Pinning Down Art and the FBI with Peter Landesman

Peter Landesman’s career is hard to summarize. Screenwriting and directing is a second pursuit for him, after successful careers as a painter, novelist and journalist. He entered Hollywood to write and direct “Parkland,” which focused on the doctors and nurses treating JFK after he was shot in Dallas.


His upcoming third film, “Mark Felt: The Man Who Took Down the White House,” is a movie about the FBI associate director also known as “deep throat” because of his deep background sourcing given to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during the Watergate investigations. Landesman spoke to the Foghorn on Sept. 28 about the FBI, inspirations and different approaches to filmmaking.


How long have you wanted to tell this specific story?

Peter Landesmen: I wrote it about nine years ago and it went into production about a year, a year and a half ago.


You’ve worked in a lot of mediums. What do you notice is the difference between mediums in terms of the stories you can tell?

PL: I think film is the most complete medium. I’m a painter, and in film you bring together the visual and the narrative, you have live actors playing the roles. But I don’t think there’s any boundaries between methodology and medium and the kind of stories you can tell.


As a former journalist, how do you think you approach filmmaking differently than other filmmakers?  

PL: I don’t know, I think in the writing. Because I also write my films, in the writing I have a pretty rigorous process of unearthing what’s real and true in order to kind of have a better reality to build a narrative emotional experience on top of it. I probably do that more thoroughly than a lot of other writers do, just because of my nature. I’m nosy and can’t help myself. And as a director, I think actors appreciate being directed by someone who-you know. I’m directing a war movie next and I’ve been a conflict zone reporter and I think cast will appreciate that.


This film has a lot of stylistic similarities to film noir. Was that intentional?

PL: I wanted the movie to be really beautiful. Light and shadow are important, you know, and reflect the psychology of what’s going on. It was definitely purposeful, for sure.


Most of your movies are based on true stories. Any specific reason for that?

PL: Those are the stories I groove off of — I mean they’re incredible tales, you can’t really improve upon them. It’s just what inspires me. I don’t know how helpful it is to sort of self examine what gets you going but that’s the stuff I really groove off of.


There’s also a lot of conspiracies in your movies. Do you have a particular interest in conspiracies?

PL: It’s less about the conspiracy as more as I love whistleblower stories. I love individuals who are seeking to tell a difficult truth against the odds. I like to see what happens to at risk people when they’re put in extraordinary circumstances.


More questions about Mark Felt specifically; do you think he’s an admirable person?

PL: Oh yeah. Can’t you tell? He’s heroic in that he betrayed a lot of the things he believed in for a higher calling, often at his own peril. He felt ashamed of his methods, but I don’t think there is any question that he was striving for something that benefited everybody. The presidency was corrupt and the corruption was bleeding into other areas of government.


How open do you think the FBI should be with their extra constitutional history?

PL: I don’t have a problem with extra constitutional behavior as long as it’s controlled by someone who understands the boundaries. The Weather Underground [a radical left-wing organization] was killing people; they were sending bombs around the country. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that’s a good thing. I think they were frustrated in their investigation and I have no problem with what they did. It may have saved lives. But again you have to make sure that the abuse of power is not abused, if you know what I mean.


Trump is what moves newspapers. Do you think in 40 years we’re going to be seeing movies like this about the current investigation?

PL: Oh yeah, I was already asked to do one.


Last one, favorite movie?

PL: Deer Hunter.


Featured Photo: Mark Felt (Liam Neeson) meets with Bob Woodward (Julian Morris) as “Deep Throat” in Peter Landseman’s “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House.” SONY.

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