Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

" Everyone’s blessed with one special thing "
— Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights

MRQE Top Critic

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David Gordon Green and Paul Schneider have been friends and collaborators since their film-student days in North Carolina. Green is a writer and director. Schneider is a writer and actor.

Their first film, George Washington, was boosted by a glowing review from Roger Ebert. The film wasn’t widely distributed, but many critics loved Green’s Terrence Malick style. Perhaps even more flattering than Roger Ebert’s review was the fact that elite DVD producer Criterion chose to release George Washington under its banner.

Their second film, All the Real Girls, opened to positive reviews a few weeks ago. It opens this week in Denver. Green and Schneider were in town recently to talk about their movies. I asked about “real” girls, mainstream relationship movies, dialogue, Green’s style, Schneider’s acting, artistic freedom, and A Confederacy of Dunces.

Real Girls

 Green and Schneider try to create grabbable characters
Green and Schneider try to create grabbable characters
Marty Mapes: Tell me where the title “All the Real Girls” comes from.

David Gordon Green: The guy that did the soundtrack for the movie, David Wingo, who’s been my best friend since the third grade, wrote a song after a particular heartbreak. The lyrics were “all the real girls” — it was the chorus.

MM: How are the real girls different from other girls?

DGG: That was his whole point in the song. A girl that was natural and honest and he trusted and who had all those organic relationship qualities that you long for all your life — you’re not looking at her because she’s just the hottest girl on the block, but you’re there because of her sincerity — that’s what a real girl was and that’s what he lost.

He’s in that moral dilemma of whether to go back to the fake girls or to try to find a real one, where the potential vulnerability and the potential hurt is great, but also the potential for gain and confidence is enormous. So “all the real girls” is kind of what we all hunt for I guess. Put our heart on our sleeves and our balls on the line.

Out of the Main Stream

When you can relate love to a puff of fart, I think it really becomes meaningful
— David Gordon Green
MM: How is All the Real Girls different from a mainstream relationship movie?

Paul Schneider: Well the main character is kind of out of shape (laughs) and he’s not traditionally good looking. People don’t... things are not wrapped up.

DGG: ...they’re not even presented in an expository way or in a Hollywood way...

PS: ...they’re not a way that they could be wrapped up.

DGG: The whole idea of making the movie is to try make a movie that felt more realistic about young relationships and young emotions and heartbreak and loss and friendships and love and family — all these issues that are enormous. When dealt with traditionally in Hollywood, with the devices and the clich├ęs, it just.... I wanted to deal with more with the fragility of those moments where you don’t know what to say, and there are awkward pauses.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about the scene that’s absent in this movie that would justify everything. When you know you’re looking face to face with the most beautiful, delicate, angelic, sincere girl — I mean everything that you’ve ever wanted in a girl is sitting right there — and you smile at her, and she just lets one rip. There’s just this enormous fart and you’re just like ‘I still love you.’ When you can break it down to that earth, when you can relate love to a puff of fart, I think it really becomes meaningful.

PS: You just want something touchable, something grabbable. Part of this movie is this guy’s idealization of this woman, and him realizing that that fart, or that incident that happens [she sleeps with another man], was like she comes back down to earth. Does that make her any less desirable or attractive? No.

It’s not that she came down to earth and all of a sudden she was fake. I mean she was actually more real than ever, then, but it’s her broken half. I don’t think the movie ends on a sour note, I think it ends on a pensive note if anything. It’s not two people fighting, it’s like “dammit, what are we going to do with this real-life love”?

DGG: It’s not good-and-bad, it’s not cut and dried, it’s human behavior. It’s people that do things that are unexplainable, and there’s not really justification for it. We’re just making moves and trying to deal with the repercussions that we have to face when we slip up. We have two people that are touchable, people that hopefully, in their dialogue and in their mannerisms and in their wardrobe, are like people that we can relate to and people we can talk to. They’re not on these pedestals of godly-good looking models. They’re people that exist here and relate to each other.

It frustrates me to some degree that this is a non-traditional movie because to me, every instinct I have says this is far less weird than watching any of these other romantic comedies, where stars fall out of the sky when they see each other and you hear chimes.

We’re far more interested in the naturalism than a structured, manufactured narrative. I really want the characters in this movie to be driving any plot that might be there rather than have the plot dictate where the character’s moves were going to be.

Talking about Dialogue

This is a movie about what’s left inside when you don’t have the smartest thing to say, when you don’t know how to get it out
— David Gordon Green
MM: Can you talk about the dialogue a little bit? You touched on it by saying people are sort of inarticulate.

DGG: (to PS) That scene of Paul in the car, where he’s talking to Zooey, when he gets into her truck... it’s toward the end....

