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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Max & Grace' Director Michael Parness

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Max & Grace' Pitch: A suicidal comedy about two young lovers who get married and escape from a mental institution in search of new ways to die...and the white light.

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience?
Yes, my first time at SXSW and I'm VERY excited. I did have a short film in 2002 that went to the Long Island Film Festival. My sister and cast and producers all liked it when we saw it, but we were the only ones there.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?
Cliche, but...A filmmaker. No question. It's what I've wanted to be my entire life.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
I got hooked on the power of films at a very young age. I was sick a lot and thus hospitalized a lot as a kid and my only real solace was films. From that point on I wanted to be able to tell stories using film. Not having any money, I started a theater company in NYC and did numerous Off and Off-Off Broadway productions as a director, writer and producer. I always had it in the back of my head that any money I earned would eventually be spent pursuing a film career, and thats what I've done.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
Not much, other than my producers rep (David Garber and Rob Lynch of Lantern Lane) actually remember my name. Kidding...

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
Yes, I thought the film was a "festival film". Don't ask me what that means, but seems I'm like a lot of indie filmmakers who are just looking for a way into mainstream filmmaking, and a career. SXSW is one of the best, so it ranked at, or near, the top of my list.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
I was busy teaching people how to "Rule the Freakin' Markets" trading stocks and I got an email from someone who had seen one of my plays years earlier and wanted to produce something in LA. Being the control freak I am, I reluctantly let him do so and in the process he asked if I had any screenplays. Max and Grace (then Saving Grace) was lying around and he loved it and his company loved it and they said they would put up money to make it. They ended up, like many, being full of BS, and the money fell through, but I decided I might as well go bankrupt to make it anyway, which is virtually what happened. Like many of my other writings, this was based on a broken relationship where I was always trying to "save" the woman I was with. Needless to say, I couldn't save her, but I did get a movie out of it!

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
Wow, thats a tough one to narrow down. I think the glaring lesson would have to be to work with people who you trust and want to work with. Forget trying to pick who the biggest "star" is and just try to pick good people. And, along those lines, trust my instinct even more, it was always dead on. No one knows your film better than you do.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
Yes, I watched films that my DP, Horatio Marquinez, suggested and I rewatched films that put me in a certain mindset. The Coen Brothers films, Raising Arizona for example, and also The Fisher King. We wanted to make a film where the camera was always moving for a reason, and since it was a narration (much more then than it is now) I liked Raising Arizona as a template tone-wise.

If a studio said ‘we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m’ – what film, if any, would you want to remake?
I think I'd love to redo Rosemary's Baby, though probably something NOT so good that I can improve upon. Maybe some B-movie that I can help make an "A" movie. A Spaghetti Western like Hang 'Em High maybe.

Two parter – name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.
I'd love to work with Sean Penn, and I think David Krumholtz is a maturing amazing actor who's range is limitless. He's also pure joy to work with.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
I think that the "politics" should be overhauled. It seems to me that too many films that shouldn't make certain key festivals make them because of who someone knows rather than the merit of the film itself, and vice-versa, who you don't know can limit your chances of getting into those same festivals. My favorite part hasn't happened yet, that's the premier of my film at a top flight festival like SXSW!

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
No, not even close. When I have a career and other people are putting up monies to help me share a vision then I'll have made it. Right now I'm at the very start of things. I'm still the only one greenlighting my projects.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says “a film by…” – Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?
I believe we use "A Suicidal Comedy!" Is that better? While I am beyond grateful for all the help and could not have finished the film without a TON of help, I directed it, wrote it, produced it and stand to lose all my money on it. So, yeah, I do think it's - A Film By....Michael Parness


Max & Grace, starring Natasha Lyonne, David Krumholtz, Tim Blake Nelson & Lorraine Bracco, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information - and be sure to check out the official Max & Grace website!

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originally posted: 02/17/05 10:37:30
last updated: 02/17/05 10:40:31
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