Writer/Director Ted Melfi Talks Bill Murray And St.Vincent

Recently I got the chance to speak with Writer/Director Ted Melfi about his film St.Vincent which has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. We spoke about the film, Bill Murray, and what it was like bringing the film into reality.

Where did the idea for the film come from and how did it change over the screenwriting process?

The idea was born from one of my daughter’s homework assignments. In her World Religion Class at Notre Dame High School…she was given an assignment: to find a Catholic Saint that inspired her and to find a person in her life she felt mimicked the qualities of that saint – and draw a comparison. She chose St. William of Rochester (the Patron Saint of adopted children) and he chose me. My daugther is adopted. This was a very effecting moment for our family…one that I couldn’t get out of my head. It became the germ of the story, and Oliver’s assignment in the film.

How did Bill Murray become attached to the film and what was it like working with him?

I’d say, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard the urban legend that Bill Murray doesn’t have an agent or a manager…he simply has a 1-800 number. It’s not an urban legend. In a nutshell…I tracked down the 800 number and left him multiple messages. Eventually…he called his attorney and asked that I write him a letter as to the what(s), why(s) and such details of the film. I sent the letter. A few weeks later he requested the script. And a few weeks after that…my cell phone rang…and it was Bill.

Working with him was beyond inspiring. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who lives entirely in the present moment. His instinct and impulses are always true and honest because he is living in the right-this-second. You have to be on your toes with Bill. And it’s a joy to keep up with him.

What would you say the central themes of the film are?

For me the central theme is VALUE. All human beings have value and worth. We are born with it. It’s our God given right. And over time we lose sense of this value. Life has a way of devaluing us as humans, if we allow it. Vincent has allowed this to happen. And so…a little kid enters his life to remind his: you are good and have value and are a Saint to me.

Daka is a rather interesting character, can you describe the creation of her character and how Naomi was cast?

The part of Daka was originally written for an African American woman. We simply couldn’t agree on the casting for this role…and so it was decided to convert her to Russian. Daka is the name of my youngest daughter’s childhood friend. I love this name. My daughter played and talked to Daka from the age of 1 ½ to about 4 and Daka was strong and opinionated and wild. And so…we borrow from our lives to create characters!

Naomi Watts was originally Harvey Weinstein’s idea. He thought she could handle the comedy and drama and toughness perfectly. He was right.

When the film ended I found I wanted more as I really enjoyed the characters but the deleted scenes, especially the insurance and final moment with Terrance Howard gave a new sense of closure. Can you explain why they were cut from the final film?

Boy…with ever project you have to make tough choices. At the end of the day…we are making the movie for the audience and the audience is smart – they’ve seen so many films and shows and videos. They fill in ALL the blanks. And so…as we were cutting and screening for audiences we got a clear sense of what storylines they cared about and which ones they didn’t. Mostly, the audience wanted to see Vincent and Oliver all the time. That’s the core of the film. And so…all the other distractions and storylines that don’t support that core have to be examined. And some of them were cut. I’m also a big believer in concise storytelling…don’t we all HATE movies that are way too long and just ramble on. Don’t we always say, “Man, that would have been decent if it were just 30 minutes shorter?” I do. And so…we are to respect the audience and resist the temptation to be self indulgent and show every piece of film we’ve shot.

Is it hard to say goodbye to the characters and any chance we may see them again in the future?

Boy….I highly doubt it. It’s not a sequel type of movie. But who knows these days.

Any found moments from filming you wish to share and what do you have coming up?

The best found moment was Vincent and Oliver running in the parking lot after winning at the track. That was originally NOT scripted. I just asked them to run to the car with the bag of money and we shot it slow-mo…and that’s what you see.

I’m currently casting a film, “The Tender Bar” – the NY Times Best Selling memoir by J.R. Moehringer. It’s the story of a boy raise by drunks in a bar…who goes on to get into Yale and become a Pulitzer Prize Winning journalist for the NY Times. I’m also writing a pilot for Amazon about growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s with my mobster father and my ex-nun mom. That’s a long story.


  1. Mesnard said:

    Thanks for this interview. I just saw the movie and loved knowing about the extra scenes out there…as well as the thought process. This is the first time I heard about the upcoming projects also.

    April 8, 2015
    • gareth said:

      You are very welcome. I enjoyed it so was very happy when the interview came up.

      April 9, 2015
      • Mesnard said:

        I am glad you were able to get such a chance. Hopefully it was one of your many highlights in journalism.

        Most importantly, I appreciate you replying to my comment. Such a thing is rare these days.

        April 24, 2015
        • gareth said:

          It was a nice interview, we have been fortunate to speak with many great and talented film and game individuals over the years. What I loved about this one was how honest he was.

          April 25, 2015

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