Results – An interview with writer/director Andrew Bujalski

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Where did this idea first come and how long has it been in your mind?

It came together pretty quickly, the fasted I’ve ever gone from conception to premiere. Fasted I’ve ever done anything. It started pretty pragmatically, and I went to Sundance with my last film and a few people scared me, telling me that if I wanted to go to Sundance I better have my next project ready to pitch, but I thought, I haven’t even finished this one yet. But I went to a coffee shop and started to wrap my head around working with professional actors. I’d only worked with non-professionals and that was certainly my comfort zone and a way I was really happy working. So I didn’t just want to write something I had already written and then find the most famous possible person for it – my movies I made in the past were not designed for non-professionals so I wanted to do something different. Just to get my brain warmed up I started to imagine specific actors I wanted to work with, so I always liked the idea of working with Kevin Corrigan who I’ve been a fan of for 20 years and a friend of, more recently. The Guy Pearce who I’d had a breakfast meeting with some years earlier, and I found fascinating. Already I was trying to picture something that could possibly absorb both of their energies, and it was such a fun pairing to me. So that was really the first spark of it, and then thinking about their screen personas and methods as actors, I knew I needed something else, another element to it, and then created a girl character, but had no idea who was going to play her – and felt it was really great fortune to have Cobie Smulders down the line.

When writing the roles for both Guy and Kevin – did you know they were keen on the project at that point? And what’s it like writing characters in line with a certain person, to match their distinct sensibilities?

It’s a terrible idea when working professionally to write for specific people, because the chances, particularly for such busy, working actors, that their schedule will line up and they’d both wanna do it, are slim. It’s an absurd risk, but yes, in my mind it was always the two of them, and thankfully it worked out. But as far as writing goes, that goes back to my previous movies I did with non-professionals, the first three that movies I wrote were all written specifically for the people who ended up in the leads. I’ve always found it really helpful. There’s still plenty of room for my imagination to run free, first and foremost because I can’t pretend that I know these people well enough, there’s plenty of mystery in all of them, which gives me a lot of room to invent. But I do feel some kind of vibration when I’m working my way through a scene and be able to conjure up the image of Guy, or Kevin, or think of things I’ve seen them do, it’s very helpful material to have.

This is your biggest movie to date and of course your first with professional actors – did that change your approach at all when shooting on set?

It’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s entirely to do with money. To say it’s bigger, I mean, we had a larger crew than I’m used to, but in some ways it’s very similar. It’s not a far cry from when I was 24 years old, making my first feature. That was, of course, by it’s nature more intimate, but almost everything you do at the age of 24 is more intimate, you can’t help it!

These days, indie filmmakers are being granted the chance to tackle big blockbusters. Gareth Edwards went from Monsters to Godzilla and Colin Trevorrow from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World – is that an ambition of yours too?

No, certainly not. I would absolutely be happy to have the conversation, but it’s not an aim of mine, no.

It must be assuring to know though that the big studios are keeping their ears to the ground and taking notice of resourceful filmmakers out there?

Sure, but it depends whether or not you see blockbusters as the natural height of a career. There’s part of me that fears it. When I feel anxiety, it’s not just about blockbusters, it’s, what if I’ve done my best work? What if it’s downhill from here? But that’s just the nature of my values, that the smaller something is, the more inclined I am to be excited about it.

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In regards to the characters in the movie, and Trevor in particular – there are a lot of people out there like him. Have you ever been a member of a gym and met people like him?

Yeah of course! But I’m certainly not a gym rat myself, but I am very aware of the whole culture of it. It’s become more mass culture and much less specialised, especially in Austin, Texas, where I live. I think the only way I was only going to justify going to the gym, was by calling it research, so that’s why I did. I started going to the gym and I loved it and really got into it. I miss it now, because when we shot the movie I had no time, and then immediately at the end of the shoot my daughter was born, my second child. So I haven’t had time to go back and I miss it a lot more than I thought I would.

Is there one of the three leading characters you feel you can relate to most?

I think every character has shades of myself. For better or worse, it’s kinda the only way I know how to write. There’s a kind of method acting that needs to happen as you’re writing to bring the characters to life, to feel your way into all of them. People say that everyone talks like Woody Allen in a Woody Allen movie, and I think that’s a very common thing. It’s not something I’m necessarily aware of. Often people will ask me, why I’m so interested in bumbling people who have trouble articulating their feelings, and I’m always surprised and thrown by that, because I think they are just normal people. Apparently there’s a whole world of very confident, articulate people out there, but I rarely meet them. Maybe I just have trouble seeing them myself.

I found Danny to be the emotional core of the piece – was it a challenge to craft him in such a way that he would ensure the audience remain onside? Because he’s not the warmest of individuals…

Structurally, the biggest challenge of this movie is shifting so much from his story to Trevor’s story, and that’s one of those things that, at a certain point in the writing, I realised was difficult and that a lot of the audience wouldn’t go for. It’s those questions that come up – why am I so attracted to these difficult challenges? But these things end up being the raison d’etre of the movie, the very thing that makes it challenging is also the reason you have to do it.

You’ve always written your own stuff, but are you open to receiving scripts as a director, the idea of taking on somebody else’s screenplay?

Yeah I’ve flirted with that a couple of times, and maybe someday I’ll do it and not have any doubts about it any more, but I enjoy doing my own thing. Partly because there’s this great risk of something not working. Everything you make you have no idea it’s going to work or not, and on some level, if this fails I would rather it be my own mistakes than worry about untangling somebody else’s work.

Conversely, have you given any thought to writing screenplays for other directors?

Yeah I’ve done a little bit of work for hire in that mould, but they’ve never actually gone on to be made, but I would love it. I can only imagine how incredibly surreal it would be to see the finished product. The idea of writing as a job, and satisfy an employer and meet their specifications, that makes sense, that’s easier for me to wrap my head around than directing a job. Partly because it’s easier to take on writing, whereas directing is impossible if not 100% invested.

So finally, what’s next for you? Anything in the pipeline?

I’m writing a TV pilot right now which may or may not go anywhere, and then I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to do, but not sure which it will be.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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