Writer-Director-Actress of “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” the Most Original and Visionary Film at This Year’s Sundance Dramatic Competition.
Where did the idea for the film originate
This movie was inspired by the longing I carried around as a child, longing for the future, for someone to find me, for magic to descend upon my life and transform everything. It was also informed by how this longing progressed as I became an adult, slightly more fearful, more contorted, but no less fantastically hopeful.
You have a varied background in the arts. How did these other mediums inform your filmmaking
To me it is all one medium, all one voice inside me. The mediums – performances, short stories, radio-plays, movies–are just the voice paired with different sides of me. Part of me loves technical invention and will spend months coming up with new ways to interact with video onstage. But other parts of me think that is boring and just want to be on that stage. But then I am also shy and might just want to write a story in my room and not have to deal with anyone. The part of me that makes movies is thinking big and wants to be in conversation with the whole world.
How did the Sundance Institute help you develop the story and the film How was the experience beneficial as a first time filmmaker
In January of 2003 I went to the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. I had never shown my script to anyone before this, so just hearing people speak these character’s names out loud was ground breaking for me. The month long lab gave me the opportunity to shoot 7 scenes from my script as practice runs. It was so important to break the movie out of my internal world and learn just how much I was going to have to communicate to make this happen. In retrospect, it was also important to know how hard the process would be. By the time I got to the real thing I was braced and ready.
How are your roles as writer/director/actor fundamentally different for you Which is the most exciting one
Writing and acting are very similar for me. As I’m writing I’m actually acting out all the parts, saying the dialogue out loud, working out expressions and then transferring those ideas to paper. By the time I get to the set I have the whole screenplay in my head as if it is my job to act out every single part. The writing process is very intuitive for me but also very solitary, when I direct I suddenly need other people. In my directing I try to make my collaborators feel as free as I felt in my room when I was writing. This is harder, but it is incredibly meaningful.
Can you talk about Richard’s role as a father and potential lover
I don’t think Richard feels like a real dad, he doesn’t feel competent playing that role. I am exploring the idea that being a Father’ is a role that you have to take on and play along with willingly; that roles are an important part of moving through life. Learning how to play a role is one of the risks Richard must take.
In the film, Richard could have this really romantic thing happen when Christine gets into the car with him, but instead he kicks her out.
It’s only because he can’t play the role of the Lover. It is the mental leap he has to take, just like I had to take a mental leap and be the director’ of the movie.
If you don’t trust roles it is harder to be in any kind of relationship. John Hawkes really brought that out in Richard. John has a kind of intelligence that can be dangerous, or hilarious, or heartbreaking or completely revelatory. He moves me as a person in the same way that Richard does as a character
How was working with so many child actors
It was so wonderful! Personally, it brings out so much love and tenderness, which is a great way to be feeling all day when you are working.
Brandon, who plays Robbie, was the first kid to audition. The character was supposed to be 7 and we were looking for a 9 year old who looked 7. He walked in and he was 5. I didn’t even know if he could read. So I was asking him to do improvisations and stuff and then he turns to us and says “When do I say the part about the poop” And then he just did it and had every line memorized and was ready to go. We could have been shooting; he was a tiny genius. We tried to find someone who was older but by that time he had turned 6 and I really wanted him to play the part. His mom said that this was the first really age appropriate thing that he had done. All the stuff about the poop, it was completely familiar to him and where he was at mentally. If you don’t bring shame to it then its not there. That was my approach with all of the kids.
Miles Thompson we found at the last moment, he was one of the few people we had to fly in from New York. I was looking for a boy who had no macho guy things in him and Miles is like that. He had so much else going on, he is just on this other plane all together. It was great to have him there, because acting is just one of a million things that he is passionate about. He was just interested in the experiences and learning from them–a rare thing in moviemaking, which is very goal-oriented.
Carlie Westerman is Sylvie. She is completely undaunted by anything, even in very high stress situations. She would occasionally give Chuy Chavez and I gentle suggestions. But I think we all felt we were in the presence of a real star and it was hard not to agree with even the most bizarre ideas that came out of her unblinking ten-year-old face.
Was it challenging to direct them in adult situations
On the day Myles, Natasha and Najarra were doing the scene in Peter’s bedroom the three teenagers suddenly became their own clique, and I felt wonderfully irrelevant. It was a tough scene because of its sensitive nature, but I actually directed them very little that day. I was like the uncool mom who embarrasses you by trying to understand your world. They had their own rhythm, which was really serious and awkward, and I thought it was perfect for this sexual ritual.
Have you collaborated with Chuy Chavez before
Chuy and I had never worked together before, but we had a mutual friend in Miguel Arteta. Chuy had shot Miguel’s first two films. When I met Chuy I instantly knew that we would be able to make a language together. I think we both come from a similar artistic place, which allowed us to trust each other. I spent three days acting out the movie for him in my living room, doing all the parts, and expressing each tone and emotion that I wanted to capture. This was important because, except for the tricky scenes, we didn’t use a shot list or storyboards. I would rehearse the scene in the location with the actors, feeling out the blocking and he would take photographs. He would flip through them on his digital camera and I would either like how it looked, or immediately see the problem in what I had blocked. This was especially helpful for the scenes that I was also acting in.
How did the film’s music and sound set the tone you are trying to achieve.
Most of the score is made on what Mike Andrews, the composer, calls “democratic instruments.” These are instruments that anyone could play; Casio keyboards, vocoder, drum machine, etc. And by not using a midi sequencer we benefited from all the accidents’ of performance. Playing emotional music on these cold instruments reflected the movie well, it accentuated the blatant honesty without making it maudlin.
“Me and You” is highly personal. How important is it to have yourself reflected in your work
Every day I am compelled to make things, in whatever medium. I do it because I’m totally captivated by other people and their lives, and to carry me forward through time in a way that feels tolerable. I don’t consciously think about making my work personal, in fact sometimes I am certain that I wrote a scene that has nothing to do with me, but it is always these scenes that slap me in the face later on when I see that I was a million steps ahead myself, the rest of me is glacially slow.