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Interview: 'The Comedy' Director Rick Alverson On Provoking Audiences -- And Why His Next Movie Is About the Ku Klux Klan

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Indiewire November 9, 2012 at 12:49PM

In another life, Rick Alverson could have been a college professor. The director of "The Comedy" speaks in lengthy paragraphs, as if he were explaining unifying theories to a freshman philosophy major.
1

You’re credited as an editor on the movie. Considering your approach to narrative, was that necessary for you to have that control as well?

For me, it’s essential, because the thing is continuing to be written. I firmly believe that there should be some elasticity to all stages of the production and the execution of the project. There’s this troublesome, propagandistic sort of grandstanding that somebody like Spielberg is engaged in that ultimately you see something presented which is a reflection or a magnification of the director’s view of the world, whether it’s a view of history or a view of his or her own cinematic prowess. When it should be more reflexive and responsive to the conditions, even the narrative. What does the movie want to do? What do the environments want to do? What do the characters at any given moment and hopefully there’s the potential for more life and an actual dialogue with the world through movies that way.

Due to the nature of the improvisation, were there times that you had to rein your actors in?

There was some dialing back, I suppose. I still don’t do more than like three takes and there are no rehearsals. So the casting has to be on and what’s being conveyed is understood prior to the scenes. More than anything, even when I’m in the edit, I’m looking for an authenticity and an uncertainty that exists in the scene. I was pushing Tim to step over that line.

Everybody was kind enough to basically trust me with them. I asked them to bring a lot of themselves into the thing and ultimately, there were some natural apprehensions about "Where do I end and where does the character start?” The more I can have the individual bring of themselves, the more that I can recontextualize that into the fiction, the more efficient and authentic the process is. I think that’s a big exploration of the movie, not to damn behavior, but to analyze it.

There aren’t many examples of characters addressing each other by name. Is that choice an extension of having actors bring a lot of themselves?

Well, people don’t often address each other by name. It’s a silly cinematic convention. Although it does present problems in the credits when you have people’s names listed! Inevitably, there are some conventions in the movie, but I’m constantly trying to disrupt them in some ways.

To keep inserting and reminding an individual about the fiction of the thing, that happens a lot with the placating and safeguarding of an individual’s experience. I think our minds should have space to move around and consider both the authenticity and the artifice and be uncertain at any given moment what’s real and what’s manufactured.

There are attributes and characteristics that are utilized from every individual in the movie, but it serves a fictional end. Some of the more insular group scenes are borrowing more from the way that a group of people naturally talks to one another. Gregg Turkington and Tim and Eric are all provocateurs in their way and in their fields. I think that’s why I went to them because we had a joint interest in questioning and dismantling what we do. It’s an extension of all our work, to a degree.

How has this project influenced the sort of films you want to make next?

Well, it’s definitely influenced the way that I’m going to continue working, particularly in the response of certain audiences or an understanding of the way that people watch movies and how to make the most out of the endeavor. The next movie that I’m working on, we hope to shoot this fall. It’s set in 1868, it involves the early Klan and the early freedmen communities and it’s this anti-epic cruelty tale that takes place in this Anglican preacher’s barn. It has moments that stick out like "The Comedy" does and flirts with things that people might be uncomfortable with. That gives me more space to deal with the subtlety that exists in the periphery around those wild noises and those cacophonous events.

To some degree, in the initial conception of “The Comedy,” with the script and the direction of those scenes and what’s conveyed, it’s very important to address the brightest colors in the spectrum, to go straight at the jugular for some of these things. Then it also has the potential to explore subtlety around that. People respond to those things.

This article is related to: The Comedy, Rick Alverson, Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Gregg Turkington, Vancouver Film Festival






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