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SXSW '05 Interview: 'Mutual Appreciation' Director Andrew Bujalski

by Scott Weinberg

The 'MUTUAL APPRECIATION' Pitch: Alan is a musician who leaves a busted-up band for New York, and a new musical voyage. He tries to stay focused and fends off all manner of distractions, including the attraction to his good friend's girlfriend.

Will this be your first time at SXSW? Any other film festival experience? I used to live in Austin and saw a bunch of movies at the fest back in, I think it was 2000, which was fun. As for general fest experience, my last film bounced around to several, of all different stripes...

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?
I'm sure I would have said filmmaker--which I don't consider to be a badge of honor. On the contrary, I worry that it's a sign of intellectual laziness that I never bothered to come up with any alternatives.

How did you get started in filmmaking?
Saw too many movies, had an obsessive personality, took classes in college, have had a tremendous amount of good fortune.

How have things changed for you since your film was accepted into the festival?
I'm frantically scrambling to get the print of the film finished--I never knew before that post-production could be every bit as hair-whiteningly
stressful as production.

When you were shooting the film, did you have SXSW (or film festivals in general) in mind?
I guess I figured that the film would probably make its way to some fests eventually, but I do my best to put the exhibition life of the film as far from mind as possible until it comes time for that. Tthere are plenty enough worries without thinking that way.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?
Getting the momentum to get your pragmatic operations up & running is, of course, the hardest part of all of this. Again, I've had extraordinary luck, the right people turning up in the right place at the exact right moment, et cetera. Not that it hasn't been quite a slog to get through it. But having done another film on a similar (very small) scale a few years back, we had a kind of template for how we could/should do this.

What’s the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?
I used to think that it was absurd that most movies cost millions of dollars--it seemed wasteful and decadent to me. Now I think I understand where all of that money goes; it certainly would have made things easier for us. Though of course, it would have required raising millions of dollars, which would have made things a good deal harder for us...

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation?
The cinematographer & I rented a few videos, which is fun to do but truthfully doesn't have much specific bearing on the work. We have a musical performance scene in the film so we rented Nashville and watched the singing bits, but I don't think we ended up stealing any shots or anything. That sort of inspiration is always more along the lines of "Hey, look a great movie; let's us try to make a great movie too" than "That's an interesting choice of lens." Though probably the cinematographer is looking at different things than I am.

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 have a fantasy that a studio would let me--or anyone--into their vaults, to all of the original production negative and sound recording of some classic film, provided they haven't thrown it all out, and then let someone re-edit the movie using only alternate takes. I think that would be the coolest & most instructive thing. Say, Casablanca, but entirely
comprised of slightly altered performances.

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.
1. Who would I have to kill? I am against killing.

2. I think all of the actors in my film are destined for greatness, and if they're lucky it will be in some field other than acting.

The festival circuit: what could be improved? What's been your favorite part of the ride?
Different fests are fun for different reasons. Some are a lot of fun as a film lover, getting to see lots of eclectic great stuff. Some are fun as a lover of free food. But it's always nice to go on a little vacation for a few days and you always meet good people.

Have you ‘made it’ yet? If not, at what point will you be able to say ‘yes’?
My work has gotten more attention and more approval than I ever would have imagined, and for that I'm tremendously grateful. Of course I still don't know how I'm going to pay my rent next month, and by typical U.S. standards I think that's considered a kind of "failure"...But both those measurements are external--the thing that really matters is how one feels inside, and inside I'm way too muddled to give a straight answer.

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 didn't use that credit, but I've got nothing against it. Though I do agree that it's a shame that the legacy of the auteurist movement is that directors tend to get credited for work at the exclusion of all others...But, say, why are you only interviewing the director here?


Mutual Appreciation, starring Justin Rice, Rachel Clift, Andrew Bujalski, Seung-Min Lee, will premiere at the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information!

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originally posted: 02/16/05 18:33:21
last updated: 02/17/05 13:54:01
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