Every artist takes inspiration from their personal life, but for Mark Webber, making his sophomore directorial effort, “The End of Love,” he didn't have leave home to find his muse. The film, which opened over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, focuses on a character named Mark and his two-year old son Issac; which is a coincidence since it stars Mark and his then-two-year-old son Issac. While not exactly a cinematic autobiography, like Webber's previous film, "Explicit Ills," which focused on the Philadelpha neighborhood he grew up, it allows the writer/director to approach a variety and thematic and narrative material with palpable sense of realism.
"The End of Love" chronicles the emotional crisis a young father finds himself in when his wife and mother of his child passes away. Adrift, he enters a tentative relationship with another single parent, played by Shannyn Sossamon. We caught up with Webber in Park City to talk about his film (our review here), how he managed to work with his 2-year-old son and his documentary ambitions.
In "Explicit Ills" you take on a version of the neighborhood you grew up in Philadelphia. Why the decision to explore fatherhood next?
It's been amazing. For me as an artist it's about exploring elements of myself and people around me. I'm obsessed with realism in film I knew my next film I wanted to make a really simple character driven piece bout a relationship you could feel. As a filmmaker I like challenge and this movie was very experimental in the way it was made. It was a really incredible process.
The other part: Issac is your actual son.
Yeah, he's my little boy. He'a three and a half now and was two when we made the movie.
I was watching and couldn't figure how you got such a positive reaction for a child actor. Then I found out immediately after about the relation. How did you even manage to coach him?
First and foremost as his dad, his well-being was my top priority. I spent a month with my cinematographer [Patrice Lucien Cochet], who's a really good friend of mine and also a father, [saying] "How can we do this? How can we make a movie without really using the traditional methods including slating, without lights, without cameras that take forever to set up and how can we move around at all times? Can we do that with my son not becoming aware?" Two weeks into that process, I knew we can do this. What's great is that Issac is the most amazing actor in the film because he's not acting, he's totally into character. Because he's totally present in the moment at all times. For me, it was my job going in as the director, to make sure that my character was going to guide us, hit the appropriate story points and emotional beats to react off of him essentially. And build the whole film around him, his rhythms and moods.
Was he introduced to Shannyn Sossamon as Lydia?
Total immersion. The one thing he was aware of was we're making videos. Patrice, our friend, was making videos of us. The more I didn't regard Patrice, the more he didn't. I just created, behind the scenes, these real-life situations. We actually shot in Shannyn's house at the time and all the stuff with the child in the movie, that was her son's best friend. So she had a real relationship with that child. And also shooting in her space and her own environment. The little things that add energy to the environment are very cool.
The overwhelming sense in 'End of Love' is the difficulty behind being a single parent. One of the more striking scenes is when Mark has to go on an audition and brings Issac into the room with him. At first, I thought it was silly, but it quickly dawned on me what else could you do? Have you done that?
I've done it before. I love this — I love being able to share my movie and hear people talk about it, and engage it. Where as someone like yourself matches up with a woman after the screening who doesn't write about film and what she thinks, I love it. I read that, where someone said, "That's a false point and that wouldn't happen." It's funny because it did. And it's happened to those casting directors before. At this point in the story, this man was not concious of the fact this audition was coming up. It's a huge audition, he doesn't have a babysitter he relies on, can't ask his roommates and calls his agent to say, "I have to bring Issac. Just going to hope he'll sit in the corner and hope he'll be quiet."
It happens with other jobs, but people think "Well, an actor will never do that." No matter what economic background you're coming from, it is just difficult being a parent. For me, I didn't have a dad growing up. I'm fascinated by the father-son dynamic and what it means to be a father. Very often you don't see a father-son relationship in film, often it's a single mom story. I wanted to do that justice on screen.
One of the more striking, non-Issac scenes is a young Hollywood party that's more parody and carictature than the other portions of the film, particularly due to Michael Cera's memorable moment with a gun. How did that scene come together?
That whole sequence was amazing as a filmmaker. "All right, Michael. Call up your friends. I'll call up my friends." Everyone showed up like it was a real party. I sat everyone down on the couch and explained to them exactly where I was in the film. And what I needed to hit throughout the night. We shot in order. I had no idea Michael had brought the gun that night. When he pulled it out, we went with it and it was his choice. For the actors, including myself, it was so refreshing and exhiliating to create a space inhabited and to know there's this one guy — myself — hitting the beats necessary for the story so everything you do around it is inherently going to be right.
The last time most audiences saw you was in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." Now you're at Sundance with three films: "For a Good Time, Call…," "Save the Date" and your second directorial feature. In between those, have you just been working on "The End of Love?"
I had the luxury of being able to spread out the editing process. Me and my editor [Sven Pape] worked for a few months where we'd pull selects and create these timelines where I'd live with a particular cut of the film for a while and then we'd go back in. It was in order to create the right amount of distance, because if I jumped right in after I shot this and made the movie I wanted to make, it wouldn't have resonated as it does now. We took our time — two months away from the movie — to not see it as myself and my son. During that process came "Save the Date" and right after that came "For a Good Time, Call…" It's unbelievable. Every film I shot last year is here [at Sundance]. They couldn't be more different. As an artist, you live for moments like this and it's really important as a filmmaker to have a place like Sundance.
Would you ever consider making a documentary?
Totally. It's the one big thing I want to do. I've had a very unique childhood. My mother is a very huge human rights activist, which is a whole other seperate aspect of my life — activisim. I want to make a documentary about her life, because it interests me.
"The End of Love" screens this week at the Sundance Film Festival.