When thinking about My Effortless Brilliance, I think back to when I saw Doris Dörrie’s Men, and what I liked so much about it is that there are so many films about women made by men and so few films about men made by women. And you get a distinctly different perspective. There’s no ego involved, for one thing.
There are actually a couple of moments in the movie that the guys really begged me to cut out. I actually tried to see if I could and I couldn’t really make it work, but I also really felt that they were honest.
The actors were involved in the screenwriting process as well, correct? Their names are listed as screenwriters in the credits.
They are. The reason is that the actual arc of the movie… The whole movie started because I wanted to find a new way of making films. Before I made We Go Way Back, I’d been making a lot of little experimental films and documentaries and doing everything on my own, basically. I’d gone to grad school in photography and media. My own movies were all DIY. I just did everything, and it was half because I needed to be in control of everything but also because I didn’t know how to collaborate with other people. I didn’t know about that process because my MFA program was basically a solo artist / solo photographer paradigm.
I think I learned about cinematic storytelling as an editor. I edited two feature films for other people and a number of shorts and I had this whole long background in the theater as an actor. So this was sort of a long time coming and when Gregg Lachow invited to make We Go Way Back for The Film Company, I walked onto the set, I didn’t know any of the crew and it was my first time on a film set, so it was my film school, too. And I completely fell in love with working with other people, with creative collaborators, and that was such an incredible group of people. I’ve worked with [cinematographer] Ben Kasulke ever since on music videos and documentaries and the web series we did last year. It totally changed the way I make art. Now it’s all relationship based. I really like inviting other people into the process and seeing where they can take that part of the project, and we always end up with something that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s totally addictive.
The two stars of My Effortless Brilliance were both involved in We Go Way Back. Sean Nelson was the music supervisor and Basil Harris had a supporting role in that film.
It was actually kind of a coincidence because I started the whole project with Sean Nelson, who I’d come to know and our paths kept crossing, and I just found him really compelling. I’d only seen glimpses of him on screen in his music videos that he did for Harvey Danger, but I thought he seemed totally comfortable in front of the camera. I found him really funny and just very engaging and riveting, and as a person I found him completely singular. I’d never met anyone like him. He was such an interesting combination of qualities. And that’s the way the movie started. I came up with this idea that I wanted to try to make a movie in a different way as a kind of experiment and I started chatting with Sean about this idea of doing a movie together and he was really excited about it and so that sounded good.
At the same time, I was interested in a theme, which was basically how really intense, co-dependent platonic relationships are sometimes just as unsustainable and can get just as unhealthy as romantic relationships can get. I’d had three really dramatic break-ups with platonic girlfriends in my life that were just devastating. Even more devastating than a romance since boyfriends come and go, but your girlfriend is supposed to be there for life. But I didn’t know if that was just a girl thing, so I brought up the topic to Sean to see if he was interested in it, and he was completely interested in it. That break-up scene at the beginning of the movie is pretty much a recreation of something that happened to him in his life. So he was totally into it and that was it, starting with Sean and the theme, and then I pitched this character to him. I was worried that it might be a little too close to him because it basically is him – it’s like his history with music and his brief, intense brush with fame [in Harvey Danger] transferred over to this novelist, which is easy for him as well because he’s also a writer. But he was totally in to it, he loved the character and loved the idea of it.
Read the complete interview here.