[Editor’s Note: This post is presented in partnership with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand in support of Indie Film Month. “Results,” is available now On Demand. Need help finding a movie to watch? Let TWC find the best fit for your mood here.]
Back in 2002, Andrew Bujalski became known for pioneering the “mumblecore” movement with his debut film “Funny Ha Ha.” The term usually refers to indie films made on small budgets, featuring natural dialogue and starring amateur actors. But with his new movie “Results,” Bujalski breaks away from the shackles of his old signifier. Starring big names like Cobie Smulders, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Corrigan, “Results” is more structured and accessible than the director’s past efforts.
Set in Austin, “Results” splits equal time between three strange and lonely characters. Danny (Corrigan) has recently inherited a large sum of money, but has no one to share it with. Depressed and a little flabby, he tries to get in shape by hitting the local gym. He meets perfectionist and health guru Trevor (Pearce), and begins working with a prickly, slightly nutty personal trainer named Kat (Smulders). A love triangle emerges between the three; the story could technically be classified a rom-com, but the relationships don’t progress as you might expect. The film is more loose and unconventional. “Results” seems to vaguely continue the narratives of those listless 20-somethings who appeared in Bujalski’s early work; they’re adults now, but as confused as ever.
The film open in select theaters on May 29 and is available to watch On Demand through Time Warner Cable.
This is a more commercial movie than has been typical for you.
I hope so!
It has bigger names and more of a rom-com formula. Your previous films were sort of meandering, and had mostly non-professional actors. Did you want “Results” to have mass appeal?
Oh, for sure. It’s a different kind of moviemaking from the ground up. The genesis of this was trying to build something different than I was accustomed to.
How does the process of working with a bigger budget differ most from the process of making a small indie?
Filmmaking is filmmaking, so a lot of the process is the same, and a lot of the same instincts certainly serve you in both worlds. I should note too, certainly by professional moviemaking standards, that this would still be considered a pretty cheap, scrappy little indie. But of course it was more money than I was used to having around. Not that all of that money was being spent on luxuries! It felt, in some ways, even more tightly scheduled, and almost like we had fewer luxuries than before.
I feel like the military metaphor is always apt for filmmaking: what I’m used to, in a sense, is this guerrilla style, where it’s all hands on deck. Everybody is running and contributing and putting their hands on everything, and doing whatever it takes to survive in the jungle. Whereas, once you do have dozens of people on set, the structure becomes more hierarchical, and more about chain of command. It took some adjusting to; my job becomes like a general sitting behind a desk somewhere, while everyone else does all the work. The professional actors are very used to that; they live and breath in that zone.
I’d say the biggest difference working with pros v. non-pros is all of their training, like they’re so used to getting dropped into unusual situations and adverse conditions and having to deliver something really strong without getting to take a breath. What’s nice about that is, they show up super-prepared and basically bulletproof. The drawback, of course, is that I was often looking to breath some vulnerability back in. With non-professionals, you’ve got plenty of vulnerability, and it’s all about working with them to get to a certain confidence and structure. And with professionals, that structure is all there, and if anything, we’re chipping away at that.
Even though the film had a bigger budget, it still feels intimate. Your projects tend to feature a lot of natural-sounding dialogue, which seems improvised—but it’s usually scripted. Did your actors improvise at all here?
They brought little things here and there. These guys, this is their job. They’re so used to taking what’s on the page, and mastering it, and finding a way to make it their own and make it natural. But by and large, I’m working with people who are very accustomed to respecting the page. And again, if anything, it’s my job to try and chip away at that respect.
It’s hard to write natural dialogue. Another Austin guy who does it well is Richard Linklater. Cobie Smulders hasn’t had too many leading roles in features. Here, we get to see her be funny, sexy and so different from how she is on “How I Met Your Mother.” I know you wrote the film with specific actors in mind. Why did you want Cobie for the part?
I did have Guy Pearce and Kevin Corrigan in mind and was extraordinary lucky to be able to pull both of them into it. Starting with those two guys in mind, part of what made me laugh, was to think about those two. For all the surface dissimilarities between Guy and Kevin, there is some oddball kind of overlap between them. Part of it is a certain kind of inscrutability—part of what makes them both interesting as actors is that you never know what either of those guys is thinking. I knew if I was gonna write for two inscrutable guys, I needed something else. I needed an explosive and very warm woman between them, and I didn’t know who was going to play that. I never had quite so clear an image of who that actor would be. So I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have found Cobie. I didn’t know her work; she’s only made things that are really successful, like “HIMYM” or “The Avengers,” and I haven’t seen those things. But when you’re making a movie in that world, the agents throw names at you, and I did my little YouTube research, and then got on a Skype call with her, and really liked her. The vibe felt good immediately. Went out to LA, and we ran a screen test. I knew from that first take, I could see the movie starting to work.
Was Cobie already in incredible shape when she got to set, or did she train for the role?
