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“Listen Up Philip” at the Locarno International Film Festival

"Listen Up Philip" at the Locarno International Film Festival

A discussion with writer/director Alex Ross Perry, stars Jason Schwartzman
and Jonathan Pryce, and cinematographer Sean Price Williams was held on 12
August 2014. In the Concorso internazionale at the Locarno International Film Festival,Listen Up Philip was also in competition for the Pardo d’oro
prize, the Golden Leopard. The film won the Concorso internazionale Special Jury Prize. On 13 August, it was announced that it will also screen in the New York Film Festival.     

“Listen Up Philip”
– the story

Philip awaits the publication of his sure-to-succeed second novel. He feels pushed out of his adopted home city by the constant crowds and noise, a
deteriorating relationship with his photographer girlfriend Ashley, and his own indifference to promoting the novel. When Philip’s idol, Ike Zimmerman,
offers his isolated summer home as a refuge, he finally gets the peace and quiet to focus on his favorite subject: himself.

I ask Alex Ross Perry about his decision to use extensive narration voiced by Eric Bogosian

The narration is a gimmick. We talked about Husbands and Wives pseudo-documentary style and I think a film can have a gimmick like that. It’s an
interesting way to provide twice the amount of information. It’s not cheating, for example, to tell how long the characters have known each other, and to
see how to give background information about the characters. I thought since it was a film about writers this was the film to do it. I think good writing
is letting the situation play out naturally.

On Jonathan Pryce’s character Ike Zimmerman

Pryce:
Ike Zimmerman — he’s everything I want to be. He’s my fantasy world of someone who is nasty to people all the time. I like that he’s a cynic. I enjoyed
playing a character who had no filter.

On Jason Schwartzman on his character Philip

Schwartzman:
I didn’t see Philip as mean and there is something nice about saying what’s on your mind and it was one of the greatest experiences for that reason. On one
hand they (Ike Zimmerman and Philip) speak their mind and they like to be around each other and on the other hand they don’t.

Why cast Jason Schwartzman as Philip?

Ross Perry:
He was far and away the best person for the part. Everyone asked if I wrote this for him. I didn’t. I wish I had.

Schwartzman
: We spent a month together in New York before the shoot, and we wrote every scene of the movie on notecards.

About the look of the film

Ross Perry:
I fetishize the era I was born; I was born in 1984. I am fascinated with the years leading up to and when I was born and the years after that I don’t
remember. The film is ostensibly set in the present, but there are no cellphones and computers. The storytelling and writing doesn’t necessitate anything
modern.

Sean Price Williams:
The phones, the light bulbs – everything looked ugly so it ends up looking like a period piece. We never talked about time. We knew we had more money and
people working for us in this film, which was a new thing so we knew we’d have dolly shots and tracking. But then it became clear that it would be almost
all handheld but we didn’t want it too unique. We just went ‘tight’; it’s very alive, we didn’t want it to be still. “Organic” is also a word we like use.
It’s a little bumpy at times, and there are some soft shots. Alex always wanted to keep moving from room to room.

Ross Perry:
I never wanted the actors to stand still. I wanted that New York energy. My experience in the 10 years I’ve been in New York is that one little book can
change someone’s life even if no one reads it. New York has a productive energy, not a creative energy; that’s why the film escapes to Upstate for the
second half.

Alex Ross Perry:
We talked about Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, Sean Price Williams (cinematographer) and I studied the camerawork; it was unlike anything I’ve
ever seen before. That early 90s is the exact era we were interested in recreating and all our references for lighting and wardrobe.

I was influenced by Philip Roth, an author whose work I’m very fond of. I was influenced by his storytelling and narrative and the writing of fiction and
blending of merciless comedy with comedy. The script structure was inspired by the William Gaddis novel The Recognitions about an art forger
written in 1955-56; the main character disappears from the narrative for about 700 pages.

What happens at the end of the film?

Ross Perry:
The three women in the end are all in a slightly better place. For Ike and Philip, I don’t know if things will be okay at the end of the film. I don’t know
where Philip would be walking to. It’s not to say that it’s hopeful but that would require of me knowing if people could change. I don’t know what the
answer to that is. I don’t see Ike and Philip as two people who could change. The way the film begins for Philip — this is it for him. He is changing, but
not in a way people feel good about, and by the end, he has embraced the way he is.

Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell presents international workshops and seminars on screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a consulting
company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide. www.su-city-pictures.com, http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog

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