I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Wayne Roberts, the writer and director of Katie Says Goodbye. The film was one of my favorites at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival where it won awards for best Actress (Olivia Cooke) and Best Screenplay. It is now in select theaters and available on VOD. See my review for more information.
After noting when I first saw the film, I asked what’s been going on with the film for the last two years.
We’ve been trying to find the right home for it. It really hasn’t been an easy road. I wish the film would have come out when we made the film, but I guess every road for every film is a little bit different and unique. It’s been released most places in the world. It’s done quite well, for example in Europe. But at the same time this is an American film, and it hasn’t played in America until tomorrow. That’s been a long time coming, but at least it’s played in Europe.
You were able to get a very interesting cast for the film. How did the casting come about on it?
I have to give all the credit to Cindy Tolan and Adam Caldwell, who were our casting directors. We were also lucky in the fact that we had champions in the agencies as well. Obviously, it’s a polarizing story, and a polarizing film as well as was the script. So people either loved it or they hated it. But the people who loved it really fought hard to get their clients into the film. So it was through the help of Cindy and Adam and also through the champions that we had at the agencies we were able to work with the talent we had to work with. They’re very talented artists, we were very lucky to do so with. But the credit would ultimately go to Cindy Tolan and Adam Caldwell, our casting directors. They’re amazing.
Let’s talk a bit about Katie in the film. How would you describe Katie?
I would describe Katie as an incredibly strong and determined and ultimately wise individual who has essentially raised herself, and has constructed her own philosophy and world view as a result of her isolation, ultimately, in her youth. But I see her as very strong and very resilient.
Some of the things that came to me are innocence, a strong sense of innocence –
Yeah.She’s innately kind, and she still has her innocence despite what she does, which some people would have a problem against ethically and morally speaking, which I have no problem with and no moral judgement to be said on the matter. But she’s in it, and despite the things that happen to her she doesn’t lose her innocence. I think to lose your innocence requires participation a certain event in which you have a willingness to do so, and she doesn’t do that. She maintains her sense of innocence and she maintains her sense of hope that so often people lose as they get older. It’s very rare to find people who have maintained that sense of hope and sense of optimism that you might find in children. What’s interesting is when you do find that in an adult, they usually live far more difficult lives than the average person. But they’ve kept themselves, their soul, and their hope intact. But I think that requires an effort. I think that requires a conscious decision to do so.
You talked about some of the things that happened to her. And you said there are people who love it or hate it. I’m one of the people who love it, but I can understand how people might look at this and say, “Here is this victim. Here’s someone who will not stand up for herself.” Which I don’t think is the case, but I can understand that perspective. How would you approach someone who only sees that?
Bluntly, I just don’t care. It’s an easy way to just remove somebody from your bank – your circle. I mean this film is in so many ways up to the viewer, but I think it’s a very sort of narrow minded and very pathetic mode of being that if you watch a film and there’s an event that happens that it’s an endorsement of that event or that action. It just doesn’t make any damn sense. If they want to say that Katie is a victim at the end of the film, then you’ve missed the point as well, and there’s nothing I can say to awaken them to that fact. As long as they have a strong reaction – of course you’d like to have a strong reaction in terms of favorable – but if it’s negative where they’d never support the film, that’s great. We’ve moved you. If we make a film in which the reaction is lukewarm, then they forgot about what they watched a couple days later, then we’ve failed as filmmakers and as a team behind the film. At the end of the day you just can’t let that bother you. I don’t. Here’s the thing. There are so few people in life that I’d actually like to share a drink with. It’s going to be inevitable if I make films and stay true to my sensibilities that there are people who are going to be upset by it. And so be it.
One of the things Katie says – every evening – is “Thank you for this day, Daddy. That brings a whole new realm into the film. For someone like me, my training is in theology, so that automatically opens the door up for me to say “I need to look for something else here.” What are you trying to do with that little line that gets repeated?
That’s meant to show, ultimately, her intellectual curiosity. It also shows that she’s had to construct her own worldview and philosophy on her own. She grew up without religion. She grew up without a father-figure, but she still had to construct her own belief. And I think she did so in a very strong, independent way as a result of what might be considered the misfortune of the situation—the fact that she didn’t have a father-figure and she didn’t have a strong mother-figure. But she still constructed her own theology, and that’s what it was. She still gave thanks for the blessings that she had in her life, which so many people actually do. Yeah. That was meant to show Katie’s – I suppose her autonomy and that she was still constructing her own philosophy and worldview. She was still intellectually curious and was still constructed something for herself. Most people just sit there in front of the tv.
Although she didn’t have the strong mother-figure or father-figure, there are mother- and father-figures who adopt her in the story in Maybelle and Bear.
Exactly. The missing parental figures are fulfilled, granted in certain ways are odd in the situation of Bear, just because of the sexual nature of the relationship. But there is still a very very true love that exists between the two of them that is very paternal, as well as romantic in way too. But I’m sure that Bear understands what the situation is.
I find that a very interesting relationship between the two of them.
I think it’s bittersweet. It’s quite sad and tragic in so many ways. It’s tragic for Bear as well, because he’s a good man. I know that he’s partaking in action that I know a lot of people would have a problem with, but the quality of his heart is really a quite magnificent heart – very kind.
I am always attracted to things in film that might reflect a Christ-figure as Katie does. Although in Katie, getting deeper into the theological, I looked to Isaiah and the Servant Songs that seemed to fit her so well. She won’t bruise a bent reed. She takes the guilt of everyone else’s actions. People put on her the guilt of her mother. She takes the guilt of the other waitress who took the money. She takes all of that guilt onto herself. Theologically she is a very complex character. Even as I watched it the first time at Newport, I thought “This is a theology film.” I love finding these films. Are you aware of the theology that is built into it or is it just part of the cultural world?
Yeah, I’m aware of it. I didn’t study theology, but I studied film, but I also studied philosophy too – I had a double major in the two. The study of philosophy was mostly ethics that I was interested in. I can’t shy away from that. This probably was unique in terms of the fact that it doesn’t feel like I selected Katie, I feel like it was quite the opposite. If you’re going to spend a number of hears of your life working on a film to tell a particular character’s story, you want that character to be one that is noble, or one that you can look up too, and one that can inspire you. And that was Katie. She’s certainly a better person than I am. Her sense of optimism and her sense of hope is so much more well-defined than it is on my own end. Her ethics and her morality are pure. I was always aware of that.
There is great sadness, especially at the end. But in spite of all that has happened, she is going on with her new optimism, which is almost hard to imagine, having lost everything, and then saying if everything’s gone, I start over.
Exactly. That’s a sign of her absolute strength and the fact that she’s not a victim. She picks herself back up. Most of us in a situation like that, at least myself, I don’t think I’m going to be able to overcome all that in a short amount of time. Katie is much stronger than I am. You have the scene at the end, where she just picks up. She’s going to be all right. You have to have that she’s going to be all right. You’ve seen her character. You’ve seen here strength. You have to believe that she’s going to be all right. Of course, some people are just inherent pessimists, who do not believe someone can overcome a situation that Katie has been through. But that’s such an ignorant way of thinking, of living, and it’s not at all representative of the world in its totality. Of course, there are people who crumble in situations like that, but there are also people who can overcome situations like that. Those who can I think should be our inspiration. And Katie is an inspiration. At least she is mine.