Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Director & His Non-Supporting Characters

"Supporting Characters" is on the Film Festival Circuit

A Director & His Non-Supporting Characters

(from brinkzine.com 5/8/12)

supportingcharactersphoto.jpg Karpovsky, Schechter, Lowe Photo by DP
At the recent Tribeca Film Festival everybody was reserving their praise for documentaries and serious narratives, but there was one comedy that was good as any of them, Supporting Characters. Director Daniel Schechter's delightfully quirky character piece is a consistently witty and observant picture with some terrific lead performances. It was pitched by the festival as "a truly masculine romantic comedy" because it's about the relationship between two males, best friends and skilled movie-editing partners Nick (Alex Karpovsky, an indie favorite who is now seen on HBO's Girls) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe, who cowrote the semiautobiographical film with Schechter). But women will surely recognize this nonthreatening, well-meaning duo from their own "not-so-bad-but-good-riddance" lists and get a kick out of watching them systematically sabotage their relationships with, respectively, "perfect girlfriend" Amy (Sophia Takal) and the not-particularly-interested dancer Liana (Melonie Diaz). (Also to be appreciated are the fine performances by the three female leads, as well as a bit by Lena Dunham.) Nick has a super relationship but he still emails his ex-girlfriend and begins a flirtation with Jamie (Arielle Kebbel), the star of the movie being edited. Darryl wrongly believes he too has a super relationship and will propose...in public. As finishing the movie becomes increasingly problematic, so do Nick's and Darryl's relationships with their girlfriends and each other. At the festival, I had a lively breakfast with Schechter (C in photo), Lowe (R), and Karpovsky (L) and we discussed their funny movie.
Danny Peary: Supporting Characters starts out with a bad test screening of the film Nick and Darryl are editing. Did you have test screenings for this film?
Daniel Schecter: Yes. I edited this movie, which isn't always the wisest thing for a director to do, and I found test screenings were valuable because we got some really good feedback. In the movie we have a running joke in which Nick wants to cut a scene with Rodney the Doorman but Darryl disagrees. Well, we really had a couple of "Rodney the Doormen" actors who were in good scenes that we decided to cut because they didn't support the entire film.
DP: I would think you're still testing the film at Tribeca in a way. Are you getting laughs where you wanted them?
DS: I don't think the screenings could have gone any better. I'm actually surprised by how many laughs there are in the movie. We didn't necessarily go out of our way to make it as funny as possible and there were times when I even toned down people, but Tarik and Alex are so good together and people seem to love their characters and chemistry, so there has been a lot of laughter. If I have any insecurities about a new film it's usually early on, and I think this film gets better as it goes along. I don't think I'll change the movie after the festival; it's as tight and sharp as I'm going to get it.
DP: I read that this is a semiautobiographical film about your friendship with Tarik. Did you two get to know each other while working as editors?
DS: No, I have a background in editing but Tarik is an actor. We were buddies and wanted to create a vehicle for him. He was writing on the side and I liked his writing a lot so we decided to do something mean and lean together.
Tarik Lowe: We were introduced by a mutual friend named Sebastian Sozzii, who is in the film. We hit it off immediately. I have always had trouble finding anyone, including friends, to read my writing, but everything I sent to Dan he read. I used him as the person to critique me and make me a better writer.
supportingcharacterstwosome.jpg Lowe and Karpovsky
DP: Do the two of you have a rhythm when you talk similar to that of Darryl and Nick?
DS: It is almost exactly the same as the two people in the movie. In fact, for two or three scenes that we were writing, we'd turn on a recording device and improvise the scenes in character. We'd do about four takes and then whittle it down to the best stuff. This all came about because whenever we'd go out with friends they'd laugh at our exchanges--I think we came across as sort of a weird, charming duo.
DP: Nick and Darryl know everything about each other. Is that a reflection of your real relationship?
DS: Definitely. Maybe it's a reflection that we're both artists, but we tend to talk a lot about deeply personal things. We've known each other for only about two years and there's a lot we don't know about each other but Tarik is maybe now my closest friend.
DP: With my close male friends, I talk about movies and sports.
DS: It is unusual that we don't. I find it very difficult at this point of my life to make new friends, which is what I find unique about our relationship. Maybe it's just the nature of the people I hang out with, who are single, that makes us talk about personal things. Sometimes I'm very confessional with new groups of people and I'm aware of how bizarre that is and pull back.
DP: In writing this and working with Alex, I'm wondering if you two examined your relationship at all, without actually saying, "Hey, let's talk about our relationship."
TL: I think we knew what our relationship is and our task was to flesh it out for a script. We probably understood each other better after writing the film but a lot of it was established and it was just a matter of putting it down on paper.
DS: There's a big subplot about how Nick and Darryl are business partners too and that causes a lot of tension in their relationship. Tarik and I are just friends, not business partners, so we don't have that kind of tension in our relationship...usually.
DP: So it didn't bring up any sore points between you?
