Director Brian Herzlinger Interview - Dishes on Making his New Movie How Sweet it Is

HOW SWEET IT IS is an interesting spin on the classic mob story, infusing it with a bit of heart, soul and dance. It's obvious from the first moments of HOW SWEET IT IS that it is a love story to the world of musical theatre and it's trials and tribulations. In a rare dramatic role, Joe Piscopo shows off his well trained singing, acting and dancing chops in this highly stylized story.  

NYC SPLASH had the opportunity to speak with writer director Brian Herzlinger. Here are some excepts from that interview. 


What kinds of musicals inspired this? 

Some of my favorite musicals are Grease, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors, Chicago, All that Jazz, all the way back to Mary Poppins. And Hairspray was one of my favorite musicals, you know, the remake of the Broadway show, really was something was an inspiration, especially musically, for this film.

Growing up, I never really went to see Broadway shows, and when I did, I felt like I needed a close up to get emotionally involved with he shows. I was usually sitting up in the nosebleeds.  Then in movies, I mean, that was just the way that I grew up. My family, my cousins, my aunt my mom and I would literally anytime Grease was on, we would just stop doing what we were doing and break into song. 


Brian then spoke a bit about the talent in How Sweet it Is. 

Finding the right talent to bring this movie to fruition was a big task and, Jersey Boys.. That’s my favorite Broadway show and I was lucky enough to get Eric Bergen who is in Jersey Boys to play Ethan in How Sweet it Is. He just knocked it out of the park. I can’t say enough about our leading man Joe Piscopo. He’s been out of the spotlight for awhile on the film side of things and he just really delivered on all fronts. He was the heart and soul of the film.... I was a movie geek in a candy store... with Joe Piscopo, Paul Sorvino and Michael Pare and Erika Christensen.  

Joe Piscopo as Jack Cosmo and Paul Sorvino as Big Mike

What was the response of the actors to doing a movie musical? 

It was fantastic. Everybody was so excited about the prospect of being in a movie musical. I was beating them away with sticks. There was so much talent that came through the doors. Both my writing partner, Jay Black and I were really excited to have the opportunity to show the audience a new Joe Piscopo that you haven’t seen before. Erica Christensen was terrific, too. She did a great job as Joe’s daughter. 

Joe Piscopo as Jack Cosmo and Paul Sorvino as Big Mike

What is it like to have a co-writer and have a writing partnership? How does that help you as a writer? 

Jay and I have been best friends since the fourth grade. We met in the lunch line at our elementary school quoting dialogue from Police Academy II so it was a match made in heaven. Jay lives in our hometown in New Jersey and I live in LA. It’s actually beneficial for us, we outline, we come up with the story together, we out line the three acts and then we will just go back and forth with the pages. So he will write a few pages and get them to me, and I’ll rewrite them and then write the next few pages . Jay is really great at dialogue and  my strength is structure. So it’s a perfect blend between the two. There’s no ego involved with us. We respect he hell out of each other and anything that we disagree on forces s to find that common ground that ultimately makes the script better. 


What’s it like as an east coast person living in LA? 

I lived in LA in 1997. I live in Sherman Oaks because it’s the closest to living in New Jersey for me. It’s like the suburbs, If I could have the film business in New Jersey, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. My mom and Dad still live in Jersey, my sister lives in Virginia, my whole family roots are all back east and I think that 98% of the film business in LA are not from LA. They’re all from New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. We’ve all migrated to LA to pursue the film business.. everybody goes their to follow their dream and that’s what i’m doing. i’ve been very fortunate career wise, in terms of being able to work, and the writing and the directing. it’s been a blessing. 


What advice do you have for young people who are getting started in this business? 

I go around the country and speak to students at film schools and I always say the same thing. You have to be persistent. You have to believe in what you do because everyone is out there for themselves, you can’t count on anyone giving you that opportunity that you are hoping for. You have to make it happen for yourself.  I use the analogy- if you want to be a lawyer you to go to college, to law school, you pass the bar, you’re a lawyer. If you want to be a doctor you go to college, to medical school, you do your residency and you’re a doctor. If you want to be a writer, producer, director or actor, how do you do it. What’s the path? There’s no road for you to follow, so you have to make that road yourself. I found that the way to pave that road is with yesses. Don’t say no to opportunities that come up because you never know what’s going to come out of it. 


Great advice from an exciting director. 


Photo credits: Doogie Benesch

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