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May 7, 2009
Interview: Director/Writer Derick Martini on Lymelife
Posted by CoolerKing in Interviews
Derick Martini cares enough about his directorial debut, the very promising and well-made Lymelife, that he took the time and went out of his way to get in touch with us mere days after his wife gave birth to his first child via emergency section. In a very long, fascinating conversation, only part of which is reproduced below, Derick and I spoke about a wide variety of topics including the films that inspired Lymelife, the current state of cinema, how arthouse films are marketed, and working with Alec Baldwin.


**********


MOVIE RETRIEVER: How's the movie doing?

DERICK MARTINI: Every weekend has been about $50,000. They keep shuffling it around. In some theaters, it's really working. In other ones, it's not. So, what they'll do is they'll move it out of one theater because they want to keep the prints all in rotation. They want to keep all their prints circulating even if they're taking out smaller ads in certain cities. They still want the income. Every week has been fifty grand consistently. We haven't dropped. I think we're in 40 cities now. My guess is they'll max out around 80. We could max out at around 100 or 110. I don't know that this is going to be a 500 screen movie, unless I'm just underestimating the movie. I just don't know. I don't see it. I see it running ten to twelve weeks in certain places like New York. It's been really strong there. And in some places in L.A. Chicago came out pretty strong this weekend. I think in some of those places it will run ten to twelve weeks maybe more. Other places, it will fall off the map. It will do what it's gonna do.

Lymelife


MOVIE RETRIEVER: That's interesting to me. I'm always a little curious what a filmmaker's expectations of his movie are. I think the "independent hit" is getting fewer and farther between. As you were saying, 500 screens would be HUGE for a movie like this.

MARTINI: That would be TREMENDOUS.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: The actual "arthouse" hit is getting rare. But it sounds to me like you recognize the potential of something like this theatrically.

MARTINI: Look, I knew what I signed up for when I signed up with this company [Screen Media Group]. My expectations were that they were going to... they were primarily a DVD output company for Universal for years and they want very badly to be in the independent market, the theatrical market. Their desire and their pursuit of this film is what convinced me not to go with one of the others like Searchlight or... well, Miramax had Adventureland and they had so much money in that that they were not going to buy anything remotely resembling a coming-of-age story, period piece. Searchlight, Lionsgate, those guys were knocking on the door. My feeling was that they don't have a lot of money in it and they're not really that hungry to be known theatrically, so Screen Media became a situation where I felt it could put them on the map because they were going to put everything they had behind it. What I didn't know was that they're not set up. This is where the naivete or mistake comes in. They don't have a business model like Fox Searchlight. They don't have the same amount of money. You take this picture. If I would have sold it to Searchlight, they would have tracked it. We did this. We did many, many screenings. They would have tracked it and they could care less what the critics think, wondering what the audience thought. With this film, with every single screening - forgetting the festivals because those don't count - what we noticed was that the audiences were freaking out about the movie. It was testing through the roof. It was amazing. It was originally supposed to open on two screens - one in New York, one in L.A.. Now we're on 40 and we're four weeks in. They got really excited because they saw the reactions from about 12 screenings.

Lymelife


They put as much money as they could into the first weekend and we did well. We were very competitive with other films of the ilk like Anvil and whatever else was doing well. What happened was that when we started expanding, they couldn't do what Fox Searchlight does. When they have a movie like this and they're in their second or third week and they've got all the critics responses and they have some momentum, they start spending MORE money. They start buying box office. Word-of-mouth does not mean anything unless you have the money to prove it. That means buying bigger ads. And we're down to 2x2 because we just don't have the money to buy the bigger box office.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Word-of-mouth is great, but people need to have that supported with ads and other delivery forms. They need some other form of "Oh yeah, I've heard about that movie."

MARTINI: It's about repetition. My friend tells me, "I just saw Lymelife and it's a great picture." I probably won't go but if my friend tells me and the next day I open the newspaper and there's a full page ad with quotes, I'm more likely to say "I'll go check that out." They're falling short on that. It's just a money thing. You live and you learn.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: And it's the kind of movie that will continue to get buzz and work toward a good life on DVD.

MARTINI: The good thing is that they have a great DVD model. This is the biggest movie they've ever had.

Lymelife


MOVIE RETRIEVER: The production notes for Lymelife quotes you as saying, "It’s about change: how people change, and how when faced with change how they initially resist but ultimately have to embrace change because that’s life." What major changes have you encountered in your life, other than the baby last week, of course?

