Joshua Stecker is a freelance entertainment journalist based in Los Angeles. His bylines include The Hollywood Reporter and Death & Taxes Magazine. Stecker is the former west coast/web editor of Script Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @joshuastecker.
Andrew Bujalski was out of his comfort zone.
The Austin filmmaker (by way of Massachusetts) was embarking on what would be his most commercial film yet and wanted to up his game. So for his fifth feature, instead of working with unknowns, he decided to go Hollywood and hired the likes of Kevin Corrigan (The Departed), Guy Pearce (Memento) and Cobie Smulders (The Avengers) for his romantic indie comedy, Results, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
Known as the "Godfather of Mumblecore" (his first feature, 2002's Funny Ha Ha, is considered the first film of the genre), the indie filmmaker has almost exclusively worked with unknown actors for his first four features. Results, which was shot entirely in Austin, marks a pivotal turn in Bujalski's career, as he admits to consciously wanting to push himself to tackle a more commercially viable film, while still keeping with his indie filmmaking roots.
The film, which was picked up by Magnolia Pictures before premiering at Sundance, follows the story of recently divorced, newly rich, yet utterly miserable, Danny (Corrigan), who, as the press notes describe, "would seem to be the perfect test subject for a definitive look at the relationship between money and happiness." Danny's well-funded meandering is impeded by a sudden need to get in shape, where a trip to the local gym sparks relationships with gym owner Trevor (Pearce) and gorgeous personal trainer Kat (Smulders). Of course, all their lives intertwine in personal and professional ways that make for an enjoyable indie comedy that should prove to earn Bujalski positive, um... results... when it's released in May.
Bujalski spoke to Script at the InterContinental Hotel Stephen F. Austin in Austin, Tex. during the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Script Magazine: What inspired this screenplay?
Andrew Bujalski: It was strange. It started [a little more than] two years ago. I was going to Sundance with my previous movie, Computer Chess, and I'd never done something like this before and everybody started to scare me and everybody always said, "If you're going to Sundance, you gotta have the next thing ready to pitch." And so, you know, I'm finished with Computer Chess, we're scrambling to finish that in time, and I said, "Oh God, I have to have something to pitch!" Which, incidentally, turned out I didn't pitch anybody anything when I was there. Which maybe is a reflection on my own lack of hustle. But I got this terror that people were gonna be wanting me to pitch them. I'd done four movies with non-professional actors, which I love doing. And honestly, hope I get to do again some day. To me, it's a really exciting place and way to work. But, you know, I, for a lot of reasons, thought now would be a fine time to try the other thing (using professional actors).
Script: You wanted to take your game up a notch.
Bujalski: Yeah. So I started thinking okay, actors. Actors' actors. Who do I wanna work with? Just trying to get something going in my head. And Kevin Corrigan is somebody I've been a fan of for 20 years. And, you know, friendly with for a few years. And so, you can already tell that my commercial instincts are maybe not the best, because you're supposed to sit down and think Brad Pitt, what can I do with Brad Pitt? But I thought Kevin, what can I do with Kevin? And Guy Pearce was somebody who I had met about another project years earlier. I found him really fascinating. I'm a big fan of his, as well. I was certainly fortunate to actually get them to come do this. But I did start out thinking about those two guys and was already kind of laughing, you know, as soon as I tried to imagine them in the same room. So it really started with that. And then from there it was a very intuitive process of following one idea to the next and throwing ideas at the wall. I've done a little bit of writing for hire kind of stuff, where I followed a somewhat more conventional approach of like, you know, what is my high concept? Let's build this to certain specifications. When I try to write commercially, it still comes out a little weird just because that's how I work. But I have done things where I've attempted to write what I thought was commercial, even though I was usually wrong. In fact, I'd written one or two things that were intended to be kind of big scale romantic comedies, which I enjoy. They're very technical. They're really those Rube Goldberg machines. But I have fun with them, so at some point I figured out I was doing some version of a quasi-romantic comedy. Or I was pulling a lot of those elements. I wanted to take this gamble to try to put one of those together more organically. Use energy from that world and that genre without building the same kind of contraption that I would have to if I were doing the Hollywood version of it. So I did want to approach this one organically, for lack of a better word. It's a very fun way to work. It's also a very scary way to work. (laughs) You're just walking around with a divining rod, you know? Saying like, well this image is coming to mind. Why? Am I going down a dead end or am I thinking of this now because it belongs in the movie? There's a reason for that or is this just a bad idea? You work it and work it and work it and slowly you find out what belongs and what makes sense and what is a blind alley. So I just started to write scenes and try to piece them together and it took shape as I went. It wasn't something where I knew act one, act two, act three. You see it on the screen now and it has a very unconventional structure.
Script: You're right, the structure is really interesting. It's different, because it doesn't have your typical cookie cutter romantic comedy structure. There are a lot of elements to it. I'm really curious where the inspiration behind the whole gym and training element came into play. It was so specific and honest. It's not depicted satirically. It's very real. I was curious what your fascination or background was with that, if any.
