Friday, October 12, 2012

Super Doc on Iran at the Right Time

The Iran Job is Playing in Theaters

Super Doc on Iran at the Right Time

(from 10/12/12)

Iranjobphoto.jpg Till Schauder and Kevin Sheppard,
photo by DP
I'll make the wild prediction that Argo will be the biggest-grossing Iran-set movie this weekend. But that film might whet your appetite for The Iran Job, a more intimate, sympathetic, and up-to-date documentary--set in Shiraz--about the people of that country that is also opening in New York today, at the IFC Center. Directed and photographed by Till Schauder (who has made award-winning films in his native Germany and America, where he now lives), it tells the unusual story of American professional basketball player and Jacksonville U. star Kevin Sheppard, who travels from his home in the US Virgin Islands to Iran to play point guard for the new A.S. Sharaz, in southwestern Iran. He experiences culture shock--in a good way--as he becomes close not only to his teammates but also to three special, brave women, Elaheh, Hilda, and Laleh, and much happens on the political landscape. Schauder says in the press notes, "This film is a story of people coming together to learn from each other. It shares our shared humanity and it points toward what unites us, rather than what separates us." It's a major message at a time when our political candidates debate about who is tougher toward Iran and "when" Schauder says, "we muse about going to war with people we often know too little about." I recently had this conversation with the engaging Schauder and Sheppard in anticipation of their film's timley release.
Danny Peary: Till, I read that you met Kevin via Skype when you were searching for a basketball player to follow.
Till Schauder: I did in-person auditions with some players and I literally shot footage with them. I had them come here, or I went to where they were. They were all okay, but I really needed somebody special. My wife Sara Nodjoumi, who co-produced with me, told me, "I don't care about basketball, so you've got to find somebody who's going to entertain me--and by "me" she meant everybody who doesn't care about basketball. So it had to be a basketball player who had something more to offer. I had gone on one research trip and made some connections with coaches and scouts in Iran and put them and Sara in touch because she speaks Farsi. When an American player got signed, they would let her know. Unfortunately, because of the quick way contracts work there, there was almost no way for me to prepare. Kevin got a call on Monday and on Wednesday they expected him to be there. That's how quick that goes. So that's why we had to meet on Skype rather than in person. But you can tell a lot on Skype, and with him, I could see his curiosity and that he is someone who doesn't try to please anybody and doesnt try to censor himself. He never tried to say anything to please me because he thought it was what the filmmaker wanted to hear. I loved that quality. He would joke about Iranians and about Americans. That was very important.
DP: Kevin, did you know about the Iranian Super League before they offered you a contract?
Kevin Sheppard: No. It was really ironic because when my agent called me, he was like, Do you want to go to Iran? I thought he was punking me or something--"Are you serious? Do they even have basketball?" I had this perception of the country as it was portrayed in the media, that there was mass destruction and Bin Laden types over there. It never crossed my mind that they played basketball until I did a little research.
DP: Had somebody scouted you?
KS: Yeah, I had played in Europe, South America, Israel, and China. They could follow my progress. I had a pretty good track record. Before you go over, they have to offer you a certain amount of money. My agent relayed the message to me and I thought about it for a couple of days before saying yes.
DP: Is there any specific reason they wanted a point guard rather than a big man?
KS: I think I actually changed the process. Most foreign teams can bring in only two foreigners, and normally they bring in two big guys. A lot of the time, the big guys are less skillful, but the little guys come a dime a dozen. I actually broke that mold when A.S. Shiraz brought in a point guard to be the leader of the team. I think once owners saw my effectiveness as a leader on and off the court, a lot more point guards started coming over. We started a new trend.
DP: Did guys you met there want to be point guards or did they all want to be forwards?
KS: A lot of the guys really wanted to be point guards. But someone who doesnt play basketball doesn't understand that the point guard has to be the extension of the coach. He also must be someone who leads by example. And he's gotta be able to sacrifice his game to help a lesser players reach their potential. For example, I knew I was a better shooter than a lot of my teammates but I gave up a lot of shots because I had to give them an opportunity to get involved in the game. If another player is going to play harder for me and is going to play better for the team, I have to sacrifice my shot to give him a shot. A point guard has to know all of these things.
DP: Did your Iranian coach understand that too?
KS: Well, I dont know if he understood that or not because we didn't understand each other. I had played college ball and in so many different countries and played all these different styles, so I could tell what kind of play and feel the coach wanted. He was right up my alley. All he needed to do was just show me the play and give me the options--one, two, or three--and my instincts would take over and I'd take the best option. I did it very effectively, so he just let me take the lead.
DP: Till, you include documentary footage of what was going on politically in Iran while Kevin was playing ball there. It makes the film more political. Was it always your intention to do that?
TS: I wanted the film to be mostly action-based, meaning no talking heads, no sit-down interviews. Everything had to come out of Kevin and the people that he meets. My background is in feature films, so it's always about the character--all drama comes from the characters. However, I was also documenting a period in history--the Green Movement, the presidential election in the US and the presidential election in Iran--and it was clear that events were going to happen, and I needed to document them, to at least give the audience a frame of reference. I used as little documentary footage as possible, but enough to give people a sense of time and where they are.
DP: Kevin, did you know that was going to be in the film when you were making it, that he was going to be make it into a more political film than it would be if he just followed you around?
KS: I didn't know anything, I'd never done a documentary film before, I hadn't watched many documentaries before, so I didnt know what to expect. He basically just told me, "Be natural, I'm just going to follow you around. Not just on the basketball court, but everywhere you go." So it wasn't anything that was planned or rehearsed or scripted. Nobody knew that these things were going to happen. I didn't know.
DP: Till, you sort of vanish in this film. Kevin calls attention to you only a couple of times. But when you turned off the camera, what conversations would you two have during this period?
TS: I would always try to leave the camera on. Always. Even when we were just casually talking.
KS (laughing): I'd be coming out the bathroom and he's standing there with the camera. It was pretty annoying!
TS: You never know what comes, and those casual conversations can be the most interesting and enlightening. I would always learn something new about him, so as I was making the film, he kind of revealed himself, like an onion. There's this layer, that layer and another layer and so forth. We talked about almost everything. You name it. At some point we talked about our families and we realized that we both have four siblings, we both are in the middle, we both had fathers that didn't necessarily approve of what we were doing. Weird similarities that made me really comfortable with him, beyond the fact that he was being very gracious for letting me into his life. We talked about everything: politics, women, sports. We talked about football because it was football season. We would talk about basketball, which was fun for me because I used to play. That was actually great because it got my mind off the more serious parts of this movie. We talked about soccer.
KS: When Germany was playing, get out of his way!
TS: This is not untrue.
DP: The film is a lot about your enlightenment, Kevin, how while being there you saw this world that you never saw before.
KS: All that was natural. When he first told me about the film, I thought, this is going to be pretty boring, just watching basketball all day--especially my team play basketball.
My team was not really the most talented team, as you could tell. One of the things that I learned overseas is they put all the best players on three or four top teams, and the rest of the teams are so mediocre they just fight it out.
DP: If you hadn't had that mindset that your team was going to win the title--which was an impossibility--would you have even made the playoffs?
KS: That's a great question. Thinking back, I didn't even think we were going to make it to the playoffs, really. I didn't tell anyone that, I just had to see how I could motivate those guys to go beyond what they were thinking. A lot of the time when we would play those top teams, we would lose, but we would play well. Against one of the best teams, we lost by only two points. I was so mad and disappointed, but these guys on my team were jumping around happy, because they couldn't believe they played so good against this super-team. I was like, "Man, this culture is crazy!" I'd rather lose by fifty, knowing I got my butt kicked, than lose by one or two. That tells me I had an opportunity to win and didn't. That struggle itself was something.
DP: But the thing is they werent going backwards.
KS: Definitely, they were improving. And I saw the improvement, because they let me in, into their lifestyle and how they live. Which is pretty weird, because as overseas players, we could get fired at any time and be sent home--it's not guaranteed like in the NBA. So if you don't produce you could be gone on the next plane.. So the job is so not secure. All the overseas players know this, so they stick together. And the locals on the team stay together, because the locals are going to always have a job. But I was mingling with these guys, and then I started getting caught up emotionally with them, and it really opened me up because it made me understand why they do some of the things they do on the court. A lot of the time their personal lives were getting triggered by and intermingled with their court performances. I'm coming from America, I'm coming from Jacksonville University, a structured society. I go to practice at three oclock, practice starts at three, I'm getting ready, I'm swearing, three oclock hits, boom, practice starts. But in Iran, the players are coming to practice with their shoes in their hands at 3:15, and the coach is reading at 3:45; it was just total chaos. I'm like, what is going on here? It was mind-boggling to me that this was a professional team. This is crazy! But then I started seeing how they live. Everything for them is so nonchalant. Dont worry, were just going to get it down. Insha'Allah, God willing we're going to do it. And that goes for everything. Insha'Allah can turn into one day, into two weeks, into one month. I'll never forget Insha'Allah. Tomorrow, God willing. Everything is tomorrow.
DP: In the movie, there's a line by you explaining why you agreed to play in Iran--"God said to go to the unfamiliar." Soon you were in a strange world
KS: I'm actually spiritual. I don't like to associate myself so much with religion because I know that a lot of the time religion is among the causes for the biggest problems we are having in the world. Whether it's Muslim or Christianity, when you do go back and read the text itself, you see it's the same God that all of us are praying to. The one thing He asks us to do is love. So if love is supposed to be the antidote to everything, we should love each other no matter who we are. So I took the opportunity to go from the familiar, my normal surroundings in the Virgin Islands, and go to the other, where everybody thinks they have weapons of mass destruction and terrorists. Maybe they do, I don't know. But at least I wanted 
to find it out for myself.
  Kevin meets Iranians who love Americans.
DP: What did you find out about the Iranian people?
KS: They are so genuinely nice. They won't let you pay for nothing, even when you try to sneak it in. They cursed me out when I paid and made me take my money back. They go at every level to make you feel welcome. And thats something that I'll never forget, because these are the things I never hear, growing up in America and the Virgin Islands.
DP: The great thing about this movie is that it shows you, intimately, the very people some people in America want to bomb. Till, can you talk a little about that, and how your film is about people coming together to learn from each other?
