Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Trouble With the Truth’ + Interview with writer/director Jim Hemphill

Just a month away until the film festivities begin, Twin Cities Film Fest is hosting a Minnesota theatrical premiere of the indie drama The Trouble With The Truth. 

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Starring Minnesota native, Lea Thompson and written and directed by Minnesota native, Jim Hemphill. Both Ms. Thompson and Mr. Hemphill will be present for a Q&A session following the screening!

Date: Wednesday, Sept 21st @ 6:30pm
Location: Showplace ICON Theatres, The Shops at West End

$20 per ticket
(click image for more info & to purchase tickets)

Synopsis: Musician and starving artist Robert reconsiders his own failed marriage to Emily after his daughter announces that she’s engaged.


I had the pleasure of seeing the film last week and I really enjoyed it! The key to creating a film set in a single night with just two characters is that the script has to be extra sharp to keep your attention. Kudos to Jim Hemphill as The Trouble With The Truth certainly accomplished that. The dialog feels very effortless and natural, and I found the conversations engaging. The story gets even better as the film progressed and never overstays its welcome. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they have to charming leads in a role that utilized their talents and charisma.

jimhemphillJim Hemphill is an award-winning screenwriter and director whose films include THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH and BAD REPUTATION. In addition to his filmmaking endeavors, he is a regular contributor to American Cinematographer, Filmmaker Magazine, and the Talkhouse Film site, among other outlets. He is also a programming consultant at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, where he has moderated discussions with Peter Bogdanovich, Jane Campion, William Friedkin, Elliott Gould, Barbara Hershey, Michel Legrand, Adrian Lyne, David Mamet, Paul Mazursky, Ron Shelton, Jim Sheridan, Paul Verhoeven, Wim Wenders, Haskell Wexler, and many others.

Check out my Q&A with Jim Hemphill below on how the story came about, the casting process, challenges of making the film, and more!

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So you started out as a critic and script reader for David Fincher, did you start writing then? What inspired you want to make your own films?

Directing was always the primary goal, from when I was around nine or ten years old. I was a movie nut from a pretty young age, and as a little kid I was particularly obsessed with Clint Eastwood. At some point I realized that I was responding to something in his movies beyond his on-screen persona…I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it this way at the time, but I was connecting with his philosophy as a director.

At around the same time that I became conscious of Eastwood’s role behind the camera as well as in front of it, I also discovered the movies of filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill, and John Landis – I didn’t completely understand what a director did, but I could feel continuities in their movies that made me aware of the fact that there was an author responsible for the ideas I was responding to. By the time I was in high school the floodgates had completely opened and I was studying directors constantly – via their movies, interviews, books, etc. – and I always wanted to follow in the footsteps of my heroes. Script reading was just a way of paying the rent, and I wouldn’t really call my writing about films criticism… I’m not a critic the way that somebody like Matt Zoller Seitz or Violet Lucca is. I’m more of an enthusiast – or even a kind of evangelist, beating the drums for movies I feel passionate about. It’s a little more personal and less analytical than what a real critic does, though obviously some of our best critics are very personal writers.

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Jim (center) filming with John and Lea

How did the idea of The Trouble With The Truth come about for you? Can you share what inspired you to the story and/or the characters?

First off, I wanted to avoid the mistakes I made on my first movie, which was a teen horror flick called Bad Reputation. On that film I was straining against my resources the whole time – I was trying to make what should have been a $5 million-dollar Blumhouse or Screen Gems movie for ten grand. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in that movie, but it feels very, very ragged, and the unpolished look of it always bugged me. So for my second film I wanted to write something that I knew I could make look great even if I didn’t have an enormous budget. That meant minimal characters and minimal locations, because the fewer people and company moves the faster I could shoot the movie. So I knew off the bat I wanted to do something like My Dinner with Andre or Talk Radio, where you’re essentially in a few rooms the whole time.

