20 years ago, David Mickey Evans set out to direct his script, The Sandlot. He had a lot to prove, after he was fired from his first directorial effort, another one of his scripts called Radio Flyer. Now, 20 years later, Evans is touring around the country, showing The Sandlot to fans who have grown up with this beloved cult classic. Evans took the time to sit down and talk to me about his movie and the legacy it has left behind.
Shawn S. Lealos: Tell me a little bit about what it’s like here, 20-years-later. You are going to Cleveland and you are going to Texas and thousands and thousands of people are showing up to watch this little movie you made 20-years-ago. What’s it like to relive this movie with fans 20-years-later that still have love for what you created?
David Mickey Evans: Well some of it, sometimes it is overwhelming. I mean, I know obviously that the film is well-loved, and that people like it, but that it really means something to people was new to me when I started doing this tour. I have had people come up to me, and they usually start off the conversation with “Mr. Evans, you don’t understand.” So I say, “OK, what do I not understand?” “Well you know it is not just that we like the movie, or that we love the movie, it is what it means to us.” I had a mom tell me this, I think it was in Arkansas at Arvest Park, she said “the kids in that movie are like my kids’ siblings, they are like brothers to them, they grew up with them, they laughed, they taught them lessons and all of that sort of thing.” That was new. You know that came out of left field. So I didn’t know that and it is, that was a bit overwhelming because it is a big responsibility. Nonetheless, what is really great about it is that I have had so many – you know millions of people – thank me over the years for the film. I now get to thank them back personally. That was important to me when we started to figure out how to do this and it never gets old. It is a lot of fun.
Shawn: I grew up in the 70s, and back then, kids were able to go out and do stuff like that, go out and have fun. Kids today cant. Do you see that the kids today, whose parents are bringing them, does this still resonate to them? I mean this is something that may be foreign to them going out and playing in a sandlot like this together because that seems to be something that doesn’t exist anymore in today’s society.
David: Oh yeah, it does. You are absolutely right, there are no sandlots anymore as far as I understand. You know I grew up in the 70s as well, and you used to be able, during the summer, to leave the house at 6 a.m. when the sun came up and you didn’t come home until the sun went down. And you know, you were good to go. Today, I don’t think any kid leaves the house without a supervising parent, you know to go to an organized this or an organized that, or a practice here or a practice there. You know, 1962 was a much simpler time. I mean it was sort of the last great post war Eisenhower year before ’63 when Kennedy got shot, and then that was it. You know, America changed forever and I think not for the better. So the film itself, the story itself takes place then. Whether or not you have a sandlot, one of the reasons the film stands the test of time is that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you either identify with those kids as having been one of them, or you identify with them as wanting to be them, you know. So I would say the kids today, when they watch it, they want to be them rather then maybe, they don’t have any sort of direct experience with the film like what we were just talking about, going to their sandlot. But they do little league, soccer whatever it is, whatever sport or activity it is they do, they identify on that level.
Shawn: Speaking of the kids, one of the things that they always say in Hollywood is you never work with kids, never work with animals, and you seem to have broken both of those rules with your movie. How were you able to pull such memorable performances out of your child performers? There are still people today that say “your killing me Smalls,” you know, how were you able to get these kids to create these great moments in your movie?
David: Well, the first thing you do is find the right kids, and you have to be flexible, you know. There was a certain amount of re-writing that went into it. As a director, if you write a kid character, then you go out and find a kid who can play that character. In other words, you are looking for a little Robert De Niro, well you are an idiot. What you need to do is find great honest young with outgoing personalities that are relatively fearless, which I did, and then you make adjustments in the characters that you have written to fit the young guys to play them. Then it becomes honest and authentic and real rather than phony. The thing about not working with kids and animals, well I think that that’s more of a quote about an adult actor, cause usually the kid and the animal will show you up. But as a director, yeah it is difficult, you know, a bit time consuming and stuff, and sometimes it is like herding squirrels. You know I get to act through younger actors, I mean there are a lot of things you can do with younger actors that you certainly wouldn’t do with an older actor, like for instance you can line read them. And they are receptive, and if they are good mimics then they are going to parrot that stuff back, just the way that I need it to be said, so that the meaning or the funny or whatever it is that we are trying to get across comes across. I find the ones that are the most fearless are really great ad libbers. I shot from the hip a lot in this movie. Some of the funniest lines of the movie were not lines that were written, they were just stuff that would occur to us as we were doing it, you know after a week or two, and you are starting to find the strengths of each one of these young guys, you start giving them more and more and more, they start shining. You are polishing it as you go. An example of that is the cuss out scene with the little league team, as written, was supposed to be Denny going toe-to-toe with that kid, but it was pretty obvious pretty fast that Pat Renna, inhabiting the character of Ham, was the little general and the guy who was going to defend everybody even if he had to go, you know, in a cuss out session. So that is why we threw it to him and it worked out great.
Shawn: Coming into The Sandlot, you had just been replaced on Radio Flyer, which was one of your own scripts, and it seems to be that coming into Sandlot, you might have felt you had something to prove. Is that pretty accurate? What was your mindset coming off of Radio Flyer and then going into the Sandlot?
