All In Films director and producer, Michelle Danner, of the recently reviewed independent movie “Hello Herman” allowed CMR to catch up with her for a telephone interview at her home in California. Danner does a fabulous job of bringing the epidemic adolescent syndrome of bullying to the masses in this full length film in which she appears (alongside Norman Reedus and Garrett Backstrom) as the distraught and tormented mother of bullied Herman Howards who goes on a rampage at his high school and murders multiple innocent peers as well as a teacher and a police officer through the use of homemade pipe bombs and several guns. Although this film was written and produced following catastrophic events like Columbine, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, Binghamton, Aurora Theatre, and Newtown, it was the Sandy Hook Elementary event which the film was an eerie stark reminder of especially at the beginning.
This film was initially a stage production in 2009 using multimedia techniques to bring the experience more fully to the audience. It was the reaction of the patrons which prompted Ms. Danner to feel “this would make a great movie” spurring the creation of an independent film. Michelle Danner, when asked about the audience reaction to the film version during screening, stated she asked two questions of an audience of ninth and tenth grade students – “Was it too much?” and “Have you ever witnessed or been the victim of bullying?” Many viewers might feel the graphic depiction of the rampage engaged in by Herman Howards at the high school is not appropriate but the response of those teen viewers suggests otherwise according to Danner. Those young adults surviving Columbine as well as the other noted events like Virginia Tech would most likely attest to the fact this depiction only breaches the surface of what is faced in such instances. The graphic nature of the murdering massacre is to drive home the point the lengths to which some individuals will go to have a voice heard in a society which tends to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to the devastating damage bullying has on the tenuous emotions of teenagers.
This movie won the “Award for Social Relevance” at the Monaco Film Festival earlier this year to which Michelle Danner states was a surprise and welcomed experience as it was the first time she had been to this particular festival. Noting it is uplifting to be recognized for making a social statement, the project was a way to address primarily bullying but the end product wound up highlighting other social ills such as absentee parenting, the influence of the video game industry on American youth, and the degree of apathy toward destructive behavior in our youth in peer relations. Danner attributes this apathy to social disconnect among all members of society as we have become technological consumers allowing cell phones, television, and computers to take the place of face-to-face personalized interaction. She expressed the desire for audiences to become more connected – parents with children, teachers with kids, and neighbors in communities along with reminding all individuals to be present in the moment.
When asked about the experience of portraying the mother blamed for the actions of the child, Michelle Danner responds she was campaigning for the parent as nothing in life is black and white but shades of grey. In agreement, it is expressed society has a tendency to make quick judgments without taking into consideration circumstances or attempting to understand the driving forces behind decisions like when Herman’s mother states she made her career “her priority.” It could be misconstrued this meant the children were not as important as her career when she actually was stating this job must hold a place of importance if food was expected to be able to be served daily. Danner wants audiences to feel the pain and sense of isolation this mother faces as a result of that decision…the loss of her daughter, the alienation of friends, and the pending death of her son.
All projects face a certain degree of modification due to schedule conflicts, but in the end, as Michelle Danner will assert, it is fate which plays the greatest role in the production of a great film like “Hello Herman” where the players fall into place as they should to create the chemistry like that shared on screen by Norman Reedus and Garrett Backstrom. When asked about her experience working with Norman Reedus of “The Walking Dead,” Danner glowed stating “It was great!” He is very professional and came prepared…he brought his heart.”
On a more personal note, Michelle Danner allowed a look inside her life with one fun fact no one might know about her and that is she likes to ride her Vespa. She is an avid follower of “The Following” and would love to be able to cast the hunky James Purefoy who plays the enigmatic and charismatic leader Joe Carroll which will return for a second season. Her words…”He is HOT!” Her choice city for a “dream project” would be Paris, France where a historical story about the class system would be the focal point. Although Michelle Danner is busy writing books, teaching theatrical classes, and mentoring upcoming actors and actresses, she will find time to travel to South Africa this year to teach in addition to working on two productions, one of which is called the “Bandit Hound” which is a “Home Alone” type of family movie about a dog-whispering thief and his trained pooch who part ways and how the talents of Bandit help as well as lead astray a young boy named Owen.