In terms of coming up with the characters, Robert is slightly based on my grandfather, who was also a jazz pianist who kicked around playing in hotels and things and lived the life of the bohemian – some might say starving – artist more or less until the end. But really both characters are different sides of me…I certainly have a lot of the same fears and interests and feelings, though John Shea’s character represents my more realistic, cynical side and Lea is kind of the less rational, romantic part of me.

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How did the casting of Lea Thompson & John Shea come about? Their chemistry is amazing and totally believable. Lea is the producer also, did you know her prior to making this film?

My only interaction with Lea prior to the movie came when I interviewed her on stage at a Back to the Future screening in Hollywood – I moderate these Q&As at the American Cinematheque, and Lea came to speak during a Back to the Future marathon. I always fantasized about making a movie with her, because when I met Robert Zemeckis in film school he said Lea was his favorite actress he ever worked with. This guy’s made movies with Meryl Streep, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jodie Foster, and other pretty major actresses, so that statement always stuck with me. I gave her the script for The Trouble with the Truth in the usual way, sending it to her manager or agent or somebody, and after we talked a little and I convinced her I wasn’t insane she agreed to do the movie.

The producing thing came about because over the course of the project she became more and more involved both creatively and just getting the damn thing out into the world, which is tough these days if you don’t have a multimillion-dollar marketing budget. Probably the most important thing she did was suggest John Shea – I have to give her full credit for that. When she came on board we talked about potential male leads and she gave me a list of four or five guys she thought would be good. John was at the top of her list, and I immediately loved the idea.

I had been a fan of his since Missing and was particularly fond of a movie he made with Alan Alda called A New Life, which as a great movie about marriage and divorce kind of influenced The Trouble with the Truth. John had worked with Lea before on a miniseries and was eager to do so again, so he agreed to do the movie and we were off. The fact that they knew each other saved me a ton of time and work, because they just jumped right in and, as you say, had instant chemistry.
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The conversations, all the bantering between Robert & Emily is engaging right from the start. How long does the writing process take for you from the time you came up w/ the idea?

This was probably the fastest I’ve ever written anything in my life, aside from a couple for-hire writing gigs where I was under a tight deadline. It’s certainly the fastest I’ve ever written anything good. Once I had the general idea mapped out I gave myself a rigid schedule of writing four pages a day, no matter what – that way I knew I would have a first draft in a month. I wouldn’t be able to do that on every script, but for this one I could because everything was coming more or less out of my imagination – there was no research or anything like that. After that first draft that took me a month I rewrote a little, but the script didn’t change that drastically…I would say altogether it was a few months of writing.

I always think that films that take place mostly in a single night & a single location are tricky. What’s the biggest challenge as well as inspired moments of making the film for you?

The biggest challenge is convincing everybody else that it can work, to be honest with you – there were times where I think the actors and crew were skeptical that the movie would remain interesting from beginning to end. But, you know, I don’t think you need a lot of locations or razzle-dazzle to make something interesting if the writing and acting is solid – I mean, that movie where Ryan Reynolds spends the whole thing in a box buried underground [Buried – ed.] is great! I think the upside of doing a movie like this is there’s a kind of concentrated emotional power; if the movie works on you, it’s because you’re so intensely focused on these two people and their issues, with no distractions.

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There’s a lot of dialog in this film, which I found very natural and has an effortless flow about it. But I notice there’s no background music at all when they’re talking, despite the fact that Robert is a musician. Is that a deliberate decision? If so, why?

That sort of speaks to the no distractions idea; we actually had more music in the movie, and it was all terrific – the composer, Sean Schafer Hennessy, is incredible, and I’m hoping maybe he’ll get some of the unused cues out on iTunes as a soundtrack album or something. But throughout the post-production process, my editor Michael Benni Pierce kept stripping things away to focus on the essential, and I think it was the right choice – we had two great actors, and I felt like the way to go was to follow Ingmar Bergman’s example and just make the movie about these people and their faces and voices. So a lot of the music got dropped in the mix, though there is a lot of great jazz throughout the opening bar scene if you listen closely – you can hear it better in a theatre, where the sound mix comes off the way it’s supposed to.

