After my review of Hate Crime which I praised heavily, I had the opportunity to interview the film’s director Steven Esteb. You can find the link to my Hate Crime review as well as the link to the film itself at the end of the interview.
Hi Steven, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I have seen Hate Crime and found it to be a very emotional, hard-hitting film well worth the time to see. Could you briefly explain, without giving too much away, a quick summary of Hate Crime to my readers?
First, thanks for the kind words about our film. Hate Crime is about the parents of a young man convicted of killing a gay man who is going to be executed at midnight. They have to face how this happened and what their part was in creating this tragedy. The parents of the victim are on their way to witness the execution, unsure of what they will find. It’s about hate and fear and the consequences of repression. Both families are ruined by what has happened and both are looking for answers.
How did this film come into existence and were there any real-life cases that were used as some kind of inspiration or elements to borrow from?
The Matthew Shepard murder was a big influence on me. It broke my heart. My first film was a documentary about an AIDS hospice back in 1992. I saw first hand the pain and despair of the men and women who lived and died there, much of it coming from their parents. It definitely changed how I feel about a lot of things. Making this film felt like I was keeping a promise to the people I had gotten so close to in those days, all of whom are now gone. When the script fell in my lap from one of my writing students, I knew I was going to make this film before I finished reading the first act. I knew it was going to be something worth fighting for and I was going to make it no matter what.
Looking back at your previous works as a director, was there anything about Hate Crime that felt a more challenging project to undertake?
My career has been strange, it often feels like I’m careening from project to project without a plan. But I’ve learned something from each one that made me a better filmmaker. That said, this was a different beast. We had to honor it and protect it. The film demands a lot from the audience, and because of that, we felt we had to honor that demand by making each moment something raw and real so that the experience of watching this would be something unforgettable. Something you would keep thinking about. I will also add here that the whole team…actors, crew, our families, all of us, were aligned on what we were doing.
When I first saw the cast list for Hate Crime, it was quite surprising to see the names attached to it. Amy Redford, daughter of Robert Redford. John Schneider, known for Smallville, a series that I used to watch and enjoy as a kid. What led you to cast them in their roles and how enthusiastic were they about this film?
Well, the whole cast was amazing and came fully loaded, which made my work easier. These were hard roles to cast. I wanted something real like we were watching something that we shouldn’t be. So, Kevin Bernhardt was first. His voice, his internalized power, his total commitment from day one made much of this happen. He had worked with Amy and got her the script. When she and I spoke I was sold. First, she’s a mom and that defines her. She has a worldview that aligned with mine on so many levels, and finally, she is an amazing talent. John Schneider had recently moved to Louisiana and was building a movie studio. He is extremely charismatic and came with a lot of energy and ideas. He also comes with an audience that is extremely loyal, and to be real honest here, it’s the audience we need to speak to the most. I think he’s terrific in this film. The entire cast was in lockstep and easy to work with. It was a lot more fun than you might expect from watching it.
I’ve read that this film has gotten a lot of praise from the LGBT community as well as winning various awards with one being from the MiFo LGBT Film Festival. How gratifying is it knowing you have the support from this community?
That has been amazing. It’s kind of scary to go to LGBT film festivals with a pretty straight film. I remember when we got a big award at the MIFO LGBT festival in Ft. Lauderdale, I told them that it meant the world to us and that I knew we were the straightest gay film there. I got a big laugh. But yes, it means a lot. We want this film to be part of the solution and we need their support. My hope is that this is the film that a young gay man or woman would want to make their parents watch. I know that doesn’t sound sexy, but if we could change a few minds along the way, we could make a difference.
I’d like to talk about the film itself. One thing I hugely admired about Hate Crime was how dramatic it felt, every scene felt very emotional. Was this an important factor for you to make sure you got right, and if so, how testing was it for you to get that sense of drama?
Getting that right was everything. It had to be honest, it had to be raw. That was the only way it had a chance of working. We felt if the audience could live with Tom and Ginny’s pain for a few minutes, and really feel it, the payoff, in the end, could be enormous. We created a space for the characters to live and got out of the way. We shot it in long takes, beginning to end, not cutting, not making them work for the camera. It was the opposite, they lived in this place and we made the camera do the work. We didn’t want to exist in their space, in their tragedy. We weren’t even there. We disappeared so they felt free to let it rip. And they did just that.
For such an emotional story, it must have made for some very interesting days on set. What was the overall mood like on set and how keen were the rest of the crew in getting this film to the best of its potential?
It was very somber and very respectful. There was a moment when we were setting up a huge fight scene in the living room. I noticed how quiet the crew was, how focused they were on not interfering with the lives of these characters. It was a moment I’ll never forget. I will say, I knew we were getting something special when I saw the grips crying after some of the takes.
Well, I would like to say a big thank you for answering my question. With my interviews, I like to leave the last question as a chance for filmmakers to really sell their film to my readers. So, could you tell me why my readers should watch Hate Crime?
Great question. Hate Crime is about the consequences of fear and repression. We all carry feelings we can’t share. When we don’t express who we really are, something dies in us. The opposite is also true. When we don’t love each other for who we really are, there are often consequences that can’t be undone. I want people to see this film, to maybe look at those around them, “the other” if you will, and inspire them to think differently, to see the humanity in them, not the differences. One more thing: I want parents to love the shit out of their kids and see them for who they are. If they do, something amazing might just happen.
Thank you to TriCoast Entertainment and Steven Esteb for this fantastic opportunity.
Hate Crime is available now on Digital Platforms (Amazon, InDemand, DIRECTV, FlixFling, FANDANGO, Hoopla, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, AT&T, and Sling/Dish).
Hate Crime Review: https://seanmcconvillereviews.com/2019/09/24/hate-crime-review/