Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival.
“Patriotville” (USA, 2008)
Director: Talmage Cooley
Cast: Justin Long, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rob Corddry, Keir O’Donnell, Missi Pyle
An idealistic museum manager and a beautiful troublemaker go to war with a corrupt mayor to stop a casino from being built on their town’s “historic” battlefield.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?
This is an easy question. I was out of college after majoring in International Politics and had no idea what I wanted to do. Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” was playing in a revival theater in my hometown and somehow that was the film that slapped my face and woke me up. A few years later I ended up in New York studying directing, acting and writing. In 2004 I finished my first short film and then did a second short and a feature. Having actually made a few films, I can’t say that my motivation is any different than it was when I left that screening of “Days of Heaven.” I’m simply engaged by film storytelling more than anything else I’ve ever done. But the more I learn about the craft, and in suffering from my own mistakes, I definitely feel the desire to go deeper and get better. Filmmaking is basically an infinitely daunting challenge, one that no one can ever master completely, and that’s both frightening and addictive. Strangely, I just found out from my landlady that Terrence Malick used to live in my house. I’ve never met him, but I owe him a lot. Weird that I sleep in his old bedroom now.
How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?
I worked in the beginning with a writing partner and we knew the basic themes we wanted to explore – corruption, greed and love. I knew I wanted it to be a comedy with a purpose, and that it should explore ideas from a cultural perspective as well as a personal one. Then as the drafts kept coming, it started to take on a life and eventually I knew it was a film I wanted to make.
How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?
There were many “pivotal moments of learning.” Not having a background in the feature world prior to making my first feature, everything about how a film with movie stars gets made was new. Especially the things that don’t make any sense. How schedules and budgets are affected by things you can’t believe. When you are making your first short films, you control everything. When you move into the feature world, that changes. I think the best feature directors very quickly learn how to muscle the system to get what they want, because they understand the cost of not doing that. And you really learn to appreciate your allies.
What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?
The same ones that most people face – time and money and the physics of a script. We definitely set out with a script that was far too complex for our budget, and we had to improvise constantly in the face of not enough time or money. That’s something else that you learn doing your first feature – you learn great respect for the physics of the script – what that script must have to work and what it will take to get that properly.
Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?
Somebody told me you don’t tell those stories. So I don’t.
What other genres or stories would you like to explore?
Well I’ve basically been writing in the comedy/drama category, but I’m also fascinated by psychological thrillers and the tension of life or death stories. After doing dialogue heavy comedies, seems like it would be great to write a story that is propelled by action and fear.