“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” director Alfonso Gomez Rejon began as a PA, incrementally working his way up the ranks to Park City. The film chronicles the friendship between an awkward, self-deprecating high school, his movie-loving best friend, and a classmate who’s been diagnosed with leukemia. Below, Gomez Rejon speaks to his trajectory, the acclaimed film’s themes, and which classic films inspired him.
What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?
It’s a funny, unexpected, and honest look at life and death through the lens of an awkward 17-year-old. Greg proudly coasts through high school unnoticed by everyone but Earl, his “co-worker” (they make weird, short films together — most of them bad, homages to the classics of foreign cinema). When Greg’s mom forces him to befriend a girl with leukemia, he does so against his better judgment. But they become inseparable, and their friendship becomes a turning point in his life.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
I was drawn to the simple idea that you can keep learning about somebody after they’re gone, and that that relationship can continue.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I’m a filmmaker originally from Laredo, Texas, now based in LA. I have a BFI from NYU and an MFA from the AFI. I decided that I wanted to be a director when I was 12 and spent years (…decades?) working my way up from PA, to director’s assistant, to 2nd Unit Director, and finally to director. I was ready and eager to take on more personal work and was incredibly lucky when I read Jesse Andrews’ script. The entire process of making this film has been a game-changer for me professionally and personally. It’s as if I hit the “reset” button.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
The challenge was keeping the tone consistent with every cut, every music cue, every joke. Because of the subject matter, there could be some easy traps along the way, but the film had to remain lifelike, funny, and moving without a hint of over-sentimentality so that the moments, like in real life, feel authentic. We were constantly juggling a lot of contradictory emotions (great humor can come with despair, and vice-versa).
What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?
Regardless of an audience member’s age, if they’ve pushed through some of the same hurdles as Greg, I hope that they identify with this awkward 17-year-old, love him and his two friends as much as I do, and that it prompts them to share some of their personal stories with me.
Are there any films that inspired you?
In the movie, Greg and Earl make 42 films — their own take on the classics. Since they were all based on my favorite films, it was incredibly hard to come up with that list. Excruciating, actually. I don’t think I ever stopped working on it. I tried to reference all of my heroes, and it was painful when some ended up on the cutting room floor. So for starters, what inspires me: everything by Scorsese, Powell/Pressburger and Buñuel. I just regretted answering this question. Now I’ll be up all night making lists.
What’s next for you?
For the first time in a very long time, I don’t know. I’m reading scripts and developing original material for film and television. We’ll see what materializes. I could always go back to PAing.
What cameras did you shoot on?
Did you crowdfund?
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. Click here for more profiles.