INTERVIEW: The Goodman Sisters' "Tao of Steve"
by Beth Pinsker
So what is this Tao of Steve, anyway? Steve is, basically, Steve McQueen. He is the quintessential cool American guy, part cowboy, part deep thinker, part beefy lifeguard. The Tao is the philosophy that allows regular guys — even fat, schlubby guys — to seduce women at an alarming rate by adopting the essence of Steve McQueen. The mantra is simple. Rid yourself of desire, so women can’t feel you panting. Do something excellent, so women think you are worthy of sex. Then back off, so women will flock to you.
To watch it work for the hero of this new film is truly something.
It’s also a wonder to behold the filmmaking sisters behind the “Tao of Steve” and to hear them talk about how they didn’t just pull this concept out of thin air. Director Jenniphr Goodman, a 38-year-old graduate of NYU‘s film program, lived with the model for their Steve-like protagonist, Dex, for 18 months in Sante Fe, where the movie was shot. (His name is Duncan North and the script that he helped write is thinly veiled autobiography.) Goodman’s younger sister Greer, a 34-year-old actress, helped co-write the script and then channeled her energy into starring opposite Donal Logue as the love interest who finally fells big ol’ Dex.
On the eve of the film’s release, the two sisters are bubbling over with energy and nervousness. They not only finish each other’s sentences, but insist on it — when one looses the thread of what she’s saying, she points to the other to take over. They are having an enormous amount of fun, as they speak about Duncan’s charms, their collaboration with Good Machine, and Sundance‘s “year of the woman.” Sony Classics will release “Tao of Steve” today in New York and Los Angeles.
indieWIRE: So, first of all, what happened to the ‘E’ in Jennifer?
“Duncan wanted to make a cops-and-guns road movie. We wanted to make a more personal odyssey film. We dragged him screaming into the personal journey story. And then we dragged him even further into the romantic comedy.”
Greer: I know, it’s so annoying for the rest of us.
Jenniphr: It started back in high school, when I read this thing about how people were being reduced to numbers. I thought, defiantly, that I wanted to be more than just a name on a form. So yes, I was born with an E, and an F.
iW: Who met Duncan first?
Jenniphr: My husband did. We’ve all known him for a decade, at least. I knew him for many years and never thought, “I’ve got to make a movie about that guy.” It wasn’t really obvious. I knew Duncan was smart and witty and charming, but there was a depth there that I didn’t suspect. When I lived with him, he and I spent a lot of time talking and hanging out, talking about a wide range of topics from evolutionary psychology to why women are women and why men are men. We talked about God a lot. I had never really had that experience, because, you know, I never really talked about God with my friends. He has a very deep relationship with God, albeit very irreverent. But at the same time, he’s also someone who can sleep. . . [There’s some debate between Greer and Jenniphr as to what’s appropriate to say next. They settle for the language that’s in the movie, when Dex gets caught in an affair with a married woman whose husband is in his circle. And so Jenniphr continues. . . ] with his acquaintance’s wife.
Greer: He’s so complex. Here’s a guy who sleeps with married women. And then he’s so wonderful with children, and so wonderful with animals. He challenges your idea of what it means to be a good person.
iW: So what is it with Duncan, is he fat? Goofy looking?
Greer: He’s a good-looking heavy guy. You wouldn’t suspect him of being any sort of lothario. One friend of his told him if he lost a little weight maybe he could get some women. And he said, dude, I’ve had more women than you’ll ever have in your life. Another time, Duncan had this really good-looking roommate and they ended up liking the same woman. The good-looking guy said, “You’ll never get her.” And of course she went for Duncan.
iW: Did either of you ever succumb to Duncan’s charms?
Greer [smiling sheepishly]: I was about 21
Jenniphr: You weren’t that young.
Greer: I was in my twenties. It was brief but it was intense because we were philosophizing — we both studied philosophy. He wasn’t like a Steve at all. He was like “I really like you” right off the bat. When we heard about the Tao of Steve I wasn’t dating him. We thought it was the funniest thing in the world. It’s not like we were offended. And we’re feminists. It’s funny. I hope people don’t think we’re advocating manipulation. But it struck us as really original to combine Eastern religion and the essence of Steve McQueen.
iW: How did the three of you get involved in writing the screenplay?
