I'll be covering a local Houston comic, film, anime, and gaming convention called Comicpalooza, which will take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center over Memorial Day Weekend. This is actually a fairly big convention now, and it only started two years ago. If you're in the Houston area and want to check it out, you can go to www.comicpalooza.com and see the various activities and guests they'll have. I'll be around as well.
This interview fell in my lap. When John Simons, the head of Comicpalooza, asked me if I wanted to interview Edward James Olmos, I jumped at the opportunity. I'm still a lilttle fresh at this interviewing thing, but I was surprised by how Mr. Olmos expounded on his career, his thoughts on film, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in particular, and his personal opinion on a little matter from BLADE RUNNER. I hope you enjoy it.
Nordling: With the events of the past 10 years, BATTLESTAR has become sort of a commentary on the political status of our country and the world status in general, and I think it’s wonderful that the show touches on these subjects as well as it does, and from everything you’ve done on the show, what would you like your audience to most take from it?
Edward James Olmos: I gotta tell ya, it’s been extraordinary working on a piece of material that could actually hold a mirror up to society as a whole, and it did that in a way with a really interesting dynamic that we hadn’t had on the planet beforehand. We’ve always had the ability to create work by writing, and we write something and then we put it into production, and then the production would go on and take the writing and elevate it into making it come alive, and explore the nuances of the written word.
And then after doing that, and finishing the actual production, and recording it, and putting it on film or video, we would then push it off to the post-production, and post-production would get it and elevate it to a much higher level. And then the editing of the piece, and the sound, and the music, became a really interesting dynamic, from the written word to the production, to post production, to the addition of sound, the sound score, and the editing, and then we put out the product and that was it, and people would see it, and they would go wow and they would say nothing.
But in this case, in 2003, something new happened. When the show aired, a new kind of communication, a social communication was being introduced, and it was called blogging. And people started to blog about the show, and they along with the writers who blogged with them, started to communicate. From the moment the show aired, they would express themselves to the writers, and the writers would in turn give some information, and they’d say what it meant to them, and the writers would say, “That’s exactly what I meant,” meaning that there was something that was pulling in the direction that they hadn’t even thought about before, and made them feel that, they’re gonna take credit for it, and say wow, that’s really in depth, you know, that’s fantastic.
But they did that, but they also turned around and took credit for it and said yeah, that’s what we intended. And what happened was the writers were elevated, and the next time they touched it, the writing staff was the same, they were at that level, not at the level where they finished writing the first page, but at the level of the production, the post-production energy and then the blogging of people from all over the world, not just the United States, not just England, but from around the world. Blogging became a worldwide communication, and with that, that pushed the show to a profound level of communication, where every single episode had all the energy of production, post-production, and blogging into the mix, and it elevated the show, until, man, I’ve never been in a show like this, and I don’t think I ever will again.
I don’t think the people who ever put the show on at the time, and the writers, will be able to get this level of advancement again. And that is just my own personal opinion, maybe everybody can do better work with everything that they do, but it gets pretty hard. It gets pretty hard to find the vehicle. And when you find the vehicle, and you take it to its higher level, then you’re doing something that you can’t do all the time because you don’t always have the vehicle. You might be writing the best stuff in the world, better than what you were writing on BATTLESTAR, but if you don’t have the vehicle, then you can’t explore what you were able to explore in the combination of understandings and values that you had with BATTLESTAR. The impact on the audience was total, the impact of the audience responses to the work was total, and it elevated the show, so it was not just us doing something and the audience just looking at it. It was the audience’s and the creator’s connection that advanced it to a much higher level, and I must say that I am grateful to everyone.
Nordling: It’s interesting how the audience fed the show makers and the show makers fed from the energy from the fans and upped their game to meet their expectation, I really like that, that a show could have that give and take with the audience. It’s not exactly art by democracy, but mutual inspiration.
Edward James Olmos: Yes, that’s what it was, like what people get from constructive creative criticism. When you get destructive criticism, that just puts you on the defensive. But when you get constructive criticism, you use it. When I’m directing, or producing, or writing, or acting, and someone comes up to me and says “Wow, you just inspired me to understand myself better with the situation you just presented me with,“ with your acting, producing, your directing, or acting, you say well thank you, and guess what, by you coming up here, and acknowledging that moment, and putting me in tune with that moment, the way you’re looking at it, my goodness, you have actually made me think about something else that I never would have thought about had that situation had not occurred. And that to me is the essence of living. And that is why we have communication, and that is why an actor all alone, like Morrison said, an actor all alone, it’s like there’s nothing, it’s over, what are you going to do as an actor all alone?
Nordling: I also wanted to ask, you’ve directed several episodes of the show, and AMERICAN ME, and did you want to get back into the director’s chair and direct another feature film, have you got any plans to do that?
