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South By Southwest Film Interview – GUS director Jessie McCormack

GUS - At SxSW 2013
by Jason Whyte

“Lizzie (Radha Mitchell) longs to start a family with her husband Peter but is unable to conceive. Her best friend Andie (Michelle Monaghan), single and adrift, gets pregnant from a one-night stand and offers to give Lizzie the baby. Reluctantly, Peter agrees to be the child's father, and before he knows it Andie has moved into the guest room for the duration of her pregnancy. When Peter also invites his ne'er-do-well brother to the house, chaos ensues, testing the limits of friendship, family and a marriage. Throughout the story we see the deeply human struggles of these four people and the film takes a funny and poignant look at the ways we try to plan ahead when life has something else in mind.” Director Jessie McCormack on “Gus” which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also would love to hear about anything else you have made in the past!

I’m from New York and my background is originally in theatre. I started off as an actress and initially began writing more to give myself an opportunity to perform than anything else. But then I realized I actually preferred writing to acting and I also secretly wanted to direct but it took me years to admit that out loud. Eventually I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore so I wrote and directed a short, that I also acted in but that was sort of an accident, and it confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue directing in a serious way. I loved it from the get-go.

What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?

I think the biggest challenge was just making a movie on a limited budget and in a short amount of time; probably the same issues that come up on every independent film. But those limitations can force you to be more creative in the choices you make when shooting. Having fewer options can be very liberating in a strange way.

What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?

I had a lot of favorite moments. There were a few times when we were shooting late at night and everyone was really tired and giddy and just being silly. But we were still getting the shots we needed so it wasn’t stressful; it was just a whole lotta fun. In those moments, and throughout the shoot, I was reminded of how lucky we were that we were getting to do this.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I think what keeps me going is knowing I have no choice in the matter. I have to keep going or I will wind up screwing over a lot of people and disappointing myself in the process. But the other thing that drives me is my passion for the film itself. It doesn’t really matter what adversity you are met with if you love the project enough. You’ll see it through to the end no matter what.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

Our terrific director of photography Magela Crosignani also shot the short I referred to so we already had a relationship established. Because it was my first feature I obviously wanted to work with someone who was more experienced but I also wanted to make sure he/she wouldn’t try to rail-road me. Because I knew Magela and I collaborated well together in the past, it was kind of a no-brainer. I also liked the fact that she was from a foreign land and how that informs her shooting eye. She grew up in Uruguay so she’s bringing a different, interesting perspective to the mix. And yet at the same time I feel we have a very similar sensibility. I’m lucky to have worked with her.

We shot on the Arri Alexa. I wanted a more film-like look for “Gus” and it was important to me that the camera movements be choreographed, without being distracting. I felt the story lent itself to that look more than a hand-held camera type of situation. We did shoot some hand-held stuff, but not much.

What do you want audiences to take from the film?

I hope the audience relates to the story in some way and is reminded that we’re all flawed and we all make mistakes and sometimes when we want something really badly in life, we go about achieving that goal in a way that doesn’t ultimately serve us. But we can’t see where we’re going astray because we’re too myopic when it comes to dealing with our own stuff. I hope people see a bit of themselves or someone they know in the characters. And I’d love it if people connected with the humor as well as the heart of this movie.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I suppose some movies, usually the bigger ones, are critic-proof. But I think a small, independent film definitely needs a positive critical/media response. That’s the only way people will hear about it which will then hopefully generate a word-of-mouth response.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?

I would of course like for as many people to see it as possible. Navigating that path is the next step.

Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

I guess I would say the Ziegfeld theater in New York City because that’s where I grew up and going to a film at the Ziegfeld always felt like such an event. There was even a red velvet curtain that opened before every movie started. I hope that’s still the case. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t been there in years.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?

It’s not printable what I would do.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

I would say don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon. At least attempt to get to the person you want, be it an actor, a DP, a composer, anything, before deciding that it will never happen. And I would suggest trying to make contact through a personal connection rather than only going through their representative which can be a very slow process. We all know more people than we think we do. Or we know someone who knows someone. Get comfortable with asking for favors. That was probably the biggest hurdle for me in this whole process but I wouldn’t have gotten the movie made had I not been somewhat of a pushy broad. But of course you can’t be too pushy. You don’t wanna turn people off. Be persistent but polite and let your enthusiasm for the project really come through. People often want to help if they can. It’s been heartening to say the least.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

Now I can’t remember the names of any movies I’ve seen at a film festival. I’m buckling under the pressure of this question!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/08/13 08:15:49
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