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FUTURES | “Ceremony” Writer-Director Max Winkler and Why He Ignored Dad’s Advice

FUTURES | "Ceremony" Writer-Director Max Winkler and Why He Ignored Dad's Advice

Age: 27
Hometown: Los Angeles

Why He’s On Our Radar: Making his feature-directing and writing debut with the charming coming-of-age romantic comedy “Ceremony,” starring Uma Thurman and Michael Angarano. The film had its world premiere at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and opens in limited release April 8.

More About Him: Winkler, son of Harry Winkler (yep, Fonzie in “Happy Days”), is a graduate of the USC film school; there, he made the short film “The King of Central Park,” which made the rounds at several film festivals. After graduation, he directed and produced the popular 10-episode CBS.com web series, “Clark and Michael,” starring Michael Cera and Clark Duke.

What’s Next: With his writing partner Matt Spicer, Winkler has adapted Mick Conefrey’s “The Adventurer’s Handbook” for Universal, which they will executive produce. Jason Segal, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman head the cast for the comedy. In addition, the pair also wrote “The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things” for Fox Searchlight. Both projects are currently in development.

indieWIRE Asks: You kind of resemble “Ceremony”‘s conflicted protagonist Sam Davis, played by Angarano. You’re both good looking, short and happen to write for a living. Do you see yourself in him?

Well, he’s a terrible writer. I hope I’m not as bad as he is. If he’s a version of myself, then I think he’s the version of myself I’m the most hard on.

But yeah, it’s a very personal movie for me. It has probably has some of the worst parts of me. It doesn’t necessarily show any parts of me in a heroic light.

Max Winkler’s “Ceremony.” Magnolia Pictures.

The film is set in Long Island and around Brooklyn. Being a Los Angles kid yourself, why did you choose to set your first feature on the East Coast?

I have a very romantic view of New York. I used to come here all the time, when I would visit my nutty German grandparents on the Upper West Side. I’ve always wanted to set movies here. All the books that I’ve read that have been influential on me. All the movies I loved the most, always have a sort of New York feel to them. I don’t ever feel like a real New Yorker, which I think gives me an advantage. I’m an outsider observing.

Jesse Eisenberg was originally slated to play the lead, right?

Michael was on board already to play the secondary role of the best friend opposite Jesse in the lead. Jesse, Michael and I had read through the script a million times together in diners, at my place and throughout the streets of New York. We had a great working relationship, the three of us.

When it came time, Jesse landed “The Social Network.” We didn’t want to change the schedule; it was kind of like lightning in a bottle. When you have a movie that’s going, especially independent, you just have to do it. As much as it pained me to sort of let Jesse go, I wished him the best. We all knew what a great opportunity it was going to be for him.

Michael had known the part so well by reading it with Jesse, so I just had him read it and filmed it. I feel like secretly he had been rehearsing for the bigger part, because he was so terrific at it. His whole demeanor changed. I think one of the reasons he’s so wonderful in the part is because he has this sweet innocence to him. He can get away with things. When you look at his face, you’re like, “Oh my god, he’s just pretending.” It’s clear he’s having an identity crisis.

Your dad’s not only acted before. He directed a number of films, including “Cop and a Half,” with Burt Reynolds. Did he give you any advice?

He was very interested in me wearing comfortable shoes. He was insistent on me going shoe shopping with him. I usually just wear things like this (points to his white, worn-in low-tops). He picked me out the most hideous New Balance shoes. I just kept them on a table near my bed as a sort of inspiration.

So you never wore them?

No, I couldn’t. They were too ugly.

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