Edward James Olmos: The last feature I directed was a feature called WALKOUT for HBO, and it was an extraordinary experience and I was very grateful for it, and honestly right now I’m directing and producing a couple of pieces, and I’m writing too. It’s an ongoing process, I wish it was possible to do one a year, that would be incredible, but that isn’t my destiny, and I’ll take one every five years or ten years. It’s fine with me as long as I continue to work towards doing things I really love doing. I love WALKOUT, I loved BATTLESTAR, STAND AND DELIVER, AMERICAN ME, SELENA, ZOOT SUIT, THE BALLAD OF GREGORIO CORTEZ, I mean, they’ve been wonderful pieces of work and I’ve been privileged to be a part of them.
Nordling: I had a question about BLADE RUNNER, and you’ve probably gotten this question a lot, so I wanted to get your take on it, so what is Deckard, is he a replicant or not?
Edward James Olmos: Yep. Yes he was. He sure was. Yep, he was a replicant, and he found out right at the elevator when his girlfriend was in the elevator, and he finds the unicorn on the ground.
Nordling: That’s one of the great movie moments. How long did it take you to learn to play the piano and how long it took?
Edward James Olmos: I learned how to play on my own. Self-taught, and I write on the piano, and I create on the piano, I play a little bit of guitar, but just chords. Also with piano, I play chords; write lyrics and melodies, by singing.
Nordling: It’s curious, a lot of things that seem to be missing today are those great character pieces that we don’t seem to get anymore, and which you’ve seem to be in a lot of, and how hard is it nowadays in the kind of climate that the films that we have today in just getting a really great drama made? Do you find it difficult these days in this Hollywood climate to get a project off the ground, or to make a film along the lines of STAND AND DELIVER again, which I don’t know if the way it is in Hollywood now if that movie could be made again?
Edward James Olmos: Well, it’s hard. It’s hard to make a STAND AND DELIVER no matter what time or what position the industry is in. I’ll tell you a story, when we went to try to get the funding for STAND AND DELIVER, I remember walking into the studio and saying I’d like to do this film about this teacher who helps these schoolkids take this test, and this teacher – it’s a true story, and I was pitching it. And at the end, the producer, they said, “Eddie, that’s the kind of movie I’d like to make, but it’s the kind of movie, you put it out there, and on that day you put it out there a RAMBO comes out and what are they going to go see?”
And I said, “Well, I think they’re going to want to see a STAND AND DELIVER as much as they want to see a RAMBO,“ and he says, “I wish you were right, but that’s not how the world works, so thank you but no thank you.” And I walked out without him ever thinking twice about his comment. Cut to, you’re on the phone with me 23 years later, I did that film in 1988, and I can honestly tell you, more people have seen in the United States, STAND AND DELIVER than have seen RAMBO. More people have seen STAND AND DELIVER than have seen GONE WITH THE WIND, or JAWS, or STAR WARS, or STAR TREK, or AVATAR, or any film that has ever been made in the United States. Why? Because millions of kids see it every year, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of teachers use it to motivate and stimulate their students. And most people will have seen it once if not twice before they graduated high school.
And it’s not that the great films rise, it’s that we hit a nerve, and like AMERICAN ME, it’s used almost every day. And STAND AND DELIVER is used every day, and they are films that are used not to entertain you, but to really provoke you, and be provocative in your thought process, what your situation is about. That’s what’s great about BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – if you see it more than once, you’re going to find that the depth of the piece, to be much more striking than you can remember. It’s just too much to remember. If you look at a Picasso more than once or a Rembrandt, or da Vinci’s work or Michelangelo’s work, or you look at any one of a multitude of great artists, or listen to great music like Bach, or Beethoven or anybody, listen to Robert Johnson, you listen to them more than once, you’re going to find that it’s a lot deeper than you anticipated and the more you listen to it the more you discover, and that’s the gift of art, and the more it keeps on giving.
If the intention is pure and it’s correct, and what I mean by that is that the intention is not to manipulate you, or to exploit material, or to gratuitize the material. It’s better to really allow the objective viewing to come from the viewer. And that goes for music, painting, dancing, writing, and if you don’t exploit, manipulate, or gratuitize or romanticize the material, it’s going to stand the test of time. People will get motivated a hundred years from now. Look at DON QUIXOTE, by Cervantes, if you read it today, you’d get more out of it than if you read it 300 years ago.
Nordling: Thank you, Mr. Olmos!
Edward James Olmos: Thank you so much man! Thanks for the opportunity.
Edward James Olmos will be appearing at Comicpalooza on Saturday, May 28th. If you want to attend this new Houston convention, go to www.comicpalooza.com and check it out. Hope to see some of you there.