Posted February 6, 2013 by Jeff in Flicks

‘Stand Up Guys’ director Fisher Stevens keepin’ it real

We already reviewed Stand Up Guys, the story of an aging trio of criminals who hit the streets for an action-packed night out on the town after pal Val (Al Pacino) is released from an extended stint in jail. The old gang (Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin round out the crew) reunion is only threatened by the wrath of their mob boss, Claphands.

Although the storyline didn’t blaze any new trails, we were charmed by the chemistry among the longtime friends.  Here’s a little insight into the indie flick courtesy of a group interview with the film’s director, Fisher Stevens.

What films inspired Stand Up Guys?
I was inspired by many films from the 1970s including Dog Day Afternoon, Five Easy Pieces, Straight Time and The Dirty Dozen. I loved the films from the ‘70s because they were about characters and not so much about big plot points and big set pieces. I made sure there were no cell phones, no computers, nothing very modern in Stand Up Guys except for the car they steal. Most of the clothes were vintage that the actors wore. The colors were muted. It was like time had forgotten this town and these people.

Pacino and Walken are not trying to be funny — the comedy comes from the situations. Did you instruct them to play it more naturally?
Yeah, it was important to ground this entire script in reality. That was the only way for it to work. We rehearsed and had long discussions about keeping everything real, even when it comes to these hyper-blown situations. Fortunately, I had the greatest actors in the world to work with and they only know how to do things real. When it felt false, we did another take.

Have your experiences as an actor helped you with directing? Knowing what it’s like from both sides of the fence, or does it make it a little more difficult?
Yes, being an actor absolutely helped me direct – especially directing actors of this caliber. I think they had an inherent trust in me that saved me a lot of steps in earning it. The other thing about Alan Arkin, Chris Walken, and Al Pacino is that they all come from the theatre, as do I, so we shared a common language.

Was it as much fun as it looked?
It was incredibly fun. Sometimes I would get lost just watching them act and forget I was directing. It was also a lot of work, but I would gladly do it again.

Is there a message the film is trying to convey?
I think the ultimate message to the film is to live life to the fullest every day. Whether it’s your last or it’s not, being a loyal friend is more important than almost anything.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].