Gary Winstead

1. Your film Poro Forever has become a Finalist in our competition. How was the film inspired?

My wife is from Poro, a little town with a huge heart but in a very remote area of the Philippines. Even though Poro has its own language, Porohanan, it had no library at all, and Jerasol and I decided to open a free library that would bring a world of learning to the kids, especially, but also to everyone in Poro.

Since I was between projects, I decided to film the opening of the library. But when I got there I discovered a town, so warm, so loving, fun and self-sufficient, that I decided to make a documentary of "everything Poro" and let the world see what a hidden gem it is.

We threw away the script that Larry and I had written, (Lawrence Benedict, is my co-producer) which had focused on the opening of the library, and as I heard Larry say from L.A. after we jettisoned the script,
"If it's there, shoot it!"

Larry has spent much of his life in Hollywood, on both sides of the camera, and would be our editor on Poro Forever.

People can be so locked into their scripts, they miss what's really there. In terms of a documentary, Larry's philosophy is "Don't shoot what you went to shoot, shoot what's there!"

2. Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become a filmmaker?

I was in my first film in 1968, co-incidentally in the Philippines. I fell in love with filmmaking. I was able to appear in a handful of films in the 70's and 80's but discovered I was better behind the camera.

When I retired from a life centered on horses, I took up making short films and the passion just grew from there. Poro Forever is my 4th live action film and we have a fifth, an anime, in preproduction.

3. Films that inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Cowboy films! "The Cowboys," "North by Northwest" "Lonely are the Brave," "Shane'"

4. Who is your biggest influence?

John Ford.

Larry says he was most influence by films by Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini and David Lean but the movies that helped him learn about a life of film making were "The Stuntman" 1980, and "Day for Night" by François Truffaut. A more recent joy for Larry was the French film Molière, 2006, where, if you watch closely, every plot point turns on a point of acting in some way.

5. Do you have a favorite genre to work in?

Cowboy and Western. Two of my short films were in that genre. Why is it my favorite? That is what I am, a card-carrying cowboy.

6. What's your all-time favorite movie and why?

I can't say that I have only one. Anything with John Wayne or Bruce Willis.

Larry chimes in, "The Fifth Element" with Bruce Willis, but beyond that, Barry Lyndon, I've been dying to say this: "Barry Lyndon" is a movie with giant sets framing tiny foibles, creating a reality at once poingnant and pointless."

7. If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?

Sadly, most of them have passed on, but among the living, I would love to work with Spielberg, or Tarantino.

Larry agrees and adds, "if I could work with any actor it would be Ben Kingsley. When asked for his secret by the L.A.Times, Kingsley replied, I make sure I can hit my marks and then I just let go!"

8. The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career.

My wife is very understanding. She realizes the process takes long and sometimes tedious hours. Like being on set before sunrise and not getting home until well after sunset. Oh and the phone calls and e-mails. Lots of phone calls and e-mails!

Larry's answer? "My mother, Leila Katherine Benedict who willingly listened to a little kid's Jimmy Stewart imitations ad-infinitum. Next to her, my father, Walter Franklin Benedict who, after the shock of discovering there was an actor in the family, became my greatest fan.

9. What was the most important lesson you had to learn as a filmmaker?

Patience. Actors, crew, food services and bystanders are as unique as fingerprints and each personality must receive its own specialized attention.

Larry adds, never say "Yes-but... always say, Yes-and..."

10. What keeps you motivated?

The fact that I am helping others in their career. If I can get an actor more work after one of my films because he/she did an exceptional job, I feel like a million bucks.

Larry adds, "Yep."

11. How has your style evolved?

I have a very basic style that has stayed fairly consistent. I don't take 8 hours to film a 3-minute scene. Clint Eastwood taught me that, "on time and under budget is what gets you your next film." Oh, artistic style? That the horse is going out of the chute and you have to stay on it. That's true of films and also life.

One I like, says Larry, is production time expands to fill the time allotted. Artistically, I always pushed the limits but until quite recently, I never realized how crazy human beings could be. That knowledge will be present in my future work. The actor is logical, his/her subjects are not, necessarily! The right side of the brain does not know what the left side is doing!

12. On set, the most important thing is...

Know your lines, be aware others are not perfect, be flexible.

Larry would add? Know your lines, hit your marks and learn to snap awake after ten hours in a trailer.

13. The project(s) you're most proud of...

Then one I am working on.

14. The most challenging project you worked on. And why?

The Poro Forever Documentary. Keeping mental track of hundreds of takes and making sure "the truth" was all we shot.

I agree, Gary, and with Poro Forever, from an editing point of view, flow, pace, mood and truth had to be substituted for a script. I always create for myself, a personal theme to keep in my head for a project I'm editing, like some editors do with music. For Poro Forever, that theme was "smiles."

Fortunately, with Larry, I have the best Editor in the business and he really put a fine polish, a nice sheen to my film.

Then you've got the technical aspect that's always present. The Island is subject to blackouts and a jenny (generator) simply did not exist. There is nothing worse that being halfway through a scene and the lights go out.

I know I harp on this, Gary, but one can deal with the fact an actor didn't show up, but if you're out of batts, (movie jargon for batteries), your shoot is over for the day.

Here's one. We were in Cebu filming a scene and I blew out all the lights because I had the wrong electrical adaptor! Movies are a mental exercise because they are not just art, they are also highly technical. I must say, the People of the Philippines are some of the nicest and most gracious in the world and they were very understanding.

15. What are your short term and long term career goals?

Short term - more movies, long term - even more movies, until I drop.

16. Your next projects?

My team and I are in pre-production on a number of things. Most people in the industry know what those meetings are like. Happy pandemonium! There are a lot of irons in the fire right now, and there's no question that a beauty will emerge. Web series, shorts, major production? Time will tell! A final thought, Larry?

Always have more than one project in the pipeline. We are  Menifee Productions, "Movies from the Heart." That contains a little inside irony because "Hollywood" passes on people who have only a single project in mind, or even scripted. They sarcastically call it His or her "movie from the heart" and that presages, for them, all sorts of newbie problems. A producer or an agent in a pitch meeting will almost always say "What else you got?" Have a second idea, even if it's just a single sentence.

"Gary is a best selling author of eighteen Oh! nineteen books (as of yesterday! And the director of our first two award winning films, Riding Through Life with Love by my Side and our new documentary, Poro Forever. He is a former Marine, a Vietnam Veteran, a Card Carrying Cowboy and a retired Veterinarian. Gary and his wife Jerasol gifted the new, free, Public Library (where there was none before) to the town of Poro, Camotes, Cebu, Philippines. The People of Poro and its new library are the subject of our current documentary, "Poro Forever."

Thank you for your great answers! I believe they inspire many of you to read this article!

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