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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “Homework” Director Gavin Wiesen

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "Homework” Director Gavin Wiesen

George (Freddie Highmore), a smart teenage loner, has made it to his senior year despite the fact that he has never completed an assignment. Enter Sally (Emma Roberts), the school beauty, who hides her melancholy behind the protective mask of popularity. An unlikely connection blooms as these kindred spirits bond over their troubled parental relationships. With his education hanging by a thread, George concedes to let Dustin mentor him. Dustin is a successful artist, and he’s 25 years old—finally, someone George can respect! With Sally and Dustin by his side, George blossoms and dares to look toward the future. But George soon learns that life and love have a way of dashing dreams as rites of passage and mounds of homework threaten to do him in on the eve of his graduation.

Buoyed by a gifted cast, Gavin Wiesen’s accomplished first feature is a winningly perceptive drama that breathes fresh life into the beloved coming-of-age genre. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Institute]

U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Gavin Wiesen
Screenwriter: Gavin Wiesen
Cast: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Reaser, Rita Wilson, Blair Underwood
Executive Producer: Andrew Levitas, David Sweeney, Henry Pincus, Jonathan Gray, Nick Quested
Producer: P. Jennifer Dana, Kara Baker, Gia Walsh, Darren Goldberg
Cinematographer: Ben Kutchins
Editor: Mollie Goldstein
Production Designer: Kelly McGehee

Responses courtesy of “Homework” director Gavin Wiesen.

An obsession and an escape…

Movies were a true first love, and a bit of a dysfunction — from my earliest childhood, they were an obsession and an escape.  The decision to try to become a filmmaker was never a conscious one.  I didn’t know how I would go about it at first, but I was never aware of a choice.

A personal story…

I had been thinking for a while about writing a more personal movie, the opposite of what I was writing at the time, about a time in my life that I had strong memories of; and I knew I wanted to write something small enough to have a chance to direct it, but still find a way to make it cinematic and relatable.  I thought that the more personal I got, the more confidence I would have trying to recreate some of the powerful emotions I experienced as a teenager.  And it would keep the details feeling specific even as the story began to evolve into fiction.

A carefully planned aesthetic project…

I knew that I was working in an overly familiar genre, within a classic framework — the coming of age of a young man, his first love and the trials he must surmount.  It was important to me to cut against that grain and go for a naturalistic, observational feel — from cinematography to to locations to hair/makeup/wardrobe — and then have that evolve into a slightly heightened visual style by the end, so as to mirror George’s emotions and achieve his feeling of transformation.  Early on I made a “look book” as a tool to help raise financing, and through pictures and drawings I put down every aesthetic and thematic objective I had.  In pre-production it became the film’s bible of sorts, in that it allowed me to communicate my desires for the film to all the department heads before we had even started to work together.

A couple of hurdles to overcome…

The biggest challenges: finding a George and a Sally who were both perfect for the parts AND justified the film getting made; finding the producers and investors with enough of a passion for the material to take a leap of faith; and steering the film towards a) a New York location shoot and b) an actual start date. 

Last minute shooting…

We were working on a tight, overly ambitious 22 day schedule.  There were shots and scenes that we had to lose along the way.  One of my producers, Darren Goldberg, managed to come up with a magical “half-day” the day after we wrapped.  So we all met up in the afternoon and grabbed some moments on the fly all over Chinatown, and then on the roof of the building our production office is in, getting a couple of gorgeous shots of Manhattan as night fell.  And then showed up to our own wrap party two hours late.  I now cannot imagine our movie without the scenes we shot that day.

“Homework” director Gavin Wiesen. Image courtesy of the Sundance Institute.


Something fun and emotionally engaging…

I’m hopeful that a Sundance audience will really connect with the film.  It has a youthful energy, and also an authentic take on the emotions kids feel at that age when everything in their life changes.  It speaks to young people but also draws on the nostalgia people of other ages feel for that time in their lives.  I think audiences will find it to be a really fun movie that also becomes a moving experience for them.

Cinematic influences…

Before writing, I re-watched all my favorite movies that focus on one or two characters and their relationships, that keep it very simple while being entertaining and moving:  “Shampoo,” “The Graduate,” “Before Sunrise,” “Lost in Translation.” While dreaming of directing it, I re-watched mostly French movies: “The 400 Blows,” “A Nos Amours,” “The Lovers of the Pont-Neuf,” films of Louis Malle.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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