TS: What you just said is true, about how we must make sure we know who were getting into a military conflict with. Our executive producer, Abigail Disney, who I cant praise enough, just wrote a blog that will be on the Huffington Post. She used an LA Times quote about the film where they call it a "remarkably apolitical political film." The whole blog is about the personal versus the political and how you can't disconnect the two, so when we in America look at these satellite pictures and just see these dots and say, "Okay, that's Baghdad, if they dont do what we want them to do well bomb them," it is all extremely abstract. Its simple then to go and do something because you really have no concept of what it actually does to real people. This may sound like a very obvious thing, but to a lot of people it just is not. With Iran for example, the overwhelming perception in America is that we need to fear these people. They are the biggest part of the Axis of Evil or whatever is left of it. It's always about fear and is based on a lot of missing information or misinformation. I always like to point out that Iranians have a very high opinion of Americans as people. The polls there, when they ask about the favorability of Americans, are incredibly high, 60%, 70% in favor. You would never get that in any other country in the region, including Israel. That needs to be told. People in America need to know this. Why are we wanting to go to war with people who have such a good opinion of us? That's not to say that there's not an issue with the regime. But it's very dangerous to lump the regime, or the government, with the people. You just cannot do that.
DP: A'' Obama has to say is, "The people there are very much like us, they like us, and they're against the regime too. So we dont want to bomb them." That's enough. But we don't hear that.
KS: No, we don't.
TS: There's something else that's important. There is often the perception that Iranians are nice but since they have a government that is the problem, we need to go help them and make their country like ours, because that's how everybody wants to live. That's just not the case. One of my favorite lines in the film is when one of the three young women Kevin befriends says, "I want to see the changes here in the country, I don't want to go anywhere and enjoy their democracy. I want to have it in my county." Iranians love their country and their culture. They don't want to live in America, or Germany or whatever. They want to live in their own country, where they have their people, their culture, their food, their music, all the rest of it; they just want to do in circumstances that are agreeable to them. That's important, because some elements of American political circles, they have this idea that we are the saviors and bringing them something that's not always wanted by those people. Also, I think it's crucial that they figure out their own mess. They can't rely on somebody else to do it for them. It doesn't work, there are very few exceptions where that has worked, with Germany, ironically being one of them.
DP: Because of Abigail Disney's involvement, were you planning on having a woman's point of view? You were fortunate enough to meet these three very interesting, candid young women--Elaheh, Hilda, and Laleh, the most political--who even sneak into Kevin's apartment at great risk to have conversations.
TS: You cant plan on that, and I didn't plan on it, but I have to point out once again that the producer of this film is a woman, my wife Sara. She was born here but her parents are Iranian. She, of course, influenced a lot of about this production, including the point of view that we're taking and the elements that we're focused on. It's really hard to make a documentary, and I asked her, "Are you cool with us doing this because this is going to take a few years?" As I said, if it was just going to be about basketball, she would have said, "No way. It's not interesting unless you can make it about more than that and use basketball to really get into the social fabric of the country." It's a really good opportunity to do that, with other characters rather than just the basketball player, and we were so blessed when these three women entered the film, because that gave us an opportunity to tell the story of the Iranian people through the eyes of women. I love that we made what could potentially be a jock film, about a guy playing a man's sport, and yet what the audience takes away from this film, overwhelmingly, is the story of these three women. Once I met them, I realized I had to find a way for them to like me enough to let me work with them, because it was clear that they would be great assets to the film.
DP: They certainly don't fit our stereotypes of completely suppressed Muslim women. They even wear jeans underneath their burqas, when theyre watching the basketball games.
TS: For the record, they're not burqa wearers--that's in Saudi Arabia. They wear hijabs. I'll never forget this one guy, at a big film festival, saying, "We've already seen all these women with their burqas." He was saying that the film was "a base-level introduction to Islamic society." But if you call it a base-level introduction, you should at least know the difference between a burqa and a hijab. I'm not saying this to knock you, but that is why a film like this is so important, because people always assume that they know the people --"they're Muslim, there's a little bit about Shiites, the other funny sect there, Sunnis, etc."--but you can't really know them until you meet them. That's why a story like this, where Kevin allows an audience to be with the Iranian people on an everyday--sometimes mundane, sometimes very substantial--basis, can be useful and benefit people.
DP: Kevin, were you open from the beginning to the women enlightening you? Or did it take a while for you to say, "Hey, they are more than just attractive women, they have a lot to say that I can learn from?" You seem very receptive.
KS: Obviously I had to put them through a testing phase, because I didn't know much about their culture. I'm a very curious guy, so I tried to figure out what these women were like. Because even I had prejudices with these women. Like what you guys are talking about in regard to what they wore? I didnt know what that was. We used to say they wear ninja suits--and stuff like that. I'd say that if I was living over there I'd have twelve wives. Because those were the kinds of stories we heard. So I had my own built-in prejudices, but then I said, I'm going to try to figure out a little more about these women. And the more I talked to them, the more I realized that these women were even smarter than my teammates. There was only one guy on my team who spoke English; these three women spoke English and French. All of them had very high degrees, even in chemical engineering. It was amazing that they had degrees and this intelligence, but they cant excel at the highest level there. If these women were in America, the sky's the limit.
TS: Wha'ts interesting is that more than fifty percent of college graduates in Iran are now women. That is actually a product of the Islamic Revolution. That's not to say that the Islamic Revolution was good in any way, but it definitely had some aspects that benefitted large parts of the society. However, there is also, of course, a weird contradiction with that. They give women that opportunity but then when they get that degree, they can't go any further. In regard to your asking Kevin if he was willing to let the three women open his mind--I think it's so evident that they achieved it, whether he was willing or not. Just that fact that when he came back home, he related differently to his girlfriend, who is now his wife.
DP: Kevin, did your learning from these women affect your relationship with your girlfriend so much that when you came back you finally proposed?
KS: Well, I had all that in mind before I met the women, really. Even though there was a struggle between the Iranian people and their government, you could see a second struggle between the women and the government. The women were fighting two wars, basically. It touched me more, being African American, because I heard stories about the Civil War in America, and I saw the movies about what African Americans had to fight in America, so I saw there was a parallel between their lives and mine. Just sixty years ago, my forefathers had to fight for our right to have equal opportunity. A struggle within a struggle. It really connected me.
DP: Did they connect to you because they understood the African American background?
KS: Definitely. One the reasons we got so close was that we kept explaining situations we had to each other; that's how we learned even more from each other. I wasn't just listening to their problems and telling them how to fix them, I was telling them my problems, too. We were just bouncing ideas back and forth, and the conversation became easy. These women didn't have the opportunity to speak to Iranian men in this way, I think it brought them the type of stimulation, not sexual but intelligent stimulation, that they were missing.
DP: I'm not sure if Till intended to show that there was something flirtatious between you and Elaheh, but at very least you had a strong connection. Did you expect her to eventually leave her parents and pursue acting in Tehran?
KS: I felt she was pretty enough, she was very intelligent--her English was very good--but they're so respectful to the father figure over there. They seek approval of the fathers and I didn't think he'd give it to her. So I knew she was not going.
TS: I want to add to what Kevin said about how his being African American bonded him with the women. They share the experience of being second-class citizens with Kevin's forefathers. It was so ironic to me to see that Kevin was connecting to these women at the same time the first African American president was elected after running in the Democratic primary against the first woman, Hillary Clinton, who had a legitimate shot at getting elected. That was an interesting mirror image of these people bonding.
DP: Kevin, you weren't as excited as the Iranians were about Obama being elected. You had a wait-and-see attitude.
KS: I was excited. Till came in when the celebration was going on. I started sitting down, thinking, everybody's going to love you now. I just put myself in the athletic mode, because Im an athlete. In the professional sports world, you should know that it's not what you did yesterday, it's what you're going to do for me from now on. When things start going bad, you're going to see the people come after you. So I said that going to happen to Obama, too, because even though you're cheering right now, that economy is not looking promising. You're going to be throwing stones.
DP: When you returned to play ball in Iran the next two years, had the people's attitude toward Obama changed because the US-Iranian relationship hadn't changed under Obama?
KS: I think they're still optimistic. It's not as heightened as it was when he became president and there was celebrating in the streets in Iran--even the doctor I used to go to was celebrating. That was really exciting to see, because it showed that Obama really broke a lot of barriers, worldwide.Elaheh
TS: You asked about the flirtatious moment between Kevin and Elaheh in the film, that everybody always asks about. I thought it was a really great to have cultural flirtation going on, and that was represented so well by Kevin and all of the three ladies, particularly Elaheh. When I make feature films, I always think of how I'm going to orchestrate my characters. You have the hero, the nemesis, the seduction and all of these things. In many ways, Kevin's journey is like a hero's journey, including having temptation for a guy who's away from his wife and around beautiful women for a couple of months. The fact that he didn't take advantage of that attention but used it more as an opportunity to grow, I thought was part of his growth. You don't always necessarily know what's happening with you as you grow. As personal growth happens you're not aware of it. But you can look back and see you grew.
KS (laughing): Till's just lucky because he got a lot of information the producer wouldn't have dreamed of writing. Everything just happened with perfect timing for the film. One of the biggest things is that I told him I didn't want my personal life in the film. I like to keep my personal life away from basketball; that's like my safe haven. He kept pinching me every month, saying, "I have to put this in." He'd show me and I'd say, "Alright, you can do that." So he got it all.
DP: Kevin, at the end of the movie we learn that you and your wife have had a baby girl and they you are the founder and president of Choices Basketball Associations, a non-profit youth league in US Virgin Islands. But I noticed that you still play.
KS: I'm retired now, I coach. I do play with the national team, but I only in the summer league when they need help. We won the gold medal in 2011.
DP: I read that you scored 28 points in one game against the Bahamas!
KS: I still got it!
For more info:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ted Kotcheff on Wake in Fright

