Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

'We'll Let Them Do Whatever': 'Murderball' Director Rubin Discusses Mangold's Fictional Adaptation

The quadriplegic rugby documentary Murderball, which I cherish and regard as the best documentary of 2005, was back in the news this week as director James Mangold was linked to the development of a narrative adaptation. I could not quite make head or tails of any of this until I caught up Thursday with Murderball co-director Henry-Alex Rubin, an old friend, colleague and disciple of Mangold’s from their days studying film at Columbia University in the mid 1990s.
“I would say that Dana (Adam Shapiro, Murderball‘s other co-director) and I are pretty hopeful that it’s going work as a complement to the movie rather than be a replacement for it,” said Rubin, who served as Mangold’s second unit director on Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted. “That’s one of the reasons we both decided to go with Jim, because he seemed excited to make something that would work alongside it as a companion piece.”
While TMZ reported last week that Mangold had acquired the life rights to Murderball subjects Mark Zupan (above), Joe Soares and Chris Igoe–out of whose truck Zupan was flung in the accident that paralyzed him–Rubin was reluctant to detail any story hints or specifics before Mangold had even written the script.
“I think Dana and I both agreed that we would stay out of it and let James do whatever he wanted,” he told me. “Dana and I put him in touch with Mark Zupan, and they met, and they get along. And we’ll let them do whatever. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mangold at some point asked us our opinion, but I think the only way to really feel OK about doing something is just to give it to someone else completely. We made our film, and it represents the truth to the best of our knowledge emotionally and chronologically onscreen. Now Mangold is following a diferent process, which is trying to get the truth of the emotions that preexisted, which is going to be challenge, but which Dana and I had nothing to do with, because we weren’t there. It’s really all about Chris Igoe and Zupan, and hopefully they’ll all be collaborating.”
Rubin, who attended this year’s IFP Market as a Documentary Completion Award juror, is presently casting his upcoming film Bridgewater, a blend of doumentary-style and fiction storytelling about a group of friends returned from a tour in the Iraq War. Rubin cites another chief influence, Flight 93 and Bloody Sunday director Paul Greengrass, as an influence this time around, but he reserved his strongest praise for Mangold.
“I’ve always been sort of obsessed with ways of capturing reality and truth and putting it on film, and Jim has continuously opened my mind as to how to tell a story well,” Rubin said. “I’ve mostly been at the mercy of reality making documentaries for 10 years, but on the side, I was always working on his films. I got a window into a world of fiction that I wouldn’t have necessarily gotten otherwise. Dana and I tried hard to make Murderball look and feel like a fiction film, and it was because of Jim that I even knew how to put together shot lists and storyboards. He’s influenced me tremendously.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon