Monday, January 07, 2013

TSH Hollywood - My Exclusive Interview with Saving Lincoln Director Salvador Litvak

The following is our exclusive interview with "Saving Lincoln" director Salvador Litvak.  He is a graduate of Harvard College, NYU Law School, and the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA. He directed the Passover comedy and cult hit "When Do We Eat?" starring Jack Klugman, which he wrote with his wife, Nina Davidovich Litvak.

Although The Straight Hype fully endorses Mr. Litvak and Saving Lincoln, his participation in this interview is in no way an endorsement of the views and opinions expressed on this blog.

1 - Before we get into the movie, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born in Chile and grew up in NY. I was a lawyer for two years before I went to film school. My writing partner is also my wife, Nina. I blog at and I believe a good conversation is one in which both parties learn something neither knew before.

2 - Over the last few decades, we've seen the story of President Lincoln portrayed at different times in his life, told through the eyes of many different people. Robert Redford's The Conspirator was told though the eyes of Mary Surratt's defense attorney, Frederick Aiken; The Day Lincoln Was Shot was recounted through the eyes of John Wilkes Booth; Stephen Spielberg's latest blockbuster Lincoln draws from historical accounts of those who served under him in his cabinet; even Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter peered through the eyes of Joshua Speed and William Johnson. What drew you to Ward Hill Lamon?

Ward Hill Lamon was President Lincoln's best friend and self-appointed bodyguard. He's the ideal narrator because he was so close to Lincoln - a daily companion. Historians pay him less respect because he was an emotional fellow, often lacking objectivity about Lincoln's actions, but no one questions his loyalty. He would at times grow furious with Lincoln for being so careless with his personal safety, but he remained a faithful friend and protector. He also shared Lincoln's sense of humor, and entertained him with songs and banjo-playing. And he was a Southerner protecting the President while so many of his brethren were doing just the opposite.

3 - Oftentimes, when going into a Lincoln film, if you're not a Lincoln buff, you feel a bit lost. For example, the opening sequence of The Conspirator almost pre-supposed the audience did their homework. Will Saving Lincoln be accessible to audience members who may not have a broader knowledge of Lincoln, his life, and his legacy?

Absolutely. Our movie is primarily about Lincoln the man - what he experienced at the center of America's bloodiest conflict. The pressure on him was unrelenting. Congressmen, generals, newspaper editors...even his own party were all arrayed him against him. They called him feeble, unsophisticated, ineffective, etc. They all underestimated him, but they made his life very difficult throughout his administration. And he lost many people to untimely death - family and friends, as well as the soldiers he cared so deeply about.

4 - This movie has attracted some big names. What drew mega-stars such as Penelope Ann Miller and Creed Bratton to this project?

The subject and the script at first. Then they were intrigued by our CineCollage style. No one made a movie before using this process, and they were curious how we would pull it off. We did extensive tests, and showed them the results. They liked it. And they were fantastic to work with - total pros and team players.


5 - Marshal Lamon's legacy seems to be be a mixed one. The blurbs about Saving Lincoln are very pro-Lamon. Was there a concerted effort on your part to preserve Lamon's honor and place in history, or does the movie explore some of the less than flattering pictures some have painted about him?

Lamon was a bit goofy, but that's what Lincoln loved about him. He was also courageous as hell, and he was there for Lincoln during the President's darkest hours. Mary suffered terribly from grief, stress and migraines, and she was not able to comfort Lincoln in the same way that a buddy could. Lincoln could unwind with Lamon. When you imagine the pressure cooker Lincoln occupied 24/7 for four years, you realize how important that role was. And of course, Lamon saved Lincoln's physically by keeping the assassins and kidnappers at bay.

6 - President Lincoln had a fervent desire that the re-unification of the United States be a conciliatory process. Robert E. Lee and other prominent figures of the Confederacy, while mourning the death of the President, accurately predicted that this hope was smashed the day he was shot by Booth. Do you think the harshness endured during reconstruction could have been averted had Lincoln survived the shooting, and how do you think it would have changed the south and how it is perceived today?

That is a complex and loaded question. I'm not a historian, but I know that there were many currents involved in that storm. Lincoln certainly wanted to reunite his people - he never considered the South to be another country. Southerners remained Americans in his eyes and he wanted to leave the bloodshed behind for good. Others felt differently, and would have imposed their views whether he was President or not. I do believe, however, that the South lost its best friend in Washington CIty that day.

7 - This movie is very special in that it was shot on a single stage using green screen technology. Tell us a bit about this method of film-making.

The actors performed in a studio, in front of a giant emerald screen we called the Green Mile. The furniture and props were real, but everything else was composited digitally in post-production, out of actual Civil War era photographs that we downloaded from the Library of Congress. On set, we had rough live comps so we could match camera angles with the pioneering work of photographers like Brady and Gardner, but the fine work was done in post. I sometimes have to pinch myself to believe we pulled this off. For an indie film to rely on visual effects for every single shot of the film is... ambitious. Truthfully it's insane, but now that we pulled it off, we can call it ambitious. It was possible thanks to a tight team of dedicated artists, working both smart and hard over the past year. The look is unique - we decided early on that we weren't trying to fool anyone. The backgrounds remain in black and white, the foregrounds in color, though highly desaturated. It's a stylized look, but an accessible one which invites the viewer to complete the loop.

8 - So what can our readers expect going into Saving Lincoln?

You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might even sing - the characters do. It's not a musical, but people sang more in those days before TV and radio. Especially Lamon. Most of all, though, you will experience Abraham Lincoln leading the nation to victory in the Civil War at great personal cost. And you will also see how Elizabeth Keckly - another close companion of the Lincolns and a former slave who purchased her own freedom - helped bring freedom to all of her people.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to our readers. We look forward to seeing Saving Lincoln and wish you much success.

Thank you so much - your support for an independent film like ours is truly appreciated. I invite all your readers to visit Saving Lincoln on a Kickstarter, where they can view our trailer, see how the movie was made, hear a song recorded for the film by the legendary Dave Alvin, and become part of the Saving Lincoln story:

Our readers can follow Saving Lincoln by Salvador Litvak at:

Friday, January 04, 2013

Tim's Take - Pizza and Twinkies and Guns...Oh My!

Editor's Note:

It's 2013 and look what Obama hath wrought!  I asked TSH's own financial expert, noted economist Tim Dimas, to comment on some of the trends we observed sprouting up from the Hoople Heads on the left as 2012 came to a close.  A fitting way to ring in the New Year!

Tim's Take

Clearly Joe hasn’t discovered the photos or videos I posted online under a pseudonym involving a pair of jumper cables, a saddle, and a gallon of motor oil, since he’s asked me to return for another round of economic and fiscal commentary.


Poor Papa John’s

Last month, “Papa” John Schnatter said that because of the taxes involved with Obamacare, he would be forced to cut back hours and raise prices for consumers.  Cue the media calls of “foul” and liberal resolutions to boycott the pizza place.  These liberal boycotts intrigue me.  First it was Chick-fil-A, when their founder simply said he supported “Biblical” marriage - the media and left were in such a frenzy you would have thought that the president had covered up a terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate, blaming it on a stupid YouTube video, and forcing his Secretary of State and CIA Director to fall on their swords for him while lying to his sycophant media handlers for two weeks. Curiously, the Starbucks CEO came out in support of Barack Obama, but judging by the lines in my local Starbucks, that hasn’t stopped caffeine-addicted hounds like me from dropping $5 for a frothy espresso drink.  No matter; it’s not out of “tolerance” that I refrain from invoking a fatwa against liberal companies, its pure addiction.

The boycott against Papa Johns is puzzling, because if we pretend that all those hippie fools with “co-exist” bumper stickers actually DID boycott and it hurt Papa John’s bottom line, people would get laid off and even more hours would be slashed.  But that would require medium term logical thinking on the part of said liberals.  Clearly, I’m expecting too much.  But here’s the defense of Papa John’s, friends. If you’re a liberal, it’s complex, so bite your lip and keep reading (for the articles, of course!):

It’s his company. He can do whatever the hell he wants.

That’s it. Period.

“Oh, but all food employees should have access to…” (yawn)

“But he’s making so much money off of...” (yawn)

It’s his.  He owns it.  He can pay them all minimum wage (I’ll save my anti-minimum wage rant for another day).  His employees are there voluntarily.  If they don’t like making $20 16” pizzas (I mean, seriously, Mr. Schnatter), they can go work at Domino’s.  Or Pizza Hut.  I don’t care.  They aren’t beholden to the joint.  The only defense necessary for Papa John is that it is his company to conduct however he wants.  That’s a very difficult concept for some people.  I suppose if you want to go through with the boycott, you’re certainly welcome to do so, as long as you are cognizant enough to understand that what you’re boycotting is the right of a CEO to conduct his company however he wants.  I know, I know, you don’t like how he’s conducting his business.  So I presume you approve of the politics of all the companies you buy from?  Do all the places you give your money to meet your pathetic liberal litmus test?  After all, liberals hate Wal Mart, but Sam Walton was one of the largest contributors to Obama’s Super PAC (  Figure out on which side your bread is buttered before you start boycotting.

 Who the f*** is Rick Ungar?

Remember the guy that came up with the X-Men cartoons in the early 1990's?  Of course you do!  It’s Rick Ungar (!  He also created “Biker Mice from Mars”, which sounds like a Bucky O’Hare rip-off if you ask me.  Rick got tired of creating animated kid's series' and took odd jobs until he was hired as the token liberal at Forbes.  I hadn’t realized Forbes was a right-wing rag, but whatever.  Forbes is where he has combined his vast business acumen with drawing Mystique’s underboob to comment on pizza and football (duh!). His article ( is probably getting more play than he ever did in high school off the field, or than T.O. is getting on the field this season.

When I read Rick’s piece (that felt funny) I scratched my head.  His main issue with Papa John’s is that by the company denying their employees medical insurance, they will go to the emergency room, where hospitals will pass the cost onto medical insurers, and thus him.  That’s an odd stance for a liberal to take.  “Yeah, healthcare for everyone, including illegal immigrants.  But if I have to pay one cent for a Papa John’s employee…”  It’s bizarre, especially coming from a lefty.  Rick is funny, but I don’t think he means to be.  “Token” would be better off just going back to sketching Rogue or Gambit.

Twinkies and the Unbearable Lightness of Hostess

The untimely demise of Hostess has brought unions in the US to the forefront of the political discussion – again.  Hostess is saying that the unions essentially strangled them and forced them into bankruptcy.  Good people from the rust-belt (who are biased in favor of unions whether they want to admit it or not) say that’s nonsense and that Hostess was paying top dollar to their executives a week before the bankruptcy.  Not to sound like a broken record, but can someone show me where it is written that a business has to answer to anyone but it's owners?  Here’s a concept: if the workers are unhappy, they can leave.  “But all the manufacturing jobs have moved!”  So move to another city.  “But they’ve all moved overseas [because of Mitt Romney] to China.”  So get a new skill set.  “But…”  There’s ALWAYS an excuse with liberals.  Just ONCE I’d like to meet a liberal that can take it on the chin and not always be stringing up some line of garbage to justify their bizarre views on things.  If I were Hostess, I would have declared bankruptcy just to bust up the union. You know how Alexander the Great cried the day he realized he had conquered the whole world?  I cried the day my dad told me that union busting was illegal; until that day my career plan was to undermine and sabotage unions.  If you’re SEIU and you hire purple-shirted thugs to beat people, that’s legal.  If you’re hired by a corporation to intimidate union people, that’s criminal  (Full disclosure: after the Hostess bankruptcy I bought two boxes of Twinkies – in good faith – with the intent of selling them on eBay at a later date. The two boxes lasted 10 days).

 Random Rants

A. A company has no obligation to anyone but it's owners.  That obligation is to make money.  That’s not an opinion, that’s a fiscal fact.  This is a MANTRA in business school.

Q: “Why does a company exist?”

A: “To create value for its shareholders.”

Liberals, conservatives, and moderates alike recite it.  You don’t have to like it, but it simply is.  Arguing against it is like being angry that gravity exists.

B. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  Please stop calling Obamacare “Free Healthcare”.  It’s not free.  Someone somewhere is paying for it, even if it’s not you.  If you understood that it wasn’t free, you might ask questions like “who is paying for it?  How are they paying for it?”  But then again, if you understood basic economics, you probably wouldn’t be excited by something as invasive and pathetically partisan as Obamacare.  I will always be amused by liberals that try to tell me about this dumpsterfire of government overreach.  Of course, these liberals don’t know what I do for every waking work-hour (I’m currently a consultant on the Obamacare contract).  But yes, please forward me that HuffPo or Mother Jones article.  You read an article during your smoke break.  Please, enlighten me.