DS: No, but sometimes we'd improvise scenes and get into it and I'm not an actor so I would feel uncomfortable afterwards. For example after doing improv on the scene in which Nick tells Darryl he's taking the next job by himself there was some tension between us.
DP: There is also some black-white dialogue and a couple of times a line is crossed.
TL: We discuss race all the time.
DS: One time when Nick says something to him about "not getting married but having a lot of kids instead," he is crossing the line. But he's not coming from a place of racism, he's just trying to be funny all the time and pop that bubble--sometimes that's a big bubble to pop and it splashes back in his face. That's what happens. Nick just likes poking Darryl. I just like poking Tarik. If he were bald, that's what I'd make fun of. Whatever Darryl's sore spot is, what would make him insecure and self-conscious, that's what Nick keeps poking.
DP: Alex, Tarik is kind of playing himself, but you're kind of playing Daniel. Does that make it easier or harder coming in as an outsider?
Alex Karpovsky: It's easier because I had the reference. Dan was working in front of me so if I got confused about my character I could just ask him. It was easy to navigate, which was nice. But I should say that I didn't think Dan wanted me to play a clone of himself so I had a pretty long leash to play with stuff and bring in my own stuff. I didn't feel I had to draw too heavily from Dan but I could always get guidance from him.
DP: Dan, I've known you five minutes but you come across as very energetic while Nick in the film, like Alex, is more subdued.
DS: Alex has a calm, confident magnetism that I don't have. I'm self-conscious and fidgety, so I enjoy watching how he is. I enjoy his presence much more than if I had played Nick myself. There is something magnetic, sexy, and smart about Alex that people respond to in all the films he does, especially this character.
AK: What was different about his movie is that I had never before acted in a movie that wasn't directed by a friend of mine. Dan emailed me or facebooked me out of the blue. I didn't know him at all. He said he was interested in working with me and asked if he could send this script. So that was very different and wonderful. I was nervous working with someone whose sensibilities I didn't know but after he sent me the script I felt that, wow, I couldn't fuck it up too bad. He told me to see Albert Brooks' Modern Romance because that was a big influence on this. I loved it so I knew this was going to be good.
DS: That movie holds up. Tarik and I watched it about six months before shooting our movie. There were about four of us dying laughing. It's also a film where the filmmaking stuff is secondary to the romantic comedy aspect, and I wanted this to be the same way. It was an arbitrary choice that Nick and Darryl are editors--I just needed them to have a job to be at while they bitched about their girlfriends. It just happened to be great fun to work in that world and it was a great metaphor for editing your life and your work.
DP: In Modern Romance, Albert Brooks and Kathry Harrold keep breaking off and getting back together. Nick is still in touch with his previous girlfriend but I don't think he can ever revive that relationship or one with anybody else he break ups with. Is that accurate?
DS: The irony is that I based this on a tragic breakup I had gone through and I did get back with that person, which is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don't want to give away the ending, but we do end on a bit of a sad note. We don't know what the future is with the characters but Nick certainly learns from his experience, as I did as well. Nick had been getting to work late and having Darryl do all the work but now he comes in early to begin their new project. He's thinking, "I'm going to be organized, I'm going to do better." I wanted to make a metaphor about relationships--if you screw it up, you learn from it, and hopefully do better in the next one, so don't beat yourself up.
DP: I considered that he's going back on the Internet not do work but to email his old girlfriend or to seek a new girlfriend. He has a history of finding a girlfriend online.
DS: That's the first I heard anyone say that, but it's valid. I had a flashback sequence there where we'd go back to his first date with Amy, and that would have made things even more confusing. I just wanted Nick and Darryl to have a fresh start.
DP: Contrast the two characters. Alex, your character doesn't realize how much he has with Amy. And, Tarik, your character thinks he has more than he has and rushes into his relationships. They have patterns.
AK: That's interesting. I've never psychoanalyzed it but I wonder if part of their friendship is that they're opposites and want an aspect of the other.
TL: I agree.
DS: I'm very susceptible to flattery. That's my insecurity. When I get any interest from a woman I become vastly more attracted to her. Tarik is the opposite. When women start treating him like crap and rejecting him, he likes them more.
TL: I almost don't like women who like me. A lot of the Liana stuff happened to me in real life. I would tell Dan about it and instead of giving me advice, he'd tell me we had to write it down. And he'd laugh really hard! I've been in relationships where I may have been taken advantage of, and I don't know if I've stopped yet.
supporingcharactersdarrylliana.jpg Tarik Lowe: Melonie Diaz
DP: The scene in the movie in Times Square in which Darryl walks Liana to another man's car reminds me of the scene in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt, when Michel Piccoli allows his wife Brigitte Bardot climb alone into the two-seat sports car driven by crass producer Jack Palance and go where the three of them are going while he walks. She instantly falls out of love with him.
DS: It's so emasculating. That's a very flattering comparison.