You’ve directed and written your last two films. Which one do you enjoy the most?

Directing, by far. I don’t really like writing, but it’s something you have to do in order to have something to direct. But to be honest with you, the only part of the filmmaking process that I actually enjoy is being on a set and working with the actors and cinematographer. Everything else is kind of an ordeal.

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You’ve tackled horror, drama and your next one is an adventure fantasy. Is there a genre you’d love to work on?

Well, I’m not doing an adventure fantasy, though I did work as a writer on a Hercules movie for, as Nicholas Ray would say, bread and taxes. Without question my bucket list genre is the Western – I have one I’ve written that I’d like to make if I can raise the money, and I might write a few more in the near future. I like all kinds of movies, but if I had my way I’d probably do nothing but Westerns, melodramas, and musicals – I’d have been a lot better off working in the Hollywood of the 1950s!

As a writer/director, who have been your inspirations (is Fincher one of them)? Would you share your top three fave films of all time?

There are so, so many, and certainly Fincher’s one of them – I think Gone Girl and Zodiac are two of the greatest movies ever made. Aside from the people I listed above, I’m inspired by the work of Francis Coppola, Oliver Stone, Sam Peckinpah, Ron Shelton, Paul Schrader, John Ford, Yasujiro Ozu, Kathryn Bigelow, Blake Edwards, David Lynch, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Paul Thomas Anderson, Budd Boetticher, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Cimino, Nicholas Ray, Joe Dante, Elia Kazan, Steven Soderbergh, Alfred Hitchcock, John Cassavetes, George Romero, Terrence Malick, Michael Powell, Paul Verhoeven, Orson Welles… God, the list never ends. I hate to make one since I leave so many people out.

As far as my top three favorite films of all time, that’s a little easier: Boogie Nights, The Age of Innocence, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.


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The Trouble With the Truth is currently available on DVD from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as streaming on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Vudu.
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Thank you Jim for taking the time to chat with me about your film!


Hope you enjoy the interview! Thoughts on The Trouble With The Truth and/or the interview?

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14 thoughts on “Indie Film Spotlight: ‘The Trouble With the Truth’ + Interview with writer/director Jim Hemphill

    1. Hi Cindy, you meant Jim Hemphill right, Rob Simonsen is the composer from yesterday interview 🙂 But yes, both Jim and Rob are definitely living the dream! It’s always so inspiring to learn from such talented people.

  1. “I wanted to avoid the mistakes I made on my first movie, which was a teen horror flick called Bad Reputation. On that film I was straining against my resources the whole time – I was trying to make what should have been a $5 million-dollar Blumhouse or Screen Gems movie for ten grand. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in that movie, but it feels very, very ragged, and the unpolished look of it always bugged me. So for my second film I wanted to write something that I knew I could make look great even if I didn’t have an enormous budget.”

    I so agree with him about this statement, many filmmakers tends to have big ideas but without proper budget and resources, their film will likely fail and/or look like crap.

    Another great interview Ruth!

    1. Hi Ted! Indeed it’s very wise to start small and know the limitations of the project. But at the same time, the story is always key and Mr. Hemphill has crafted a compelling story that fits the set up of a single location. I know dramas aren’t your thing, but you should check it out if you’re up for it, it’s on Amazon Prime.

  2. jackdeth72

    Hi, Ruth:

    This one looks very intriguing and interesting. Not only for its two leads. Who are close to the same age. A rarity in today’s cinema. But also the film’s distinct ‘My Dinner With Andre” vibe. Which promotes the film’s plot moving along through spoken words and dinner banter.

    I’m also a fan of John She. Who has countless layers of subtlety first noticed in Castas- Gravas’ ‘Witness’ ages ago, And Lea Thompson isn’t a slouch, either. Known to hold her own opposite many male leads. Also nice to see that Ms. Thompson took up the producer’s reins.
    It’ll be interesting to see how well this one travels and how well it’s received!

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