MARTINI: Last week was the mother of all changes. When you're a product of divorce... you have a mother and a father. One day, they're sleeping the same bed and then suddenly they're in different houses. In my life, it was a tremendous change. I was probably about the age that Scott is in the picture. 14 or 15. It was pretty sudden. I knew everything wasn't hunky-dory but if you grew up with that tension, you just get used to it. "This is how it is." When the breaking point comes, it's pretty shocking. You start to form your own opinions about who's right and who's wrong. This movie is, again, ultimately, a coming-of-age movie. You need to service certain...you can call them "contrivances" or "cliches"... I call them "obligations." There are certain obligations you have to the genre that you need to service. What I tried to do in this picture was just to find ways to undermine the cliche. Let's say subvert the cliche. What I tried to do was take the typical coming-of-age story and turn it into what I see as an adult story from an innocent perspective. That was what got me excited about it. A lot of these people I knew growing up. I didn't come of age in the '70s. I came of age in the '80s and '90s. But I set in back in the late '70s for other reasons. I knew a lot of these people. At the beginning, there were a lot of stories I wanted to tell. I remember a storyline I had in there about a volunteer fireman. Our volunteer fire department was where you bought the pot. (Laughs.)

There were a lot of things in there in what I guess you could call my first draft that was very vignette-y. It was 150 pages! I knew it was not going to work as a moving picture. What I did was I went back and said, "What am I missing here?" I happened to watch the Criterion of The 400 Blows again. I remembered loving it and remembered it being about a family and a boy. It hit me in the head like a hammer - "What I'm missing here is that I need to tell this adult drama from an innocent perspective just like The 400 Blows." That's when the script wrote itself. Everything that I was fighting to keep and to fit into the story became very flagrantly, obviously superfluous. They fell off. They just fell out of the script. And it just became a movie from this boy's point of view. And playing against the sentiment was important to me. Again, you watch The 400 Blows and the brilliant part of that movie is that in other hands it would have been a complete sap-fest. It could have been overly sentimental. But if you watch the little details of Truffaut and the way he played against the emotion of the scene with the score was the thing that made it unsentimental. That's what makes the movie really work and a classic. It doesn't sentimentalize. That's a waltz for a score. A twisted version of a waltz but it's a happy tune. It was so enlightening and inspiring.

Lymelife


MOVIE RETRIEVER: Why did you move it to the '70s?

MARTINI: From my neck of the woods, it's really during that time when a lot of men that I knew growing up were just becoming wealthy for the first time. I wanted to tell a story that was on the cusp of the '80s, which, to me, was on the cusp of overindulgence. That's why it was important to set it in '79. But I also wanted it to feel timeless in a sense. I didn't want to make it That '70s Show. The other thing was about Lyme Disease. They didn't really know what it was then. They were just figuring it out. They were misdiagnosing it all the time. Even when I was growing up because we had a neighbor who was misdiagnosed with it, which is who [Tim Hutton's] character is based on. Once you misdiagnose it, it exacerbates it and creates what you see in the film - a human being worn down to a nub in every which way.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Have your parents seen the film?

MARTINI: My father thinks it's great. He loves it. He's really into it. My mother thought there were too many curses in it. She saw it when we played in Toronto. I remember her saying afterwards, "Did you get that King Farouk line from me?" There's a line that Jill throws out - "What are you King Farouk because you got a couple of dollars in your pocket?" My mother used to say something like that to me when I was a kid so she made that connection. She says, "Did you take that line from me?" And I said, "Mom, the whole CHARACTER is based on you." She says, "No. I never curse that much." I said, "Mom, I actually toned it down." (Laughs.) But she enjoyed the film very much. And then she would try and give me notes that I should cut out the curses. Typical mother stuff. "Okay mom."

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I know Alec Baldwin was really crucial in getting the film made. How did he get behind the film and how important was he to the film?

MARTINI: I wrote the role with him in mind. I remember seeing him on Broadway as a kid in A Streetcar Named Desire and he blew everyone off the stage. He was un-f***ing-believable. That's my reference when I think about Alec. I don't watch his show. I've seen it once. I'm sure he's wonderful on it. He's a gifted actor and a gifted man. But Streetcar is my reference for him when I think about his abilities. I know this guy has the range to do what I needed him to do in this picture - going from the confident Alec we all know to the guy who loses the respect of his son and is basically begging for it back. That vulnerability was something I was really after. I thought I'd see what he thought of it and he was immediately attracted to it. I knew he was going to deliver and he did in so many different ways. Forget about the performance for a minute. He was shooting 30 Rock around the movie. He would shoot 3 days for 30 Rock and 3 days for me. I don't know many actors that can take... not every actor can actually chance their character to such an extent.

MOVIE RETRIEVER:
In theater, which you and Alec have a lot of experience with, you build to big moments. Alec and Jill have a huge fight scene in the film but there's no build in film. You do several takes and shoot out of order. How do you get your actors to that sort of peak without the benefit of chronological, emotional build up?