C. In light of the tragic Connecticut school shooting, gun-hating fools couldn’t politicize the issue fast enough.  Innocent children lay in body bags, and already Jabbas like Michael Moore, RINOs like David Frum, and dipstick Democrats like Chuck Schumer were chomping at the bit to take away guns.  The sadly ironic thing here is that when people threaten to take away guns, do you know what the general public does?  They arm themselves as quickly as possible, stockpiling guns and ammunition at an alarming rate.  I’m starting to think that gun manufacturers and Democrats are in business together.  This is simply the playing out of supply and demand as a result of scarcity (the basic building block of economics).  Odds are, though, that if you understood supply and demand, you wouldn’t be a gun-hating Democrat in the first place.

But understanding the relationship between stockpiling weapons and Democrats that call for gun control requires self-reflection.  Allow me to illustrate:

D. Here in Maryland, Democrats are proud individuals.  I don’t just mean that they are self-absorbed; they are genuinely pleased with being Democrats.  One of the ways they do this is by caking their cars with bumper stickers that say “DEM” with a Maryland flag under it, accompanied with a plethora of stickers for as many Democratic candidates as they can fit on their car.  As a rule, Democrats are insulated: they are wholly ignorant to a world outside of their own. Democrats in blue states are ignorant to the idea that there are conservatives that live amongst them.  But they are also ignorant to how silly their pride is – they live in a state that favors their opinions 70% - 30%.  In lay terms, 7 out of 10 of their fellow citizens believe exactly the same things they do. But to them, that is cause for celebration. They’re proud of that homogeneity, and when someone dares to speak up, they shout them down in a chorus.  I don’t believe that Democrats are evil people – I just believe they lack any power of self-reflection.  Progressives are dangerous not only because they are statists, but because they genuinely believe in their hearts that they are the only ones capable of leading the nation into a state of progress.  They believe that the world would truly be a better place if tomorrow all conservatives and Republicans and libertarians were dead.  Republicans have enough cognizance and suspicion of government to know that you need checks and balances.  Make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen, them Dem's hate you.  But they need each other, and I think that is partially why they are so energized and pat themselves on the back when they insulate themselves into their islands.  This is why, when they are in the overwhelming majority, they cake their cars in bumper stickers proclaiming that fact.  I spent most of my undergraduate years arguing against professors and entire classes that believed exactly the opposite of what I did.  I cannot imagine a world where a liberal would get up in front of 50 conservatives and attempt to plead their case logically.  It doesn’t happen.

How is this related to economics?  In the financial world, there are always opportunities because of inequities in the markets.  I don’t own a Ford vehicle, but I buy Ford stock because I believe in their business model and think they are undervalued.  I see an opportunity and I take it (Full disclosure: This is an illustrative example, not stock advice. This article is not and never will give stock advice. Invest at your own risk).  Democrats are unwilling to be that objective.  A Democrat can’t see the situation for what it is.  You can’t argue whether GM’s stock price is going to rise or fall, because all a Democrat sees is that Obama propped up the stock, therefore it has to be good, and all you wind up getting is “If you don’t like GM stock you hate America.”  They really aren’t capable of further thought.  Which brings us back to the Papa John’s boycott.  I don’t care for their pizza, and I think their product is overpriced.  I can admit that, still patronize their company, and have a conversation with someone about the pros and cons of said company.  Democrats don’t have that ability.  They see a policy that challenges their worldview and they cry foul.  Remember the Maryland Democrat example: they need each other; they can’t be objective.  A Democrat can’t say “Eh, I don’t like their union stance, but I love my Twinkies so I’ll keep buying.”  I can proudly say “Apple is a super liberal company but I just cannot live without my iPhone.”  These issues and approaches to business, boycotts, and finance are inherently wrapped up in their worldview. The savvy conservative will seek to exploit these weaknesses for social and economic gain.

Footnote: I liquidated my position in Ford (F) in early December.  I have no plans to short or long the stock in the next 72 hours.

Tim Dimas loves capitalism, Winston Churchill, egg nog, and when you call him “Big Poppa.”  He thinks that the most romantic song is “That Summer” by Garth Brooks, closely followed by Enrique Iglesias’ “Do you Know? [The Ping Pong Song].”  He doesn’t believe in “Happy Holidays”, but would love to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, and Happy New Year.  We’ll get to the economic theory of sexuality next time.  I promise.  Maybe.