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Watch the HELLO HERMAN Trailer here:


The inspiration for the film

HELLO HERMAN is a story that depicts what happens when our children fall through the cracks.

Bullying and cyber bullying in schools (and in life) is a worldwide issue. More than ever it’s on the forefront of a national conversation. Fifteen years ago we didn’t have as many school shootings as we do now. Youth violence is escalating. The problem is due in part to the fact that our children are so addicted to technology that it has stopped them from connecting to one another.

When I hear about a kid that commits an act of violence in their school, my heart stops. When a child is isolated and ostracized and gets no emotional support, it can easily spiral downhill and turn into a car crash. We’ve witnessed these types of tragedies time and time again.

HELLO HERMAN came across my desk in 2008 as a play written by John Buffalo Mailer.  Immediately I felt compelled by the subject matter.  It’s a tough subject, but a crucial one to explore. My favorite genre of movie is romantic comedies, not provocative social dramas. But I had to make this movie.

I have asked myself many times why this was important to me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a mother but I believe that every child needs to be unconditionally loved. For me personally, whenever innocence gets squashed and people are cruel to one another, it provokes a lot of sadness. I feel that most of the time it all could have been avoided if we had all done our part. When I was young I was one of the only ones in our school that intervened when someone was being bullied. I could never shut up, I had to step in.

The theme that HELLO HERMAN brought up spoke deeply to me and we mounted the play at Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica. At the time Sawyer Spielberg was taking an acting class with me and we mounted the stage production with him playing Herman and John Buffalo Mailer playing Lax. I’ve always felt that the protagonist of HELLO HERMAN is the audience. This is a movie about us. This is a movie about America.  I staged it multi-media with three screens and a live feed camera close to the audience so that they felt immersed in the experience.

From that production I realized how much conversation the story sparked. We as a society need to keep talking about these haunting problems and teach our children compassion.  In the following years I worked on developing the screenplay to get the message out to a wider audience.

The casting of the film

Lax and Herman are the two key roles in the movie. Herman is a sixteen year old boy who by a series of unfortunate circumstances gets pushed to the brink and ends up committing a violent act of huge proportions. Lax is a journalist who goes into the maximum security prison to interview him and ultimately they forge a connection and see each other for who they truly are.

It wasn’t easy to find the right actor to play Lax. I pursued several actors and my quest led me to Norman Reedus. I had Skyped with him for an hour, he was in New York and I was in LA.  We talked at length about what the movie was about and what kind of messages it had. We discussed how I was going to tell the story to convey those messages. You never know before you shoot a movie what an actor is going to deliver. You obviously have a good feeling and hope for the best but Norman’s performance far exceeded any expectations that I had in terms of the layers of complexity and the sensitivity that he brought to the character.

My hunt for an actor that could play Herman was also challenging. I didn’t want to cast the obvious kid that was “weird”. I wanted to cast your “everyday” kid. When I had done my research and read books like WHY GOOD KIDS KILL by Michael D. Kelleher I realized that a lot of the time it’s the child you don’t expect that can snap in this way. I saw many actors and entertained many possibilities. When Garrett Backstrom walked in the room I knew without a doubt that he was Herman. He understood how to take on the skin of this teenager with all the layers of his rage and his feelings of humiliation.

Martha Higareda came to me via a friend who introduced us. She had read the script and she shared with me that her brother suffered intense bullying in his childhood. She started to cry and I knew she felt the importance that this story should be told. I immediately responded to her passion and I could see no one else playing Isa.

Media, as we know, plays a tremendous role in how a news story like this impacts us. I asked my good friend Rob Estes to play Chet Clarkson, a strong presence in the movie. Chet’s network is a faux conservative network and his storyline depicts the way we get bombarded with the reporting of these tragic events. Ultimately I believe that is what helps to glorify the act because of the sheer amount of publicity the shooter receives.

There was one character who could have offered hope and possibly changed the course of events for Herman. Marsha Dixon, played by Olivia Faye.  Olivia is a wonderfully talented actress who also wrote an original song for the film “Herman’s Lament (You Didn’t See Me)” which captures the heart of what’s at stake in the movie.

I was lucky enough to cast wonderful supporting players that all came through with the telling of the story.  The rest of the casting fell into place. We had many talented young actors that played Herman’s peers. Ironically enough, many of the actors who played the bullies had been bullied themselves in their real lives.  Now that they were playing the other side it made for a lot of rich choices they could bring to their characters.


The making of the film

We shot the movie in Whittier, California on location at Fred C. Nelles correctional facility. I keep saying how perfect the location was. It was eerie, raw, and authentic. It was a little haunted too I think which fed us all.

We had nineteen days of principal photography. When you work quickly like that you can’t afford to make mistakes. It adds an urgency that can help you if you are prepared.

I had a wonderful Director of Photography, Sandra Valde. We had a great short hand. I had an amazing support system, my Associate Producer, Rebecca Morgan, who helped me develop this project from day one, my long time Producers Brian Drillinger and Alexandra Guarnieri, my Executive Producer Valerie Debler, and a crew that I was told was inspired by the social relevance.

The message of the movie

Ultimately HELLO HERMAN is not about violence. It’s not about a school shooting. It’s not about bullying. It’s about connection and what it takes for one human being to reach out to another human being and really see them for who they are.

I wanted people to watch the film and feel a responsibility to our youth. Many people in test screenings told me “I’m going home to hug my children”. But it’s not just about looking out for our own children. It’s about taking responsibility for all of the children, especially the ones who don’t seem to have a voice.

All the Herman’s of this world need to be heard. The need to be heard is a universal experience and it’s the key to everything. Whether it is a kid that is psychotic or a child simply pushed to the brink by unfortunate circumstances, they all need help. We as a society need to keep talking and coming through for our kids.

Maybe we can’t protect them from all the things they are exposed to from a very young age, but we can continue to have conversations and keep teaching them to be aware and communicate. We can teach them from a very young age to speak up when someone is being left out and picked on. We can teach them to reach out to each other with compassion.    Michelle Danner / 2012



Set in the not so distant future, in Any Town USA, sixteen year old Herman Howards makes a fateful decision. He enters his suburban school and kills thirty nine students, two teachers, and a police officer. Just before his arrest he emails his idol, famous journalist Lax Morales, sending him clips of the shootings captured with Herman’s own digital camera. In the clips Herman tells Lax, “I want to tell my story on your show”. Lax, haunted by his own past, is now face to face with Herman. The movie explores why and how a massacre like this can happen in our society, desensitizing in America, youth violence and bullying, the impact the media has on our individual quest for fame, and ultimately our need for connection.

Norman Reedus stars as Lax. Reedus is best known for his work in The Boondock Saints movies and the hit show The Walking Dead as well as Lady Gaga’s video Judas. His love interest is played by Martha Higareda, an acclaimed star in her native Mexico who starred with Keanu Reeves in Street KingsRob Estes from90210 is playing Chet Clarkson, a political pundit. Andy McPhee from Sons of Anarchy plays Sean Gall, the leader of a white supremacist group. The film also stars newcomer Garrett Backstrom as the teenage shooter Herman Howards.

Reaching out to educators:

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