MARTINI:
It's a very good question. That was one of the toughest scenes to shoot. Like you said, it needed to be UGLY. When I put it on its feet in a blocking rehearsal, it was too polite. This is the advantage of a young director working with a veteran like Alec Baldwin. I was this way with my whole cast but in that particular scene, your actors are your most important collaborators. Everything else has been prepared. Everything else becomes tertiary and your focus is on the actors. In that particular scene, we were in rehearsal and I didn't want it full speed and it was weird and it wasn't working. So we tried full speed and it was too polite. Even before I went to Alec, he said, "Martini, when these things happen in life, they're not this polite." "I was thinking the same thing." So now it's my job to fix it. You can't just say, "Don't make it so polite." That's not act-able direction. You can't philosophize. "Bigger." "Smaller." That's all bullsh**. That's not directing. What I did was I threw the script out the window and set up Alec's single first. I pulled Jill aside and said, "Here are the lines. Forget about them. Here's what you do. I want you to make this guy feel like the biggest bag of sh** on Earth. He has humiliated you your whole life. You want him to suffer for what he's done to you. F*** the lines. Say what you want to say. Tear him to shreds."

MOVIE RETRIEVER: And you hadn't improv-ed a lot on camera?

MARTINI: Only with the kids. Not with the adults until this scene. He wasn't expecting it and she was BRILLIANT. I saw that light in eyes go off. And that is what set the scene on fire. He got so worked up. She was saying things like "I hate the way you smell, the way you brush your teeth, that stupid f***ing grin." Everything she said - it's in the picture. I kept most of those lines in the picture. That's what set that scene on fire.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Is there something you enjoy doing more? Theatre or film?

MARTINI: Film. Without a doubt. I've come to love editing, laying in music... I just feel more at home in film. It's certainly more exhausting to do a film and to see it through to the end but it's very rewarding and in a long term way.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: Who are the filmmakers that inspired you?

MARTINI: Truffaut. Sergio Leone. Not for performances but style. His shot design. The way the man used the lens to me is always inspiring. Who's work can you watch over and over again and find new things? Truffaut, Leone, and Scorsese are the top three for me. I can watch their work and find new things. And Hal Ashby. I can watch again and again and be inspired and really get excited about it.  Cassavettes. I love performance-driven pieces. His pictures are wonderful. Today? Film is disappointing. Look, I'm a sucker for, let's say, Wolverine. I'm probably going to see it because I was a comic book fan. But most pictures today, people aren't as ambitious as guys like Scorsese and Truffaut and Spielberg back in the day. And Cassavettes. They were doing things that were quasi-experimental but telling great stories. You don't really see it like you used to. A friend of mine does it really well - a guy named David Gordon Green.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: I love David.

MARTINI:  He's one of those guys who you say, "This guy's got the right idea." Of course, he'll do Pineapple Express because he's got to pay his bills...

MOVIE RETRIEVER: AND he'll do it great. I adore All the Real Girls and Undertow, but Pineapple is an expertly directed film.

MARTINI: If he hadn't done it, it wouldn't have been half the film, in my opinion. But he can't keep doing George Washington or he'll go broke. He's the guy I look at and say, "I admire his balls. I admire what he does." But I can't count on more than one hand how many filmmakers are out there doing that.

MOVIE RETRIEVER: What advice to give to the kid considering entering the world of filmmaking not to feel so negative about the world of film?

MARTINI: I get this question a lot, especially from the parents who have come to the word-of-mouth screenings. What do you think I should do? I'm a film school drop-out. I think film school could be great for some people, but I was more interested in theater at age 18 than film school. So, I really don't get into whether or not they should go to film school. I say that there are so many great movies that have been made historically that you need to watch them all...many, many times. Then when you go out to make your first film, don't make a short. Write something you love. Write something that's shoot-able on a budget. And make a f***ing 95-minute feature. Or an 89-minute feature. Write a 90-page script. Now, today, I don't really like digital filmmaking...I shoot on anamorphic lenses because it's the lens that I see drama through… but today, if you can do it, take your credit card, get your friends to work on it for free, take a few weeks of your life and go and shoot a whole narrative feature. There's no point in doing a short film in my opinion. In this day and age, you can do it cheap enough and have a shot of having it play and selling it. If you wind up knocking one out of the park... if it's meant to be... you'll get noticed. Your picture will get seen.

- Lymelife is currently playing in most markets, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and will be expanding across the country and around the world more in the coming weeks. Seek it out.

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Posted by CoolerKing in Interviews - May 7, 2009 at 2:05 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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