Playing in Theaters

Ted Kotcheff on Wake in Fright

( 10/5/12)

wakeinfrightkotcheff.jpg Ted Kotcheff, photo by DP
For cinephiles who live for those days when a supposedly lost film is unearthed; enthused risk-taking filmgoers who love making exciting cinematic discoveries; and the most complacent movie fans in the city who need a jolt, do I ever have the perfect film for you--a recently restored, one-of-a-kind film that is returning to the U.S. for the first time in forty years and without the long-ago studio-imposed American title, Outback. Opening at the Film Forum today, and around the country in the coming weeks (see the list of cities at the end), is the ground-breaking 1972 Australian film, Wake in Fright, which was the second feature by famed Canadian director Ted Kotcheff (The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, North Dallas Forty, First Blood, Whos Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, Weekend at Bernie's). Adapted from the 1961 novel by Kenneth Cook, its top-billed by the great British actor Donald Pleasance (with beard in photo) and a very young Jack Thompson (with rifle) is in the cast, but the lead is little-known Gary Bond. The handsome blond actor plays a snooty, miserable young bonded schoolteacher who goes on holiday from his remote town of Tiboonda to Sydney, where his surfer girlfriend waits. Only he never gets to Sydney because he loses all his money gambling after getting drunk while on a one-night stopover in Bundanyabba, a mining town in the outback. Thus begins his quick descent into decadence, a full-blown orgy of drinking beer, lousy sex, drinking beer, gambling, drinking beer, rough-housing with other drunk men like Thompson's character (appropriately named Dick), drinking beer, hangovers and drunken hallucinations, drinking beer, massacring kangaroos in the outback, and drinking beer, drinking beer and drinking beer.
Nick Cave calls this glimpse at the Aussie male, "The best and most terrifying film about Australia in existence"; Roger Ebert declares it, "Powerful, genuinely shocking and rather amazing"; and its biggest champion, Martin Scorsese, who made it the rare film to play twice at Cannes, says, "Wake in Fright is a deeply--and I mean deeply--unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it's beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I'm excited that Wake in Fright has been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves." It is unsettling and disturbing and it's not a "date movie" or a film that anyone will want to recommend wholeheartedly to everyone they know because it's strong, often unpleasant stuff. But I'll still say that you should definitely see it even if you want to watch it from an aisle seat. You might think it a gem or at least an important film about the Australian culture and the male psyche. And maybe to appreciate it more, you should first read the amiable director's comments about the film during a conversation we had this Wednesday.
Danny Peary: The obvious first question is: Are you surprised by the attention Wake in Fright is getting 40 years after its initial release?
Ted Kotcheff: It's not a surprise, it's a miracle. It was declared dead and buried. They looked for it for about ten years and couldn;t find it. The Australian producer made inquiries but had no luck. Then my editor Tony Buckley, who loved the film, set out as a personal challenge to find it. He went to London where it had originally been processed. There was supposed to be a print in Dublin so he went there. He also went to New York. This was during a two-year period about five years ago. He finally found the negative in a warehouse in Pittsburgh. It was in two big boxes full of negatives, big prints, and soundtracks. And on the outside of the boxes it said, FOR DESTRUCTION. If he'd arrived a week later it would have been incinerated. The film had failed and now it rises from the dead. And this time it has succeeded--in Australia and at Cannes, where Martin Scorsese introduced it and it was declared a "Cannes Classic." Now its being released here in America, not only in New York but in every major city. To me it's a miracle.
DP: Had you always had regrets about its failure and then disappearance or did you just move on and do other things?
TK: I just moved on. First of all, I didnt know it was lost. They generously didn't tell me it had been lost until they found it.
DP: Its surprising no one thought to look for it just to put it out on video.
TK: They didn't do it. Once a film fails, people lose interest in it. I thought that here was a film that cost about $1M that many men had worked to create, so why would you dump it in the garbage? Why would that cross your mind? Then I started investigating and discovered that wasn't unusual, that it happened to many films. Many, many negatives have been discarded into the garbage or burned. If a film doesn't have success, no one is interested in defending or protecting it. That made me paranoid about all my films.
DP: Talk about its background.
TK: Think about it. It went to Cannes in 1971 so it had some artistic success. That was a thrill because every young director dreams of having a film at Cannes. It got good reviews when it came to New York. Rex Reed put it on his Ten Best list for 1972. Pauline Kael and Christopher Isherwood gave it good reviews. But it didn't do well at the box office here. United Artists didn't believe in it and said Americans arent going to see it. They opened it in a cinema on the east side in New York on Sunday night in a blizzard, with no publicity whatsoever.
DP: In a book of mine about the Australian cinema, Jack Thompson is quoted as saying that at the same time it was doing no business in Australia, it was doing fabulous business in France.
TK: Yes, France was the only place where the film succeeded. It ran for nine months in Paris. It didn't do any business in Australia. I think that the Australians were a bit put off by the depiction of the Aussie male. The coarseness and crudeness of him, supposedly. Jack Thompson told me that he was in the cinema one night and a guy got up in the middle of the film and pointed at the screen and said, "This is not us!" And another voice came from the audience saying, "Sit down, you idiot, it is us!"
Jack Thompson (standing), Peter Whittle (driving, Donald Pleasance (with beard), and Gary Bond (in back)
DP: Of course, Dick and Joe, the bruising characters played by Jack Thompson and Peter Whittle, arent the types who go to movies. The people you depict in the movie aren't cinephiles.
TK: Thats right!
DP: Did you think of it as an art film, the type that could go to Cannes? Now I can see it playing at Cannes, but it's surprising to me that it was selected then.
TK: The French love those kinds of films--men under existential stress, the dust etc. They respond to it. All the French critics raved about it.
DP: And in America no one knew about it.
TK: They changed the title on me to Outback. I said it sounded like a National Geographic documentary. I asked what was wrong with Wake in Fright. They said, "That makes it sound like a Hitchcock film." I said, "That's bad?" After I made the film Life at the Top with Laurence Harvey and Jean Simmons, I had dinner with Julius Epstein, who wrote many great films including Casablanca. He said, "This is a very good film and you have a big career ahead of you. I'm sure you're going to fight like a demon for the integrity of your film to make sure no one disturbs it. But there's some advice I'd like to give you. There are two battles that you shouldn't bother to fight because you'll never win with distributors." I said, "What are they, sir?" He said, "Titles and endings." So when they changed the title to Outback, I remembered his words from six years previous. They insisted on that title. I lost the battle. Not that I blame the lack of success here on the title.
DP: Did you like the original title?
TK: I liked it. It comes from the foreword to Kenneth Cook's novel: "May you dream of the devil and wake in fright." It had validity. The film is about a guy who wakes up and is frightened by what he sees about himself.
DP: It's a horror movie title. I don't find that so alien to your movie because it has horror-movie elements. You have never made a horror movie.
TK: I don't like horror movies.
DP: The horror film that I think of in regard to your film is The Wicker Man, about a straight-and-narrow English policeman who goes to an island to investigate a crime and discovers everyone there is strange and subtly threatening. That film too has a sense of menace and is unsettling--by intention.
TK (laughing): Some critics described my film as not a nightmare but a daymare. That seems accurate.
DP: Is this among the favorite of your films?
TK: It's among my two or three favorites.
DP: Im a big fan of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and North Dallas Forty.
TK: Those are my other two favorites! What happened to Wake in Fright made me look at the negative of Duddy Kravitz. There are tons of DVDs but the negative had gotten all pink. The colors had all faded and there was no decent negative. This was a month ago. We got money from the government to restore it and I got a call yesterday saying it is now so beautiful. My next one is North Dallas Forty.
DP: That's my favorite football film. You'd think that film has nothing in common with Wake in Fright, but I'm wondering if you ever thought about how there is a tribal notion to both films. In North Dallas Forty, the way the football players carry on at parties is rowdy and a bit scary and I think is similar to the how the Aussies act when they're drinking and carrying on. At the end, when he's in street clothes, Nick Nolte's receiver, who is obsessed with catching the ball, lets the casual pass from his quarterback friend drop, meaning he's leaving the football life, John Grant does catch the beer bottle tossed to him on the train so he'll probably wallow in that lifestyle again.
TK: That,s very interesting. I see what you mean. I had never thought of that. I wrote that script for North Dallas Forty but never could figure out an ending. All through the shooting I was thinking, How am I going to end it? And the night before, I was thinking I've got to finish it. Then around midnight, I said, Of course, the guy throws him the ball and he lets it bounce off his chest. He doesn't try to catch it at all. There's a famous lecturer on writing, Robert McKee, and in his book about scriptwriting he offered that ending as the type you want to achieve.
DP: In the production notes for Wake in Fright I read there was criticism in Australia of foreigners coming there to direct, write, and act in the adaptation of the Australian book. Now it's 40 years later and you've been to Australia, so would it be different if you made the film now?
TK: A man said to me back then, "You've come here to rubbish us." I said, "Look, I don't know you. How could I rubbish you? I'm a director and I dont go around condemning. I'm not the judge of my characters, I'm their best witness. I observe and empathize." When I was at Sydney Film Festival 38 years after the film's release, a man came up to me and said," It's a great film. I saw it when it came out and it still packs a tremendous wallop. I've got to tell you, No Australian could have made this film." That's interesting, eh? At the time no one could look at the film in a detached way. When I started to direct, I went to England and did a television play written by a terrific playwright, Alun Owen, who wrote the screenplay for A Hard Days Night. It was his first play. My producer said he wanted to read it me because it was set in Liverpool and he wanted me to hear the music of the language. I said fine. He read it to me and it was beautiful how he wrote the dialogue. It was the Liverpool accent and vocabulary and he extracted the poetry out of the speech. I said the play is beautiful but I wasnt doing it. He asked why. I said, "What the hell do I know about working-class life in Liverpool?" And he pointed out, "By virtue of hearing my play, you know more about Liverpool working-class life than 99% of this bloody country." Sometimes its true that as an outsider you bring a detached and objective look at something. So what to you is new, idiosyncratic, different, and out of the ordinary is to those who live there just every-day life without anything special about it.
wakeinfrightbonddrinks.jpg Pleasance and Bond
DP: Did any of the critics there assume you were from Australia after seeing the film?
TK: No, they already knew that I was an outsider. But it's interesting that the Australian directors Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, and Bruce Beresford all came to me and said that I had inspired them. They thought, Oh, my God, you can make good films in this country. They had assumed they had to go to Hollywood to make good films and didn't see the possibilities in Australia, they didn't see what is different and interesting about their culture. They started making their films and felt Wake In Fright began the whole movie renaissance there.
DP: Did Wake Into Fright turn out the way you thought it would?
TK: Yes. One always aims for 100 out of 100 when you're making a film and you're lucky if you get 90% and that's a masterpiece. You always love the films that come closest to what you envision before you start. Wake in Fright, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and North Dallas Forty came the closest to fulfilling what I envisioned and those are my favorite films.
DP: The look of the film is different. You use black a lot in creative ways. There's darkness and light. There's of course night and day, and there is night when there is only the light from headlights or overhanging lights; and there's the quick sequence when you show a closeup of a face, the screen goes black, you again show a closeup of a face, again the screen goes black. Nobody does that.
TK: Not anymore. I'd never seen it before. Ezra Pound said about art: Make it new. You'll notice that all through the film there are people shining light on John Grant's face, and the light of the sun hits his face. It's the light that's falling on the dark shadowed side of his character, which he doesn't want to face. That metaphor is there throughout the film; and also the whole technique, as when he passes drunk.
DP: He always wakes up in the light with a hangover.
TK (laughing): That's right.
DP: Did you have notes from the beginning about using light and darkness or did you work it out with your cinematographer as you went along?
TK: It was from the very beginning. I had an idea about what role light played in the movie.
DP: You had something else that was unusual. There is a rapid montage of ugly images that Grant sees in his mind and they are a mix of the real and the unreal.
TK: It was his feverish mind hitting rock bottom. He'd see a real image of his girlfriend and then see her being made love to by Donald Pleasance's drunken doctor. I wanted to suggest that his mind is fragmented.
DP: Pleasance's character, Tydon, was a doctor before he became a full-time alcoholic. Grant is a teacher. Is it important that Tydon was an educated man who had his descent into decadence there in "The Yabba" so that we see Grant's future?
TK: It's funny that you should say that. Recently a critic came to me and asked, "What do you think happened to John Grant?" I said, "Well, he probably reverted strenuously to bourgeois life and went back to Sydney and married his girlfriend." He said, "I dont think so." I said, "Oh? What do you think?" He said, "I think he ended up like Donald Pleasance's character." So you are absolutely right-he could have gone either way. He's a civilized man and the veneer that is between his life and the dark side is so thin.
DP: When the barkeep in Tiboonda asks him at the end how his holiday went, he says, "The best." The question is: Does he mean it?
TK: I think so. It's very interesting. When I worked on the script and came to the last scene I asked myself, "Are you just trying to suggest a happy ending, that he somehow learned from this whole experience, that he's finally come to realize that he's not superior to anyone else and that we're all in the same existentialist boat as far as our existence is concerned?" I think at very least he's come out of this with greater self-knowledge than he's had before. All of us are searching for self-knowledge and sometimes we put ourselves into a situation where we encounter ourselves, if you know what I mean. He encounters the dark side of his nature and finally sees who he really is, and that gives him a certain strength.
DP: There's that oft-said phrase that applies to experiencing something: It doesnt build character, it reveals character. He sees who he really is and it's not nice. Does he benefit from knowing he's an awful, primitive man?
TK: It can either destroy him or make him stronger. At the moment he feels he's come out with a renewed strength.
DP: Well, he survived. He even tried to shoot himself in the head. I mentioned horror movie elements: one is that when he tries to get far away from the town by truck, the driver bring him back to it, and it's like he can never escape. I was surprised he got out.
DP (continuing) I was thinking he'd end up there and be the new town drunk, which is something for that town.
TK: Tydon says that great line about being an alcoholic but how it's hardly noticeable in this part of the world.
DP: Grant's line is that someone can sleep with a man's wife or do almost anything to him but the only thing the man will find offensive is if that person turn him down when he offers to buy him a beer. Did you experience that beer mentality when you were there? I'd like to see your bill for all the beer that is drunk in your film.
TK: I'll tell you something funny about the beer. The actor who played the policeman, Jock, was Chips Rafferty, the veteran Australian actor. I like the sinister pleasure Jock takes in John Grant's mental and moral decline and disintegration.
DP: He's another horror movie element. Jock has probably seen men like John come to town before and he makes sure not to let him leave by keeping him drinking beer.
TK: That's right. Well, in our movie the men drink beer all the time so I gave them alcohol-free beer. So on the first take, Chips says to me, "What is this I'm drinking, Ted, its non-alcoholic beer? I won't play this thing unless its real beer." I said, "But we might do six takes of every set-up and you'll be drinking twenty pints every day." He said, "Just leave it to me." He was the only actor there who drank alcoholic beer and I swear to you that he drank twenty pints a day. He never got drunk, he never slurred a word, he was the same person at 6 p.m. as he was when he arrived in the morning.
Chips Rafferty and Gary Bond

