As big blockbuster movies — $200 million extravaganzas with lots of brand equity — begin tightening their grip on theaters, a little film about a nice guy who goes on a few dates is hoping to steal a bit of attention when it makes its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival next week.
And if you’re looking for more of a storyline than just David vs. Goliath for the sweet indie “Goodbye to All That,” it does represent a major jump in the careers of its director and leading man, Angus MacLachlan and Paul Schneider. Both men are using the film to stake claim to new roles in the film industry, thanks to persistence and a deep connection with the material.
MacLachlan, a playwright and the writer of the 2005 indie darling “Junebug,” wrote this little tale of a newly divorced father and promptly handed it to “Junebug” director Phil Morrison. The veteran filmmaker liked the script but was hesitant to direct it, since he didn’t have any kids of his own. Instead, he suggested that MacLachlan take on the project himself, since Angus had several.
Producers Mindy Goldberg and Anne Carey liked the idea, and were able to cast Schneider (“Parks and Recreation,” “All the Real Girls”) as their lead, and surround him with top actresses like Melanie Lynskey, Anna Camp and Heather Graham. Schneider is picky about his roles — “My overhead is very low, I don’t have a cocaine problem, I’m not interested in whores or Lamborghinis” — and so he was ready to take a deep dive into the character when he got on the phone with MacLachlan and TheWrap earlier this week.
Angus, you’ve directed theater before, but never a film. Did you have any reservations?
MacLachlan: I was terrified. The one reservation I didn’t have was talking to actors. I felt comfortable doing that. There were so many technical things that were unknown to me. I was told get a really great DP and a really great first AD.
Why did you shoot in Winston-Salem instead of a bigger, more central location for production?
MacLachlan: I wrote it specifically because I had other projects that I tried to get made that were too large, so I wanted to make something that could conceivably be made and be made here… At the time we had a pretty good tax incentive in North Carolina. It was where the film was set. At one time we thought we were going to shoot in L.A., which scared me, because I wanted to capture the flavor of a southern story that’s not about working class people.
This is an intense leading role, Paul, while you’ve usually been a character actor. What made you want to make the jump for this one?
Schneider: I think part of it was, he was someone who, he was a real character. It wasn’t a character that I needed to animate very much, because in a lot of stuff, you get characters that are basically plot points, in service of someone else. If you’re me, you get characters and their name is Ben and they wear a sweater and are basically a good guy, maybe a little mischievous, but at the end of the day a really good guy. I’m very happy to say no to that kind of shit because it’s just not interesting to me. Acting is not necessarily something I need to do, but this was good because the character was drawn for me because I could actually get into the fun stuff for acting.
How do you fight against that typecasting?
Schneider: I don’t battle against it, and I just say no. My overhead is very low, I don’t have a cocaine problem, I’m not interested in whores or Lamborghinis. Anyone will say the same thing, it takes a lot out of you to make a movie, and this one was definitely tough. Whenever you’re playing the lead of a movie, just the workload of just memorizing lines, and I guess Otto is in almost every scene, so just the amount of heavy lifting.
I don’t memorize lines very quickly or very easily, so you can’t help but pour a lot into it. So if you don’t believe in the thrust of a movie… I don’t know why other people would do stuff they don’t believe in. You can’t always be sure of the outcome, I’ve been part of films where I thought everyone was a cool person and you try to make a good movie and sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way. You have to believe there is an artistic kernel of intention. It just takes too much out of you to do shit that you know won’t be good from the outset.
So what was it specifically about this character that gave you that confidence, that interest?
Schneider: Otto’s character; Angus and I talked about his character being befuddled. I think probably we have sort of artsy-fartsy friends who are very smart and talented and they’re not dense, they’re not dumb, their heads are in the clouds a little bit. And it made perfect sense because he was a graphic designer, here was a logic to the psychology to the character, of course this kind of guy would do that kind of job, and of course that kind of guy would have no idea that his wife was starting to pull away from the relationship.
It made sense along the way and it’s much easier and more fun working on a film for which that work has already been done by the writer. It’s hard to be an actor and write as you go. I’ve worked on a lot of foreign films and in the translation, there’s a bunch of syntax errors and subject-verb agreement errors, and often-times the translator will be very scared to put any… you end up learning lines that kind of don’t make grammatical sense. You’re kind of writing a little bit but don’t want to overstep your bounds either. It was nice to read a script and think, I don’t need to do anything, I don’t need to fix this.
MacLachlan: I wanted to portray an American man in his late 30’s who is not someone who deals with his emotions, which I think a lot of American men don’t do; they go through school and meet a woman and if they like them get married, they don’t think deeply, and then something happens and their life has to change.
Schneider: Angus, do you think that’s a regional thing?
MacLachlan: There’s this whole generation of people who have starter marriages, get married relatively young for 4-5 years and get divorced and are out on the dating scene in their 30s.
Schneider: I think it’s less-so regional these days. I think about that a lot, the people that stayed home and the people that left. It seemed the people who left home were the kind of people who absolutely can’t even understand how people can spend one more day in that hometown; I needed to move to NYC as soon as I could. And then there’s my friends back home, they’re not dumb or lacking ambition. I think about who goes and who stays.
I talk about people in NYC who are like, ‘I really need to exploit what this town has to offer, we really need to go to more plays, see the symphony.’ It seems like people move here and it’s not like they go to see the symphony or they go to see Off Broadway theater; just them being around it is important. Them having access somehow is very important, even if they don’t use it. It’s really fucking hard.
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So Angus, now that you’ve made this movie, do you want to direct another?
MacLachlan: I have another script that I want to direct now that I’ve written. It’s about getting everybody involved — the very fact is that it’s so hard to go out and see a movie, we want to watch movies at home, and so that’s why it’s so hard to make them. The kind of films I want to make, which are human and are profound in our lives, but don’t have this overtly dramatic pull. I have felt people could read my work and feel that there’s nothing there, that it’s not dramatic or moving or interesting, because it’s about humanity in a way that we’re not often shown in movies.
Schneider: It’s a little like the Dardenne brothers; there are only a few guys out there who have cut themselves a little spot with the financing. You have these guys who go to Cannes every year because they put out this product every year, a movie like “The Son.” It’s like saying, I’m in the mood for this very specific food and there’s only one restaurant that does it and it’s a bitch to get there, but I think the Dardenne brothers and Wes Anderson benefit from always making similar stuff. Because Angus and what people like maybe all of us have to deal with is the fact that you don’t go into Angus’ films — yet — and have an idea that, say, I kind of know what’s going to happen, in a good way. There are expectations that you have going into a Dardenne brother movie.
MacLachlan: I’ve had a couple of people say when they watch our film, when [redacted] comes back in the end and has one hand in her pocket, ‘I was sure she had a gun!’ Because we were led to believe that’s how stories unfold now, it’s got to have some kind of violent and overtly obvious conclusion. I hope that this will lead to me being able to make other things.