Director Kirk Jones on Everybody's Fine
By Hannah Goodwyn
- Filmed entirely in Connecticut, Everybody's Fine depicts the journey a father takes to reconnect with his kids. Pulling from the original Italian film, Stanno Tutti Bene, British writer/director Kirk Jones reworked the heartwarming story, adapting it for an American audience.
In the film, Frank (Robert De Niro) realizes that he spent all of his time working while his kids were growing up. After the passing of his wife, Frank discovers that he no longer has a strong tie into their lives. Desperate to strengthen their weak relationships, he packs his suitcase for a trip across the country to visit his children.
Recenlty, CBN.com spoke with director Kirk Jones (who is famous for Waking Ned Devine and Nanny McPhee) about this new family-focused film, the road trip he took across America to get a feel for the nation, and how society is missing out on the importance of family.
Hannah Goodwyn: A few years ago, you trekked across the country to get to know the American people. What did you learn?
Kirk Jones: As an English writer and filmmaker, I was very aware that if I wanted to write this American road movie story that I really needed to get out and take the trip myself. So, I traveled from New York to Las Vegas, probably over a three-week period, traveling on Greyhounds and Amtrak trains and driving just to get off the main routes. I felt like it was a really valuable experience, and I don't think I could've written this film as effectively without it. It allowed me to do a number of things. I felt like I really got under the skin of the country. I met a lot of people.
I felt there was a tangible sense of depression running across the country. Oil prices were getting very high and fuel were very high. A lot people seemed pretty unhappy. But, essentially, in speaking to people it just reminded me how we're all very, very similar to each other, and that we all have similar worries and we all prioritize certain things in our lives. It was a very good experience. I had no problems traveling across the country, and essentially people were very good, very genuine, and very welcoming to me.
It inspired a number of ideas in the film, Frank's occupation, for example. I was very keen that his occupation had some relevance to his story. I was traveling from St. Louis to Kansas City and I looked out the window and I saw the telephone polls and the wires. And I just appreciated the irony thinking that Frank had spent his life protecting the line of communication, making these wires on the telephone poles and helping millions of people communicate with each other, but he was unable communicate with his own family. I don't think I would have been inspired to have ideas like that if I hadn't actually come and sat on the train and traveled. I also appreciated how important meeting, at times, pretty eccentric and wonderful characters. I appreciated how much that was part of the journey.
When I came to cast the film, I found myself trying to find real people who had no experience of acting, but people who I considered to have really lived their lives and really had something to say. So I cast a number of non-actors and sat them down next to Robert De Niro and we improvised scenes, which are now in the film. Again, the journey reminded me that it's not just about taking pretty pictures as you travel, but it's about the people that you meet and the opinions that you are exposed to.
Goodwyn: As a busy father of three, how do you find the balance between work and being with them?
Kirk Jones: It's really, really difficult. It's difficult with what I do. If I write a film and if a studio is saying, 'Yes, we will pay for this film to be made', and it's an American story, then I have to do it. There's not really any option financially or with regards to my career to say, 'Actually, I'm not going to take the opportunity to go make a film with Robert De Niro in America' – which could potentially change my career – 'I'm going to stay at home and be with the kids.' That's just not practical. It's not practical for most dads to say, 'I'm not going to go to work today or I'm not going to work overtime because I need to see the kids.'
In the film, there's a scene that shows that maybe at times we don't prioritize our family enough. But it's not as though dads really have that much of a choice. They can't say, 'I'm not going to go to work. I'm going to spend time with the kids.' It's just not an option. So I wasn't trying to say that it was an option.
It certainly made me think twice about how I plan my future and how I see my family. It was a really bad time with regards to my family. I missed my son's second year of his life. He was just over one when I left and just over two when I came back. Of course, I was seeing my family maybe every three months or so, but some of those visits were just for a couple of days. So it was pretty tough on all of us, and I've sort of decided that I'll try and avoid that in the future somehow. But it reminded me how I needed to prioritize my own family and my own life.
Goodwyn: Even with technological advances, families seem to often get disconnected. Have we missed the importance of family?
Kirk Jones: The irony is that in maybe the last 15 years we've developed all of this technology, which should help us communicate with each other… Internet, Skype, cellphones, texting. But, I think essentially, we're pretty lazy when it comes to communication with each other and we need to be motivated. I think we almost consider it to be something on our to-do list… 'must ring home!' As we know, none of us are very good at doing all of things on our to-do list. I guess at times I think that maybe we almost can't be bothered to spend tiny minutes repeating or filling someone else in our lives. We fill like we've got more important things to do. We forget how important it is for our parents to know what's going on, and to kind of share in our lives. So I'm not sure what it is, but I think there's a general kind of laziness, which we all needed to be careful of and we need to… it's like any relationship, you need to be keep working at it. And you need to keep being very vigilant, that you do speak to family and you do keep in touch.
I'm not sure that technology has helped. I think knowing that it's so easy to keep in touch has perhaps allowed us to not keep in touch. 'Well, I know I can always pick up the phone when I want to.' So, it's not urgent.
Goodwyn: How does Christmas tie into the film?
Kirk Jones: In every country that celebrates Christmas, [the holiday] is identified as a time which you really to try as hard as you can to keep in touch with your family. In this country, I know there's Thanksgiving and I'm very aware of how important that is to people. But it seems that outside of the United States, Christmas for a number of people is the time at which they really need to work hard at getting back together as a family, and reconnecting.
For example, in my own world, it's a time when I try and spend time with my mom and dad, and I try and get back to where I grew up to see my family. I don't always succeed, but it just seemed like it was a very clear focus for Frank to get the family back together for Christmas, as they used to. For that reason, I embraced it as a part of the plot.
Goodwyn: Any Christmas traditions in your family?
Kirk Jones: At the end of the film, there's a scene that involves a turkey being cooked. That was definitely inspired by my experience of trying to cook the turkey every year -- the arguments that occur because someone thinks it's undercooked, someone thinks it's overcooked, [and then the thought that] I think I know what's best. When you see the film, you can enjoy that final scene which relates to a turkey being cooked and know that that's me, and I suspect it's a number of other people as well.
Hannah Goodwyn hasn't see Everybody's Fine, so she cannot comment on the content or quality of the film - yet. She plans to see it soon.
She serves as a producer for CBN.com. For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.
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