Alma Har’el is an American-Israeli filmmaker, who began her career with music videos before directing Bombay Beach, which won Best Feature Documentary at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. She followed it with the 2016 documentary LoveTrue, and now returns with her third film, Honey Boy, written by Shia LaBeouf and inspired by his own time as a child actor. Starring Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges as young actor Otis, at different stages of his life, LaBeouf plays Otis’ unstable father and on-set guardian, James.
ASFF: How did you meet Shia?
AH: Bombay Beach was my first film. It won the Tribeca Film Festival and then ended up as a DVD at some point at Amoeba Records, and some overly-worked employee put it in the Bob Dylan section by mistake, because it had music by Bob Dylan and Beirut. Shia came there to look for a Bob Dylan documentary because he was researching a movie about the young Bob Dylan, and it was right there and he ended up picking it up and watching it that night – twice. And then he came looking for me. I had no agents at the time so he found my website online and he just e-mailed me.
ASFF: Did you think the e-mail from him was genuine?
AH: I thought it was but everybody told me it was probably fake. And I wrote him back and said, ‘How do I know it’s you?’ To which he replied, ‘My Mom’s favourite colour is purple!’ And I thought that was a good sign because my Mom’s favourite colour is purple. So I said, ‘Let’s meet then.’ And we had dinner the night after, and then it was one of those things when you meet somebody who has so many of the same interests as you in what I call performance of self, as opposed to acting. I think that was really a big reason why we connected, and the fact we’re both children of alcoholics and struggled with addiction in our lives.
ASFF: Shia ended up in rehab. How did this lead to Honey Boy?
AH: While he was there, he was instructed to do exposure therapy, which very much is documented in the film and has to do with writing the memories of what happened to him in a certain period that the therapist had chosen to focus on. Whilst he was doing that, he was sending me the pages from that and they were just conversations between older Otis and younger Otis. I felt that that’s a film, and if Shia could play his father, it would probably be something that can transcend the medium of cinema in many ways.
ASFF: How difficult was it to get the film funded? Were you on a tight budget?
AH: We shot the whole film in 21 days, so it was extremely limited. But we did get funded, by two very compassionate women that were very moved by the script and met with Shia, and one of them is Daniela Taplin, and has a company named Stay Gold Films and produced Harriet this year. The other is Anita Gou, who did The Farewell – so they both have a few films this year that tell very extraordinary, brave stories. And they ended up financing it and making it possible.
ASFF: Has Shia watched Honey Boy? It must be a painful film for him to see…
AH: He still watches it, almost every time we screen it. We still watch it…the film has huge therapeutic value for people who have been through any kind of trauma, and I think we still benefit from watching it. So Shia has been sober for the first time in his life for over a year-and-a-half and so it has been the beginning of a journey that’s probably to take a lifetime of him developing new tools to deal with the PTSD and the triggers that have caused aggressive behaviour or losing control.
Honey Boy is in cinemas now. For more details, click here.