DP: The most controversial aspect of your film is the kangaroo hunt in the outback, when the drunk Grant and his drunk new loutish friends gun down numerous kangaroos that are caught in their headlights. I know you actually went out with a couple of licensed, professional hunters and filmed that.
TK: I don't believe in hunting, I don't understand the pleasure of shooting an animal. And I especially despise anyone who would kill an animal for a film. That would be unspeakable. I was bemused as to how I'd pull this off because it had to be the climax of the film. This weighed on me. Then an Australian on the crew said, "You know, Ted, they kill hundreds of kangaroos every night on the outback." I said, "They do? Why?" He said that big refrigerator trucks go out there and they send out six pairs of hunters in different directions with state trucks and they shoot a dozen kangaroos and bring them back. They skin off the pelts, which are valuable for those toy koala bears we give to our kids, and they hang the carcasses in the refrigerated trucks. I asked what they do with the carcasses. He told me that they send them to America for the pet food industry. I said, "You mean that America's cats and dogs eat kangaroo?" He said, "Yeah. It's a big business and they make a lot of money." I was appalled. To give myself a way out, I went to a couple of the hunters and asked if I could sit in the back of their truck and photograph them shooting. That's what I did. That's how I got all that bloody footage that is stomach-churning.
DP: Was Grant always supposed to enjoy the killing or did you decide that later?
TK: It was always there so Grant could discover he had the ability to shoot them without feeling badly about it. Why is it that when men get together they have to display virility to each other? I'm macho! I've always thought that's one of the worst characteristics of men!
DP: That's very much what your film is about.
TK: Exactly. I've never understood that about men.
wakeinfrightbondkay.jpg Gary Bond and Sylvia Kay
DP: There are few women in your film, just as there are few in the town itself.
TK: The men outnumber the women in that town three to one and there are no brothels.
DP: The only real female character is Janette, the daughter of the short heavy-drinking man, Tim [Al Thomas] who takes Gran in when he's broke. Because she's the lone sexual temptation in the movie and seems to be a nympho, you could have had a gorgeous actress play that part. But you cast just a fairly attractive actress who portrays her as someone who is worn out after spending night after night for years surrounded by drunken, virile louts.
TK: I didn't think she should be gorgeous. Sylvia Kay got great reviews for her performance.
DP: Talk to me about the gambling in the film, which masses of men do every night in this town with few women and no brothel. John Grant gets caught up in playing a simplistic coin-toss game that is basically heads or tails. Is this game real or fake, a surrealistic element?
TK: It's real. Oh, yes. It was one of the things I observed there. It's called "two-up schools." Two coins are tossed into the air and if it's either two heads or two tails you can win and if it's one of each, you throw again. It's very primitive. I've got to tell you that I got obsessed with it and went over every Saturday night during shooting. There was nothing else to do in that town. Drink, fight, shoot kangaroos, or go to two-up schools. All those people playing the game in the movie were really from the town and really played the game. We shot during the day and they played only at night, so I had them come during the day so I could shoot them for the movie. Because I gambled I knew them all.
DP: In Duddy Kravitz, Duddy loses all his money playing roulette.
TK (laughing): Yes, but he is given his money back. Grant doesn't get his back. He risked it all for the chance for freedom from his bonded job. And then he's at the mercy of all the people there.
DP: Big mistake!
This is the opening-day schedule for Wake in Fright in theaters across America:
10/5- NYC; 10/12-Boston, Austin; 10/17-Washington; 10/19- Los Angeles, Portland; 10/26- San Francisco, Phoenix, Berkeley, Seattle, Santa Fe, New Orleans; 11/2- Hartford, Chicago, Detroit, Grand Rapids; 11/8- Boulder; 11/9- Nashville; 11/16-Philadelphia, Columbus, Denver; 12/1- Baltimore; 12/7- Atlanta; 12/14- Minneapolis. With more cities to follow!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hearts Melt Like Butter for Yara

