Director David Wain‘s feature “The Ten” stars Jessica Alba, Gretchen Mol, Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Liev Schreiber,Bobby Cannavale and Winona Ryder in “blasphemous comedic stories” inspired by the Biblical Ten Commandments. Each tale unfolds in a different style, but with characters and themes that overlap, as told by a narrator who, in turn, has his own moral problems. Wain has had a well-rounded career in film both in front and behind the camera. He has directed television including “The State” in the ’90s in addition to writing for the series and others. And, in 2001 Wain’s “Wet Hot American Summer” received a Gotham nomination. THINKFilm opens “The Ten” in limited release Friday, August 3.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
My father had a Super8 camera when I was very young, and we made a few little movies together when I was 7, 8, 9. At around age 12, we got one of those very first, ancient video cameras that you hook up to two VCR’s and plug into the wall. I was obsessed with that, and started making little videos with my friends. I continued this practice all through high school, then went to film school, then started working in TV, then features. It all feels like a very simple evolution of doing the same thing–working with my friends trying to make funny videos.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
I hope to do some non-comedic work in the coming years. So far that hasn’t happened.
Please talk about how the idea for “The Ten” came about and evolved.
I’d seen [Kieslowski’s] “Decalogue” and was thinking about a new way to make a sketch comedy film. I thought using that idea–ten stories, inspired by each of the Ten Commandments, was the perfect structure to give the film thematic unity without restricting the material. I’d originally conceived it as a vehicle for my old comedy group “The State,” then it evolved into the script Ken Marino and I wrote and produced (and I directed).
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
Creatively, the goal on this one is primarily to entertain and to be funny. There’s no overriding point or lesson we’re trying to teach. The material is silly, but the idea was to approach the execution as seriously as possible, which permeated all my choices from casting to shooting style, to music.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project?
The biggest production challenge was getting all the actors and scenes and locations to fit together in a puzzle, in a very short schedule, on a very tight budget. I was called on to make creative compromises every single day–but we got all the material we wanted and I’m very proud of what we did–40-plus locations in 28 days, 80-plus speaking roles, under $4 million.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
Ken and I had written the script on spec. We both worked with Jonathan Stern on “Diggers” in the summer of ’05, and he expressed enthusiasm for the project and came on as producer. Soon after, we added Paul Rudd on as the fourth producer (with myself and Ken Marino). Danny Fisher and his team at City Lights signed on as the production company and they culled together most (if not all) of the investment from numerous sources. We had to roll the dice at many points along the way, hoping it would come together.
Casting was a diverse combination of actors I’ve known and worked with over the years, actors who auditioned, and better known actors who we made straight offers to. Everyone got paid scale.
Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Cameron Crowe, Harold Ramis, Spike Lee, Stephen Soderberg
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker, and what is your next project?
I’m interested in branching out into different kinds of comedy and into dramas. Next for me is a film tentatively titled “Big Brothers,” which I’m in pre-production for at Universal.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
Definitely seems to change all the time. My definition is any film where the director is primarily allowed to follow the whims of his or her own vision, without undo influence from studios, distributors or investors.
What are some of your all-time favorite films What are some of your recent favorite films?
All time: “China Syndrome,” “Animal House,” “Magnolia,” “Die Hard,” “Together,” “Fast Times,” “Say Anything,” “Annie Hall,” “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” “Husbands & Wives,” “Schindler’s List,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Nashville,” “The Graduate,” “Sex Lies & Videotape Tape,” “Traffic,” “Shawshank Redemption,” “Groundhog Day,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Lost in Translation,” “The Hours.”
Recent: “Sicko,” “Knocked Up,” “Superbad,” “Hot Rod,” “Waitress,” “Ratatouille.”
I don’t know if there’s a huge theme. I just love great stories like anyone. I do like large ensembles for some reason.
What are your interests outside of film?
Squash, poker, piano, guitar, dreaming about retirement.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Try to keep your life in perspective, but also work your ass off. Eyes on the prize. Don’t get too easily derailed or distracted from your goal by money, fame, or the whims of the marketplace.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
I’m most proud of finding a way to continually work with people I love and respect, having fun doing it, and trying to communicate the same sense of fun to the audience.