James Ponsoldt is a Sundance veteran. After his 2006 debut, “Off the Black,” he returned in 2012 and 2013 with “Smashed” and “The Spectacular Now” (respectively), and now he’s back with “The End of the Tour,” a unique portal into the enigmatic mind of writer David Foster Wallace. The film has garnered positive reactions from critics, who highlight Jason Segel’s transformative performance as one of the actor’s best yet. Ponsoldt shares the challenges of portraying Wallace onscreen for the first time: “I hope the audience feels that their intelligence was respected.”
What’s your film about, in 140 characters or less?
The story of the intense, surprising five-day 1996 interview between “Rolling Stone” reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
Meeting someone you respect/admire from a distance – and realizing that they’re far more complicated than you could’ve possibly imagined. Jealousy. Regret. Unrequited desire for friendship and respect. How brave it is to be vulnerable. Compassion. The shortcomings of being the smartest person in the room (and priding yourself too much on that fact).
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I’m originally from Athens, Georgia, and “The End of the Tour” is the fourth feature I’ve directed. My wife and I had our first child earlier this year, and he’ll be joining us at Sundance (not sure if that’s cute or a horrible idea –- time will tell…).
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
Time and weather. There’s never as much time as you’d like, and we filmed in the upper Midwest during the Polar Vortex. We had a lot of subzero days. It was freezing… but the snow coming off Lake Michigan sure looked pretty.
What do you want audiences at Sundance to take away from your film?
I hope the audience feels that their intelligence was respected, and that we’ve dug deep into this tiny sliver of time shared between two young, brilliant men. This is no biopic. “The End of the Tour” takes place over just a handful of days, but it’s an intense examination of a journalist and subject during that period (with all the inherent strangeness and guardedness that comes with an interview situation). I especially hope audiences become deeply immersed in the brave, transformative performances. The actors did generous and surprising work for which I’m grateful.
Are there any films that inspired you?
“California Split,” “The American Friend,” “Withnail & I,” “Amadeus,” “The Hours and Times,” “Dont Look Back,” “Fat City,” “The Social Network,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” “Happy Together,” and “Scarecrow.”
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a few TV and film projects.
What cameras did you shoot on?
Panavision Millennium XL (3-Perf 35 mm)
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.