Playing in Theaters 
Hearts Melt Like Butter for Yara
(from 10/4/12)
Yara Shahidi, photo by DP
In Butter, Jim Field Smith's quirky political parody, Jennifer Garner gives an award-worthy performance as the too-proper, scheming Laura Pickler, who tries to replace her ineffectual, cheating husband Bob (Ty Burrell) as the champion butter-carver of Iowa, because she is afraid of losing her notoriety in the Hawkeye state. Her chief competitor is Destiny, an eleven-year-old African-American who has been adopted by a loving local couple, Jill (Alicia Silverstone) and Ethan (Rob Corddry). This role is played by charming young actress with the intriguing name of Yara Shahidi, and she holds her own playing opposite the veteran Garner (and others in a strong cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Twilight's Ashley Greene, and Hugh Jackman), just as Destiny does competing with the imposing Laura. In anticipation of Friday's opening, I had this brief conversation with one of the best kid actors around. It will be followed by a press conference with Yara and several other cast members, the director, and screenwriter.
Danny Peary: How many Yaras have you known?
Yara Shahidi: I haven't personally met another Yara. My mother knows one, my friends know one. It's a Brazilian name, it's an Armenian name, a Persian name...It has several different meanings.
DP: Why do you think your character is named Destiny in Butter?
YS: She doesn't know her path, she doesn't know where to go, she doesn't have resources because she's lived in different foster homes. She's adopted and she finally comes to a family that is excited about her being there after all these horrible, strange experiences in other homes. And she kind of finds this path--what she's good at, what she enjoys, who she loves, who is her family--and I think she sees that's her destiny.
DP: In the production notes, your director Jim Field Smith talks about how all the characters in the film are ambitious, but is Destiny ambitious?
YS: Once she figures out that she really loves butter carving, she does get a little ambitious. She's like, "I need to beat Laura Pickler! I'm going to do this." Especially after Laura says Destiny cheated in their first competition, she's like, "Okay, fine, I agree to a rematch, because I'm going to beat you again!" She doesn't like Laura Pickler at all.
DP: Do you think that's the only reason Destiny is so agreeable to a rematch? Or does she see something good in Laura that nobody else sees and thinks this is an opportunity to bring that out?
YS: I think Destiny wants to prove to herself that she can win again, that she is the best. At first she thinks Laura Pickler is a perfect person and that if she were adopted by Laura it would be a perfect world. Then she realizes Laura isn't as great as she says she is. She's more ambitious and crazy than she had thought. So at that point, Destiny doesn't like her whatsoever. Then she realizes that Laura is no different from anyone else. She has dreams and a lifestyle she doesn't want to lose it all.
DP: As you're now talking about how Destiny's vision of Laura Pickler changes as the movie progresses, I'm thinking that how Destiny sees Laura all along is how the audience is supposed to see Laura..
YS: Yeah! We go through phases. We say, "Oh, Laura's ambitious!" And then, "Oh, Laura's kind of crazy!" And finally, "Oh, wait, Laura's a good person who just doesn't want to lose all these things that matter to her." Laura is not so sure if her family loves her. She's having these doubts and can't manage what's going on.
DP: Is Laura a good person or a person with good in her?
YS: I think she's a good person but based on circumstances has gone a little crazy. It's like if I won a game every single time and then suddenly lose and go, "Wait! I should have won! I've always won!" There's a sense of confusion. I feel Laura is a good person but her family is stopping her from being that, there are all kinds of roadblocks. Her husband's stepping down from the position that brought them fame and allowed for their lifestyle, her stepdaughter doesn't like her at all.
DP: Destiny is the only character who acknowledges any goodness in Laura and changes here, at least temporarily.
YS: You can't really change a person, but you can change their attitude. She's always been in the spotlight, she is a politician within the community, everybody knows who she is. Of course she's going to run for a higher office or higher position if her husband isn't going to do it. She wants to take the position of being the top butter carver.
DP: I'm surprised Laura runs for office at the end because she seems reformed by Destiny's influence. She could join the Peace Corps instead.
YS: Yeah, there's so much that she could have done. But instead she becomes a politician.
DP: In your acting career, I'm sure you've heard of the expression, "a fish out of water tale."
YS: Yes, it's when someone isn't in their own environment.
DP: Destiny is a young black girl coming to...
YS: Iowa! She's a little bit of an outsider but everyone around her accepts her! She finds that a little strange. Why are all these people smiling at her, especially in her classroom? One of the friends in the movie welcomes her but isn't aware that someone new to the town might find his comments offensive--just the way he phrases things.
DP: You were born in Minnesota but live in L.A.
YS: And I come back to visit every year.
DP: Do you go back to an African American community there? Or do you feel like a fish out of water because you see few African Americans there?
YS: I don't feel like a fish out of water but I as I get older I do notice there aren't a lot of people who have my skin color. I don't take offense or feel like an outsider because I basically know everyone there. I was raised with them and have good friends. It doesn't really matter to me. I don't really mind.
DP: Does Destiny feel different?
YS: She does. In the beginning she feels, "Everyone is crazy here. Am I the only one who is sane? Am I the only one who has doubts about the people here?" Then she realizes that they aren't so bad. They're not always crazy and not always smiling at her in a strange way. She realizes it's okay!
DP: Again, she's our eyes. She is the outsider who comes into a setting that is always there. She is the one who gets to see what nobody there realizes is weird. Oddly, the butter carving isn't strange to Destiny or to you!
YS: Yeah. I knew what butter carving is before I was involved with Butter. I found it a little absurd but crazy and cool. I had gone to the Minnesota State Fair and Land O'Lakes Butter was sponsoring a butter carving competition. It wasn't like in the movie because there you got only a little block of butter to carve something out of it.
DP: And you made a truck?
YS: No, that was when I practicing for the movie. I didn't compete at the fair in Minnesota, I just watched. Some people made trucks, some people made hamsters, some made faces--one carve the mayor's face on a pedestal. It made an impression on me. It was really cool.
DP: So do you feel it was Destiny, like your name, that you'd be in a movie with butter carving?
YS: I didn't know about the movie then, so it turned out to be a crazy coincidence. I was the only person I knew in L.A. who knew anything about butter carving. Then I auditioned for this movie about butter carving--I never thought that would happen in a million years.
DP: When you got the script, you were a couple of years younger and I know your mother read it, presumably because of the language. Did anyone talk to you about the political aspects to the script?
YS: They did. There wasn't one person they were aiming for in regard to Destiny. But there is a speech she has to give, so I watched some political speeches just to see how they spoke, what their delivery was. I wanted to examine them so that Destiny could be confident.
DP: At the press conference, the screenwriter talked about Laura being the conservative and Destiny being the liberal. Did they talk to you at all about Destiny being a symbol?
YS: No, not much. But I understand from how they explained it now that she's a liberal character, someone new who is trying to make good out of what we have.
DP: At the press conference, all the actors were fighting over you. Who did you hang out with on the set?
YS: Everybody! There was one group of chairs and we'd all sit down whenever there was a break. There'd be scenes with almost everyone in the cast, so we'd all get to hang out together. It was a lot of fun because the actors playing the competitors had walkie-talkies in our butter-carving chambers and at the end of scenes we'd chat to each other and everyone would surround us.
DP: What is the importance of this film to you as an actress?
YS: This was a great role. I really love the part. It wasn't like anything I've done before. She's not a character you usually see. It was also a great experience. It was the first movie I've been on where there are mainly adults. I was often the only kid on the set. I do like working with adults. It was fun and cool.
DP: Would you prefer doing this film now that you're a couple of years older?
YS: It wouldn't have been different really. I'm glad that it happened with it did. It was perfect timing.
Press Conference with actors Yara Shahidi, Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, Ty Burrell, Ashley Greene, and Rob Corddry, director Jim Field Smith and screenwriter Jason Micallef.
Q: What did you think when you read the script, a film about butter, and what was your role on this film?
Ashley Greene: When I received the script it was on the Black List [of overlooked screenplays] so I knew it was going to be good. They said basically, "Look, it's about butter carving, it's a quirky, outrageous, brilliant script," and so I kind of went into it looking for a laugh, and I certainly got it. All the characters were really incredible and they kind of intertwined beautifully and each had their own arc. And I thought it was great that you could make a whole film centered around butter carving and make it hysterical and have it hit on so many different elements and so many different points. So I loved it and jumped on board.
Jason Micallef (deadpan): I thought the script was amazing. Rob was blown away the first moment he read the script. You cried, right?
Robb Corddry (deadpan): I was going through my own stuff at the time, but yeah. When I get any script immediately I count my lines. And then I count the dick jokes. There were no dick jokes, so that was an eyebrow raiser for me, an odd experience for me. So I said "Well, I'll be able to add some later." I was also aware of it from the Black List and I had read it before and was just very excited that it was happening. No real thought went into it in terms of should I or shouldn't I. And what I brought to the role? Baldness.
Jim Field Smith (deadpan): I didn't really like the script at all but I hadn't worked for a while and there wasn't much other stuff out there and I'm cheap. I loved the script and I didn't think I brought anything to it at all other than to point the camera around. But really, I loved the script and just felt very fortunate to be able to bring it to life, because it is kind of an oddball movie and not a lot of people are making these kinds of movies anymore.
RC: Jim, who did you play? I don't remember you at all.
JFS: I'm the little black orphan girl. Today I'm in makeup. That's my bit. You, Ty?
Ty Burrell: I don't have a bit. I will go out on a limb and say that I also loved the script. As far as my character, I guess I felt I've never played anybody this passive, so that would be kind of fun. I hadn't read anything like it. It was very funny and very different. I brought donuts every day for everyone.
Olivia Wilde: I loved the script from the moment I saw it and I wanted to fight for it and (joking) I was so thrilled when everybody else passed. I really loved it, I thought it was so funny and so smart, and then when I heard all these people were involved I couldn't get to it fast enough. I almost didn't get to it because I was stuck under the volcanic ash cloud in Vienna. I was willing to swim across the Atlantic to get there though, so I'm very happy it all worked out.
Jennifer Garner: My producing partner, Juliana Janes, and I got hold of this script before it was even on the Black List. I think the reason all of us are here, except perhaps Ty, is because the script let us do something different than what we'd been allowed to do before. That's why we have such an incredible cast, including Hugh Jackman. And I loved that kind of the hero of the movie was going to be this unknown young girl surrounded by all of us praise whores who were looking for a way to do something to stretch ourselves in some way. Really it comes down to this little lady. Little did I know we'd spend the next three years corrupting this sweet child. Here she is, Yara Shahidi.
Yara Shahidi: When I got the script my mommy read it first and then I read it, but there were some parts that I did have to skip over, I was 10 at the time. When I did read it I still had to skip over some parts. But I really loved it. Butter carving was something I'd heard of a year beforehand at the Minnesota State Fair, and I thought it was fascinating. I never thought there were be a script about butter carving. It was one of the most absurd thing I had heard of it. And what I brought to it-- shipped in chocolate from L.A.
Q:: For those of you who have mastered the art of butter carving I'd like you to talk about your training. Did get a chance to do the carving?
JG: We spent a day with one of the preeminent food sculptures in America. His name's Jim Victor, and he is known for carving anything. He can carve cheese, he can carve butter, pepperoni, chocolate, ice. Does he do ice? Ice might be a different thing.
JFS: Ice is beneath him.
TB: He'll literally handle all your carving needs though, for whatever you've got in the fridge.
JG: But he makes his living from it. And interestingly, he has a very ambitious wife, so that was kind of fascinating. And we all spent a day together with him.
TB: Well I actually spent this morning with Jim Victor. We woke up together. I did a talk show with him. With Jim "The Vic" Victor on Anderson Cooper. I had a butter carving contest with Anderson Cooper, and I'm just going to say I won. I'm still the worst butter carver on earth. He truly is incredible. I think he had about an hour on this talk show today to prepare these three cows that he was carving. It was ridiculous and amazing.
RC: Three cows an hour.
TB: Well that's his rate.
OW: I didn't have to actually carve anything. I did participate in the day of training though. I came and hung out and stuck my fingers in the butter. I made butter boobs, right?
RC: After about five minutes, you and I and Alicia and somebody else just kind of like backed away from the butter table. We were like alright, do your thing, because we don't touch the butter during the film.
OW: I can't remember; who made the giant butter burrito?
JFS: That was you.
OW: Oh that was me. Right.
JFS: I actually have a photo of that. I also have a photo of Rob just standing at the side of the room..
RC: I was super high.
YS: With the butter, the day of training was really cool. I made a truck and sent pictures to my class.
TB: I think you were the best, if memory serves. You actually were the best carver.
YS: I'm not very great at art. I learned that you really just need to let the people that know what they're doing do it for you and then teach you how to act like you're doing it.
JFS: Jim Victor is actually a food sculptor and showed the cast, but then we also had this amazing team of sculptors in L.A. who were building the butter sculptures that you see in the movie, because believe it or not, they're not actually made out of butter. Spoiler alert! These incredibly talented sculptors made them out of foam and then coated them in this wax that was actually called butter wax just by total coincidence. And that enabled the actors to interact with the sculptures on set.