DP: I love when Darryl tells Liana that they should get married because they're "good eighty percent of the time." That's enough for your character, Tarik, to think he should be with a woman for the rest of his life.
TL: I wrote that because I thought it would be a good argument to make. Darryl is just trying to convince Liana that they're right for each other. Throwing a stat at her is his last desperate attempt. Eighty percent is more than fifty percent, that's a good number!
AK (laughing): They're right for each other most of the time.
DS: I think we like to look at other couples to see where you stand.
supportingcharactersposter.jpg
DP: In the movie, when Amy tells Nick that she's seen his emails to his girlfriend on his computer, he starts to defend himself by telling her, "Being a guy isn't always easy," and then realizes that's the wrong approach and tries to explain it in a different way. But that line is really kind of the theme of the movie, isn't it?
DS: Sure. It's an argument most women should not have to and probably will never understand but it's what most guys think and is in the back of their minds. I just wanted it to be an honest line about guys.
AK: Nick should know better than to try to explain with that line to her. Dan, you said a lot of the movie, specifically that scene, is autobiographical. Did you really say something along those lines?
DS: No. But I thought that and of course I was smart enough to never say it out loud. I didn't want that scene to be funny--and there is a lot of tension if I did my job right--but I expected that line would get a laugh. I thought that line would break the tension and keep the tone balanced.
AK: It gets a tortured laugh.
DP: When you were saying that line did you realize it was important?
AK: To be honest, no. I didn't know that potentially it could reverberate and lasso in a bunch of themes of the movie. When I act, I try not to overthink things too often; if I tried to relate it to the big picture it might just have confused things and distanced me from the moment.
DS: That's one of those lines that I would have had to do a line reading for if it hadn't been done perfectly, but to Alex's credit, when he read that line, he immediately understood how to deliver it. He has great comic timing.
DP: What's the purpose of bringing in references to Nick's mother and their competitive relationship?
DS: I find that people are mostly influenced by their parents so if there are holes in them, it might often come from one or the other. I wanted to hint that there some reason behind Nick's behavior and his failed relationships with women. To me, it isn't a movie about a guy who cheats but a movie about a guy who has messed-up relationships with women, and I thought that it would give viewers some subtext as to why.
DP: I like when the DP loses an argument regarding the movie and complains about the lighting in the office.
TL: Great! Dan wanted to cut that and I fought so hard to keep it!
DS: I didn't think it made logical sense. But nobody would let me cut it.
TL: It's a great line. That was one of two things I fought for.
DP: When Nick is tempted to have an affair with the Jamie, the female lead in the movie they're editing, Darryl asks, "What if God is testing you?" And Nick counters with "What if God is rewarding me?"
TL: Dan and I always have debates over religion and the existence or God, and we were debating it during the writing of this film, so we wanted to have a scene where the characters discuss that.
DS: That's one of my favorite lines in the movie. I think the atheists' point of view often is that it's so arrogant to presume you know what God means, and it just cracks me up that Nick thinks this girl is his reward for being a great guy.
TL: Nick uses God when it benefits him in some way.
DP: One terrific scene has Nick going back and forth seductively with Jaime as she does postproduction dubbing in the recording booth, and getting her to say her lines perfectly, with an erotic bent. Of the two characters, Nick seems to the one who, like Dan, has potential to be a director.
DS: I think he can become a director. He has great taste, he's just not good at articulating what he wants. He's probably right that Jaime should say her line that way but he doesn't know hot to communicate it to her; she teaches him how to communicate with an actor, which is what I like about that scene.
AK: I agree that he has good sensibilities. He definitely nurtures his fantasies of wanting to be in charge of a movie. That comes out in the hallway fight scene. He's also a good editor, which is a huge part of the process and will benefit him if he becomes a director.
DS: He's also learning from other directors' mistakes.
DP: Talk about working together as actors. It seemed like you could be best friends and that you'd been hanging out for ten years.
AK: Thank you. Actually we didn't know each other at all. But we had the luxury of hanging out some before we shot and that usually doesn't happen on indie films. That was tremendously beneficial.
TL: Working with Alex is great because you can't throw him off. He's very intelligent and is one of those actors who is always ready no matter how things go. I learned every day working with him and we just had good chemistry that we exploited.
DP: Alex, you directed, cowrote, and star in another really good film at the festival, Rubberneck, which is genuinely creepy.
AK: There aren't many jokes in Rubberneck.
DS: (To Alex): Was your intention to do something that was completely dramatic or did you have an idea for a movie that was a drama?
AK: Well, both. I definitely wanted to do something very different and I wanted to do a thriller.
DP: Has the festival been great for you guys?
DS: I can't imagine a better festival. I'm not just saying this to be diplomatic but it's one of the greatest experiences I've ever had.
supportingcharactersgroup.jpg
Group Photo at TFF (L-R): Tarik Lowe, Mike Landry, Arielle Kebbel, Daniel Schechter, Sophia Takal, Alex Karpovsky

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