These people rely on us in Hollywood to come up with stuff to get them through the week. Hollywood has lost sight of that. – D.B. Sweeney
Actor D. B. Sweeney wasn’t trying to find his inner director. The fickle finger of fate – and some cold Hollywood realities – forced his hand. The result? The charming “Two Tickets to Paradise,” getting a new DVD release today, Sept. 14.
Sweeney, best known for roles in “Eight Men Out” and “The Cutting Edge,” tried to snare the right director for his first screenplay. His first two choices weren’t available, and several other directors open to the project were a bit too green for his taste.
“I didn’t really plan to direct it, or have a desire to direct it. It was the only way to get it done,” Sweeney tells Big Hollywood. “You don’t get a front-line director to make this small movie.”
So Sweeney directed the tale of three longtime buds (Sweeney, John C. McGinley and Paul Hipp) whose bumpy road trip spark some serious navel gazing, not to mention a rock soundtrack to die for.
“The directing was great. The producing was a slog, especially when you use your own money,” he says of the project, a labor of love with just enough rough edges to sweeten the storyline.
He knew the folly of sinking one’s own money into a film, but he also understood the message a self-financed movie would send to the cast and crew.
“If I’m not going to bet on myself, why would anyone else bet on me,” he asks.
Directing wasn’t foreign to the Long Island native. He got his start in theater and directed a few plays as part of his training. And while other actors retreat to their trailers between takes, Sweeney tends to linger.
“I like hanging around the set and learning how people do things, how the set runs,” he says. A successful film often boils down to the choices people make, and he knew from experience how frustrating it can be for an actor to be victim of lousy decisions.
Another lesson came from being directed by some of the biggest names in the industry – less is often more.
Sweeney the actor had worked under the likes of John Sayles (“Eight Men Out”) and Francis Ford Coppola (“Gardens of Stone”), two filmmakers with a streamlined style.
“They never ‘directed’ anybody,” he says. “Hire the best people and trust what you hired them to do. The less you say, the more likely you’ll take ownership [of the characters].”
The story behind “Paradise” stems from feelings Sweeney had after 9/11. He remembers knocking back a cold one with some New York City firemen who looked exhausted from working around the clock within the remains of the Twin Towers – and mourning the loss of several colleagues.
The actor suggested they take in a movie to get their minds a break from the work. The men chuckled at the notion.
“Nobody makes movies for us anymore,” they told him. He couldn’t disagree.
“These people rely on us in Hollywood to come up with stuff to get them through the week. Hollywood has lost sight of that,” says Sweeney, who recalls going to the movies as a kid with his family as a “big deal, a real release.”
So he started writing, along with his screenwriting partner Brian Currie, a story Sweeney’s blue collar pals could appreciate.
“They may not be book smart, but they have an earned wisdom, something I was trying to get at with the movie,” he says. “There’s nobility in hard work, traditional values.”
“Two Tickets to Paradise” played the film festival circuit, and Sweeney also took the movie personally to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“To hear them laugh … was the most gratifying response,” he says.
Sweeney’s support of the troops didn’t end after the credits to his first directorial feature rolled. He also created Letters from Hollywood, an organization connecting actors with soldiers.
He drew inspiration from fellow actor Gary Sinise, who somehow finds the time to star in a major network television show and bring his rock combo, the Lt. Dan Band, to the soldiers time and time again.
“You’d root for them even if they sucked, but they’re first rate,” Sweeney says of Sinise’s band. “I don’t play the bass. I’m not in a band. I tried to think of ways I could touch base with the troops and support what we’re doing.”
So he started asking fellow actors to visit the men and women stationed across the country and to write personal letters to those stationed overseas.
“It’ll change your view of the American military,” he tells them.
The mission is a work in progress, he admits. Some contributing actors needed four or five phone calls to nudge them into action, and he cautions them not to have an intern whip up the letter on their behalf.
“Say something personal, not from a publicist,” he says.
Sweeney’s acting career shows little sign of slowing down these days. He recently starred in an online horror series called “Universal Dead,” a project which sparked a feature film he plans to co-star in.
Plus, he’s already shot several episodes of the much hyped NBC thriller “The Event” and may star in a few more installments.
But even if his career ended tomorrow, he’s always have “Toepick.”
The line comes courtesy of “The Cutting Edge,” the sweet 1992 romance that left him with mixed emotions for a while.
“I’m so proud and honored to have been in ‘Lonesome Dove’ and ‘Eight Men Out,'” he says. “How come I’m not known for one of those?”
Today, he appreciates just how much “Edge” connected with the public, especially given the sorry state of the modern romantic comedy. Now, he takes “Toepick” jabs in stride.
“It took me a long time to realize you don’t choose what you’re famous for,” he says.