Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

INTERVIEW: Peter Landesman, Director/Writer of ‘Parkland’

First time director and screenwriter Peter Landesman tells the story of the chaotic events that occurred in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

Parkland is based on the true accounts of the people behind the scenes the day of the assassination. The stories include the perspectives of Abraham Zapruder, the man who caught the shooting on tape; Dr. Jim Carrico, the doctor who attempted to save the President; and Robert Oswald, the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Parkland stars Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Jeremy Strong, Marcia Gay Harden, James Badge Dale, Ron Livingston, Colin Hanks, Tom Welling and Mark Duplass among others.

Lauren Veneziani: The first opening minutes really draw the viewer since the film basically starts right when Kennedy was shot. What type of research did you have to do to make sure everything was factually correct and stuck to the time period?

Peter Landesman: My background was in investigative journalism, so in terms of research and facts, this is what I did for a living for a very long time. When Tom Hanks [who produced the movie] and I first conceived of this, we knew that the only way for this film to be made and accepted was for everything to be verifiably true. I went on a three-year journey, finding people who were still alive, some are in the movie and I found a mountain of unknown oral histories and interviews and other witness account that no one bothered to look for. Everyone’s been so obsessed with the conspiracy theories and possible murder suspects that no one has really ever bothered to look this way.

Lauren: There are multiple stories in the film, one’s from the doctor’s perspective; another is from the brother of Lee Harvey Oswalt’s perspective, etc. Did you bring in one cast at a time to film the movie or everyone at once?

Landesman: Yea, so there were like four little movies all in the one and I would have one cast come in and we would shoot them until we finished. The only person who was there for the entire movie was Billy [Bob Thornton] because his character was everywhere. But then Zac [Efron] and the hospital cast were there for two weeks and I think the FBI storyline was there for a week. That’s how you make movies; you shoot things out of sequence, according to the actors’ schedules.

Lauren: Did you have particular actors in mind when you were writing the screenplay?

Landesman: No, not when I was writing. The casting process was really organic and it was long because there are so many characters. These are some of the great actors of our time and there was no weak performance. Everyone brought something to this movie and I just feel really fortunate about it. And since this is my first film, to have that cast was really extraordinary.

Lauren: One of the most memorable shots in the movie is where you zoom in on Abraham Zapruder’s [Paul Giamatti] glasses and you can see the assassination mirrored in his glasses. Can you talk about the decision not to show the full assassination clip in the movie?

Landesman: Yea, the actual video was in and out of the movie, but I wanted the audience to experience this as if it was happening to them, as if it was now, not 50 years ago, as it was the morning of 9/11. Abraham Zapruder saw it through his eyes, so I wanted us to see it through his eyes and that’s the way the shot was designed. It’s really impressionistic, but it engages the imagination and it’s a moment about emotion and not about literal information. Anyone can go to YouTube and see Zapruder’s video of the assassination.

Lauren: When people are watching this movie, what is one thing that you hope the audience will take away or learn?

Landesman: That the simple truth is more powerful than the more sparkly graphic conspiracy theory.

Parkland opens at the West End Cinema in DC and other select cities Friday October 4, 2013.

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