Heartland Interviews: JOHN GATINS

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John Gatins is a successful writer, director and actor, having written such films as Summer Catch and Truly Moving Picture Award-winner Coach Carter, as well as writing and directing the recent Truly Moving Picture Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, which served as the Heartland Film Festival’s Opening Night Event. John attended the 2005 Festival, sharing with Heartland his experience in making Dreamer. Here he shares some of his own Truly Moving Pictures, as well as his thoughts on filmmaking and what makes a great film.

What are your favorite Truly Moving Pictures? In what ways are they personally inspiring?

I always liked the film Good Will Hunting. It’s a film that came along at the right time and really stayed with me. As someone who grew up with parents who really promoted education, I have always enjoyed films that foster education or explore the way education can help you better yourself. Stand and Deliver is another example.

I also really enjoy sports movies and have written a lot of sports movies. Rudy, in particular, is a favorite, especially the way it combines sports with the idea of education. Hoosiers, too, is a movie I really love.

What qualities do you most value in a film?

Redemption. I love redemptive stories. I adapted the film Hard Ball from a book, based on a real person who was an upstanding, normal guy – kind of a yuppie. I added a twist in the film and made him more of a down-on-his-luck guy, struggling to overcome a gambling addiction and a drinking problem.

I always enjoy stories that demonstrate redemption and the ability to re-engineer your luck.

How do you choose film projects? What is it about a project that most excites you?

While there’s a lot that’s entertaining and good about the “end of the world” genre of movies, I’ve always been more attracted to characters. Stories that are triumphant.

I like to tell human stories about how someone is able to find out they’re better or bigger or smarter than they think.

Who are some of your favorite film characters of all-time? Why?

Rocky is a classic character, the underdog turned hero. Similarly, George Bailey from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life — he is the everyman. In many respects, he is all of us, as his fears and frustrations are overcome by his love for his family. Really a classic American film icon. 

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or actors?

Whenever I meet someone, they always say, “You’re in movies? I’ve got a great movie idea for you!” But that’s really it right there. Start there. Create a great story. When I started out as an actor, I really struggled to survive. It was writing that allowed me to find success. You can’t act by yourself, you can’t direct by yourself, but you can always write.

Great movies come from great stories, and great stories make great screenplays.

It was writing that gave me the potential and allowed me opportunities.

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