Q: Jennifer and Olivia, you seem like lovely people, so I was just wondering how you got in touch with your inner bitches for this movie. And also, if you could just relate to these women, whether it's through obsession or rivalry, that kind of thing.
OW: I thought Brooke was such a smart character. I was really excited to play her. I didn't see her as a bitch, and it was not easy to be cruel and bitchy to Jenn Garner. It was not something I would ever do in real life, but it was so much fun. Like Jen said, it was something that I hadn't been able to do before, to play this type of character, but I just thought she was the most fun. It's absolutely my favorite role, hands down, and I would do ten sequels, which I'm hoping to hear about today.
JM: Yes, I am writing them right now. "Butter 2."
JG: I play a lot of pretty girl next door characters and I am a girl next door in real life, and I am sick of myself! I am so over it. I don't want to see another simpering smile. I'm done. So this to me was heaven on earth, except that Laura is not to be emulated in any way because she's a heinous person. But as far as relating to the ambition and the competitiveness, I think it stretches it for me. I don't think that I am ambitious in this way really. But I will tell you, there's a moment in the movie where Olivia looks at me and she goes "I'm going to cut you." And every time she did it, I kid you not, I had a "fight or flight" thing in my body where I felt like running! She was terrifying! And she may say "Oh it was really hard for me to do." It wasn't hard for her to do. She went right for it and she could have killed me in that moment and many others.
OW: I think that was also our first day of shooting, so it really set the tone.
Q: Jennifer, there was an interesting review in, I believe, the "Village Voice" saying that this movie presented the adversaries as stand-ins for Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. And obviously you've been a very public supporter of Obama, involved in the campaign, fundraising, etcetera. What are your thoughts on that and what have you observed in your own personal experience about these presidential campaigns that made you appreciate the satire in this film? I know it's not a partisan film, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.
JG: I think we'll start with Jason, because I am asked this stuff a lot, but what did you mean? Did you see it as a Barack/Hillary?
JM: I think that the specific people are not really important. I think what's important is that they are representatives of certain ideologies. I've read that Laura was so many different people, Michele Bachman, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin. When I wrote the script I had no idea who Sarah Palin was. She was just the governor of Alaska, so that kind of proves that theory wrong. What's more important is not the specific people but that to me Jennifer's character represents the conservative ideology, and Yara's character represents more of the liberal ideology. And what we found is that both sides really love it. Because I think that while Jennifer plays the villain she sort of comes around in the end, and I think that her character represents conservatives who feel that our country was great and is now going in the wrong direction. And I think perhaps liberals, maybe represented by Yara's character, look forward while feeling that the country could be better. And whether you agree with either of those isn't the issue, it's just that's how I sort of track those two character arcs. So with Jenn's character you see she feels like things are being taken from her.. That's sort of how I approached it. The specific people are not important.
JG: When we made it, much more than watching any politicians, the people that I obsessed over watching were Iowa, Kansas, and middle of the country beauty queens and first ladies. I watched them on YouTube for hours.
Q: What is it about the political process that you personally observed that made you appreciate the satire of this film?
JG: Everyone's self-righteousness and faith and belief that there is only one side to a story and it's their side.
JFS: I'm British--I'm not just speaking with a weird voice--and when I read the script I read it very much as an outsider. I've spent a lot of time in America and all over the country, but I really saw it first and foremost as this smart and weird and outrageous comedy. But I also saw it as not being about specific to any one person but being about politics as a whole. And there are many themes in the movie that are just as relevant to politics in the UK and Europe and Australia and all over the place, and I think as Jason and Jenn both said, it very much is looking at ideologies rather than character types. And so rather than us having a sort of sniper rifle and picking off individual targets we just kind of carpet bombed the whole world of politics I guess. That was my kind of approach to it.
Q: Watching the film there were certainly times whene I was saying wow, this would be great for my family, and there were certain points where I said wow, I have little kids and I can't take them to this. Jason where did you see the film landing in terms of market and who you were aiming for?
JM: As a writer I just write the story I want to write and then other people shape it into what works for the market. I just thought the story was interesting. How old are your kids?
Q: My oldest is ten.
JM: Oh, ten is a little young. I have nieces and nephews that are like fifteen and they're going to see it. They know all these worlds.
Q: I think it's inspirational and cute, but then there's a lot of strong language and sex.
JM: Yeah, without a doubt.
JFS: That's politics.
JM: I love Brooke, the character played by Olivia, but you can't have a stripper not swear. I mean it's just not correct, it's just not right. So you know I think that with any film you have to make those decisions. I just write the story and then other people handle that.
RC: You weren't thinking about global sales when you were working on the second act?
buttergarnerbutter.jpg Jennifer Garner
Q: Setting the film around something as simple as butter, one of the most compelling things I found about the movie is that I would say with the exception of Destiny's family, all the characters in the movie have these dark sides and do these really horrible things. So Jason, I want to know what was it like crafting these characters with dark sides and justifying their actions. And, Jenn, you touched on it a little bit, but what was it like going in and playing these characters with these horrible, horrible habits?
JM: It's weird, I don't think of them as that bad. Like Jenn's character, whom I love, and I love what she did with the part because she added so much more. I know she's the villain but I totally understand everything she does. She kind of goes off the rails, but I feel it's understandable. I feel like people do all kinds of stuff in real life. Brooke is a stripper but I think she's one of the stellar people in the movie. I think she's a good person; she has a good sense of honor. Someone owes her $600 and they should pay it. That's a great moral center. And then at the end she even gives that up for this little girl to win. So it's just a matter of perspective.
TB: When you're trying to make a movie PG13 is that's what gets lost is the dark side, and you have an incomplete character. And what's fun about this movie and doing movies like this is you get to play the entirety of a person, which is part of why I think so many of us love the script.
Q: What about the film will really resonate with the audiences that are going to see it?
JM: It's an outrageous comedy.
RC: I would say honestly that it's very, very funny. We've been talking a lot about the politics of it and everything, but it might be embarrassing for me to admit that I had no idea when I read this that there was any satire involved at all. I just thought it was hilarious and well written with perfectly constructed jokes. What I think is the most valuable thing about this movie is how hilarious it is.
JFS: It will be interesting seeing how it resonates with audiences and with the press and so on because, as Rob says, on set we were just having a great time making this really weird and funny comedy. And so everyone comes out and talks about the politics of it all, and I think that's great and it's up to people to take away from a movie whatever they want to take away from it. If people want to watch it and say oh hey he's this guy and she's this person and so on that's cool, but that's certainly wasn't my driving ambition to make the film. I always just want to make things that are funny and have heart and characters yeah that are down and dirty but also are relatable. Weirdly, I think Laura Pickler, and this is a huge amount due to Jenn's portrayal of the character, is an incredibly relatable character. I know she's awful, but she's driven by very understandable goals. She's a big fish in a small pond and she's about to have her life taken away from her. And actually she's doing a lot of things right. She's trying to keep her family together, she's trying to be a good mum to her stepdaughter, played by Ashley, and as Jason said, it's Bob who's the bad guy in the relationship. And Jason very cleverly structured the movie so that Jen's character is actually the hero and Destiny is the villain. You wouldn't necessarily think that to watch it but kind of in classic movie structure that's how it plays out. And you're meant to sympathize with Laura Pickler. And I hope that comes across in the movie, you're meant to understand, not necessarily agree with, but you're meant to understand why she does what she does in the movie.
JM: Also people will go see it because Ashley and Olivia make out.
RC (joking): And Ty and I make out. Not quite as relatable.
TB: But beautiful.
DP: Jennifer, talk about the non-villainous side of your character, because by the end we're kind of liking her, and that I guess was your intention.
JG: Thank you, I hope so. Like Jim said, this is a woman who has structured her entire life to be the queen bee of her world. And whenever you have a movie about a certain world, whether it's butter carving or bird watching or whatever it is, it's always just a little microcosm and everyone is ultimately very universal, and Laura Pickler is no different. She's somebody who has fought like crazy; she's pushed her husband as hard as she can push him to be something that he didn't necessarily want to be. Which is why he's acted out probably the way he has, but we don't need to get into all that. But anyway, she's pushed him very hard to be the king of butter carving, and then when that's taken away from her she's losing her entire identity. There's nothing left, there's no way that she's been at the top. And so she has to go crazy to maintain her sense of self. She really is somebody who's on the brink; she's kind of losing it. So she is trying to work as hard as she can the only way that she knows how, and if somebody gets in her way it just makes absolute sense to her to squash them.
Q: One of my favorite scenes is the one in which Destiny's in the car with Rob's character Ethan and she's having second thoughts about signing up for the competition and they describe scary scenarios. I was wondering about putting that scene together and how you guys worked it out.
YS: That was fun. It was a lot of improv. Every time we'd do it we'd have completely different thoughts; it was completely different what we would say. It was really funny.
RC: That was definitely my favorite scene to shoot because there was a lot of improv, but in a way that was so collaborative. Like Jim was throwing out a lot of lines, Jason was throwing out some lines, we were both coming up with lines. It was really fun to think of the scariest thing possible. The scariest yet silliest thing possible. And also it's just not hard to act with Yara. It's very easy to do a scene with her.
YS: Thank you.
JFS: Often you're doing improv because this is bad and you try to find something funny. And it certainly wasn't the case because it was all down on the page. You think well here we're going to be able to have a little bit of fun. And I really wanted to push the chemistry between Yara and Rob's characters. It a lot of fun to shoot. Shooting movies can be tough at times, but that was not, that was a fun day.
JG: We all competed with each other for Yara's attention. If Yara ever had anything to say we would all say "Oh, Yara's speaking." And it's obviously still very much that way. But now I am sitting next to her!
butteryarawilde.jpg Yara Shahidi and Olivia Wilde
RC: Yeah but we get to switch seats halfway through you said.
Q:Lady: One of my favorite messages in the movie was about the passion that they have for such a seemingly weird or odd hobby. And I'm curious if you could speak to any passions that you may have that the public isn't aware of.
JG: Clogging. I'm from West Virginia. If you played "Rocky Top" I could clog right now.
Q: Can you discuss some of the difficulties in making this film?
JFS: Not enough time, not enough money, not enough days in the week.
OW: Volcano.
JFS: Actors being caught in Europe underneath a volcanic ash cloud. Shooting in 95% humidity in Louisiana, which is just tough at times. One of the biggest challenges for me in pre-production was figuring out how too do the butter sculptures, and to figure out how to make that look real. I was very, very keen to not feel like we just dumped some amazing sculptures there, as Ty said, and have the actor go tah dah! I wanted it to feel like they were actually creating the sculptures, so we spent a lot of time working on stages of the sculptures. We had a lot of fun working with Jason and with the sculpting team on what their sculptures were. I wanted to pick things that were, like I said, very important to the characters. So for example, Laura carves a family dinner scene. To her that seems to be the most important, sort of moral image that she wants to create. Whereas Destiny tends to create more emotional and slightly more symbolic things. That's very much a theme in the movie that Laura tends to pick things that she thinks have to do with values and being an American, and Destiny tends to pick things that are much more from her heart and much more idealistic. And that's kind of why Destiny seems to have the upper hand with the judges and with the audiences, because she seems to pluck at the heart strings. In terms of challenges that was definitely a real challenge. And then also just working with Rob Corddry, who's a real pain in the ass.
RC: I want what I want when I want it.
Q: What advice does the cast have for aspiring actors.
TB: Don't have any skills or the ability to do anything else for a living.
OW: No backup plan.
RC: Because you will fall back on it. If you have to have a temp job or a table waiting job or something like that to pay the bills, don't stay too long. Quit after a year. Get yourself fired because then you can collect unemployment.
TB (joking): Yeah that's why I got fired. Strategically.
JG: Work for free. Do anything you can just to get credits on stage. You can in student productions just to get a reel; and work in a theater to get credits and the experience.
OW: I would say take risks and take your clothes off. Even if they don't ask. Leave your comfort zone.
JFS: Brooke wasn't actually a stripper.
OW: Sorry guys. I already had that big tramp stamp tattoo, so it worked out.
AG: Yeah I think it's about going outside of your comfort zone and not giving up and kind of just always working and always moving forward and not allowing yourself to kind of feel comfortable anywhere. I think if you feel comfortable then you're not doing your job and you're not where you're supposed to be--because you should always kind of have this adrenaline rush. You should always be moving, always be going, and always be doing something different.
YS: Be yourself. Don't let anything change about you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hello: Melanie Meets Marx

