Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.
New York filmmaking mainstay Ira Sachs turns his attention to the younger set in his latest Sundance premiere, “Little Men,” which weaves together the stories of two very different families who are bonded by both business concerns and the blossoming friendship between their youngest members.
The big, beating heart of the film is found in the newfound relationship between young Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri), who become fast friends when Jake’s family moves into the apartment above Tony’s mother’s clothing store. Incidentally, Jake’s family owns both the apartment and the store, which causes major problems as the film winds on.
Although they’re different kinds of kids, the boys bond almost instantly, and as their parents attempt to muddle through their own issues, that friendship is threatened from all sides. It’s a heartwarming film with some powerful emotional gut punches, most of which come courtesy of Taplitz and Barbieri, young teens who are just beginning to break into feature films.
Indiewire sat down with the so-called little men of “Little Men” at the festival, where they charted their crazy Sundance journey in their own words.
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How I began acting was I saw a school play in, I believe it was kindergarten, it was “Charlotte’s Web,” and I saw what they were doing and it looked very interesting and weird and it was a very funny production of it. Seeing that it was a school play, [I knew] I could audition for it next year. So I tried out and I was doing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Narnia, and I got animal number two. After that experience, I just found it so fun and sort of uplifting. I got very into it and made my own costume and everything. –Theo Taplitz
The farther away [a character is from me] is a lot more challenging because you have to relate it to yourself a little harder. It’s more of a challenge if it’s completely different from me. But where it’s like this film, it’s easy for me to relate. It depends, sometimes I like challenges and sometimes I like it being easy to relate to myself. –Michael Barbieri
I feel that being a character that’s close to yourself is very easy and you kind of ease into it. But I think being different characters is very interesting because you are kind of stepping outside of yourself and creating something that’s not you, but is something that you might want to be, or something that you’d never be, but even in that case it’s just a fun experience. –T.T.
That acting school [in the film] is my actual acting school that I go to and that’s my actual acting teacher. A lot of those techniques and acting games we do in our normal base class, so it was very fun to actually do something I learned in a movie. –M.B.
When I was told I got the role, I got the script and went through it a couple of times and one scene that had popped out was a scene with me and Theo in my room. We were talking about my father and mother, and getting into Laguardia. That was probably the scene that jumped out to me the most. –M.B.
That’s also the scene that jumped out for me, because that’s also the scene I auditioned for as well, so that’s the first glimpse I saw of that. Another scene that popped out to me was when I was getting very emotional at the end, when I knew I couldn’t fix anything. I found that would be a very intersting scene to shoot, for me to go there emotionally. And just kind of see how everything has led up to it. –T.T.
Ira believes filming should be natural. If we rehearsed it over and over again he would say, “Oh, well no, it’s just you saying some lines.” He wants it to be, you’re not acting, you’re just being yourself and this camera is coming around you. –M.B.
This was my first time shooting that way. If I had done a film or theater, it was always rehearsal. It was my first time not doing rehearsal. I felt like it did help me more, because it made the character and the lines more natural to me. I didn’t have to think about ways to say it or act like I was acting like I was saying it. I was just saying words. –M.B.
You are responding to them in that moment, in the actual time, instead of going, “She said that, now I say my line.” It was more about, he said that, now I respond. And Ira was very particular telling us, “Do not act.” –T.T.
When I watch the film, my mind also races to what happened backstage or what happened. Oh, that scene stopped because I fell. Or something like that. It’s almost fun. It’s almost a trip down memory lane, which is quite an experience. –T.T.
It was my first time here, so it was a great experience to have my first feature film in Sundance. It was just amazing how everything turned out. There was nothing like I pictured how it was going to be, and it was just an amazing experience. I didn’t realize it was gonna be this big. When I first saw the red carpet and all the press and the interviews, that was a lot of fun. And then seeing myself in the premiere, it was a lot of fun. Great experience. –M.B.
When I heard it was going to Sundance, I was just awestruck. I’ve been to other film festivals before and usually they’re held in a theater and you go up for a Q&A, and that’s it. I didn’t expect this one to be so intricate and so much press. It’s kind of exciting to be here and it kind of emphasizes that we made a feature-length film and it’s in Sundance. And it’s just really fun. –T.T.
“Little Men” premiered last week at the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.