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Two by Four

Family portrait: (from left) Pepe, Fulton, Westmoreland, Glatzer (Photo by Kevin Scanlon)

It struck me as a most unusual occurrence: two movies — Quinceañera and Brothers of the Head — opening on the same day, each of them directed by two men working together as a team, men who happen to be partners in life as well. I got to wondering what would happen if each couple were to watch the other’s film and then meet to talk as a group about the perils and joys of being a duo, on the set and off. And so it came to pass, after a mad flurry of e-mails, that Richard Glatzer and the English-born Wash Westmoreland, co-writers and directors of Quinceañera, went to see Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton’s Brothers of the Head at the exact same time that Pepe and Fulton were across town watching Quinceañera — a coincidence of screenings that felt to me like a sweet dose of L.A. magic. (You find it where you can.)

Quinceañera, the come-from-nowhere winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is Glatzer and Westmoreland’s second collaboration, following The Fluffer (2001), and the third feature for Glatzer, whose 1993 debut was the much-loved Grief. Quinceañera, a no-frills drama about a 15-year-old Echo Park Latina and her family, was inspired by the birthday celebration (a quinceañera) that the filmmakers’ neighbor asked them to document. Completed just nine months later, the film is the antithesis of the visually ornate Brothers of the Head, which tells of Siamese-twin brothers who become punk stars in 1970s Great Britain. Based on an old Brian Aldiss novel, it’s Pepe and Fulton’s first fiction feature, a follow-up to Lost in La Mancha, in which they documented an ill-fated production of Don Quixote helmed by legendary director Terry Gilliam, who’s been a Pepe-Fulton champion since meeting them when they were film students at Temple University (where the couple met, 15 years ago). The following conversation took place at their blissfully cool Silver Lake home, down the road from that of Glatzer and Westmoreland, who’ve themselves been together for 11 years.

L.A. WEEKLY: Okay, guys, think of this as a meet-the-filmmaker event. You have two minutes to heap praise and/or criticism on each other’s films.

WASH WESTMORELAND: [to Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe] I love your final shot. It’s brilliant. It’s haunting me. Did you plan that shot or did it just happen?

KEITH FULTON: [laughing] Let’s not talk about that.

LOUIS PEPE: Oh, come on. It’s funny. It was not planned. All that ’70s stuff was shot in a documentary style. Our D.P. [Anthony Dod Mantle] was always fishing, always looking around for an interesting shot. But he was not supposed to be taking that particular shot. Keith and I were looking at the monitor going, “Wait, is this the shot we asked for? What the fuck is going on?” And then, in the editing room, there’s this gem.

FULTON: We lucked out.

PEPE: It’s the final shot, despite us.

FULTON: One thing I wanted to say is that I’ve lived in Silver Lake for eight years, and Quinceañera gave me a view of a world that I knew nothing about, that I look at longingly, yet, because I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t interact with at all. It was exciting for me, and moving. But listen, there’s something I’m curious to know. Do you get tired of using the pronoun “we”? Do you find that it replaces your sense of “I”?

WESTMORELAND: It does, yeah, sometimes. But really, it’s “we” on set, codirecting, because the more in sync you are mentally, the better it’s gonna be for cast and crew. If they have two directors coming at them who aren’t very in tune, then it’s going to send tremors through the whole production. Everyone goes into free fall. So the closer you are, the better. We joke sometimes that we decided that sleeping together would make us better directors.

Are there ever moments on the set when you have an impulse that the dynamics of codirecting prevent you from expressing? How do you keep your individuality as an artist when you’re part of two?

RICHARD GLATZER: Most of that comes before you shoot. You write the movie so many times, you write and you write, then you direct, and then, in a sense, you write it again in the editing room. So you have lots of options. If he has an idea for a take and I don’t quite see it, we can do it, then see how it plays in the cutting room. There’s room for spontaneity. You can’t get crazy with that, but you can try things, sure.

WESTMORELAND: There’s this long-established image of the single, lonely great director, but even Hitchcock had [his wife] Alma. She wasn’t his codirector, but she was certainly his creative confidante, very present and in tune with all the films he did. So I feel like the emergence of codirectors is an admission that there’s room for collaboration within that role. Two people can effectively share the creative unit.

FULTON: But we’re not sharing it, in the case of me and Lou. We have different skills. I probably have more of a tendency toward spontaneous inspiration than Lou. He’s very focused on maintaining the structure we’ve established, whereas I get on location and want to change everything.

PEPE: You asked how I know that he’s not going to respond differently than I am, but when that question comes up, you think back, and you’re okay, because you have this trail of experience between you — the same stimuli — that led up to that moment. There are times on the set when something happens and you turn to each other and this odd, organic kind of synchronicity happens. It’s part of the union or the collaborative essence between us. We trust it.

GLATZER: It happens regularly on the set, where I’m about to say something and Wash says it first, out of the blue, as if we’re having the same thought at the same moment. It doesn’t happen so much at home, but it happens when we’re working.

WESTMORELAND: It’s very John and Yoko.

Gay directing teams may be a new phenomenon, but for a while now there’ve been movies directed by two brothers, and by straight couples directing together too. Has getting a movie made become so complicated that it takes two?

WESTMORELAND: Well, for one thing, if you’re making an independent film, the economics are quite difficult. How do you support yourself in the years it takes to get a script written and produced? It’s hard. If there’s two of you, you can kind of trade off.

GLATZER: I was working full time, 50 hours a week, when we were editing Quinceañera.

PEPE: But of course, economically speaking, there is a downside to being a team . . .

FULTON: You mean the thing about how two directors get paid as if they’re one?

Really? They don’t pay you each your own salary?

PEPE, GLATZER, WESTMORELAND: [shaking their heads] No. No. No.

FULTON: It’s really irritating. But the industry doesn’t like to recognize two directors as separate people.

PEPE: Marital bliss is not a prerequisite for directorial gain. [to Glatzer and Westmoreland] You know, this may just be my paranoia, but do you find that being a couple directing together affects how people perceive you? It didn’t happen with our actors, not at all, but you sense that the crew assumes that no matter how close their working relationship is with you as a director, there’s always a relationship that trumps it. Do you feel that?

WESTMORELAND: We didn’t have a particular problem with that on Quinceañera, but I can see what you’re saying. I suppose it does distance you slightly from the crew, which can actually work to your advantage sometimes.

GLATZER: I guess I never thought of it that way. When I made my first film [Grief], I had $40,000 and no time and needed the crew to reassure me that I was doing the right thing. I don’t feel that way anymore. Codirecting just gives me another layer of security.

FULTON: It definitely makes me feel secure, I can say that. But I think it’s true. The dynamic of a film set is that the crew wants an intimate relationship with the director. A pairing like ours betrays that relationship. You’ve got someone to turn to, so all of a sudden, your cinematographer isn’t your closest ally. It can be complex.

Your movies are opening on the same day, and to a certain extent you’re chasing the same audience. So, if only for this weekend, are you guys box-office rivals?

WESTMORELAND: I say go see Brothers of the Head on Friday night and Quinceañera on Saturday night.

FULTON: Or vice versa.

WESTMORELAND: And that Will Ferrell movie, well, hey, see that on Netflix.