Angus MacLachlan was already an established playwright when Phil Morrison’s “Junebug” was a breakout success at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. The movie, based on MacLachlan’s play, found distribution with Sony Pictures Classics and wound up putting rising star Amy Adams in the Oscar race. While MacLachlan’s screenplay received plenty of acclaim, for several years, he dropped off the map. But all that changed this year with “Goodbye to All that,” his directorial debut. A premiere last April at the Tribeca Film Festival, it stars Paul Schneider as a man caught off-guard when his wife (Melanie Lynskey) divorces him.
Struggling to remain a supportive father for his young daughter (Aubrey P. Scott) while adapting to unexpected bachelorhood, Schneider’s character falls into an uneven spiral of one night stands in the hopes of finding a new path.
For MacLachlan, the release of “Goodbye to All That” marks the end of a very long road. Last week, he sat down with Indiewire to explain why it took him so long to make a new movie and how the experience has shaped his awareness of the indie marketplace today. “Goodbye to All That” is currently in theaters in New York and L.A. and available on VOD platforms.
Let’s go back to the immediate aftermath of “Junebug,” circa 2005. How did the popularity of that movie inform what you wanted to do next as a screenwriter?
“Junebug” of course opened a tremendous amount of doors. People would look at my work. That was great. I had a number of scripts I wanted out there. I was a playwright and I had an agent for my plays. I was with the Gersh agency. I kept saying, “I also write screenplays,” and they wouldn’t listen. As soon as we got to Sundance, they gave me an agent. I had a lot of meetings. Right after that, I had a television series that was set up. I wrote this film for Anjelica Huston to direct. She was really, really cool. It was at Focus and went into turnaround. The casting never quite came together. It was based on a book by Dan Woodrell, who wrote “Winter’s Bone.” It was called “Give Us a Kiss.” We called it a country noir. It was a noir film set in the backwoods of Arkansas, with meth, but it was pulpy — like a John Huston film. It would’ve been really cool to direct that.
Then I had this television series we sold to ABC, but the development process for that was so crazy that I called it quits.
That was around 2007?
Yeah. This was network television. There were so many hoops we had to jump through. Touchstone passed it along to ABC’s top person. I hadn’t earned it, but all the good series come about because there’s a real author behind them, like “Breaking Bad.” But this was actually a screenplay I wrote and they asked if I’d ever thought of it as a series. And I said, “Yeah.” And Phil Morrison was on board to direct the pilot.
So that went away.
Then I kept trying to get all my screenplays out there. Phil and I had two projects, period pieces, that were set up in 2008, I guess, when the stock market crashed. So they fell apart. We had one thing where the money was set, the actors were there, and it went away. After that, I decided I would write something that could be produced. That’s what “Goodbye to All That” came from — people in a room. I gave it to Phil and he said, “I think the central emotional component is the father-daughter relationship. I don’t have any kids and you do. You should direct it.” I also gave it to Ramin Bahrani, who’s a friend of mine, and he said the same thing. When I finally got the producers on board, they asked who I wanted to direct, and I said, “If it can’t be someone as great as Ramin or Phil, I’d be interested.”
Had you considered directing before this point?
Everybody does. I was educated as an actor and worked for a long time as an actor. I’d [also] directed onstage.
What do you mean when you say that you wrote “Goodbye to All That” as “something that could be produced”?
It didn’t have big production values. Even when I wrote it, there was a scene where the little girl comes home on a school bus. And I said, “Can we just make it a carpool?” Because a school bus full of kids is more difficult. I really thought about how you can actually produce something. You really have to think practically. I produced all my work in the theater. When I was producing my work in the theater, it was like doing a one-man show.
The other challenge of getting something produced is explaining it to people in advance. “Goodbye to All That” is sort of a comedy but sometimes more like a quieter drama. How did you characterize it?
It was inspired by events that happened to friends of mine that were horrifying and funny and erotic and exciting and sad. Those were the things I liked the best because that’s what I think life is like. And those are the films I like the best. So that was not a consideration. It really has been an education for me since the film has come out that the very nature of it not being a clear genre has been really challenging in terms of getting it sold and marketed. I’ve heard it described as a comedy, a drama, a romantic comedy, a black comedy — I read that somewhere. I’ve had audiences who think it’s just a drama and don’t get that there’s intentional humor in it. With “Goodbye to All That,” the films I bring up are Tom McCarthy’s films and Kenny Lonergan’s “You Can Count On Me” — genres where the humor comes out of very human aspects. But we wanted it to be a film about adults and sexual relationships now.
