Gary James' Interview With
The Writer and Director of the film
The Lennon Report
On December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated. The Lennon Report is a new film that shows the efforts made to save the life of John Lennon in the emergency room at Roosevelt Hospital. Thirty-six years to the day, we sat down and talked with the writer and director of The Lennon Report, Jeremy Profe.
Q - Jeremy, were you alive on December 8th, 1980?
A - I was about four months old. The way my mother tells me, the first time I would've heard the news, although I wouldn't have been aware of it, is I woke up and she was breast feeding me. She turned on the radio and the news came on and they were talking about it on the radio. She had to take a moment herself to absorb this information. I don't think anybody was ready to hear it. He was such a young guy. So sudden. I wouldn't have been aware of it. That would've been the first time those words would've hit my ears.
Q - What part of the U.S. were you in at the time?
A - New Jersey.
Q - Where did the idea come from to do a documentary on the events surrounding John Lennon's death?
A - It's not a documentary. It's a narrative drama. The idea really came from one of our associate producers. What happened was, he contacted my co-author, Walter (Vincent). He just sort of knew Walter was in the business and he had an idea and he wanted to develop something around John Lennon's death. And so Walter asked me to take a meeting. The two of us met with him and my first take was we weren't sure about it 'cause there's a lot of ways to get it wrong. It's a difficult thing to set the tone right on. So, we sort of said, "Okay, we're going to take a look at it, but the first rule is it's not going to be about John and it's not going to be about the shooter. As long as you're okay with that, we'll figure out what the story is." And he was okay with that. He said, "That sounds fine." My first thought was who did this touch and how do we represent their stories? As we started looking at all these different stories, interesting things started jumping out at us. A little girl in Florida killed herself after she found out. There was one of the first responding police officers, his first assignment out of the Academy. The Police Academy was protecting John during Beatlemania and here he was on the night John was shot. That was an interesting one. We ended up finding the police response, the media response, the medical response, was the big three components of this event. They all converged on Roosevelt Hospital. Once we had that, we kind of said this is the story. Roosevelt Hospital, where you have the media, where you have the police, where you have the medical staff, and it just made sense. We started doing our homework on that.
Q - How long did it take you to do the research? How long did it take you to put it all together?
A - It took months. I want to say it was six or seven months. We had a first draft fairly quickly, but what we found out is there were some pretty wild inconsistencies in how the story was reported in the past. We found some of that out because we were able to talk to people who'd never done any interviews with anyone before. So, we tracked down the other surgeon who was in the room. Dr. Lynn, the head of the emergency room had done some interviews, had done a lot o interviews. He was the most widely recorded person in terms of speaking about John's death. So, we found out who else was in the room. We did talk to Dr. Lynn and we found out who else was in the room. We got this other perspective and this new information and we sort of had to take our first draft and completely re-think it and re-do it and re-approach it from a more accurate perspective.
Q - Did you talk to a Syracuse, N.Y. doctor by the name of Dr. David Halleran, who was also in the emergency room the night John was brought in?
A - Yes, we did. We sat down with Dr. Halleran. We drove five hours up to Syracuse from New York City to sit down with Dr. Halleran for about two hours. He told us his story, and his account of the events was the version of events you'll see in the film. In fact, Dr. Halleran is one of the two main characters of the film. Dr. Halleran to this day is a good friend of mine. We keep in touch. He stays in touch with the whole production and he's really, really a great guy in addition to being this surgeon who had this incredible, horrible moment thrust upon him. He was just a resident at the hospital, Senior resident, but he was still a young guy. He was twenty-nine when he had this moment hoisted upon him. He did everything he could. He did a really admirable job. He's a great guy and it was a real honor for me to meet him and be able to work with him. His story is fascinating. He tells us we got the story about 96% accurate in the film. There was a little bit here, a little bit there that was Hollywood, but generally this is a very, very accurate re-telling of that night.
Q - Where does your film start?
A - It actually starts after John has already been shot. You'll never see the shooting in the film. You really won't see John's face. You won't really see the shooter. You'll see police get called over the radio for gun shots reported at the Dakota, which is what happened that night. The cops said, "It's probably kids shooting fireworks in the park." And of course they get to the scene and that's not the case.
Q - Was Yoko contacted about this film? Did she have an impact into the film?
A - No. Amidst all of our research you get a really robust account of her version of events. She's done a lot of interviews about it. She's documented it quite a bit. We didn't feel it was appropriate to sort of call her up and dredge up the worst night of her life for the sake of a film. So, we took what was already there and we took the accounts of the nurses and doctors in terms of where they had placed her and moved her throughout the evening and what information they relayed to her, to try and sort of re-create her story line. We only really stick to what is part of public record.
Q - I this film released in theatres, on Pay TV?
