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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas' Director Scott Lew

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas' Pitch: A college comedy about the misadventures of Bickford Shmeckler, a brilliant but troubled freshman whose prized journal full of "cool ideas" is stolen. During Bickford's attempts to reclaim it, his "cool ideas" become a popular phenomenon and he falls in love for the first time.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
A sex drugs and rock 'n roll comedy -- When his book of brain melting, orgasmic cool ideas is stolen, Bickford Shmeckler must go on an odyssey across his college campus to recover it.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
This is my first trip to a festival.I had a documentary called Welcome Sinners! about underground burlesque dancers in Los Angeles that played at the The Silver Lake Film Festival and won the Audience Award in 2001. Since that was a local festival, it wouldn't qualify as a "trip", I guess. I'm hardly a veteran.

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?
From the time I was a freshman in college I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. Before that I played guitar and semi-delusional thought I could be the next Bob Dylan. I used to do these songs with stories in them and afterwards, at coffee houses and open mics, people would ask me if I had my lyrics written down. They were interested in reading them. I realized my talent wasn't for guitar playing but storytelling and so I started writing scripts.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
My real start in filmmaking came when I was accepted to the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC for graduate school. It helped me plug-in to the business and as I was writing I also had several jobs in the industry, including being a studio executive at Beacon Pictures, where I read many hundreds of scripts, probably thousands over the years and learned what it took to make a movie from a practical, financial point of view. Then I started selling scripts, so I sort of quit my day job and followed my dream.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Yes, in the sense that I'm no longer making it, which is weird since I've been working on this project since 1997. I guess I'm experiencing a kind of postpartum issue with it.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Fozzie Bear.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
No, production is very intense. You don't have time to think about anything else but production during production.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
It started with a producer named Lloyd Segan who read the script in 1998 and tried to set up with independent financing. He succeeded in finding us a small budget (extremely small budget) from, of all people, Steven Seagal's film production company, which was weird because this is a comedy not an action film. The deal took a long time to close, and in 1999, kind of at the 11th hour Artisan Entertainment stepped in and picked up the movie promising to make it for about 10 times the budget as the previous company. At this time, Chris and Paul Weitz came aboard as executive producers to act as "godfathers" for me, a first-time director, to give the studio more comfort. We had the film in preproduction by mid-2000 and a month into the project Blair Witch 2 came out and tanked in the marketplace. All of the executives on my film were given pink slips and my film was put on the shelf. I didn't get it back until 2002, but luckily Chris and Paul remained loyal to getting the film made. After several false starts, we finally hooked up with Vulcan Ventures, a very interesting company run by Paul Allen that does everything from building computers to building rocket ships. They also finance one or two independent films a year with million-dollar budgets. We made the film in 2004-2005 and Aspen Comedy Arts and SXSW 2006 will be the first places it is unleashed upon the public.

Also, this is kind of interesting, during the summer of 2003, when we first became involved with Vulcan Ventures and we were doing the dance to close the deals and get the movie into production, I was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. Instead of running away from the project, which most money people would with such a horrible illness afflicting a director, the financiers actually embraced it with even more determination to help me achieve my dream of making Bickford. When we started the process I was walking around and basically, a little twitchy, but fine. Now, to answer your "last night" portion of the question, I'm a quadriplegic. The disease has pretty much ravaged me physically -- but not my spirit! I fully intend on making a follow up feature to Bickford. At the end of the day, it turns out you just need a mind not arms or legs to direct a film...

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Even when you're totally exhausted, smile and be upbeat because your crew is looking at you for inspiration during the most difficult times of the shoot.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
I'm a huge fan of Hal Ashby, also Norman Jewison's films of the 60s and 70s (particularly the films Hal Ashby edited!)

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Tom Arnold.

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?
I would remake I Love You Alice B. Toklas.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
Olivia Wilde! She is so hot and so smart and so funny. It doesn't surprise me there are rumors about her being the next Bond Girl. She blew me away from her first audition on to her last day of shooting. I also feel very lucky to have her in my comedy, since she's hilarious, but everybody seems to be casting her in serious roles.

I also think people will look at Patrick Fugit differently after seeing him play Bickford. He's very funny in a compelling, offbeat way. He's got the ability to do a kind of Peter Sellers subtle physical comedy that I don't think anyone has seen from him yet. So I'm very excited for people to see him in this film in this new light.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be... unemployed student of film.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
I would never kill a dog. Even if nobody knew. I would kill a hamster to work with Adam Sandler.

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!”
I don't think I've made it yet. I would say I'm on the mountain, having fun, climbing...

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I have no idea. It probably depends on the type of film. Some are very critic dependent. Some are not. Although I think it's always been that way.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Preparation H.

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?
I would be so happy. There is no porno scene that is ever "absolutely integral" to telling a character driven story. But the publicity would be great! When something is rated R. you can just about do anything anyway. That's not an important compromise. It's kind of a blessing just to get a financier to agree to a rated R. film, since most want PG-13.

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?
I think it depends on the director's relationship to the project.

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?
All I can say is I poured my heart into this film, so did everyone who worked on it. So if you want to see a bunch of people's hearts up on screen, beating, go see Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas.


Bickford Shmeckler's Cool Ideas, starring Patrick Fugit, Olivia Wilde, Matthew Lillard, and Cheryl Hines, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information.

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originally posted: 02/18/06 07:15:50
last updated: 02/18/06 07:17:15
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