Bujalski: Yeah, it's a fascinating world and the more I started to work on the story, I certainly got into it more and learned a lot more. But part of that, I think, was a weird manifestation of my anxiety about kind of trying to engage with the Hollywood machine and with good looking actors. It always drives me insane in movies when… and I keep using this example, it's not a fair example, but… when you see George Clooney cast as a down on his luck schlub, it's still GEORGE CLOONEY as a down on his luck schlub. Look, I'm a George Clooney fan. I think he's a fantastic actor. But to me, there's an essential casting problem in there and I can't get past it. I do not believe him as a down on his luck schlub. BUT, Kevin Corrigan on the other hand, I believe is a down on his luck schlub. I thought, okay, look, I'm making this movie. I'm gonna get Hollywood actors in it. They're gonna be great looking. Here's my solution to the problem: they're personal trainers. Now it makes sense. And in a funny way, personal trainers, there's a strange kind of overlap between their careers and their anxieties and insecurities, and actors.
Script: Of course, there's body image, how they're viewed by others, etc…
Bujalski: Yes. First and foremost, it's that pressure to look great all the time. That just kind of made me laugh, too. To think of Guy as a personal trainer. I could see it.
Script: His physical prowess displayed in this movie is incredible. He was completely believable as a personal trainer. There's a scene in a hallway where he's pulling himself up that was really impressive.
Bujalski: Yeah, in the script that was just pull-ups and Guy was like, "I can do this other thing." I was like, all right. I could never have written that. I don't know what you call [what he did].
Script: One thing I found interesting, and I don't know if this was a deliberate choice on your part, but you could have gone very gratuitous with some of the workout scenes. You've got Cobie Smulders in yoga pants pretty much the whole movie. Was it a conscious choice not to be exploitive? You obviously cast professional, attractive actors in these roles. You could have gone the distance with it. But I found that after watching it, I felt like maybe it was a conscious decision to say, "Okay, that's enough. I don't have to do the butt shot of her doing squats." You know what I mean?
Bujalski: Oh sure. Yeah, yeah. But part of it's just, I guess my instinct is that as a storyteller that I don't… the shot of Cobie's butt as, you know, lovely as I'm sure it would be, is less funny than the shot of Kevin watching Cobie's butt. So, you know, there's that and then there's also the fact that I'm shy and there are a few things I like less than shooting a sex scene or nude scene. I'm dying for it to be over. I hate it. (laughs)
Script: You're from Massachusetts, correct?
Script: So you live in Austin now. What is it like shooting in Austin for you?
Bujalski: This is actually the third movie I've shot in Austin. It's great, I love it. I've never known a more supportive and well-integrated filmmaking community. It's a great moment to be an Austin filmmaker. It might not stay that way. We might get too big for our britches. The first movie I shot here was in 2007, I shot a movie called Beeswax. And I knew some people because I had actually lived here previously when I was in my early 20s. So I knew some filmmakers in town. I'd been living in Boston for years and I came [to Austin] and just started making phone calls and writing emails. That was a small movie, an eight-person crew. Not that Results is huge, but certainly comparatively, Results is huge in terms of the resources we had. So people just came out of the woodwork to help. Indie filmmakers tend to be supportive and community-minded. In Austin, there does seem to be this ethos of, "What do you need? I'll be there." It's kind of the only way you can get movies like this made. So I love that and I just love living here. It's a really wonderful.
Script: How hard was it to assemble this cast? And what was it like for you as a director to work on this level?
Bujalski:Casting in the professional world is terrifying. When I make a movie with non-professionals, I just say, "Hey, you wanna do a movie?" and they say yes or no. And then that's it. So it's not necessarily that it's easy to schedule non-professionals, but with professionals, you're dealing with their agents or managers, you're dealing with their commitments to other projects, their press, too. It's very f---ing complicated. There are a lot of moving pieces. Anybody could fall through at any moment, and that's terrifying. It's part of why a lot of movies don't turn out well. Because at a certain point, if you're working in the professional world, I think you have to think of actors as interchangeable because you never know when/if you're gonna get one. And obviously [in reality] they're not. It's not easy to get the right cast. I couldn't feel more blessed that we did. Some of that is actors are attracted to [working with] other actors, so, you know, how many people will say look, Guy Pearce is doing it. That helps. But it's mostly just luck. The right pieces fall into place at the right time.
Script: Last question, you've written and directed all your films so far, correct?
Script: So as a writer/director, which do you prefer?
Bujalski: I find every part of the filmmaking process to be excruciating and miserable. (laughs) It's certainly more intuitive for me to do my own stuff. On the other hand, there was a point a year and a half ago when it wasn't clear that we would be able to get Results off the ground. I had been attached to two other scripts that were not my own. It was a really interesting process to be in the position of being the prospective director giving notes to a writer, because in my brief interactions with the studio world and in writing for hire, I've gotten notes before and I know that feeling of when you get somebody's notes, they hit your ear all wrong. You're like, "Oh that's no good. That's horseshit." But then you just smile and say okay, let's see what we can do with that. It was so funny to be on the other side of that, you know? To look at this script that somebody else had slaved over for months and poured their heart and soul into and, you know, I read it in an hour and then said, "I think you should change this scene and that scene." I felt so bad, I apologized. Every note I gave, I apologized for. (laughs)
Script: It's the whole, "I'm sorry, but…"
Bujalski: "I'm sorry. I know you worked hard on this. I know that there's a reason you did it this way. Change everything."
Results will open in theaters May 29, 2015.
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