Steve Taylor Interview

Source: Listen In
Nashville, TN
August 2005
Thanks to Frank Jenks of Listen In

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Frank Jenks: I caught up with my pal Steve Taylor in a busy coffee shop, and well, when the spirit moves, and Steve stops moving, you pull out your travelling mic and start recording. This is right-bewteen time for him, after he had directed The Second Chance movie prior to its release--and it's a great movie, by the way. Mr. Taylor and I, Mr. Jenks, we talked.

Steve Taylor: When you do a movie you're usually operating in some kind of genre. In this case, we used the black-and-white buddy movie genre. A black guy and a white guy get forced together, but they don't like each other, and by the end of the movie they like each other, because if they liked each other at the beginning of the movie, they wouldn't have anywhere to go. [laughter]

So in this case, Michael W. Smith, who is a very well-known Christian singer, portrays a pastor at a big suburban mega-church. He gets sent down to an inner-city black church against his will to learn what it's about, and the black preacher doesn't want him there. That starts the story.

FJ: Here's Steve speaking about getting the perfect actor for this movie, The Second Chance.

ST: For the guy who plays the other lead roll, originally I was trying to get someone like Don Cheadle or Jeffrey Wright, and both of them were booked. As I was seraching for another name actor, this guy who lived in town came to a table reading, and he's awesome. When people see the movie, they will agree he's awesome. His name is Jeff Obafemi Carr, and his life experience really helped fuel a lot of the role, and he brought a lot of good suggestions to the role, too.

FJ: And doing it with limited budget?

ST: No matter how much money you have, you always want more. In this case we had a pretty limited budget. We made some choices early on, like we wanted to shoot on 35mm film so it looked like a real movie, so that takes up a big chunk of the budget right there. We also wanted it to look realistic, which in some ways helped our budget--instead of casting extras, we got extras from the projects we were shooting in, and homeless people from the area we were at.

FJ: Do you have to get clearance for those, for the people there?

ST: Yeah, pretty much everybody got paid something, and they all signed release forms. It's complicated. [laughter]

FJ: Is that the stuff that as a director you have to take care of?

ST: No, I had a great production team. I'm used to working on budgets. I showed up the first day and there's this parking lot across the street from our first location that looks like the circus just moved into town. There's trailers, trucks, honey wagons, catering, generators, and all this stuff. Everyone sort of looked at me like, "Okay, so what do we do?" It's like, wow, how did this happen!?

We made our budget go a long ways, largely because the crew was into what we were doing, we made good deals with everybody, and it was a good shared sense of destiny.

FJ: I was really interested in the church that's in this movie, The Second Chance.

ST: It was like a combination of hopefully how it is and what I would like it to be. In this case, I've lived in Nashville now for 15 years. It's still a shock when you go to church on Sunday. For example, there's virtually no black people in any church--the churches are really quite segregated around here. In fact, that's not that uncommon in the rest of the country, either.

FJ: "The church is cool when they all look like us," right?

ST: Right, right.

FJ: Here's Steve speaking about the wonderful and frustrating reason The Second Chance was delayed.

ST: We had a little hitch. I got the picture pretty much locked, and then my wife and I went to Uganda to adopt our new daughter. There was a hitch with US immigration. They lost our file. We ended up stranded in Africa for two months, so the movie got held up for a while while we were trying to get out of Africa.

FJ: [unintelligible]

ST: Well, there was no way to, that was the problem. Every once in a while we'd have an email connection, but phone was really not possible. They were working on a version of the trailer that I finally was able to watch in a Sheraton hotel in Kumpala at a business center. It was wrong, but there was no real way to make any comments, so they pretty much just waited until I got back.

FJ: I guess when it all came down to it, I wondered why he decided to write and direct The Second Chance.

ST: I co-wrote it with a couple of friends. When you know a lot about something, and then you see it in the movies, you either think, "Oh yeah, they got it right," or, "No, that's not how it is." I used to do that with rock movies, where you'd go and it'd be about a band, and sometimes it would feel like, "Yeah, that's pretty much how it is," but [unintelligible] would be like, "No, they don't know what they're talking about, that's not how it is!"

It seems like maybe I'd seen some depiction of American church life and I was like, "Nah, that's not how it is. Why do they never get this right? Do none of the people who write this or direct this go to church? Are they more like an outside anthropologist or something?"

The original idea was to make a movie that's set in church, but that people who actually went to church would think, "Yeah, that feels like real life." My dad was a pastor, I grew up in church. Usually when I see it depicted in movies or TV, it's either like the pastor's kind of heartwarming and he tries well, but he's kind of a bumbler, or there's something sinister going on. I felt like, what if you did something that was kind of redemptive but that felt like, "that's really how it is?"

I should say that the gold standard, the big exception, was when Duvall did The Apostle, and he portrayed that kind of southern Pentecostalism perfectly. That was a fantastic movie.

