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SXSW '08 Interview: "Humboldt County" Writer-Directors Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs

by William Goss

The "Humboldt County" Pitch: "Peter Hadley (Jeremy Strong) -- a promising yet disillusioned medical student failed by his professor (Peter Bogdanovich) -- stumbles upon a remote community of counterculture marijuana farmers and a warmly embracing, yet eccentric family."

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
"Humboldt County" was born from a love of 70's Hollywood cinema, but it's a modern story set in the redwood forests of Northern California with a family of marijuana growers.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience?
"Humboldt County" is our first feature and we are premiering it at SXSW on opening night, so we're breaking our festival cherries, if you will. We're incredibly excited, and we especially look forward to wearing badges around our necks, holding them up as often as possible, "Wayne's World" style, to look 'official.'

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up, I want to be a..." what?
For Darren, it was to be the first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, for Danny, the second baseman. We have not yet fully abandoned this dream, but Darren's going to have to beat out Albert Pujols. Danny's got a more open pathway.

Not including your backyard and your dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
We've both been working as actors for quite some time, so our experience as filmmakers began in front of the camera and on stage. We've also been writing together for nearly a decade.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
Absolutely not. Although we certainly hope the film is well received, we made the picture we intended to make and that's incredibly gratifying. We firmly believe that's what makes films enjoyable and successful: when the filmmakers' successfully bring their visions to the screen.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Well, the Muppets that we actually represent are those bickering old guys who comment on and kvetch about everything they see. But as far as whom do we relate to? That would have to be Fozzie - cause we're pretty sure he's a fellow Jew.

During production, did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
No. Our shoot was brisk and intense clocking in at about 20 days, and every day, our brains nearly exploded. Trying to cram any more information about festivals, customers or reviews would have truly ended with splattered nastiness all over the walls.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
The journey of "Humboldt County" commenced just over five years ago when we – having grown frustrated with trying to write in noisy and frenetic Los Angeles – decided to head north and sequester ourselves in the middle of the woods in order to focus for a month. We decided on Humboldt because Darren has family there. Once we arrived, reconnected with his family, and discovered the beauty and complexity of the place, we abandoned our other script and immediately began work on what would become this film. After completing the script, we trekked across the country for a year, fundraising with our producer in living rooms of forward-thinking (and wealthy) people looking to dabble in the world of film financing. Nine grueling months of casting and six hectic weeks of pre-production led to our vigorous and ambitious 18 days of shooting on location in Humboldt. A year of post-production followed, and we finally completed our answer print on beautiful 35mm about three weeks ago.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Disappointing though it may be, all these clichés are true. Many times, you'll be faced with a decision and – although you will not understand why – you will feel a deep sense of unease about it. Listen to that little voice inside you, that low rumble. It is the voice of your artistic spirit, telling you what to do. Or perhaps, you could just be hungry.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
We have long been inspired by the American films of the 1970s. Quiet, character driven, and purposefully paced films from the likes of Peter Bogdanovich (who we were lucky enough to have in our cast), Bob Rafelson and Hal Ashby, have informed our love of filmmaking as storytelling. When we first set out to make our homage to the '70s, we believed audiences would respond to this kind of realistic storytelling, and we're pleased to now see this is the case. Everywhere we look, people like George Clooney are talking about the 70s aesthetic they love and try to emulate in films like "Michael Clayton". We're pleased to know we've apparently got our fingers on the zeitgeist, but we're a little creeped out to know Clooney was snooping on our story meetings.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell "This! I want something JUST like this, only different."?
Three words: "Five Easy Pieces". Though our film is very different from that film, we wanted a similar tone and a similar balance between the comedy and the drama.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Paul Giamatti. Or a young Fatty Arbuckle.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Easy. The Buzz Bissinger novel, "Three Nights in August," about Tony La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. If there's anything in this world we love and know more than movies, it's Cardinal baseball. Kevin Pollak owns the rights so, Kevin, if you're out there, please please please let's sit down and discuss it. Please.

Name an actor in your film that's absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
There's this kid we found named Peter Bogdanovich. We don't think anybody's ever heard of him but he's made some little films that nobody's ever seen and believe us when we tell you, they're pretty good. You know, for an amateur. Plus, he's got some stories... Well, you'll have to ask him. He's better at telling them.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...
Danny: A foreign policy expert in the State Department.
Darren: A horse.
Danny: Wait, if you're gonna be funny about it, I also want to be funny.
Darren: Too late.
Danny: I'd be a member of the Electoral College.
Darren: See. That's not funny.
Danny: Fine. Whatever.

Who's an actor you'd kill a small dog to work with? (Don't worry; nobody would know.)
Jack Nicholson.

Have you 'made it' yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"?
When the aforementioned St. Louis Cardinals let us throw out the first pitch at a game at Busch, then we've made it.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Extremely important! In fact, they're more important than ever. In a saturated marketplace with so many entertainment options and yet so few adequately promoted, critics help little films like ours get a chance to reach their intended audience. Without critics championing those films, so many gems would be lost.

You're told that your next movie must have one product placement on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Cheese. We love cheese. Any kind of cheese. I mean, really; it can be eaten as an appetizer, a main dish, or a dessert. It's the most excitingly flexible food out there. We'd be proud to find a way to incorporate cheese into any and every movie we ever make. Granola's good, too.

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
We'd trim the sex scene, but in order to remain uncompromised, we'd post the sex scene online with explicit instructions for home viewers to pause the film at the appropriate moment, go to their computers, watch the sex scene, then return to their televisions and press 'play'. There is always a solution!

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film - or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
Filmmaking is no doubt a collaborative medium. There is no way our picture turns out without the dedication and hard work of countless others, each of whom has his or her own imprint on the finished product. That said, a good movie doesn't get made without the driving force of an artist's vision behind it, and that vision usually comes from a director. We didn't take a "film by" credit on "Humboldt County," but we certainly don't begrudge filmmakers who do. We can't speak for others, so if you're Paul Thomas Anderson, go ahead and say "a film by." You won't hear peep from us.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Danny: Wait, there are a trillion other films out there?
Darren: I think they were exaggerating.
Danny: I want to say "because ours is better than all of the others," but -- jeez -- I don't know if it's better than a trillion films.
Darren: They could also be referring to the trillion options out there for how people can now spend their entertainment dollars.
Danny: I think they're referring to films. The question is about choosing our film over other film options out there.
Darren: I'm just saying, it's a crowded marketplace these days.
Danny: You're an idiot.
Darren: Regardless, we should probably get to a real answer because I don't know how much room their going to let us have for this interview.
Danny: Good call. You start.
Darren: All right. This is gonna be good. The real reason to see "Humboldt County" is because it --

---

Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs' Humboldt County will play as part of the 2008 South By Southwest's "Emerging Visions" slate. For more information, click here.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2390
originally posted: 02/17/08 09:49:46
last updated: 02/21/08 12:59:48
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