Hello I Must Be Going is Playing in Theaters

Hello: Melanie Meets Marx

(from 9/5/12)

You probably recognize the title of Todd Louiso's Hello I Must Be Going as the title of the hilarious Groucho Marx song in Animal Crackers. Louiso's sweet serio-comic third film, with a debut script by his wife Sara Koskoff, actually bears no resemblance to any of the anarchic Marx Brothers comedy classics, but surely by watching them the unhappy conformist protagonist Amy Minsky, played by Melanie Lynskey, is inspired to rebel. Lynskey seems to grasp Amy's need to break away from conventions and expectations because that's pretty much what she has done herself in playing Amy. I've been among those waiting for her to get another memorable staring role since 1994. That's when the 16-year-old New Zealand native and young Kate Winslet received accolades playing real-life murderesses in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. Lynskey temporarily went back to school--while Winslet went on to superstardom. She returned to acting and has for the most part quietly played supporting parts, including a recurring role on Two and a Half Men, but it's way past time for this talented actress to move into the spotlight. Now she gets her long-awaited chance and will capture hearts as a broken 35-year-old who is vegetating at the Westport home of her well-off parents Ruth and Stan (strong performances by Blythe Danner and John Rubenstein, with a phone in the photo). She is doing a lousy job of recovering from her split from her husband David (Dan Futterman), for whom she had dropped out of grad school and pursuing a career in photography to marry. She comes back to life when she falls for Jeremy (Christopher Abbott of HBO's Girls), a 19-year-old actor whose mother assumes is gay. But this relationship threatens her businessman's father's chance to close a deal (with Jeremy's step-dad) that will finally allow him to retire and travel the world with his long-patient wife. The film opens this Friday in New York and I hope you see it for Lynskey-and the excellent cast--and also because you'll be discussing it afterward. In anticipation of its September 7 premiere in NY and LA, I had the opportunity to discuss it with the personable Louiso and Koskoff, who met when they acted together on television.
Sarah Koskoff and Todd Louiso  Photo by DP
Danny Peary: You live in Los Angeles, so did you come to New York just to publicize the film?
Sarah Koskoff: My parents live in Connecticut so are here to visit them and to do this.
Todd Louiso: It's a summer trip.
DP: Todd, you did your first film, Love, Liza, with the Sundance Directors Lab. This film you did with the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.
TL: I did a film in-between, The Marc Pease Experience, that ended up being kind of a train wreck.
SK: The script for this was at the Screenwriters Lab at Sundance, which is separate from the Festival. We went together to the Lab. Usually they have just writers-directors at the Sundance Institute but there are also writer-director teams, as we were.
TL: I was already attached to direct it. I sort of tagged along to read the notes Sarah was getting, just so when she came back to Los Angeles she wouldnt have to explain everything that had happened there.
DP: Sarah, this your first script. Did Todd tell you to go off and write it or was he always there?
SK: I wrote it separately and then showed it to Todd. He had a few notes and I did a rewrite. Then we went to the Lab and I got just a crazy amount of notes from all the advisors there, who are all screenwriters. That's when a slow down happened because it took a while to sort through them all. I've heard that's common for people who bring their scripts there. It takes awhile to figure out what's yours and what's coming from another screenwriter.
DP: I'd think that the hardest thing for anyone reading the script would be to figure out the tone. Was part of the discussion there about what was supposed to be funny, what was supposed to be funny-painful, and what was supposed to be serious?
SK: Yeah, it was clear to me where the script was off tonally when I'd get notes from the advisors that were so wrong in regard to the story. I'd wonder why I'd get a note that had nothing to do with what I'd written. I decided it was because there was something unclear in the script. So the rewrite was definitely a process of finding the tone. We could tell more when it was off, but it was hard to articulate to the others.
TL: Both Sarah and I always knew the tone we wanted for this piece. We were on the same page with that.
DP: At what point did Melanie Lynskey come onto the project to play Amy?
TL: About a year after we took the script to the Institute,
 Sundance asked us to do a staged reading of the screenplay in Los Angeles, which it will do a couple times a year. So we had to go out and cast the reading and we asked Melanie. She was actually in Toronto and flew back for it. I thought she would be an interesting choice for the read, and I wasn't even thinking of casting the movie yet. But it was through the reading that she stole the part. It was hers afterward.
DP: What did she get about Amy that made such an impression on you?
SK: It was the grounded, real person feeling she brought to her. She took it out of sitcom terrain. Even though she's very skilled comically, it's hard to find someone who--again tonally--can do serious as well. Her reading was so sad and funny and moving in a different way, and I just believed her as this girl.
DP: What's interesting is that Melanie Lynskey talks of herself as a supporting character actress and here she's playing the part of a woman who is a supporting character in her own life, particularly when she was in her marriage. Ironically, like Amy, Melanie's breaking out and playing a lead role. Did you think about that?
SK: It was one of the things we thought of about after she did the reading. We said, "Let's do it with her!"
TL: She was kind of perfect.
SK: Yes, there is a credibility in the film that you get right off the bat with her in the role. The film goes to a deeper level instantly with her and that was so appealing to us. You say of Amy, "I know that girl, but where do I know her from?" That's what we wanted because Amy is not a center-stage character.
DP: I read an article on this film that was written when it opened at Sundance and the writer stated that it was told through the female perspective. I don't necessarily agree with that. Do you?
TL: I don't see it as either male or female because I can really connect with Amy's character. I showed it to male friends of mine before going to Sundance and they connected to it just as much as female friends of mine.
DP: Sarah, in writing this I think you're writing from Todd's perspective as well as your own. In all three of Todd's films, the lead character is trapped by the past and can't move forward. It's a prevailing theme. There is also a man-child element where characters cant grow up. Amy fits in with the male characters in those films because she can't break away from what happened to her.
SK: Everyone in the movie has this thing they hold on to, and it's not gender specific. There are a lot of people propping up other people's fantasies. For instance, Jeremy's mom has this fantasy about her son becoming a famous actor and he doesn't want to ruin it for her.
TL: In not facing the truth of their situations, they're doing what they need to do to survive mentally. Blythe Danner's character Ruth, Amys mother, builds up her husband, saying he's going to retire and that they're going to go on a trip and finally spend time together. But somewhere inside her, she knows the truth and that he's not that type of person. Those facades are what Amy is really trying to break through.
hellIMustMelBlythe.jpgDanner and Lynskey
DP: The characters in your films--played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, and now Melanie Lynskey--have been hurt by something. And... Sarah, you just starting rubbing Todd's back comfortingly because...?
SK: Because Todd connects to that hurt. I'm being soothing. [*Below, see part of Sarah's writer's statement, written about a week after this interview for the Landmark Theater site.]
DK: Todd, I assume there are things in your past that you have a hard time breaking away from or you wouldn't be making these movies.
TL: Yeah.
DP: Jeremy says to Amy, "Sometimes it's easier to be what other people want you to be than fight it." That applies to both of them. Is that a major theme in your life?
TL: Yeah. [To Sarah] You wrote it.
SK [To Todd]: You kept it in.
TL: Sometimes it is just easier to go along with things.
DP: Obviously these films are very personal to you, so does it help that someone else writes this for you?
TL: Yes, but it's not that it's not my idea. It helps me grow as a person and as an artist.
DP: You want these characters to break through and move forward.
TL: Yeah. I think this film is joyful in that way, in terms of where Amy gets to. I've certainly struggled with that. Her struggle is something I felt from the beginning after reading the script.
SK: We were both trying to keep the story close to us, so that we were always checking in because we've both had experiences where the work goes really far off course from what was intended and the connection between us and the work is lost. The work really suffers when that happens and it's painful to see it. The critics are harsh no matter what but if you at least know you did what you are connected to and set out to do, it's really okay. People can have their opinions, that's fine, but when you put work out that's not what you intended, it's really painful.
TL: It's not connected because you've listened to so many different people during the production.
DP: And you end up saying, "That's not the movie we wanted to make, that's the movie you wanted us to make."
TL: That's right. I have a tendency to listen to what people have to say and I end up losing my instinct about a scene or a full film. That's why Sarah and I really tried to stay in touch with each other and do checks and balances.
DP: So, Sarah, could you remind Todd, "That's not what you wanted to do."?
SK: Definitely. And other people spoke up. It was a labor of love for everyone who signed on to the film; they were invested in it and if something didn't seem right they spoke up. They would say, "This doesn't feel right for this movie." It would be too broad or too harsh or too subtle and they'd want another take. We collaborated and it was great.
TL: When I look at the final film, I feel so happy because Sarah and I kept that connection and I did my best to stay connected. Everyone in the film wasn't doing it for the pay check, they were doing it because they loved the material. Everyone was on the same page with Sarah and me and there was a shorthand between us that saved time, which was so important with our short schedule.
DP: You've acknowledged a Judd Apatow influence on this film--including with the inability-to-grow-up theme--but my guess is that you were also influenced by The Graduate, particularly the beginning when Benjamin is stuck at home without any idea about his future. In your film, Amy can't even leave her parent's house. And there's a party here too, though smaller. There is an age-difference theme as well, although in this case the older woman isn't the seducer. Did that film influence you at all?
SK: It's kind of inverted, isn't it?
DP: Instead of it being Jeremy's story, it's Amy's story.
TL: We talked about The Graduate early on. The Graduate had always been in my brain, but we hadn't thought our film had any similarities to it until Sundance.
