Kari Skogland Talks Responsibility of Writing and Directing Violence

Kari Skogland

Working in Both Television and Film

Kari Skogland clearly defines how she learned her trade saying, “Television is a great place to learn the ropes because it is very schedule driven, fast and furious environment. Yet you are expected to be creative.” Skogland’s determined energy resonates on the phone as we talk about her recent pro-gun control movie Liberty Stands Still, her career, and women in film. “Now, there is some spectacular television. It really is a creative medium. Unfortunately for women, it’s a very misogynistic world here in the states.”

As a successful writer and director of both television and film, Skogland doesn’t acknowledge the male driven obstacles women have to face in the industry. She says that if you do you are defeated. Originally from Canada where industry professionals are expected to do multi-medium Skogland feels fortunate to have started there. “While I was in Canada I was able to bounce back and forth between TV and feature. Here in the States, I’m more featured orientated. I do an occasional pilot. I love to do that.”

Liberty Stands Still

Gun Control Message

Fifty Dead Men Walking is her last movie, where she wrote and directed, to hit the streets in 2008. The movie was based on a true story about an undercover agent with the IRA.

Liberty Stands Still, released in 2002, is Skogland’s first film where she both wrote and directed. The movie was a budget challenge. Yet, she created a unique way of telling a story about gun control and violence starring Linda Fiorentino, Wesley Snipes, and Oliver Platt.

The idea of the movie, gun control, spawned from the Columbine shooting. “I felt that we as a society had not really discussed or debated the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of it. I think we’re at a point in our society where we need to debate the role of guns.”

Stone Angel

Skogland co-wrote with the book's author, Margaret Laurence, and directed Stone Angel
Skogland co-wrote with the book's author, Margaret Laurence, and directed Stone Angel

Sniper Shootings

Skogland when on question our need them. “Why do we need them as a cultural statement? Aren’t we simply arming ourselves against each other? The second amendment arguments are spoon-fed by the multi-million dollar industries that skew the spirit and intent of it.”

She spoke of another incident, the sniper shootings in Washington. “I thought the Washington sniper and pervasive feeling of movies like Bowling for Columbine and mine were starting to bubble and percolate the issue.

She feels the need for dialogue has died off again. People seem to squash this issue, or seem to be unable to cope with it.

Fifty Dead Men Walking

Violence in Film

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Working with Wesley Snipes

Financing for such a controversial film came in part from the cast because they said they wanted to do the film. Skogland feels very fortunate that she got such a stellar cast. Linda Fiorentino, Wesley Snipes, and Oliver Platt, making it clear that they helped from a financial side. “To Lions Gate credit, they did not try and temper the issue of gun control at all. I had no idea that John Feltheimer, who runs Lions Gate (at the time of the interview), is very much a gun control advocate. It was just one of those happy coincidences of fate.”

She took pride in countered casting the movie with Wesley Snipes, “Wesley is a very fine actor who comes from Broadway. I knew he would be attracted to the role because of the challenges. I like the idea of him traditionally being in the action role. I wanted to surprise the audience a little with him and where we were going with the character. I hoodwink the audience into thinking it looks a little like an action movie and starts to turn where violence is very real and very graphic.”

Fifty Dead Men Walking

Casting Against Type

She took pride in countered casting the movie with Wesley Snipes, “Wesley is a very fine actor who comes from Broadway. I knew he would be attracted to the role because of the challenges. I like the idea of him traditionally being in the action role. I wanted to surprise the audience a little with him and where we were going with the character. I hoodwink the audience into thinking it looks a little like an action movie and starts to turn where violence is very real and very graphic.”

Skogland driving point in the film is “if you are going to show what guns can do, then you better back it up and be ready to show it. I wanted the audience to be stunned. Each time someone got shot, I wanted the audience to realize that ‘Shit man.’”

She thought about and practically debated with showing what guns can actually do – kill. “When someone shoots a person in Compton -- just takes him or her out, that’s it --. It’s cold and it’s not even calculated. It’s horrific. I felt that for me to soften it would be a disservice.”

She wanted a risky position for the character, so the audience is torn about the Snipes character doing something immoral. “Yet we somewhat understand his position. On the other hand, we hate him for it, and on the other we understand it. I really wanted the audience to be as conflicted as these characters were,” added Skogland.

Linda Fiorentino

Linda Fiorentino

The casting of Linda Fiorentino brought credibility to the story. According to Skogland, “Someone who you didn’t know if she was going to love you or kill you and to have the power that made you believes she was saying who she was.”