But our actors are not big stars, that’s another big challenge. If it had been McConaughey as the main guy…
Did you ever try to get bigger names?
No, but our producers certainly leaned me that way. They even discussed the second banana on a TV show who might have a certain cache. I kept saying, “Nobody is going to see this because of good actors who aren’t quite right. They’re only going to see it if it’s good.” But I think this is the reason why IFC Films is putting it in its little box, because it is hard to sell it. That’s the way the business is now.
What do you mean when you say that IFC is putting the film in a box?
We are day and date. We aren’t “Boyhood.” And we don’t have Richard Linklater’s brand on it.
You mean managing expectations.
Yeah, that’s exactly it. The indie world is incredibly different from when “Junebug” came out. But it’s incredibly different from three years ago when we started this project. I’ve talked to Arianna [Bocco] at IFC. I really feel like in four or five years, films of this size won’t have any theatrical releases. They’ll only be VOD. The people at IFC are really sincere. Arianna was my agent, briefly, after “Junebug.” I love her, she’s a great person. I had a talk with her and said, “It’s sort of hard to take, how small our release is.” She said, “I know, but it’ll do well on VOD. It’s the kind of film people will discover.” We’ll see. It’s interesting to see all these exhibitors trying to figure out what they can do to bring people to theaters. What’s cinematic? 3D? Cinerama or Smell-O-Vision like in the 50’s?
Did it feel like a healthier time when “Junebug” was released?
It was just after the peak of the “Reservoir Dogs” time, where things at Sundance sold for lots of money. But then it got an Academy Award nomination [for Amy Adams]. And it played maybe 150 theaters. This was the time when there was still video. I think it made $6 million eventually. It made almost $3 million at the box office. Nowadays that’s unheard of. Even with Amy getting nominated, it still felt like a smaller film. Since then, I still have people who say they know or have seen “Junebug.”
Shifting gears here: There was a point in time where the travails of a young white male were popular. But there’s a great pressure now to diversify the sort of storytelling we see at the movies. What sort of conversations did you have about the fact that a lot of this movie is about Paul Schneider’s character sleeping with various minor characters?
Nobody was really being taken advantage of and they were making their own decisions. My producers were women and we really wanted the women characters to be a part of it. But in a way, my male character is really more like the female character in a lot of movies. He’s the one wanting more — like when Ashley Hinshaw tells him, “I don’t want to date you, I just want to fuck you. OK?” He says he doesn’t know what he wants. He’s just miserable.
How have your priorities changed?
There’s this hubris when you write a screenplay where you think it’s going to get made. At this point in my career, it’s sort of like, why not write the things that are important to you instead of trying to figure out what the marketplace is? Especially with independent film. It’s so hard to get anything made. Why not try to get the things made you really believe in? Even if you don’t believe in them and you’re just trying to follow the tune you imagine the market wants, the odds are that you’re still not going to get it done.
But would you do a commercial movie?
I would love to do it if I thought I could bring something to it. My agents were always giving me books that they wanted me to adapt. I would attempt it but if I felt like I didn’t have anything to bring to it — I have nothing against different genres or commerciality. I really feel like if people saw “Goodbye to All That,” they’d realize that it has a broad appeal. It has sex. It’s about adults. It’s about being a parent. It’s not too long, you know? [laughs] It has a happy ending in a certain way that’s not stupid, that’s kind of emotionally satisfying. No one ever really knows what’s going to be the thing that clicks. But now I see that getting it out there for people to see it is a real challenge.
Overall, are you happy with the way the film came out?
The thing I’ve discovered through film festivals is that this film plays really well with an audience. Because it’s a subtle kind of comedy, some people can watch it and not get it. But if you’re with an audience who gets it, there’s a different kind of satisfaction. That comes from my background in the theater — there is a value in that. There’s something about that audience that really will be a loss when small independent films aren’t in the theater.