PS: Yeah, I mean he says “every girl I’ve ever touched in my life I regret,” or something to that effect and she goes “what does that mean?” and he doesn’t know. He just knows that he regrets something and it has to do with sex. But he doesn’t know, and maybe he’s not intelligent enough, or maybe he’s never been introspective enough until that point to really answer that question. And maybe by the end of the movie he’s starting to answer that question, maybe he’s not.

It’s that kind of overwrought, clunky burst of feeling in your chest, but the mechanism through which you say these things is like funnel and you can only spit out splinters of what you mean. So I think what happens is these people kind of shower each other with words hoping that one is gonna hit the bullseye and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.

It’s funny because I thought it’d be great to act in movies because then you can always say the right thing. And then the with movies that we’ve made you don’t even get that chance. It’s like when you have the perfect comeback three weeks after you should have said it. It’s better for me to have these things weighing on each other because if they do get everything out, then what’s left inside them?

DGG: I like that. Because this is a movie about what’s left inside when you don’t have the smartest thing to say, when you don’t know how to get it out.

PS: And it’s still affecting your actions. Something inside Noel’s character drove her to do this one thing, but the only answer she has for the question of why did you do that is “I love you.” Like, how’s that workin’? But it throws Paul’s character for a loop because that’s just not what he wants to hear.

David Gordon Green Primer

MM: The movies take some getting used to. How do I recommend this to somebody who doesn’t quite know what they’re getting into.

DGG: Say it’s a movie that’s totally accessible in concept because it’s about a guy that falls in love with his best friend’s little sister. Digestible. Accessible. Everybody can relate. Everybody sees the conflict and the emotion that’s going to be involved.

But, it’s dealt with in a naturalistic, meditative, reflective, realistic,

PS: ... miscommunicative ...

DGG: ... miscommunicative process that is far more genuine in its projection of its concept than a traditional Hollywood execution of the same subject matter would be.

PS: Does a traditional Hollywood execution of the same subject matter hold these things in the same esteem as a sort of clunky, miscommunicative, emotionalized, but a little bit inept, way of talking? To me it seems like a clunky way to deal with love, but isn’t that the way it is? Do we know what we’re doing when we’re in love? I don’t think so. And if you do know what you’re doing, are you in love? I doubt it.

Paul’s Not-So-Big Leap

It’s funny because I thought it’d be great to act in movies because then you can always say the right thing. And then with the movies that we’ve made you don’t even get that chance.
— Paul Schneider
MM: Paul, you had a bigger role in this than in George Washington. Was it a leap for you?

PS: Not really. It was a leap for me physically to do it because on this movie I think I had like a half day off for six weeks. And there was a lot of stuff going on in my life personally when we were making this movie, so that was definitely a pressurized situation. But I didn’t approach this thing in any different way than I approached George Washington.

There were a few instances where I was definitely going out of bounds, like doing things that I hadn’t planned to do, which is obviously where you need to be going as an actor.

MM: On camera?

PS: Sure. The breakup scene is a perfect example of when Zooey and I don’t know what the hell we’re doing. And I just turn to David and I’m like “I don’t know what you’re getting, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere with this thing. But if you’re telling me you’re getting it, then you’re getting it. I trust you, and that’s fine.”

That’s not to say that there’s not a lot of preplanning. There’s a lot of strategy, there’s a lot of me sitting looking at a monologue that either David has written or David and I have written, and really trying to figure out how to sell this thing so that it sounds natural, it sounds like an improv, it sounds like I don’t know what I’m saying, even though I’ve spent 8 hours preparing this thing. And how to wed that to the stuff that really is improv, that really is just off the cuff. A few times in the movie there are lines that were not expected.

But the only pressure in the role came when I’m obligated to present this stuff in an unsentimental, not-maudlin way, and I’m obligated by the things that have happened to me in my life and the things that happen in David’s life and all the people I know who have invested their hearts into something that doesn’t have an absolute payback.

It wasn’t like an “am I gonna be okay in this movie” type of pressure. It wasn’t a worried-about-my-performance type of pressure. It was “I need to get this stuff honest and I need to get it correct.” Maybe my view of correct is not “Oscar-winning performance,” but it’s important that my character, the acting in the movie, doesn’t splash out of the movie. It’s well within this movie, the cinematography, the editing and the music. Some people might think it’s boring, but I think it’s correct.

Artistic Freedom, and the Appearance Thereof

MM: On George Washington, it looks like you had a camera and you just took it around with you. Shots of the train, shots of the landscape. Did you actually do pickup shots, or did you storyboard it?

