'Half Nelson' Director on the Power of Friendship Movies about unlikely buddies such as Harold and Maude and Midnight Cowboy inspired writer and director Ryan Fleck. His latest film, Half Nelson, chronicles the friendship between a student and her drug-addicted teacher.
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'Half Nelson' Director on the Power of Friendship

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'Half Nelson' Director on the Power of Friendship

'Half Nelson' Director on the Power of Friendship

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We wanted to learn a little more about this unusual take on a blackboard drama so we invited director Ryan Fleck to visit our studios. He wrote the film with his longtime partner Anna Boden.

Ryan thanks so much for being with us.

RYAN FLECK: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: There have been so many films that are set in classrooms where students wind up learning important life lessons after discovering that a heroic teacher is actually just a human being, a person with real feelings and real flaws. But in terms of flaws crack addiction is quite extraordinary. Where did the idea for the story come from?

FLECK: It came from a lot of places but you know one of the things is I'm just - I'm a fan of films, I'm a fan of movies from the '70s and movies that - about friendship and odd friendships, Harold and Maude, Last Detail, Midnight Cowboy, I - these are big influences on me. And I kind of wanted to make a movie in that tradition and push the boundaries of what an audience would accept in terms of - of these friends, a teacher and a student. And just really, you know, if you heard about a crack addicted teacher being friends with his student you - in the news you might want - you know, that's awful.

NORRIS: If it's on the front page.

FLECK: You'd be really upset. Yeah it's totally upsetting. But you know we really wanted to push that and you root for these people to help each other out.

NORRIS: The writing of the story, did it begin with that essential fact about the character that this was a teacher who was addicted to crack? Or did it begin with the friendship and then you started to round out the story from there?

FLECK: The teacher thing was pretty important. I mean we knew we wanted a lot of classroom scenes, we wanted him to be teaching alternative versions of history and so that - that was definitely important. You know it also came out of this frustration that we were feeling at the time. We started writing this maybe four years ago and there was a lot of political protests going on before the invasion of Iraq. And we were going to those it felt like every week and you know, and it felt good. There was so much resistance to the war before it even started.

And, and then all of the sudden, you know, nothing - nothing happened in terms of - well something happened - the war happened. But, so that was just very a frustrating time and that sort of - we channeled that into this character, this character who's very idealistic, wants to make a difference in the world, wants to teach if that's going to be his way to make a difference. And yet he's - he's so flawed himself he can't change his own life.


RYAN GOSLING: (As Dan Dunne) I tried the rehab thing. I tried it, it didn't work. It didn't work. You know. It works for some people. The kids keep me focused.

NORRIS: The film is set in New York City but you don't necessarily know that. And it's interesting because so many films that set in New York the city has such a strong sense of place that New York is almost like another character in the story. This - it's not the case in your film. Was that by design or by accident?

FLECK: Yeah it was by design. You know I grew up in Oakland, California and the initial draft of the script took place there. But when it came time to - to actually go with the movie logistically it was going to be too hard to do it there on our budget. So we - when we decided to do it New York we - we went out and we really scouted for locations that haven't been overshot and that don't feel familiar, that don't scream welcome to New York.

And a lot of people come out of the movie - you know some people are like oh, of course that was New York. And other people that thought it was someplace rural, down in the south somewhere and that's fine for us. We wanted it to have sort of a fairy tale quality to it.

NORRIS: What's the larger message in the movie? What do you - what do you want people to take away from this film?

FLECK: You know I think it's just the - it's going to sound cheesy but it's the power of friendship. I'm just - I'm very excited by the notion of people, very different people, just trying to help each other out and - and I think that's the simple message if there is a message. But yeah, I think that's it.

NORRIS: We're all in this together.

FLECK: Yeah. Sounds good to me.

NORRIS: Ryan thanks so much for talking to us.

FLECK: Thanks a lot for having me.

NORRIS: Ryan Fleck. He's the director of Half Nelson.

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