David Meiklejohn was an aspiring filmmaker in Austin when editor Davy Rothbart tapped him to shoot Found Magazine's national tour, which mainly consists of dramatic readings of found letters, birthday cards, and other real-life ephemera.
Instead, Meiklejohn turned the camera on Rothbart and, two road trips and 250 hours of footage later, came up with My Heart is an Idiot, a satisfyingly voyeuristic peek at a writer whose career success can't make up for his tragic farce of a love life. (In several scenes, Rothbart actually films himself sobbing after the dramatic end of yet another relationship.)
What starts as a light-hearted look at a misguided romantic deepens when Meiklejohn catches up with the women left spinning in Rothbart's orbit. Meanwhile, in what looks at first like a sincere attempt to straighten out, the charismatic Rothbart gets dating advice from Zooey Deschanel, Newt Gingrich and Ira Glass — all of which he ignores.
The film's best moment might be after we meet Rothbart's mom, one of the few women ready to call her son on his bullshit. In keeping with Found's DIY aesthetic, Rothbart and Meiklejohn are on the road together now promoting their film in theaters across the U.S. They'll be in Los Angeles this Thursday, June 9 at 8:00 p.m. at the Bootleg Theater (2220 Beverly Boulevard) for a screening and Q&A. In the meantime, Meiklejohn was kind enough to talk to us about his movie from his home base in Portland, Maine.
So did Davy commission you to do a documentary about Found or did the project start off as more of a collaboration, or….?
Basically Davy said, “Hey, you should come on the road and film the Found stuff,” and I was like “Okay!” We didn't plan much. I got a camera and then I jumped in the van. Calling it a collaboration is a romantic idea. It was just me filming shit.
Originally this film was supposed to document the Found Magazine tour, but then it becomes this completely different thing. Was that your idea or did it happen naturally?
It was really intuitive to the work we were doing. Instead of documenting Found things, all we were doing was talking to people about love. And then, Davy and I, all we ever talked about since we knew each other was romance and romantic situations. So it seemed really obvious that this was the film we would make. We made this pact one night that no matter what happens, no matter how raw or vulnerable the scene is, I need to keep filming no matter what. That came in really handy. If we hadn't made that agreement I'm not sure I would have felt comfortable walking with him while he was crying his eyes out. Because as dubious as his crying throughout the film is, especially when he's documenting himself, he's still genuinely sad. It's hard.
Something I thought was really interesting was the way you managed to make Davy someone the audience wants to spend time with, even after we find out he's doing some pretty awful things. Was that difficult?
Davy's not a perfect person. He's flawed and he makes mistakes, and I thought it was important to tell it in a way that was sympathetic to who he is. He is a genuinely kind, likeable person. I didn't want people to lose track of that. I also didn't want to make the film a Davy hate fest, not just because it would have been wrong, but also because it would have been boring.
What has Davy's response been to the finished project and to audience reactions to the film?
He's totally behind it, but at the same time, obviously, it's not the prettiest picture of him. It's been really fascinating to see how he responds to certain questions…Things that would been embarrassing to most people, Davy can respond [to] in a way that makes him charming and endearing. I would say 95 percent of the audience is on his side, or sympathetic to him.
What was your favorite part about making this movie?
The thing about Found that's so awesome is, because Davy has toured so much, in every city he goes to, he already has a crew of people who are either Found fans or his friends. It's the Found magazine's grassroots, punk rock weirdos. I don't know, for some reason, the people that are attracted to Found tend to be really amazing.
But, to give you a more specific answer, it's funny, because I was always a huge fan of Zooey Deschanel before I met her. Mostly because of All the Real Girls, which is one of my favorite films. But to meet her in person, that was really exciting. Wait, don't put that in there. [Laughs.] That sounds lame.
How'd you get Newt Gingrich to talk to Davy about his love life?
He was hanging out in the green room at the Book Expo America and Davy looked at me and said, “We have to get Newt Gingrich on camera.” That was another moment where I was a little bit stunned. Not because he's famous, but because he's so outside of our world.
My Heart is an Idiot will screen at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Thurs., June 9, 8:00 p.m. $10. (213) 389.3856. Davy and David will both be in attendance. Check out MyHeartisanIdiot.com for more information and tour dates.