Greer: It was about five years after I graduated from Yale Drama School. I was acting. I did a lot of wonderful off-off Broadway shows, but I couldn’t get arrested for anything bigger. I got more and more desperate. Jenniphr and Duncan had been talking about doing this project. I was going to give up, take the GRE’s and go to John Jay College in forensic psychology. Then I said, I’ll do this one last thing. Jenniphr thought maybe she’d make a documentary about Duncan. And then we thought we’d do a one-man show. But about 50 people would see that. I said, “What about a feature film?” And they said great. I said, “Can I have a part in it?” They said great.
“It will really be the year of the woman when there are more women [filmmakers] than their percentage of the population.”
iW: You guys went through a lot of drafts, apparently.
Jenniphr: The hardest part was coming up with some kind of story. We knew we had a very compelling character, but we had no real story. Duncan wanted to make a car chase, drug deal, cops-and-guns road movie. We wanted to make a more personal odyssey film. We dragged him screaming into the personal journey story. And then we dragged him even further into the romantic comedy.
Greer: What happened is when Good Machine came on board a year and a half into it or so, they said the strongest part of this was the romance. They said, let us know more about why Dex loves Syd [the character Greer plays], why she loves him.
iW: What did they think you should cut out?
Greer: They said maybe you might want to think about cutting some of the God stuff. And there was a lot of stuff about Dex’s mother. At one point there was stuff about his job as a kindergarten teacher.
Jenniphr: It was too much information. We had this whole sequence with Lao-Tze in it. Then, whoooo, it was gone. We had even cast for it. That would have been a really independent film.
iW: How did you guys end up in Sante Fe, where the movie is shot?
Jenniphr: My mom moved us out there when we were little for a year. About 1972. She was on a vision quest to meet Georgia O’Keefe.
Greer: She met her, and then we moved back to Cleveland.
Jenniphr: It was like the longest year of my life; it felt like ten years. Now I live there, and my mom lives there. In the film, Dex’s house is Duncan’s house. Dex’s friends’ house is my house. Our mother’s house is the rich people’s house. Our friends’ driveway is in it. We called in all the favors.
iW: It’s not such a far hop geographically from Sante Fe to Sundance. How big a leap was it emotionally when your film was selected for the dramatic competition?
Jenniphr: It was monumental. Mind blowing. Mystifying magical mystery tour. I’ve been addicted to Sundance since it started.
Greer: It’s like the Holy Grail.
iW: There was a lot of talk at Sundance about women directors, and how there were more of them in 2000 than before. What did you think of being included in that?
Greer: It’s like there’s seven! So there’s a trend.
Jenniphr: Until it matches the general population, it’s not much.
Greer: The people who run Sundance are so lovely. They are trying to be supportive of women in film because there’s this shockingly, disgusting low number of women writers whose screenplays get produced and women directors who actually direct. So they mean well. They say, “Look at all these women.” It will really be the year of the woman when there are more women [filmmakers] than their percentage of the population.
Jenniphr: And it will be a great day when we don’t have to talk about this again ever.
iW: Sony Classics picked up the film after the festival. Did you feel left out of the Sundance frenzy?
Greer: It was a very tumultuous time, because the screenings were the highest high we ever experienced in our lives. But it was very hard to sell films this year because of the past year — particularly last year culminating in “Happy Texas.” The bidding wars, the frenzy and then people lost a lot of money. The distributors were understandably very cautious about buying movies this year.
iW: What’s the plan for rolling this out?
Greer: I think Sony Classics really wanted to get the film, but they didn’t know how to market it. Men like the movie and women like the movie, from what we’ve seen at the festivals. There’s no stars in it, and the protagonist is, uh, a heavy guy. So they didn’t know how they’d get people into the movie theater to see this movie. We know once we get them in, they’ll like it. But how do you get them in? We tried to find the right balance. There’s print campaign and it’s a platform release and it’s going to all the major cities.
Jenniphr: It’s a word-of-mouth movie. I think it’s hard because it’s not like “Girlfight,” which has a specific niche to start out with. A lot of movies sold before ours at Sundance because, as it was explained to us, they were niche movies. I never understood that clearly. “Chuck and Buck” sold right away. It’s a great movie, but it’s a weird movie for a specific audience.
iW: And what’s next?
Greer: I got a really wonderful agent and a wonderful manager. I’ve gotten into doors that I never got into before. I’ve met casting directors. But I don’t have any jobs lined up. If nothing happens, Jenniphr and I are going to write another script and co-direct it. And then there’s forensic psychology.
[Beth Pinsker is the associate television editor of Inside.com. She was previously a film critic at The Dallas Morning News and was on staff at Entertainment Weekly.]