Sundance Buzz: A Pair of Wild Cards
Sam Shepard and Wim Wenders talk about their unique
artistic partnership and their latest work, DON'T COME
DON'T COME KNOCKING, one of the closing movies of the
Sundance Film Festival, which ended Sunday, is the story
of Howard Spence, a washed up bad-boy star of Westerns,
who makes a last ditch effort to reconnect with the
people who genuinely love him. The film, which was shot
in small towns in Utah, Nevada and Montana and will be
released by Sony Pictures Classics on March 17, reunites
German director Wim Wenders and American
playwright/actor Sam Shepard, two icons of the
independent art world who first teamed up for the
acclaimed PARIS, TEXAS (1984). They spoke to TIME about
their creative process.
TIME: What does this movie say about how long it can
take to find yourself?
SAM SHEPARD: I donít know. Thatís an ongoing process
donít you think? I donít think it ever gets resolved. I
think it takes a lifetime, if not more.
WIM WENDERS: Iím not so sure if thatís what we were
trying to focus on, though itís a side issue and itís an
important issue. Howard is himself until he realizes the
only problem with his life is that he didnít have it.
Heíd missed most of it. A lot of it.
SS: I donít think Howard ever thinks he has a life. I
think he is eternally lost. At the point where this
movie begins I think he comes closer to not kidding
himself about having a life than he ever has. He really
realizes heís at a dead end. Nothing has led anywhere.
WW: My focus was always the realization because I can
relate to that. He wakes up and realizes if he would
have died that night nobody would have cried or mourned
him and that is a sad thing to realize, that nobody is
going to miss you.
TIME: What is it like for you two to work together?
WW (laughs): Oh thatís a huge question. I donít think
you can define such a complex relationship as a director
and a writer and being friends and then he is also
acting in the movie. Iím very, very fond that I met Sam
a long time ago. Iíve actually worked more with
novelists than screenwriters and I think itís not a
coincidence that Sam is really a playwright. He hasnít
written all that many scriptsÖ
SS: Screenplays? Few.
WW: So he sits there, he types. We always write
together. Sam doesnít really like writing when Iím not
around. I donít really know why that is. No, I know why
that is because when he is finished with the scene, we
talk about it and then the question is whatís next? I
donít know anybody else who works like this. Sam writes
in total chronological order. We start with the first
scene not knowing what the second scene is, and when we
write the second scene we think about the third scene.
So you really sort of live through the story. And
everything comes out of the character. Nothing is
because of fluff. Itís such a relief when you can just
think about your characters and the story comes out of
TIME: What kind of characters would you say youíre
attracted to writing?
SS: Iím drawn to loss-ness of a certain kind, aloneness.
Which is not peculiar to a lot of writers. Many writers
use that as their stepping-off place because I think one
thing that writers share in common is this sense of
aloneness. Of somehow or another being cut off, being
outside, and somehow having to communicate through
writing. Thatís the need for writing. And I find the
characters I write also have that quality, of being
somewhat or very much removed from the mainstream of
life, and donít know quite how to find themselves in
society. Outsiders I guess. Not in any kind of
fashionable way, but a real remoteness from the
WW: What I have to say about that is when I made my
first movies and I showed them in America in art houses,
all my American reviews were about the same thing. They
all said Ďthis Wim Wenders guy, his movies are about
Angst, Alienation and America.í So I called myself a
triple A director. (laughter)
TIME: Youíre both known as people who get your work out,
whether it falls outside or within the commercial realm.
Do you ever think about where your film might end up?
SS: I never think about that. If you get wrapped up in
whether itís independent or commercial I think youíre on
the wrong track. You have to follow the thing that you
want to pursue because if youíre not committed to what
youíre doing, personally, then it doesnít make any sense
whether itís commercial or not, or independent. Youíve
got to be attached to material in a very integral way.
WW: I think the very classification, the word
independent means you want to express yourself and you
donít look at it under an industrial sort of aspect, and
success is an industrial aspect. I mean you want to have
success, you want to reach people but the beauty of
making films like Sam and I are doing is we just want to
tell a story and we come up with something that is close
to us and that we want to do. And then hopefully we
touch something that people can relate to.
SS: One of the great things as a writer working with Wim
is I know for sure that this is going to be turned into
a movie. I donít know how many screenplays Iíve sat down
to work with that never become movies. Working with Wim
I know one way or another, it may take five or ten
years, but down the road itís going to be a movie. And
itís a wonderful feeling because you know what youíre
writing is not going to be in vain. Itís not going to go
through that Hollywood process of being looked at by a
committee. Itís just between me and him
TIME: You, Sam Shepard, are known as a very iconic
American writer, good at capturing the American
experience. And you, Billy TurnerÖ
WW (to SS): I told her my name in English is Bill
Turner. Wim is short for William, so Bill. Wenders means
winding, to turn. So my English name would be Bill
SS (to WW): Do you use that in hotels?
WW: No, but I should.
SS: Billy Turner. Itís a good character name.
TIME: Wim, whatís it like being a European/American
WW: I think Iím a European director. I love America.
Iíve lived here for a long time. But when I first came
and made my first movie in America I realized I was not
an American director and I was never going to be an
American director. And that freed me to be able to look
at America in my own way. And I do think if you are a
foreigner that you have a privileged view of things. I
like that position. Itís obvious in my films how much I
love America but I donít think that I have an American
point of view and I think that works well with Samís
writing. Thereís a certain detachment. Because Iím
German in my heart, and a hopeless romantic therefore, I
think that maybe enables me to look at some places in
America in a way that maybe Americans donít get to do
anymore. I donít know why a single American director
never made a movie in Butte, Montana because that townÖ
SS: Itís like a movie set.
WW: It needed, somehow, a German to arrive there.
TIME: For a while it did seem like directors were
interested in making regional films but now everything
has sort of drifted back to locations in Los Angeles or
Toronto. Is something missing?
SS: As an actor I realized I was doing more films in
Toronto and Alberta than I was in America and it was
very disappointing because itís so great to be able to
go to the actual place where the thing takes place. My
first experience of it I guess was Days of Heaven (1978)
because we shot it in Alberta and itís supposed to be
West Texas. What the hell were we doing in Alberta? It
was all about the money, which is kind of sad. I love
Alberta, I love the high plains up there and itís very
visually beautiful up there. But itís not West Texas. If
we had shot it in West Texas it might have had a
different feel. Probably not as pretty. The idea of
taking the actual location of the story and transposing
it to another location, itís heartbreaking.
WW: A sense of place is something thatís about to get
lost in movies and we wrote Donít Come Knocking for Elko
(Nevada) and we wrote it for Moab (Utah) and we wrote it
for Butte. Even for money reasons we could not have made
it anywhere else.