I think she was coming off “Avengers,” so… she’s also kind of a freak of nature. I don’t really understand. She was pregnant when we shot! Ordinarily, I wouldn’t advise a pregnant woman to go do a movie like this [laughs]. We talked about it a lot. It was certainly a concern, going in. But in terms of her psychological toughness… I saw her at Sundance in January, I think the baby was three weeks old or something, and Cobie, of course, looked amazing. She has a freakish body and a freakish mind. So we took advantage of it!
The chemistry between the three characters is offbeat and great. Guy Pearce made a lot of sense for the story, because he was a former bodybuilder in Australia, and he’s still in impressive shape. But both he and Kevin are unlikely candidates for a rom-com. What was it like working with the two of them together?
I had no idea what was going to happen when I put the two of them in a room together. They do have a lot in common; they’re both these journeyman actors. They’re both eccentrics. Kevin wears his eccentricity very plainly and that’s what he’s built his career on; but if you spend a minute getting to know them, Guy is every bit as weird as Kevin—if not weirder. It was fun to watch them play off each other. It was a sort of fascinating mélange between Guy, Kevin and Cobie. All three were super seasoned, dyed-in-the-wool actors, with such different backgrounds and approaches. A lot of the fun was in trying to make these pieces fit together and watching them bounce off of each other.
The film’s narrative deals with the health craze that’s gripping our nation, an obsession with personal training and eating right. You’ve spoken about the idea of “self-improvement culture,” or making a better version of yourself. Are you mocking this notion, or promoting its possibilities, or both?
Myself, and a lot of people I know, have these conflicted relationships with it. It’s certainly easy to laugh at a lot of that world, but obviously there’s something to it. What interested me is this idea of self-improvement, that whether it’s through work or buying products, you can make yourself better. There’s some sort of obvious truth to much of it, on the one hand. It is a fact that if you go to the gym everyday, or even a few times a week, your body will change, and will probably change in ways that you like. So they are selling something valuable. On the other hand, there’s always a human tendency to think that by fixing or improving one thing, you’re going to improve everything. That you’re gonna be a better person. That’s clearly not true. No matter how much you go to the gym or what amazing organic food you buy, you’re still you. Whatever was haunting you in the first place is probably still there. I felt within that, there was a lot of room for humor and to explore. A lot of our culture is caught between these two facts: that it is possible to make things better, but we always trick ourselves into thinking we’re going to make everything better. And we never do. But it’s hard; it’s against our human nature to just accept reality when it comes to these things.
Your films have coined the term “mumblecore.” How do you feel about it? Is it a good descriptor for your work?
I never thought it was a good descriptor. The word is 10 years-old now, I guess. So it’s been around long enough that it’s taken on its own life, and I don’t bristle so much at it as I used to. It felt so specifically affixed… it was just this thing I couldn’t get off of me, that was going to be on my gravestone. You spend years and years on something, you put your life into a movie, your blood, sweat, and tears, and then people say, “Hey, there’s this new mumblecore trend.” And that’s what people want to talk about. There’s a frustration there, mostly that springs from a fear that people are not going to see the movie. The word has enough cache now… and I don’t know that people care so much as they used to. I think the faddishness has come and gone, which is great.
People aren’t using it to describe this new movie, so much.
Well, it will still be in most things that are written about it! It will be on my tombstone. But that’s fine. I’ll be dead.
People love to categorize things. It’s an easy way of identifying what you do.
Yeah, I get that. I was in high school when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were tearing up the charts. You’d hear and read about this thing called “grunge.” And I kind of got it, as a fashion thing. They both wore flannel shirts. But then I would listen to their songs, and I would be like, This doesn’t sound anything like each other… why are we calling this a musical movement? For whatever they had in common, the music was so different. That’s what bugged me. But ultimately, I’ve come to terms with it; it’s not about the music or the movies, when you talk about these categories. It has nothing to do with the aesthetics, per se. It has more to do with pop cultural history, and shared influences, and a moment in time. I get now that nobody was talking about the content or the feelings of my movies or how they worked.
You acted in your first few films (“Funny Ha Ha” and “Mutual Appreciation”). How is it different directing without also being in front of the camera? It is easier?
I think so. It’s been a while since I directed myself. I occasionally fantasize about doing it again. I’m not sure what would be the right project for it. I’d love to, if there were the right moment. But I did feel like I pretty well explored my range. When I did the first movie, I thought it went well, and then when I did the second movie, I thought, Let me see what else I’ve got. And then at the end of that, I thought, I kind of went A to B there, and that’s the range I have.
Do you think you’ll continue to work with professional actors?
That’s the short-term intention. I got a mortgage and I got two kids, so it would be cool if I could make movies and get paid for it. That seems to involve professional actors these days. My dreams and enthusiasm are kind of all over the place. I have dreams for things that might make sense as great big expensive movies, and I still have plenty of dreams for things that I should be doing in my backyard. It’s always a matter of what you think you can get away with at any moment. I think filmmakers, by their nature, are always sort of scam artists, looking for the angle, looking for where you can sneak in. Very rarely in the 21st century, almost never, is the path clear and easy. It’s always some trick you have to pull off.