Catching Up with Filmmaker Joseph Nasser

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Joseph Nasser has produced films that stretch across multiple genres. He’s accomplished comedy with The Whole Ten Yards and For a Good Time, Call…. He’s produced action films with stars like Christian Slater, Ray Liotta, Steve Coogan and WrestleMania’s Steve Austin. His latest film, though, reveals the real reason he’s in the biz.

Amber Alert: Terror on the Highway explores the kidnapping of two young girls and how the community bands together to save them. For Nasser, who still serves as a reserve police officer, the film has a valiant mission. He’s out to promote awareness for Amber Alerts for both citizens that encounter them as well as law enforcement officials that handle the traumatic cases.

I had a second to chat with Nasser about his involvement with the Amber Alert system, how his time as an officer has influenced his filmmaking and his mission as a producer.

Paste: You’re a police officer and a filmmaker. How did that combo happen?
Nasser: I was intrigued by law enforcement and went to police academy—all the while reading about true crime stories and stories about bills that were passed and how the Amber Alert bill was put into legislation. I was a movie producer in college and high school and decided to not totally abandon the police department and take it into a hobby and volunteer basis. The two kind of married up together.

Paste: This film is definitely a passion project for you. Was there a particular incident that prompted you to make a film about Amber Alerts?
Nasser: Meeting with Amber’s Mom, Donna. She was the mother of the child that the bill was named after and talking to her about her story. I turned that into a movie several years ago. The results of that movie were so positive in that it was used to train people and used to even re-open the Amber case. I’m really moved by that. Her mom basically said that she looks at heaven and tells her daughter, “We did it again, sweetheart.”

Paste: What were some of the challenges of getting a film like this made? It’s definitely not a glamorous topic.
Nasser: One of the biggest challenges is that some people do not want a movie about a kidnapping. It’s horrific. Sometimes sponsors don’t want anyone to hear their product name and then read about a kid getting kidnapped. The biggest problem was turning it into something people wouldn’t consider as a downer. The positive thing about this movie is it has downer elements, but at the end of the day the victims, witnesses and cops did what they were supposed to do.

Paste: There are scenes that illuminate problems with the system, specifically, scenes with the mothers of the kidnapped girls. Was this inspired by frustration you have also experienced?
Nasser: Yeah, because what happens is people sort of feel like cops are magic. There’s some super pill or device that can return their loved ones. It becomes really counterproductive if the parent cannot take a deep breath and gain control and communicate as opposed to nudge and complain. I don’t know if you ever listen to some of these 911 calls and the operator is taking all this info and the cops are on the way but the people are screaming, “Hurry, hurry!” A second for them is 10 minutes for the cops. I was exploring that kind of scenario.

Paste: Tom Berenger plays Larsan, the criminal in the film. Is he meant to symbolize a number of criminals you’ve dealt with or one in particular?
Nasser: There was a culprit in California who kidnapped these two girls. I read about this character and I modeled Tom after [him]. He was the first Amber Alert in Southern California.

Paste: Larsan’s motivations become clearer as the film progresses. He had an alcoholic father and a broken childhood. Do you think treating these psychological problems is also a solution for criminality in America?
Nasser: There is this thing called the XYY factor that a lot of criminals have in common. I think at the end of the day it’s a very controversial question but in my opinion I think it’s hereditary. You find people that grew up wealthy with an education that are criminals. I do think it happened to be genetic.

Paste: What are your goals for the film? Would you like it screened at certain organizations, schools or events?
Nasser: I’d like it to go wide to the general public so the public knows what to do if they see an Amber Alert. Any cops interested, courtesy of our company, any police organization is welcome to get a copy of the film.

Paste: As you continue your work as a producer, are you interested in making more projects aimed at awareness?
Nasser: There are a series of faith-based movies called What Would Jesus Do? We’re having more Amber Alert movies we’re bringing out, essentially movies that spread positive things to the world.

Paste: I need a cop story. Tell me about an inspiring moment when you did see justice served.
Nasser: I gotta say that I was very much inspired when I got the email from Amber’s mom saying to date there have been 685 successful retrievals. When I get letters from law enforcement agencies thanking me for the movie, it’s very inspiring.