New York premiere were John Hawkes, Flea, director Jeff Priess, screenwriters Amy-Jo Albany and Topper Lilien, producers Albert berger, Ron Yerxa and Mindy Goldberg. Also seen were Marky Ramone, Gabriel Byrne, Josh Helman, Jesse Peretz and Oren Moverman. Read what the director Jeff Preiss, executive producer and actor, Flea and screenplay writer, Amy-Jo Albany told us exclusively about the film.
When did you first meet Amy-Jo?
Preiss: We met years ago when we were working on a crew together. Amy-Jo mentioned her father was a jazz musician and told me his name. Immediately I knew who he was. Amy said maybe on only one previous occasion did a non-musician know who her father was. Amy started telling me stories and they were so great I was hooked. I thought it would make a great film and wanted to record the stories but Amy was a little self-conscious about talking into a recorder so she started writing them. This became the memoir.
How did you get attached to the film?
Preiss: Producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa optioned the book but couldn’t find a director. Nobody wanted to do a film about an obscure jazz musician. They finally came around to me. I love jazz so much it was my dream come true. They knew I knew Amy but they didn’t know I had something to do with the memoir coming to be. It really all came about from my love for her dad’s music. Joe is not very well known outside of jazz musicians. I think that’s why Amy trusted me to do it.
Doing a film about someone’s life is not easy especially when it’s about someone you know. How did you balance the filmmaking and the friendship?
Preiss: I think by having Amy participate so closely. She was a great collaborator and a great resource for the actors and me. I think the thing that makes this film unique is that every single person involved with it, from crew to cast, were taken by Amy and how genuine she is. Everyone realized the responsibility of caring for her story. We were all so moved that Amy trusted us with her story that it made everyone really bring his or her best. In the end, while could have been difficult to have the real person in the room, it became the magic fabric that connected every single person that worked on the film.
What was Amy’s involvement when you were shooting?
Preiss: Amy was there. Every actor used her as a touchstone. It was very important that the actor’s felt they had her trust. And what a resource to have! Glenn Close, for instance, talked to Amy before every take and would ask things like “Might Gram feel some pain middle of the night?” and Amy would tell her “yes, she might because she had foot pain.” Then we would start rolling a scene that takes place in the middle of the night and I would see Glenn limp across the room.
You had some great musicians in the cast. How did that come about?
Preiss: It was Amy’s idea to cast Flea. I shot Flea 25 years ago in a documentary about Chet Baker called “Let’s Get Lost” and I hadn’t seen him since. Amy said ‘let’s offer this role to Flea.’ Amy knew he was a jazz fan and trumpet player. His father was a jazz musician, a great bass player, never was on a record because he has problems very similar to Joe. She said he’s just going to know it. He came to us and said ‘I’ll do any thing for this movie because if furthers the cause of the music I love. Whatever you need from me, I’ll do.’ He put his heart into creating the character Hobbs. Its one of the great performances in this film.
How does it feel to put a project so dear to you out into the world?
Preiss: I’m very excited. I’m so proud. I’m a little protective. I feel like I should be at every single screening of the film no matter what. I love being with audiences and doing the Q&A’s. They always have to pull me off the stage with a hook.
We heard Amy-Jo Albany asked to cast you in the role of Hobbs. Can you tell us a little about this?
Flea: Amy knew I had a very similar upbringing to her; we both grew up in Hollywood in the 70’s with a jazz musician parent with a substance abuse problem. Very parallel existences. She gave me the script and I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what it was when I got it except something about a jazz guy in the 70’s but then I read it and it was unbelievable. I grew up with those jazz guys in the 70’s – that was my life. It had such a power resonance with me on a personal level. After I read it and they asked me to act in it I told them I would do any thing to help. I became a producer on it and help out in other way here and there to make it happen.
Since you had lived a similar life how was it for you to work on this movie emotionally?
Flea: It was great. I loved my childhood. Certainly there were things that were difficult but it was really beautiful to do something to shed some light on musicians of that time and that scene. Joe Albany’s specific story is a difficult one by the fact he was a junkie. It was hard for all of these guys. Obviously, it’s a really hard life to be strung out but the beauty of the music they played made it such an important film for me. I really care about those guys and want people to be aware of the unsung heroes. They were beyond unsung – they couldn’t even catch a break.
I think it’s different now. I don’t think that jazz musicians now, for the most part, they grow up with a different set of expectations, a different concept of where their place is in the world and what kind of work they would do. Whereas the guys in the 70’s grew up idolizing the guys of the 40’s and 50’s, the big bop musicians like Charlie Parker, Monk and Dizzy. Those guys they idolized were the coolest guys on the earth and they dedicated their lives to learning this incredibly sophisticated deep art form. They were such incredible artists and they couldn’t make a buck.
I knew those guys really well. I was pretty familiar with that type of guy; where he came from, what he did. But I prepared really well. I got people to teach me how to prepare. I’ve been in a bunch of movies but never really knew how to get ready. I think I learned a lot.
Did you feel more pressure because this film was dear to you?
It was really important to me and it was kind of a serious role for me. When I play music it’s like a channel for me to get my mind out of the way and let it flow and have a trance sort of feeling. I’ve never been able to do that acting. I was finally able to do that with this role; to let go and let it take over.
What is it like to see your life in film?
Albany: Each process is one thing removed from the real world. There is the book, which is memory and memory is already removed a little bit. Then the screenplay is totally different and removed again. By the time I’m watching it on celluloid it’s enough distance that I can do see it and I don’t feel so attached. Nothing is freaking out. Which I think would be the case if someone had followed me with a camera when I was actually that age then showed it to me now.
Is there a scene in the film where it still strikes emotion?
Albany: There is and it’s so small that people may not even know which one I’m talking about. There’s a scene where Amy goes over to get grandmother’s because Joe’s been arrested. Gram goes into the kitchen and says, “Let me see what I have in the refrigerator” and just the way Amy/Elle looks after her with so much love to know someone is taking care of her. I remember feeling that way and somehow Elle honed in on that. It’s just the expression on her face. There isn’t even a line.
Do you want to do more work with film?
Albany: I don’t know. Its not a comfortable medium for me, writing a screenplay, so I think what I will do is just go back and write some more. I like the freedom of writing like that. We will see what happens. If it’s just another little book, I will be totally happy with that. This is a lot for me. You become a writer and you’re introspective so when something like this happens you think “I don’t want to be out in front of all these people. This isn’t what I signed up for”’ I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. It’s just a funny fit.
What’s the one thing you would like people to take away from this movie?
Albany: The most important thing for me is there are so many kids out there suffering. You probably pass them by every day. They are left to their own devices. I hope everyone thinks about that. And if one young person who is struggling like that at home sees it and it gives them hope. That would be it for me.”
Following the screening, guests made their way over to The Handy Liquor Bar for drinks, canapés and live piano music by Chris Pattishall.