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Home > Arts & Entertainment > Addis in Wonderland

Addis in Wonderland
Jewish filmmaker tackles "Poor White Trash"

Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
December 4, 2000

LOS ANGELES—On this sunny L.A. morning along the Wilshire corridor, wearing a black leather jacket, director Michael Addis sits on the parking lot patio of Cafe Latte, talking shop over some cappuccino pancakes.

"We don't look very closely as a society," said Addis, an independent filmmaker in his 30s. "It's our job as filmmakers to offer a closer look, especially if it's comedy."

Addis's latest, "Poor White Trash " -- starring Sean Young, Jason London, William Devane and M. Emmet Walsh-is the tale of a poor white family that resorts to crime in order to raise the money to send a son to college. Amid a colorful, satirical landscape thriving with desperate characters making wrong decisions for the right reasons, the indie film flaunts Addis' hot-dogging, hi-octane direction and has already received high praise from outlets such as Ain't It Cool News,, and Liz Smith's column.

"It's pretty sociological," said Addis of his film as he sipped his coffee. "I was angry at the way the law deals with the disenfranchised. I was going through some legal stuff, and my father was going through some stuff with lawyers and arbitrators that ultimately destroyed his business."

Indeed, one of the major characters in "Poor White Trash" is a flawed lawyer who gives his young son some crummy advice.

"Most people present the portrait that the parents are wise," said Addis with a chuckle. "The worse advice you get in the film are from the parents. How you might have to do an immoral act to get ahead and what are the pros and cons of that."

Addis, who took over a town in Southern Illinois in the summer of 1999 for his 25-day shoot , had fond memories of he and his actors hanging out the townies to soak up the local color. He recalled one man in particular who approached him.

Said Addis, imitating his regional twang, "I heard that you were a Jew. I thought to myself, 'Uh, oh, and then he said, 'Would you like to go to temple with us.'"

Michael Addis grew up in Skokie, Illinois, where he lived until he was eight. His family wound up in San Diego, where Addis attended university.

"I wasn't an extraordinary student," said the San Diego State philosophy major, who also tackled journalism for the school paper and played in a funk band.

While Addis bows down at the comedy shrine of Albert Brooks and Mel Brooks, it was, in fact, another Brooks who had a more direct influence on him.

"Early in my career, I met with James Brooks," said Addis. "I was inspired to write a script after I had talked with him."

Everything about Addis is unorthodox, including how his interest in directing began and how "Poor White Trash" came about.

"I was working as a cashier in Price Club. I was a horrible cashier.

They wanted to fire me," said Addis. But instead, they assigned him to do a series of videos on workplace injuries. The films caught the eye of corporate. Soon Addis was in charge of instructing the employees of all Price Club stores nationwide.

Believe it or not, Addis had never met the screenwriter of "Poor White Trash," who lives in rural Pennsylvania, face to face until shooting began. In fact, the pair met and collaborated on the whole project online.

"I said, this is an interesting story. Let's write it," said Addis. "I ended up doing the final draft. I like being able to work with people with good ideas."

Ultimately, the appeal of "Poor White Trash" was very simple for the up-and-coming filmmaker.

"On shows like "Dallas" and "Dynasty" or any of these shows where we see the lifestyles of the rich , we're fascinated by that," said Addis. "I'm was more intetested in seeing the drama of the poor, the soap opera in their lives."

Addis defended the use of the "poor white trash" stereotype as pretty loose and tongue-in-cheek.

"The movie's not against poor white trash. It's like saying 'Les Miserables' is insulting to poor French people," said Addis. "I grew up in a poor white trash area. There were a lot of poor Jews there too."

Continued Addis, in between bites of his breakfast, "It's sort of a stereotype to thinks of the well-off Jew.

The idea of like white trash Jews is actually really funny to me."

Perhaps the fact that Addis himself once had to live out of his car has made him adverse to all kinds of stereotyping.

"People think it's easier being a Jew in entertainment world," said Addis. "In reality, people say we don't need another male Jew perspective."

"Poor White Trash" opens in limited release on Dec. 1. For more information, go to

© Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission

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