A - It has been released in theatres. It is in select theatres nationwide. It changes pretty quickly because for independent films, things tend to be very dynamic. You run a week here and then you move to another city in a different theatre and maybe you can come back to that city in a different theatre. So, it bounces around quite a bit, which is one of the cool, interesting things about indie films, but it's also a challenge because it's hard to tell an audience, "Go here and watch it." So, it is in theatres. It's probably going to come out in a lot more theatres eventually. You just have to check local listings and try to stay abreast of it, but it's available On Demand, through i-Tunes, Amazon, and through your cable provider in most cases. You can just do a quick search for it and watch it right now.
Q - This is probably a pretty graphic film, isn't it? You're showing what nurses and doctors are doing to save John's life.
A - Yes. We didn't set out to make the John Lennon gore film, but we did want to be honest about what a shooting is and what happens and how it plays and what that really means. There's a lot of dishonesty in how violence is depicted in Hollywood and I'm not anti-violence in film, I'm just pro honesty. So, when you see John shot, you won't see John shot in the film. You'll see how he's been treated medically and that's the moment that follows every other shooting in every other film you'll see. It's the surgery. John had a thoracotomy where they opened his chest to reach into his chest cavity and pump his heart. Dr. Halleran held John's heart in his hand and massaged his heart, trying to get the blood to flow through it. You won't see too much of that, but we also don't shy away from the fact that that is what happened when someone gets shot. It is that severe of a thing. Doctors have to go to those measures to save a life. In this case they weren't successful unfortunately, but it's important that people understand they have to realistically deal with this, even if it's only one or two films in a lifetime where you have to deal with the violence. I think it's worth it to have those moments.
Q - Howard Cosell said John arrived at Roosevelt Hospital D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) Is that true?
A - When he arrived they made an effort to save him. D.O.A. is one of those things where I think there's a reasonable debate if he was absolutely dead. If there was no chance to save him, would they have performed the surgery? I tend to doubt that. I think they thought there was a chance to save this guy. They didn't know he was John Lennon when he arrived. They just thought he was some guy who got shot and they still made an effort to save this guy's life. If he was completely dead, I don't think they would have made the effort. He didn't have a pulse when he arrived and that is technically the definition of dead. That doesn't mean they couldn't have saved him or they didn't have a shot at saving him potentially, but he was pronounce dead on arrival after the effort failed.
Q - After he was shot, two police officers loaded him into the back seat of their car where it's reported he was asked his name and he said, "John Lennon." After being shot, he did supposedly say, "I've been shot." In your research, did you find that to be true? Did he in fact talk after being shot?
A - Yes. I definitely found the police account where where he was answering questions in the cop car. The doctors I spoke to, and the medical personal, said they found that pretty difficult to believe because of the condition he was in when he arrived. I can't rule that out, but I tend to believe first hand accounts unless I have a good reason not to. We built this entire story from first hand accounts. If the police say he was answering questions, then I believe them, but we didn't depict that in the film.
Q - Why did the police have to take him to the hospital? Where was an ambulance that night?
A - The ambulance was only a block away, but the police were right there and I think it was after the second unit arrived. So, I think you had one unit handling the arrest and securing the scene and when the second unit arrives before the police I think they saw it as a dire enough situation where they dispatched the police cruiser with the body rather than wait another minute or two. Those seconds can be pretty vital. From what I've heard, they wouldn't have done that today. Today this would have played out very differently. There are a lot of things that wouldn't have happened today that happened back then, which is another interesting part of the story. The police probably wouldn't have transported him today. They probably wouldn't have done the surgery today. Multiple penetrating gun shots to the chest is not something where they look at the victim and say, "We can try to save this guy." They would pronounce him on the spot now. So, it was a very different time in medicine and police works. People weren't as litigious and so I think emergency response maybe took more risks in an effort to save people. I think there was a lot of really good intent that went into trying to save this guy's life. And again, I believe the police knew he was John Lennon. The medical responders didn't. They found out after he was already on the table.
Q - Is that because they found his credit card in his shirt pocket?
A - They found his wallet and Dr. Marks, one of the vascular surgeons who worked at Roosevelt, lived across the street from the Dakota, and he was walking home and saw the police response and saw them loading him into a cop car and saw them loading Yoko into a cop car. He was the one who raced back to the hospital. He ran back to his car and raced back to the hospital. When he got there he said, "You know who that is? That's John Lennon." That's when they were 100% certain. Even with the wallet they said, "Fake I.D. It doesn't look like John Lennon." They were still not 100% sure. They were just doing their job. Then Yoko showed up at the hospital. They knew what they were dealing with at that point.
Q - Didn't Yoko ride in the police car with John?