David: Oh, absolutely yeah, of course I did. That whole Radio Flyer thing has been written about a lot. I mean it was the biggest baptism by fire in Hollywood history and that entire thing was a setup. It was all designed, set up and engineered to fall the way it fell, I mean Jon Peters and his ilk did all that sort of thing, which is all fine. What wasn’t fine was that he, as far as I understand, made sure that everybody connected with that film bad mouthed me. I mean they really bad mouthed me bad. And I was in very great danger of never getting another directing job as long as I lived because of him. So it was in my head that I needed to write a picture that was contained, I knew that if I had any chance of getting to direct a picture it would have to be something that took place at as few locations as possible so the production itself wouldn’t cost a lot. And the Sandlot itself, you know 60 or 70% of the movie happens on that sandlot. So yeah, that was in my head. Creatively did it affect me? Well sure, of course, but all for the better. I was offered five times more money for that script than I eventually ended up accepting if I would stop, step aside, and not direct it. I said no, so I took the lower payday in order to make the movie because I did have something to prove. One, I wanted to make the movie, I wanted to direct, but two, yeah I got something to prove. And low and behold, when Radio Flyer came out, I think it made something like $3.5 million, and that budget was way into the $40 million range. My budget on the Sandlot was, let’s just put it this way, it was far less than $10 million. It went out and made more than $40 and sold 10 million DVDs, and so essentially, the thing is, Shawn, I win.
Shawn: Yeah, and you look 20-years-later, we have people by the thousands coming out to watch it, so you have to feel you have been justified even 20-years-later that The Sandlot was your first directed movie, because this is the one that actually resonated so much.
David: Yeah, it is a bit of silver lining I think, you know, although I think the stuff I was doing with Radio Flyer – I still to this day believe it would have been a terrific film. Look, I don’t dislike the film that [Richard] Donner made, but you know, it is not the movie I intended. The Sandlot very much is, you know.
Shawn: Do you plan on kind of rectifying that with the book you have coming out? You are about to release the book you were going to write before turning Radio Flyer into a screenplay, correct?
David: Yeah, I do. I wrote that as a book first and I never published it because I turned it into a screenplay, and you know the train left the station. Last year, I got the manuscript back out, and what with the e-book revolution and all that, I mean legacy publishing is sort of dying. I said, you know, maybe I will publish it. So, I did some editorial work on it, included a lot of illustrations, and some art work I had commissioned for it. I am very pleased with it. So yeah, I am just waiting on a few last things, copyright things, so maybe in about a month, month and a half, maybe two, two tops.
Shawn: Is that going to be an e-book and a physical copies or is it just going to be on e-book?
David: Yeah, it will be on e-book with print on demand through CreateSpace on Amazon.
Shawn: Yeah, that seems to be a great deal for authors these days. It really helps people get books out where before they couldn’t do it.
David: Well it is really, really cool. Another thing I hope to put it on is the Espresso Book Machine. Have you seen one of those?
Shawn: I have not seen one yet.
David: They are getting more ubiquitous now. It is actually a machine, you know plastic sides, you can see the workings of it. It is actually a printing press, and you upload your e-book file to their site, and somebody can go to one of these Espresso Book Machines, find your book, hit a button, pay whatever it is, seven bucks, and the machine will physically produce the book right in front of you in about four minutes. It spits it out a nice, you know, 6-by-9 trade paperback copy. It is really, really cool.
Shawn: and these are located in book stores I guess?
David: Yeah, book stores and stuff. Go to their website (http://www.ondemandbooks.com/) and you can find where your local one is. Yeah, I hope to be able to put it up on there as well.
Shawn: Excellent. You know I saw somewhere that you are working on a new script called Hemingway’s Hero. Is that still in the works?
David: Hemingway’s Hero, yeah that script is completed. My writing partner and I wrote that actually as a vehicle for Peter Fonda cause I did a little picture with Peter a year and half ago or so called Smitty, a little boy and his dog movie that we shot in Iowa. We became good friends and Peter called me up and said, hey you know we did a little boy and his dog movie, let’s do an old man and his dog movie. And so I got to thinking about it and my partner and I wrote it for Peter and he loved it. We are just about to get the last of the money in place to make it. So yeah, so we have high hopes for that, we are proud of it, it is a good script I think.
Shawn: That sounds exciting.
David: Actually, three days ago I finished the other thing I am working on right now. Do you remember the Matt Christopher books when you were growing up? The sports books, like The Kid Who Only Hit Homers and stuff like that?
David: Well, Wayne Chesler, a New York producer, managed to get the rights to all of them to make into movies, so I just finished the script for the first one, The Kid Who Only Hits Homers. It is about a 12-year-old and baseball and it goes to Babe Ruth and all sorts of cool stuff. That one works really well, we are going to get the go ahead for that hopefully before the end of this tour.
Shawn: That sounds very cool. It seems to me that you have a pretty great love for baseball. Is it pretty cool to be actually getting to show the movies in these Major League stadiums around the country?
David: It is an absolute dream come true. I mean, you know that the Triple A parks were consistently getting five, six, 7000 people show up – sometimes more if there is actually a game that gets played during the day before we show the film at night. But I just got back from Target Stadium in Minnesota, in Minneapolis. They had a game there and we had like 38,000 people.
David: I mean, it was off the charts. I could not believe it, and the game got rain delayed, longest rain delay in Twins’ history, and rather than show the movie after the game, we showed it during the rain delay and everybody stayed to watch it in the rain. Pretty tough, those Minneapolis’ fans.
Shawn: yeah, sounds like it.
David: Yeah, it was just incredible to hear tens of thousands of people laughing at all the funny parts and cheering when Squints kisses the lifeguard and stuff, it was pretty heavy stuff, it was awesome.