It's not unusual for directors to have a wish list of actors they want for their movie. Maybe it was lack of experience directing feature films or just optimism, but once Fisher Stevens saw the script for "Stand Up Guys," he knew there were only three guys who could play the aging con men -- Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
He got all three of the A-list players.
"I had acted with Alan before and done some readings with Al. Plus, I knew Chris," Stevens says.
He's happy now that all three came on board, but there were moments during the shooting where Stevens wondered what he was thinking casting such strong actors to star in only his second attempt at directing a feature film.
Stevens' behind-the-camera work includes the documentary "Crazy Love," the low-budget feature "Just a Kiss" and episodes of the TV show "Early Edition." Complicating his limited experience was that he had just 30 days to shoot "Stand Up Guys," about half the time Pacino's accustomed to when making a movie.
It made it easier that the stars were so committed to the project. They even helped him add to the original script by Noah Haidle.
"Although most of the movie was shot according to the script, they came up with several improvised lines. We were at Al's house on a Saturday rehearsing when Chris and Al started telling this wild story," Stevens says.
It was about how they had heard there were some places where men used bee stings to make them look more sexually prominent. Stevens found the story so hilarious that he added a scene in a brothel where they could share it.
Walken plays a guy who doesn't have a cellphone or use a computer. A discussion of how he would make phone calls ends with Walken pulling from his pocket a small film cannister packed with quarters.
Stevens spent a lot of time on elements such as the sound track and the lighting. Most of the music is from the '70s, but Jon Bon Jovi wrote a song for the film. As for the lighting, Stevens went for a very natural look that often created dark shadows. It fit well with his actors, who used little or no makeup.
The Chicago native may be a relative directing novice, but he's a veteran when it comes to understanding acting. He made his motion picture debut in the 1981 horror film 'The Burning" and has appeared in films such as "The Flamingo Kid," "Short Circuit" and TV shows such as "Early Edition" and "Numb3rs."
He also had a role on the TV series "Lost." Stevens admits he's not 100% certain what happened on the show, but because they were such a great group of actors and directors to work with, he was happy to go back to Hawaii when he got cast to play a chauffeur in the series finale.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.