A Conversation with Emilio Estevez

This afternoon I had the opportunity to talk with writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez about the release of his independent film “The Way” on DVD. It becomes available on video-on-demand February 9, and will be available in stores on Feb. 21. The movie opened last October 7th in 283 theaters and grossed $4.3 million. It uses the Camino de Santiago - the ancient Spanish pilgrimage route which leads to the burial site of St. James the Apostle - as the backdrop for a story about family and forgiveness.

It’s a beautiful, inspirational, transformational, and understated film. In the film, Tom (Martin Sheen) is an irascible American doctor who learns of the tragic death of his son (real-life son Emilio Estevez) and travels to France to collect his remains. While there, Tom decides to travel “The Way of St. James” to honor his son’s desire to accomplish the journey. Along the way, he meets a Canadian woman, an Irish writer, and a Dutch pilgrim.

“The wonderful new movie made me feel as if I had actually journeyed on the pilgrimage - and only reinforced my determination to make this spiritual journey for myself,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York.

Here’s what Estevez had to say about the movie.

Your recent film “The Way” had a modest opening on few screens. It grossed $4.3 million. Do you hope it will have a greater life on DVD?

Obviously, it was as one of our consultants said, as “an experiement.” Our 50-day bus tour was tantamount to doing a tour for a movie that would be on a couple of thousand screens. Where we bumped into issues was that people saw us on the tour, but they weren’t able to find the film. We’re hopeful now that people will be able to find it on DVD and video-on-demand. There was a grand awareness of the film, but a problem accessing it. The reason studios put out films on thousands of screens is so that you can’t avoid it. The not-so-fun stuff about making films is that it takes a lot of money to make money.

When we last talked you were in Minneapolis on the bus tour. You’ve now taken the film across the country and showed it to many. What has been the influence of the film on viewers?

Both Martin and I are getting responses on Twitter, Facebook, and the website. People have said that the film has changed their lives and they’ve thanked us for making it. I can’t remember another project I’ve been involved with where we’ve had such emotion and thanks for making the movie. I wonder if all the best picture nominees are experiencing the same thing this year? To have been able to touch people has been really gratifying.

At that time you also said that the film provided good PR for the Church. Has that been the reaction since its release?

You’d have to ask people inside the Church if it has continued to have a positive spin, but I will say from the outreach and the people we’ve connected with that the reaction has been very positive. There was some push back on the distribution of the ashes, but once it’s understood that Tom’s character is a lapsed Catholic, he’s been given a pass.

One very touching scene is the film has your character as one of the incense carriers in the Cathedral swinging the budafumerio. I was wondering if they actually let you swing the giant censer?

They did. It was one of those things I wrote into the screenplay. We weren’t allowed access to the Cathedral until 48 hours before we shot there. They originally also refused to open the doors so that the characters could place their hands on the column. Little by little they said “yes” to all the things that were presented, up to and including allowing me to pull the rope.

They wanted me to do it during the actual Mass. I was incredibly nervous to do it in the first place. We had four cameras to get what we needed to get so that we could cut the sequence, so I couldn’t be waiting to pull the rope and directing the scene. I asked if we could recreate it after the Mass. So, I stood by and waited to make sure we got everything we needed for the sequence, adn then put on a robe and jumped in with the other fellows.

What do you have planned next?

My father and I have a memoir that hits the streets on May 8th. We’re in the middle of final touches on that. I’ll be in New York and Los Angeles in May for that. I’ve written another picture that we hope to start shooting in late spring or early summer. We’ll shoot that in Ohio and it will be about the competitive world of harness racing.