By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
One of the really appealing things about these two films is how acutely they convey this sense of being young and having so many options to choose from in life, and yet being completely unsure of yourself. Which is, I think, a feeling that a lot of Hollywood movies and TV shows about young people try to convey, but fail miserably at.
I know what you mean, but I don’t think that was ever my intention per se. Nor was it any kind of grand attempt to make a generational statement — it was always a little more specific. Though another maxim that I’m given to quoting a lot is that the more specific something is, the more universal it is. Certainly, that was some kind of guiding principle.
Did you feel there were certain specific characteristics or observations about our generation that you were trying to convey?
I can never tell how specific it is. Obviously, it’s really exciting when people much older than the characters respond to the film. I’ve had the whole spectrum of responses, from people raising their hands in Q&As and saying, “Is your generation really like that?” to people saying “That’s exactly how it was for me 30 years ago.” I’m sure there are elements that pervade across generations and others that are specific. But there wasn’t that kind of grand design to it. It was just about these characters and the problems they were having with each other. I tend to be superstitious: I don’t want to think about “What does this all mean?” for fear that that will then get injected into the writing.
Funny Ha Hawas filmed in 2001, but didn’t open in theaters in Los Angeles until the spring of 2005. That’s quite a long time to be on the road with a movie.
The surprise was that it kept going. Theatrical release was certainly never something I took for granted or expected to happen. So the surprise was the life span of the film, which has been crazy, probably unrepeatable, and certainly unusual. I finished the film in early 2002, and then for about six months I couldn’t get anyone to show it. And that’s when you start to learn those hard lessons about the way the film-festival world works — that the vast majority of festival programming happens on the basis of specific recommendations from other people in that world. But slowly it started to crack, and with people like [Boston University film professor] Ray Carney and [Boston Phoenixfilm critic] Gerald Peary helping me out, I started to make inroads into the festival world. By early 2003, I thought we were probably done. But then little things kept coming along to buoy it and keep it rolling: In June of 2003, we played at the Los Angeles Film Festival and got a nice review in Variety, which I never would have expected, and that kind of opened up the film industry’s eyes to the film. Then, sometime in 2004, a private investor to whom I’m not related came along with a whole lot of enthusiasm for the film and wanted to back a self-distributed theatrical release, which is what we’ve been doing for the last year.
Were any other distributors interested before that?
Certainly, there are people in that world who have been very supportive, but no one who was ever in a position to pull the trigger. There were acquisitions people who would have done it if they ran the world, but film distribution is so brutal, as I’ve been learning firsthand from this self-distribution. I feel like it’s filmmakers’ jobs to martyr themselves, and exhibitors can sometimes martyr themselves, but distributors can’t really do that — they have to be in business again next year. Especially given the current state of that whole business, for someone to take a chance on the film would have really been quite bold, and no one was that bold. And I can’t blame them that much, much as it makes me a little grumpy and cranky at times.
So when did you finally get to work onMutual Appreciation??
It was pretty easy, because I started to write the script right after I finished Funny Ha Ha; I wrote the bulk of Mutual Appreciation during that six months when nobody would show the movie — I had plenty of time on my hands. So I just jumped right into it. It was the same sort of spark for it, which is that [star] Justin Rice is an old friend of mine and another former roommate; I had this notion that he would be funny carrying a film, and everything grew from there. Or grew on top of it, I guess. Or grew around it, like a vine.
I want to ask you about a couple of set pieces in the film that I think are remarkable — two too-long parties of sorts that Alan, the main character, manages to find himself at over the course of one very long night.
That’s my favorite part of the film; for me, it’s the heart of the film. Certainly, it is long. When I was doing the rough cut, there’d be people saying, “What are you doing? You’ve got 20 minutes in the middle of your movie where the plot stops.” But whenever someone would encourage me to cut it down, my feeling was that I’d almost rather cut out the rest of the movie. I hope it’s not just self-indulgent. I like to be surprised by movies, and I like when things like that happen, where you can take these wild diversions from a plot that’s already pretty loose.
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