Fast Forward Friday with David Kessler

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-producer David Kessler.  His most recent project is the drama Minamata, starring Johnny Depp, about the photojournalist William Eugene Smith which David adapted from the book of the same name.  It will have its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020 and will be released theatrically in fall 2020.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Hopefully my next feature film after Minamata will be Dreamers, the story of John Lennon’s five-year immigration battle with the USA. Until recently, I was working on a story about a cult from the 1970s but had a falling out with the author of the book about it.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Literally 21 years ago, in 1999, I sent a fax to Lennon’s lawyer, thinking it would be a great film. I didn’t hear back but did reach out again 17 years later in 2016 when he had a book coming out about the case. I suspected there was a story there – a beginning, middle and end, and a hero (Lennon and his lawyer) and an enemy (Nixon and Hoover). Little did I know how rich and moving the story was. The lawyer became a father-figure to a Lennon who had been abandoned by his own father and how the case led directly to DACA.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes who have had an impact on you and your work?

Writers, in no order: Dan Fogleman, Billy Ray, David Koepp, Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin,. Musicians: The Beatles, Paul Westerberg, Graham Parker.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Minamata, to to be released this fall, is about mercury-poisoning in Japan in the 1970s. It will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in a few weeks.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I was on set in Serbia for Minamata, watching Johnny Depp say my lines in an office dressed as I had described in my script.

Additionally, when Paula Wagner – of Mission Impossible I, II, III; The Last Samurai; Marshall and now a producer of Dreamers – told me to my face I was a “great writer”.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Writing and producing a ton more screenplays.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

True-life subjects’ disinterest in working with me – nos, unanswered e-mails and letters, difficult managers.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Parental expectations.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?


Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?


Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Cookies, candy, snacks, a Coke.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Stay the course. This quote from Steve Jobs has been on my computer probably for that long: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I still love living LA – I wish I had known about it way, way earlier.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Making enough money to lead a creative life i.e., no boss, no alarm clock, no structure to one’s day, trapped with unreasonable people and expectations.

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