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The 'How to Rob a Bank' Director Explains What He Learned from Scott Scurlock

The 'How to Rob a Bank' Director Explains What He Learned from Scott Scurlock
The 'How to Rob a Bank' Director Explains What He Learned from Scott Scurlock


Despite its title, “How to Rob a Bank” is not an instructional video on how to commit a crime. Instead, as his co-director Stephen Robert Morse says Varietyit is a documentary about “the consequences of crime”.

The documentary, released on Netflix last week, focuses on a prolific '90s Seattle bank robber named Scott Scurlock, who the FBI quickly dubbed Hollywood because of his penchant for elaborate disguises.

Morse (producer of “Amanda Knox”) and his co-director Seth Porges (“Class Action Park”) began working on the film in 2020 and quickly tracked down many of the people involved in the notorious case.

As the documentary makes its way into the global top 10 streamers, Morse spoke with Variety to discuss the genesis of the project and what he learned while getting close to a notorious bank robber.

How did you get involved in this project?

My collaborator, Seth Porges, reached out to me in the darkest days of the pandemic. He sent a sheet describing this story and immediately it was a yes. I mean, maybe I would have said yes to anything at that point. “Tiger King” was on television. It was one of those times where the world seemed very dark and it seemed like an absolutely fascinating story and a great way to spend time.

It was big news at the time in Seattle, but how well did people remember this story when you started making the documentary?

I don't think any of the leaders we featured were aware of this story, however, in Seattle, yes, absolutely. A lot of people we talked to – people would come out of their house when they saw us and say, “Oh, what are you filming?” Oh, I remember that. I was living right there when this happened. So in terms of tradition in Seattle, yes.

Scott is at the center of the story from the start; there's no big reveal about who Hollywood is. How did you decide on this structure for the film?

I think we tried many permutations to get to a place where we were happy. It's always this question: “How long do you want to keep the mystery going before the audience loses interest in the mystery?” We introduced Scott after about seven minutes, and I think in various cuts it was 15 minutes. [minutes], it was 8 p.m., it was three o'clock. Fortunately, we had plenty of time to figure out where, as storytellers, we thought the information would make the most sense. But it’s also about building a lasting film. So I think you have to think about the architecture of a scene and the architecture of the aperture, but then how does that relate to this thing that you're building. Hopefully we've figured out what's the best version of what we've actually built.

You have some pretty incredible archives, including footage of Scott, his diary, and even phone calls from when he was on the run. How did you get all this?

We went to the four corners of America to find the video archives. Our contributors were extremely helpful in providing much of their personal archive and they had a vested interest in wanting to see this film made and seeing this film made accurately. You can't make a documentary that has holes. You have to make sure every hole is plugged, otherwise you're going to get slammed. So it's about making sure that you have the most comprehensive, foolproof, foolproof documentary possible. Otherwise you're screwed, in my opinion.

“How to Rob a Bank” (courtesy of Netflix)

Some parts also include live dramatizations and animations. Why did you decide to include them in addition to interviews and archives?

In the initial pitch, I think we had a vision where we thought maybe animation would be used as a [the robbers] were training and it is when they are in action that we will use the dramatic recreations. These are photographed by Steven Campanelli [the second unit director], who is like Clint Eastwood's number two, he's incredible. I think we just thought the '90s were a really rich time for animation. So for us it all comes back to a 90s vibe. Start by hiring the guy who worked with Clint Eastwood during his glory days and do the animation in an original, but reminiscent 90s style.

You also had interviews with Scott's co-conspirators, Mark Biggins and Steve Meyers. Was it difficult to get them on board?

Seth was really instrumental in this process. He did a great job building relationships with these contributors to get them on board. He'll always tell this story: “Oh, I had to go fishing with Mark in Montana and not talk about it for a while.” “Obviously, they led to an elevation of the story, because you get their perspectives. And I think one of the things that makes this movie unique and great is the fact that we get a 360 perspective of the people involved in the case.

The tone of the documentary is non-judgmental. Was it deliberate?

I mean, obviously we're not trying to glorify the crimes. And I want to make this very clear: do not rob a bank, never rob a bank. It's a movie about the consequences of crime, rather than a movie about the crime in our minds.

We try to present the facts. It's funny when I read the Letterboxd reviews of the film. It's like, man, I can't change the way life is going. I'm sorry you didn't like that someone was walking around the treehouse with their penis hanging out, but that's how he was walking around, with his penis hanging out, so what do you expect I do? There are some things we cannot change. This is one of the constraints of documentary: we have to stick to the story we are being told.

Do you feel like you got to know Scott?

I feel like I know him very well. And obviously he influenced me, I'm sure in many ways, even when you walk in somewhere, be confident and people will listen to you. You don't really need to wave a gun in someone's face to get them to listen to you, just be a little more confident. I think I learned a lot, you know, that there are two sides to people: a dark side and a light side. And I think it taught me to understand that no one is perfect. Give someone a break every once in a while. But at the same time, if your friends are robbing banks, maybe call them a little earlier.




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