James Stern, CEO of Endgame, has produced multiple films, including 2012’s “Looper.” In 1999, Stern directed and produced “All the Rage,” a film about U.S. gun violence. The issue has been a particular concern to him ever since his roommate at Columbia U. was shot dead as he was walking down the street. Stern spoke with Variety’s Rachel Abrams.
Is there a connection between media and real-life violence?
There’s no question that there are too many guns in the country. I made a film about too many guns in the country 15 years ago when there were 75 million guns … now there are 300 million.
If you have a proliferation of guns and you have bipolar disorders that show up between the ages of 20 and 30, then you’re going to have people who don’t have criminal records who have access to weaponry — and that’s a perfect storm for disaster.
I believe, from a layman’s viewpoint, that (playing) violent videogames, which you can play day and night, is a different situation than going to a movie for two hours, which is a more communal experience.
There are so many problems, though. You can’t put people away who haven’t snapped yet. In the case of the kid in Aurora and Adam Lanza (at Newtown), they had no criminal records. So you have to go to the source, which to some degree is what kind of mental health (help) can they get.
If you sell your soul to the devil, the devil’s going to come calling, which is what this country has done. If Adam Lanza was not playing violent videogames, would he have snapped? I don’t know the answer to that, and no one does.
Is depiction of violence automatically glamorizing it?
Again, you’re asking for an informed psychological opinion that it would take some sort of doctor to answer.
From a layman’s standpoint, if you’re playing a game alone and learning how to shoot in a simulated environment, it seems to me if you’re bipolar or schizophrenic, that may push you over the edge more than something else. On the other hand, those kids (at Columbine) were dressing up like they were from “The Matrix.” So it’s hard to say.
If you’re doing “Saving Private Ryan,” which has horrific violence in it, it’s contextualized to be very much about how the violence of war is detrimental.
In the case of “Looper,” which is a film I produced, Joe Gordon-Levitt’s character comes to the realization that he must break the cycle of violence even if it costs him his own life — that’s what the movie’s about. I don’t think that people would walk out of “Looper” and be overly (enthusiastic) about committing violence. I think the movie is very much about the opposite of it. There are many, many great films that show violence to be horrific.
Why does “liberal Hollywood” make so much violent content?
I’m reminded of “All the President’s Men” when they are told to follow the money. Films that are thrillers sell. They sell overseas. I don’t think it’s just about America. If you’re making a film for a worldwide market, that action translates to a worldwide audience in a way that comedy does not. I’m not convinced that people who go to a movie for two hours are turning into snipers because of it.
Is Sandy Hook an issue of mental-health, the media or guns?
It’s a combination of all three, for sure. There are too many guns in America, we have sold our soul to the devil. When the founding fathers created the Second Amendment, it was because the British were on our shores banging into people’s homes. They weren’t thinking about semi-automatic weapons or assault weapons, and if they were here today, they’d be horrified.
When I was in sixth grade, there was a kid who was bullied. He was overweight. He came to school to seek vengeance (and brought a butcher knife. He chased the kids around and couldn’t catch them). If he came to school with an assault weapon, those kids would have been dead. This idea that guns don’t kill people, people kill people is a half-truth. . .
And what’s the solution?
I would start by making assault weapons illegal. Then, you have an obligation to treat this topic with the seriousness that it requires and to not say “not my fault,” to not say “don’t look to me!” I was very moved when Christian Bale went to Aurora. He took part in their grief, and I think that was the right response. We have an obligation to think these things through clearly. You have to separate your economic interests from your moral imperative, and you have to own up to that.