Skogland wanted a fatal flaw with all the characters, “Where they had made some choices that may have seemed very legitimate at the time, but were ethically unsound in varying forms.”

She offers an example of when Wesley’s character arrives at the moment with the death of his daughter. His world is shattered, and he is forced to reckon with what his life looks like. He decides to take action. It’s misguided action; there’s no question about that.”

Oliver Platt

The misguided action is a two-edged sword where we feel is his pain though we don’t agree with him. At the same time, we feel the same for Linda’s character. Skogland adds, “She is numb to what she is really doing as we all can be in life because it is more convenient that way. We discover how she has become this person, and Wesley’s character has to change her mind.”

Oliver Platt plays Liberty’s (Fiorentino) husband, a gun manufacturer. Skogland didn’t want him to be an arch villain, but more like an everyman. “You liked him. You felt for him even though you realize this man is not thinking about what he is doing on a global scale. He is not taking responsibility for his community.”

Oliver’s character sees himself is selling widgets, and he is successful at it, which hits the heartstring of the overall story.

Against Guns

Liberty Stands Still

Statue of Liberty

Even though Liberty is at odds with only men, Skogland didn’t plan it that way. “It just happened. I never intended it that way. Now that you brought it up. There is a sense of her name, Liberty, the nature of her. She is definitely a metaphor for the Statue of Liberty -- what we have come to understand as being liberty and freedom. “

Skogland analogous the woman who started MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving to Liberty’s plight. “One woman stood up and said people are getting killed. Cut to twenty years later, we now have a complete social and ethical position on drinking and driving.”

She believes the same thing will happen in the movement about guns. “I think women are going to have a strong voice with that kind of sentiment because it’s traditionally little boys play with guns. For whatever reason, there is an aggressive factor in boys and girls are nurturers.”

LIberty Stands Still

No Hero

Liberty Stands Still has no true hero, which breaks the traditional way to make a movie and tell a story. “I wanted to break some of the traditional screenwriting rules in this case and make the story more of a collective because this is really a morality play. A collective story about how people spiral downward together. There wasn’t a true hero because all the characters were at odds with them themselves,” explains Skogland.

The ending of the movie is open-ended. The viewer is allowed to make the choice. “That is the metaphor for each one of us. When we walk away we have a choice. Every one of us has a choice. It only takes one person to start an avalanche of change. Are we going to do something or are we going to keep hiding behind the second amendment as if it says what the gun manufacturers claims what it says?” questions Skogland.

Skogland took it to heart directing a movie from her own material. “I had obviously directed all my own material unsung. Where my name is not on the writing credits but obviously I had re-written the script or dealt with the scene.”

Yet, seeing her name there as a writer and director for the first time was heartening. “I was able to play the two roles without getting them tangled into each other."

Kari Skogland

Being a Writer and Director

She went on to say it was a wonderful experience. “I didn’t find myself so invested in the words that I felt defensive if they needed to be changed. By the same token playing the writer versus the director, where as a writer you know a scene isn’t going to work unless I do this because the direction needs to do that.”

Skogland describes how writes, “I actually write, when I’m sitting in my room alone, I am definitely in my head both blocking and casting as I write.”

She claims she has directed a lot of mediocre writing. She can see in her head what will work and what will not work. “I can see what can go wrong. I know that by virtue of experience this is something that is going to work. Or, it just is not going to work. I have to change the writing and change the situation to make it more interesting. As a writer, it has helped very much to spend as much time as I have being a director.”

Being a minority, a woman, in the movie business is something that Skogland doesn’t acknowledge. “If it is hard you can’t acknowledge it. I would be the last to know. As a female you hit the glass ceiling, you haven’t a clue you’ve hit it because it’s all behind closed doors. I have certainly felt it. But, I have never acknowledged it. I am not about to. I feel like the second I admit that to be happening I am facing defeat.”

Strong Woman

Women in Film

She feels she might sound a little bit Pollyanna. She offers some sound advice for anyone who wants to make it in the business. “I come from a place where it’s really like saying: I could be too short. I could not know the right people. I could be too fat. I could not have blue eyes. It is always something, and you might as well ignore all of it and keep motoring forward. Not letting it get in your way.”

She feels women are starting to make our mark.

“The trick is that you really have to know your stuff. For all the women out there, you can’t let an inch slide. You have to be really on top of the business side. We all have to be multi-tasked in this particular arena. Fortunately, women are good at it. There should be no reason why we can’t be right up there.”

At the time of this interview, Skogland had a five-year-old. “So, believe me, I know the whole multi-tasking thing. I write for an hour, and then I have to cope with my daughter for another.”

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