DGG: George Washington is a lot more storyboarded than this one because we had no film. I just finished a commercial on the same amount of film I shot George Washington on. It was two 30-second spots. So a minute of film, a minute of complete product... and 90 minutes of complete product out of the same film stock. Pretty ridiculous. So on George Washington we really couldn’t improvise much. Everything had to be really well rehearsed, everything had to be really well thought out; shot lists; storyboards, like more so than I was really comfortable with.

I love coming in with a shot list, being prepared for what I know we need to get and how we’re going to stage it. Storyboards are so difficult for me because I get there in the moment and the compositions and the lighting and stuff... the director of photography should be able to come up with a lot of those.

This one we were able to be a little bit looser and I could be a little vague in my preconceptions of what we were going to do. We had an environment that allowed that. And sure on both these movies we had a second unit camera guy sitting there in case a two-legged dog walked by [which happened in All the Real Girls], or the dying snake in George Washington in the trash scene. But for the most part, going up on the train, going down in the weeds, all that’s storyboarded.

You just know the landscape, you know the place, you know what you want, you know how to fit it together, and you’ve got such a tight economic frame to work within that you just really can’t afford to ...

PS: You can see visual motifs in David’s short films that you see show up again and again in feature films. So maybe that stuff’s storyboarded, or maybe it’s just the stuff that he does every time.

MM: All of this was to ask if you had less freedom now, or at least on your third film which is going to be under a studio.

DGG: Freedom is weird. People ask that a lot. Sure, on the first film we had such a little film and we had 19 days to shoot it straight. We shot seven days a week for 19 days and you just don’t have any time to rest. You don’t have any time to screw around.

Ultimately the freedom is whatever all of us can come by, and using our resources and talents, whatever we want to make we can make. With this movie, sure we had more money, we had more film stock, more days. We shot it in 30 days. Five-day weeks. We got 2 days break. But we had to deal with politics of the legality and the paperwork, all the agents, the negotiations, bond companies, insurance — things that brought such a level of stress and anxiety to the creative process that freedom ...

PS: We had more film on All the Real Girls, but the machine was looking over your shoulder. Less film on George Washington but there was no machine.

DGG: The more a movie costs the more people want a bite and the more responsibility and obligation you’ve got to these financial entities that are supporting your process. And you want them to be happy with what you do, [but] at the same time you want to be excited about what you do every morning. I don’t ever want to wake up one morning and say like “Oh we gotta do that boring scene today.” I want to be totally energized.

MM: Is it six of one, half dozen of the other?

DGG: It just depends on my day. Some days I say “screw the politics let’s just me and my buddies grab a camera and go out and film stuff, and we can do documentaries.” And then other days I’m just like “but what about this great idea to relocate a West Virginia landscape on a British sound stage and make this gothic southern epic that I’ve been wanting to do, or this Tarkovsky-esque science fiction that will be three hours long?” So it’s all a balance and you hope that you have the frame of mind and the trust in your collaborators to support whatever you do. We’re at the experimental stage right now so we’re figuring out what of these politics are worth dealing with, what of these casting issues and editing issues are worth dealing with, and where our freedom should come, and where we know our trust needs to be.

Dunce Cap

MM: The IMDB says you’re doing A Confederacy of Dunces.

DGG: Yeah! Yeah, that’ll be fun. That’s gonna be a good one. I’ve been obsessed with [the book] since I was sixteen. That’s a character piece that could go the wrong way and become a cartoon of New Orleans and it’s important to me to bring such an authenticity to the characters in this place, a sincerity to their humor and their sadness and everything. It’s a big step forward in terms of a profile of a film I’ve never dealt with, so that’ll an education too and it may be beautiful and it may be stressful.

MM: (to PS) Would you put on 150 pounds to play Ignatius?

PS: I don’t want to play Ignatius, I want to play Holocaust victims next. I want to weigh 70 pounds (laughs). No, I’m not Ignatius.

MM: Do you know who Ignatius is?

DGG: We can’t reveal it.

MM: I can’t even picture who could possibly play him....

DGG: There’s about three that could do it. We’re just figuring out which of those three.

MM: Unknowns? Big Names?

DGG: Both. We got some fun ideas. Trust us on that one. We’re trying to shoot in the fall, so we’re just looking at our cast right now.

MM: Did you go sell yourself?

DGG: Yeah, I heard it was out there and I just gave them a call and said “you don’t have a director, I heard.” And they said “no we don’t.” So I said “okay now you do.” I wouldn’t say I sold myself but I expressed my interest. Steven Soderbergh, Scott Kramer, Drew [Barrymore] and her partner Nancy. A good group of fun people to have a wonderful time making movies, and hopefully it’ll be a good collaborative effort on a bigger scale.