A - No. She went in with another unit. Essentially John was spread across the back seat. From the accounts I've read, she was trying to push him over and the cops just said, "Get in the next car." They closed the door and took off because they needed to move. They didn't have time to re-arrange and shuffle. They were playing a game of seconds. So, they took off without her and another officer escorted her. She got there slightly after he did.
Q - I don't know if you can answer this question or not, but did John feel any pain? Did he suffer, or did he die instantly?
A - I honestly can't answer that question on any level of accuracy. From what I understand of people being shot, there are a lot of instances where you go into shock. You're aware that you've been shot, but your brain is not processing information correctly at that point. There's so much adrenalin in your system. Your mind is so scattered that there are instances where people that get shot don't even know they've been shot. So, I can't say with any level of certainty, but I do know that he was conscious and aware that he had been shot when he went into the vestibule. The accounts of him walking into the vestibule, he said he was shot before he fell down.
Q - I guess one of the messages you can take away from this film of yours, and I'm not saying you're saying it, is, if you're as famous and as controversial as John Lennon and you don't take security precautions to protect yourself, something like this can happen and in John Lennon's case, unfortunately it did.
A - Yeah. I think maybe this is where that whole concept turns a corner. There were political assassinations before this, but I think the idea of shooting somebody because they're famous and you think you can steal their fame, I think that was a first. Now we've seen it several times. There was just this one last year where one of the girls from American Idol or one of those kinds of shows, was shot in a club while performing or something like that. There was Selena, who was killed by the President of her fan club. Thankfully these aren't everyday occurrences, but we live in a culture and society in a time and place where anyone, and I mean anyone, can get their hands on a gun and go shoot and kill pretty much anyone they want. There will be repercussions. There will be fallout, but there's a good chance of somebody being able to do that unless you're a President and you've got twelve bodyguards on you at all times. That's just a reality of our culture today. We have to deal with it. One of the reasons to make this film in my opinion was the social causes, the cultural causes that led to this event have not changed. We have not done anything to make this preventable or change the circumstances. I think we need to at least be aware of that, at least have that discussion. Is it right? Is this the way things should be? I think it's an ongoing discussion in America, but I think it needs to continue. I wouldn't describe myself as anti-gun, but I'm certainly pro-discussing what we want the nature of our society to be.
Q - And tonight is the premiere of The Lennon Report in Los Angeles?
A - It will not be the L.A. premiere. It's a special screening that's being hosted for the anniversary. So, a local radio DJ, I guess he'd seen the film and felt very strongly about it and wanted to share it with the city. He arranged a screening. He reached out to us and asked if we had anyone that was in town in L.A. or if we could send anyone or if we'd be interested in participating, helping out. And I wanted to be present for it, and Karen, who plays Yoko Ono, we asked her if she could come, and she could make it. So, it was interesting. I personally wouldn't have promoted an event today through us. I don't want to do anything that feels exploitative, but for someone else to want to do it out of a genuine sense of the importance of the material and the film itself, I would never hesitate to support that. I think it's great that other people see this exactly as it was intended to be, an honest and respectful and intimate depiction of events where there's something to be taken away from it. There's greater meaning and purpose to the work. So that was really great for me and I'll always support that.
Q - Are you going to have a showing where famous people walk the red carpet?
A - We did a premiere on October 6th, 2016 in New York City and we had a pretty good turnout. We had a lot of local New York media. We had some national media personalities turn out for that, the actors, celebrities. We had a big red carpet. Hundreds of people sort of shutting down the street. It was a good size and it went really well and we were very proud of how it went.
Q - Jeremy, I saw John Lennon in person when he had, along with Yoko, this art exhibition called This Is Not Here at the Everson Museum in downtown Syracuse, New York. It would be very difficult for me to watch The Lennon Report.
A - You know, it is challenging material and I understand that. For the people who loved John, for the people who knew John personally, I wouldn't want them to see it. I hope Yoko Ono never sees it. I hope Sean never sees the film. But I think if you're a Beatles fan, if you're someone who experienced this night, or who wants to spend those last moments, I think it's worth seeing. I think it's worth experiencing. It's going to be a challenge definitely, but I can't stress enough how it's worth it. It's sort of spending a loved one's last moment with them in real life. Your mother is passing away. Your father is passing away. It's going to be difficult. It's going to be horrible and you also wouldn't miss it. So, The Lennon Report is not a horrible experience. It's actually strange to say, but people laugh. We get laughs throughout the movie. We take opportunities where they present themselves to air it out a little bit, so it's not constantly heavy. It's not constant misery. Life is a bit of a mosaic and there are heavy moments and there are light moments and there are fun moments and there are sad moments, and we try to encapsulate as much of it as there was. There's a lot of interesting things. There's a lot of curious things. There's lot of coincidences. There's a lot of humorous beats and that sounds corny, but it is and it works and it works really well.