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September 09, 2019

A Man for All Screens

Danny Huston will follow a good story, no matter the screen on which it’s shown.

Melissa Byers
  • Author/Screenwriter Simon Astaire

We take photos of everything.

Our pets, our friends, our food. But, there was a time when a photograph wasn't online, wasn't kept on our ubiquitous phones, wasn't infinitely reproducible. And what if one of those photographs, a precious last image of someone you loved, was lost, or worse, stolen?

That's the premise of the new film by actor-director Danny Huston, The Last Photograph. Based on the novel of the same name by Simon Astaire, Huston directs and stars in the film which was released on September 6 in limited theatrical release and on streaming services.

Huston plays Tom Hammond, who is seen in the opening of the film driving his son, who is flying to New York to spend the holidays with his new girlfriend, to the London airport shortly before Christmas in 1988. The flight he will board is Pan Am 103, which was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb.

The photograph of the title is a Polaroid taken at a Christmas party the night before Tom's son left. Years later, the photograph, which Tom keeps with him in his briefcase, is stolen, and Tom spirals out of control in his quest to retrieve it.

The film straddles several time periods, from 1988 to 2003, with the director choosing different film stocks and cameras for each period. Huston says, "It's a sort of collage. It really intrigued me. And I was interested in experimenting with that, using different film stocks, digital, different cameras, to try to create the different periods in time, so I didn't have to have a card saying the time period."

While the story takes place in the shadow of the huge tragedy of Pan Am 103, the story itself is as simple as one man losing a son. "And, as the story develops, scenes that could be thought of as banal, a man driving his son to the airport, when you realize what the father is driving his son towards, suddenly you have a feeling of greater impact for the viewer. The characters are innocent to this.

"Also, the concept of The Last Photograph is how it pertains to all our lives, we all have last photographs. Now that I've reached a certain age, a lot of them become that last photograph, and a lot of them carry that, and the impact of the tragedy of that magnitude, the Pan Am 103, was one of the first of that size, that touched us in America and on a bigger scale.

"And every day, sadly, we have news of loss, be it terrorism or be it a mass shooting or something, where it's a larger loss, and that also is something that brings people together."

According to Huston, the construction of the story came with the original novel as well as Astaire's screenplay.

"I read it with great anticipation, and was really taken aback by the construction, how he constructed the story. And it's really quite simple. It's a story about a man who loses a photograph. And through his reaction and how the script is structured out of chronology, we discover the meaning that this photograph has to the character."

Huston, whose earliest ambition was to be a director, ended up directing himself in the lead role in The Last Photograph. He says he had a few reasons for this. "I guess, first and foremost, the convenience. I knew that I was around. I knew that this was going to be a small, low-budget independent film, and that I wanted to explore different times, different seasons.

"I filmed over less than a year, but I waited for the Christmas lights in London, and also shot the park scenes in the summer, a lot of the park scenes, actually, with the young lovers, with the girlfriend.

"I was able to shoot in a not-so-conventional way as far as scheduling, and different cameras and different stock. So, I knew I'd be available. I had a feeling that I'd have a good relationship with the actor, that I'd arrive on set on time."

Directing oneself in the lead can be somewhat disconcerting, but Huston has a handle on that. He says, "I say it's a small, a humble film, but then when I look at it, I sometimes am embarrassed. I hope there aren't one too many close-ups of me.

"But it's something that, during the edit, I asked friends to look at it, just to be sure I wasn't indulging in my own performance from the editing and directorial point of view. I think I'm pretty good at being able to step away and look at myself onscreen. Lots of actors don't like to that. I don't mind so much.

"Once I'm editing it, I sort of divorce myself from the fact that it's actually me without embarrassing myself. The film requires shots that are able to linger on the central characters' thoughts, their emotions and voiceover and stuff. So maybe sometimes, I may be a little overly sensitive at seeing my face up on screen and directed by me. But I think I got over that."

He also tried to make the film something new, to give the viewers a unique experience. He says, "I've tried to break the three act formula up a little with The Last Photograph. What I also tried to do to pull you into the film, is there's a lot of news footage which is intercut with footage that I shot, and I tried to combine the two together. And I'm quite happy with the way that works out."

Distribution of a small, independent film can be tricky, but Huston has arranged the film's showings for a variety of media and varying impacts. "It will be in one theater in L.A., in Santa Monica, the Laemmle, so I'm thrilled that we have that space. I'll do a Q&A so we can talk and celebrate the film with an audience.

"I also feel it's a film that works quite well, hopefully, in an intimate surrounding, watching on the TV at home. I feel that doesn't harm the film. It creates a situation at home in order to concentrate on what the film means and more on personal relationships to the viewer.

"Not a lot of people have seen it, but the few people who have seen it seem to speak to me about their own experiences, their own loss, and in a way, the film has, hopefully, helped connect them, and, not find closure, but to heal with the love that we have for others.

"In other words, I don't mind the film being screened in a very intimate situation or with an audience.

"We had two special screenings. We had one in Edinburgh, with a lot of people who were there during the Lockerbie tragedy, and the moderator was one of the people who announced the Pan Am 103 tragedy on television, on, I believe, ITV in London that night, Alistair Stewart.

"So, he was the moderator, and it was, I felt, a very poignant screening, and I was delighted that the audience that had had a personal experience felt that I honored the tragedy. That was very special to me.

"The other screening we had was at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and it was when all the fires were there, so there was smoke everywhere, and a real feeling of loss, and it really brought the audience together and made the film more poignant and relevant. As I said, the weekly news, for me, it makes you think about all the last photographs, one right after the other at this point.

"It's a small film, so I'm delighted that it's being released, and also, Peter Raeburn, who composed the music, will be releasing the music at the same time, and Simon's book, a new edition, will be released at the same time.

"I think the competition is so enormous, hopefully, people will think the film is delicate, and I think a delicate released is preferred."

Those wishing to have that intimate experience with the film can find it on most streaming platforms, including: DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon Fios, Amazon, FandangoNow, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, Xbox, and YouTube Movies.

When he wasn't acting in and directing his own project, Huston found time to appear in Paramount Network's Yellowstone, HBO's Succession, and the theatrical release Angel Has Fallen, as well as making a short film that was shown at the Venice Film Festival.

Of Yellowstone, he says, "I'm enjoying it so much, watching it, I can't tell you. Taylor Sheridan's writing I find very exciting. I think he's one of the American writers currently writing about America, an America you don't necessarily frequent, with wild, delicate richness and beauty and characters.

"He's brought these three worlds, the Native American, the old rancher, the new land developer, together, and [shows] this collision that they have, but also the need they have for each other. It's a wonderful, kind of epic topic."

He has praise for Succession, as well. "I'm really happy to be in it. The writing is just fantastic. And the dialogue is just cracking."

Overall, he is having a good year. "I feel good about how this year's turned out. I did the big film, the smaller ones, the ones that mean a lot to you, they all mean something to you, but the ones that are more for the love of it. And it's tough to get the right balance."

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