Les Norris has talent to spare. Not only has he helped bring two feature films to the screen, he was also the co-founder of Florida punk band Radiobaghdad, and is about to release his first solo EP. However, No-Budget Nightmares die-hards know him best as co-director of GORNO: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, a film that was quite thoroughly ripped apart both here and on the No-Budget Nightmares podcast. Did he get upset? No. Did he attempt to sue the website? No. He took the criticism in stride, and even (along with GORNO co-director Oliver Assiran) appeared on the No-Budget Nightmares anniversary podcast. Obviously a stand-up guy. Les was good enough to sit down and talk to No-Budget Nightmares about his most recent film THE FOG OF WAR, his upcoming album, and his next film.
Sweetback (SB): While GORNO tackled a variety of issues regarding disaffected youths, the FOG OF WAR concerns itself with post-traumatic stress and drug testing on American soldiers. How important is it to you to make films that are seated in a recognizable reality?
Les Norris (LN): Not really too important, but I think the things that happen in THE FOG OF WAR could happen. I’ve read of stranger things.
SB: While much of the film only hints towards (lead character) John Milhouse’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s eventually revealed that his trauma is at least partially due to experimental drug testing. What made you include this as an element of the story, and were there any real-life news stories that influenced this?
LN: No. I like conspiracy stories. I was a huge fan of the X-Files. Also, here in America, most people do not trust the government.
SB: There have been many films about soldiers returning home from war and being unable to reintegrate into society, but they tend to focus on Vietnam veterans. The opening and closing montage of footage in THE FOG OF WAR seems to imply that this is a forever ongoing problem. Do you feel like the trauma of soldiers over the last decade is being comparatively ignored?
LN: Yes. We are desensitized to violence. Everyday the war in Afghanistan is played out on the bottom the TV, by the scrolling text that no one reads; while the news anchor updates us on which Kardashian is pregnant. All this goes on while our young men die for no reason.
SB: Was there a concern that your film might be confused with Errol Morris’ documentary THE FOG OF WAR?
LN: Les Norris, Earl Morris? Man you’re right! Some people are going to be REAL pissed off when they get my film? Ha ha!
SB: How difficult was it to cast the John Milhouse role in the film? He’s present in almost every frame, and is required to give long, emotional monologues. What was the casting process like for the rest of the film?
LN: I had two separate casting sessions. I had Ratner from GORNO play the role of Pete. I found Benhur (Millhouse) by searching all over online. I contacted him, told him about the script and lucky for me he decided to do it. He’s a natural, he blew me away with the ability to do long, long dialog several takes in a row and get it right everytime.
He’s also one hell of a nice guy. I wish I had more money and time. We shot FOW in 5 days with a crew of 3 to 4. We shot 12-15 hrs a day.
SB: It seems as if THE FOG OF WAR had a rather difficult birth, and had a lengthy post-production period. When did filming actually take place, and how long had you been developing the idea in your mind before you put it on paper?
LN: I wrote the original script in 2008 for a budget of $25,000. Then the investor backed out about four months before shooting. We ended up shooting the movie on about $7,000. I had to totally change the script, changed locations, cut roles totally out… Just to make it happen on that shitty budget.
SB: What projects are you currently working on? Are you still heavily involved in music?
LN: I am in preproduction on my next film OXYLAND, and trying to get a decent budget. As far as music, I haven’t really done much since the Radiobaghdad days, but I just finished recording my first ever solo EP cd I JUST SMOKED A JOINT WITH JESUS. I’m in process of mixing.
I’ll be self releasing the EP, this summer I don’t know who will release the full length next year. It’s slow acoustic songs about drinking and dying.
SB: For readers interested in picking up copies of THE FOG OF WAR or GORNO, what’s the best way to do so? And what’s the best way to keep up on your current and future work?
SB: Anything else to promote?
LN: I want to promote you! Thanks to Doug, Moe and No Budget Nightmares for promoting indies! You guys rule!
SB: Finally, what advice do you have for directors looking to tackle unique and socially conscious material on a limited budget?
LN: Do it! Grab that camera, stop talking about making films and make them!
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