FJ: And then as my curious mind keeps moving, how does a timeline work for a movie? Here he is speaking about that.

ST: From the idea stage it's been like five and a half years. The funding is the hardest part, although writing is no picnic, because you're trying to find something that feels realistic and has the sense of real life, but also is compelling enough that you want to sit and watch it for two hours. We kept working the script until it got to, "This feels pretty good," and then what you hope is that the actors bring it to life.

We started filming in September of 2004. We had five weeks to shoot it, and then it takes another 6 to 8 months to edit it all together.

FJ: And now we get into some rock on purpose from Steve, "Drive He Said".

ST: Well, there's the Faust story which keeps getting told again and again. You know, guy sells his soul to the devil and realizes it's not a very good bargain. So this was just another telling of the same story.

FJ: And you know he wrote a ton of stuff for the Newsboys, I specifically asked about "Fat of the Land".

ST: Oh, "Fat of the Land," right, that's a Newsboys song. We're kind of going from one new thing to the next, and technology is a lot of fun, but it doesn't answer any of the big questions, does it?

FJ: And I asked him about "The Finish Line", and he does not over explain it.

ST: "The Finish Line" is a song that I like a lot. Usually I pick these songs apart and wish I'd done things differently, but that one I still really like a lot. I'd written it after the band I was in, Chagall Guevara, broke up. There's a fair amount of personal stuff in there, but it was just telling this story of someone who takes the journey and makes it to the finish line. I like that one, but it probably suffers from over-explanation.

FJ: In regard to the Chagall Guevara stuff that he did, here he is speaking about "If It All Comes True".

ST: That's really Dave Perkins' song, and it's an awesome song. He had pretty much written that song right around the time the band was getting started, and I think we all thought, "if one of us can come up with a song this good, then maybe there's enough here to form a band around." It's just a great song.

FJ: And, "I Need Somebody".

ST: I like that song a lot, just because it's told from the vantage point of a guy who is not very successful with the ladies, or socially adept, or anything else, but he's a smart guy. I felt like--we live in an age now where the nerds have kind of taken over, but at that point that wasn't the case.

FJ: And the other song I asked him about from Chagall Guevara is, "The Rub Of Love".

ST: When we wrote "Rub Of Love"--we'd usually write these things in a circle, the three of us. I think we talked about kids who get abandoned by their fathers and what that does to a kid's mind.

A lot of modern thought about divorce and re-marriage I think is just nonsense. I think if you get divorced you at least need to be honest enough [to say] that you really are screwing up your kids' lives. It would be better to say, "Yes, I'm screwing up my kids' lives, but my own happiness was more important than that to me." Let's not act like it's anything short of that. Divorce is a tragedy, it doesn't make it any less tragic by trying to act like it doesn't have the consequences that it clearly does.

FJ: Maybe one of my favorite Steve Taylor songs, "Jung and the Restless".

ST: Well, "Jung and the Restless" could be argued it comes from the place of a guy who criticizes that which he doesn't understand very well. That theraputic impulse, I don't totally understand it, and it seems like a lot of counselling and therapy just is sort of self-perpetuating. It's not a particularly deep song, and I had some friends who were in psychology who weren't very crazy about that song. [laughter]

FJ: And how's this for a title? "The Lament Of Desmond R.G. Underwood-Fredrick IV".

ST: That's kind of a more light-hearted take on coming to the end and realizing you spent your time doing the wrong things.

FJ: Here he is speaking about the song "Smug" and the self-righteous.

ST: "Smug" is a song that kind of has one gun pointed at the left and one gun pointed at the right. In fact, when you get to the extremes of either side, they're pretty much the same thing, and they're equally just as smug and self-righteous as the other is.

I think at that point the two people I picked on were Barbara Streisand and Rush Limbaugh, and as far as I'm concerned, they're identical people, they seem extremely self-absorbed and self-important, and it seems the exact opposite of the way Jesus taught us to live. The Bible talks a lot about how ugly pride is, and that's what that song is about.

FJ: I asked him, you know, there's so many different places to try to figure out life--where?

ST: I think a lot of us try to figure out how to live their lives by going to movies. [laughter]

FJ: I love "What Is the Measure of Your Success?" Here's Steve.

ST: I think that one came from the perspective of a guy who's looking back on life and realizing he got it totally wrong. In fact, it might have been a quote I read from somebody, who was just like, he would give up every cent he'd ever made just to get one more day of life. That would be a drag, to get to the end of life, and realize you'd spent all your time doing exactly the wrong things.

FJ: Always something to think about. Thanks so much for downloading this from Steve Taylor is the real creative deal. I'm Frank Jenks from and I'm damn glad to know him. Have a great day and check out some Listen In podcasts we've done for Steve Taylor, all at