SK: Somebody mentioned it to me at the Sundance Institute. And I thought, "Oh! Great!" I was thrilled hearing that because I felt, "Oh, I can write such a small story." We went back and watched it again and a couple of other films and we saw how small the stories really are.
DP: Is it important that Jeremy is young or is just easier to have him be 19 so the 35-year-old Amy can't commit to him and can go off by herself as she should?
SK: I don't know. The age difference was always there in the script, right from the beginning. So I never considered it without that.
TL: It isn't essential that he's young but it does a lot for the film. It adds to the film, but I dont really think that their age difference is what the film is about. It's about two people who are observers and stay in the background. Their connection is that they both are not living the lives they truly want to lead. They give a gift to each other by the end of the film: they give each other permission to express themselves and do what they want to do. It's ignited by their sexual connection. Through Jeremy, Amy goes back to being a kid again.
SK: In that way his age is important. She gets the chance to act out what she probably should have done in high school but then she was such a good girl. It takes this young guy to make that happen. To do what are inappropriate things for her is really big thing. It breaks all her patterns.
DP: Is it good for her to now experience those young things she missed--skinny dipping with a guy in a pool, throwing rocks at his window to get his attention, having sex in a car? She even wears pigtails in one scene.
TL: You caught that.
SK: I think all this connects her to herself and the artist inside her. They connect when she defends Robert Mapplethorpe at the dinner table.
DP: Why Mapplethorpe?
SK: It's part of that same thing. She's trying to fit into a world that she doesnt fit into. She cant go along with the conversation at the table about how Mapplethorpe was insensitive and inappropriate. She has to say that he is a master.
DP: She speaks about how his shocking images are side by side with his beautiful images and that lets us see beauty in the shocking images. Does that pertain to anything about Amy?
SK: Yeah, I think it has to do with breaking rules. That's where the Groucho Marx clips come in, too, from the comic side. It's anarchy and what's underneath the socially conventional, very stratified-status world Amy lives in.
TL: Mapplethorpe is brought up in what was meant to be a light conversation. But Amy comes to his defense.
DP: Jeremy is impressed.
SK: Thats what sparks their interest in each other.
TL: He was in a Mapplethorpe play and discovered things about the artist that he fell in love with. And here it's allbeing talked about very flippantly until Amy speaks seriously about it because she's connected to art also. I don't think either of them can listen to what's being said.
DP: So they get up. I really like the first kissing scene, when they leave the table and start kissing the moment they're alone. He chances kissing her, and she kisses him back. They felt vibes for each other at the table. As a writer, Sarah, were you thinking if you could get away with it?
SK: Yeah, can we do it?
TL: You have to see what the two of them were at the table. They were props being used by the others. Amy's mother says,, "Amy will eat anything you put in front of her." Jeremy barely has any lines at the table because his mother Gwen is doing all the talking for him.
DP: When they are the car, he is touching her and saying "I want to see you cum." The other film that has a scene like that is Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, where Michael Cera brings Kat Dennings to a climax with his hand. Todd, you cut the scene before Amy's has an orgasm.
TL: You don't want to cum too soon. [Laughing] We're only in the first act!
DP: Sarah, when you wrote that scene did you just keep writing or stop afterward because you realized it was a strong moment?
SK: It was a moment of discovery. I was thinking, "Can I really write this?" It was at the point of writing when I saying, "You know, I'm just doing what I want here." I had gone past the Lab and--this is how it works-everybody's interest had waned after the initial big flurry. I was working steadily by myself for days on end with no influence when I stuck this in. I was trying to track intimacy. There is something pure about witnessing somebody in that vulnerable a stage. It's thrilling. I love that question because it's a moment people aren't really asking about. There's something about that intimacy. Can we be that vulnerable on screen? Can the actors be that vulnerable? Can the audience handle it? The editor even cut it and we said...
TL:.."Put it back in!" I love it.
helloincar.jpg Abbott and Lynskey
DP: It validates Jeremy as a good, unselfish guy.
SK: In a simple way, I think.
TL: He pays attention to her, which is different from her experiences in relationships.
DP: You have said elsewhere that Jeremy is the first person who is genuinely interested in Amy. For the first time she's the star in her life.
TL: Right. There's a scene when they're driving around town and he's asking her questions, and she becomes very uncomfortable because he's not used to someone wanting to know anything about her. It's almost as if she wants to distract him so he'll stop asking the questions. She says, "Why am I telling you all this, it's very uninteresting." But he says he is asking questions because he is interested.
DP: So are they the perfect couple? Or, in terms of writing this movie, is their relationship a rite of passage that each needs to go through to move forward?
SK: I think they are kind of a perfect couple. That's what I find sad. They're not going to be together because of circumstances--sometimes things don't work out. [To Todd] What do you think?
TL: I think so in terms of how great it is that they can let each other go, because they see it's important to the other person--that's how much they love them.
DP: Why does Amy take photographs of rivers and water? Is it sexual and is it through Jeremy she has a sexual awakening and is ready to take photos again?
SK: It's quite a bit. The images are dense and every time I try to unpack one it sort of feels less interesting than just the full image.
DP: Rivers flow off into the distance and that's similar to what Amy might eventually do.
SK: "You can't step into the same river twice." I can throw that one out there.
TL: We talked about her images, visually, at the beginning of the film. The photographs were very clear but the further she went into her head the cloudier they became, until she lost her focus. She speaks about this in the car ride with Jeremy, when she explains why she didn't finish her visual thesis. At that time, when she was in grad school, she was being taken over by her relationship with David. That was obliterating her eye as an artist and making everything out of focus. You can see that in the slide show she shares with Jeremy. Things start out very clear but when she gets closer to some rocks underwater everything is really out of focus.
SPOILER ALERTDP: And when she travels to Europe at the end, will they be back in focus?
SK: Her mother will be in them and there will be a kind of integration in her photographs. She will be integrating something personal into her cerebral aesthetic. That's her first step to moving forward as an artist.
END SPOILER ALERTDP: Talk about Amy's carelessness, how she's repeatedly caught doing stuff in public.
TL: That's Groucho Marx really.
SK: Yeah, I think so, too. She's trying to shake things up, unconsciously. She's caught between these two worlds. She is careless. That's part of her being. Spilling a milkshake all over herself. She's always just fucking everything up.
TL: That's how she was in her marriage. She was trying to act like a different person.
SK: Like her mother.
DP: Do you think Amy has always wrongly seen the marriage of his parents as the model for good marriages?
SK: I do.
TL: Yes, thats what she is striving for but can't make it work. Then she realizes that it's not what she wants.
DP: She never realized that her mother has actually been as unhappy in her marriage to Stan as she was in her marriage to David.
SK: Yeah, she would have done the same things as her mother probably. But now she can then step outside of the pattern of wanting what she thought her mother had.
DP: The pattern she speaks to David about is how she was content being unhappy in their marriage.
SK: She was comfortable in being unhappy.
TL: It's what she knew.
SK: Sometimes its more comfortable to be miserable than to change, because its familiar.
DP: Why didn't she and David have kids? Did she have an instinct not to have kids with him?
TL: Toward the beginning it's mentioned that she had a miscarriage but its kind of off-camera. So they were trying to have kids. I don't think it was a major issue for her, which is why it isn't talked about in the film. It's just a layer, a formality for the actors to work with that I think helped them. If the audience catches it, it's another thing...which is great.
DP: David seems so much worse than Amy's father. Stan is so low-keyed and less dramatic than anyone else, but he's among the most important characters in the film.
SK: He's pivotal.
helloIrubenstein.jpgJohn Rubenstein
DP: He's supposedly the nicest, most considerate person but he turns out to be probably the worst. He does invite Amy to stay in the house to prevent intimacy between him and his wife. Is that accurate?
SK: I think that's one of several ways to look at it. He's stuck in past-pattern with his daughter. She is kind of a buffer.
TL: He doesn't know he's acting out in a certain way. He doesn't know the effect he has, it's unconscious.
DP: I think he does.
TL: Really?
DP: He walks out the door at the end, when Amy really needs him. He can finally act as he really is because his intentions are no longer secret.
TL: I think he's incapable by that point. He has been revealed.
END SPOILER ALERTDP: Did you know the ending before you wrote the script?
SK: No, it ended differently in the first pass, but similarly tonally.
TL: Amy's finally able see clearly what her parents marriage is and see her connection to her mother in her own marriage to David. It's not just that she dodges a major bullet, she's also able to step the other way and change.
SK: It's funny because I kept moving scenes around. That scene in which she thanks David for ending their marriage is a step along the way to seeing her parents clearly. Finding the compassion that she feels for her mother is a breakthrough for her, and helps her move on.
DP: Could you have ended this movie unhappily?
TL: No, no, it had to be this way...for me.
*Sarah Karkoff statement: "When I told Todd Louiso, my husband and the director of Hello I Must Be Going, that I was going to write a script for him to direct about a woman who gets divorced and has an affair with someone much younger than herself, he wasn't happy. I went ahead and wrote it anyway. Thus began our first collaboration as writer and director, respectively, with my radical act of rebellion. I had to ignore him. He was suffering a loss of heart, just like Amy Minsky, the lead character...And like Amy, he wasn't thinking clearly. Somewhere along the way, he'd disconnected from himself and his love for his work. But I hadn't. We had a family to support, by God! We would go back to the beginning, I decided, to what we both loved: to simple and truthful story-telling, the power of connected and committed actors, beautiful and rich photograph, grounded and expressive language, and the more-than-occasional pratfall. Making the film became a regenerative process as much as a story about personal regeneration."