Show Business (USA, 1 hour 25 minutes)
Directed by: Alexander Tovar
Written by: Alexander Tovar
Cast: Alexander Tovar, Amelia Meyers, Jillian Johnston, Andrew Hawkes, Megan Rosati, Robert Maffia.
'Show Business' is a satirical comedy that follows screenwriter Guy Franklin as he moves from NYC to LA with his fiancé Cassandra. Hollywood producer Darvey Brillstein offers Guy a lucrative deal to adapt the latest YA/kid's book sensation and although Guy has major reservations about the project, he accepts.
At Darvey's office, Guy meets the book's author, Arhurr Krump, along with the director and actors associated with the movie, all of whom have strong opinions about Guy's script.
Guy, finding the work on the screenplay increasingly tedious, becomes disillusioned with the project. Darvey, on the other hand, thinks Guy's writing is progressing swimmingly. While Guy is on the verge of an artistic breakdown, Cassandra relishes her new LA lifestyle and immerses herself in auditions and yoga classes.
With Guy and Cassandra constantly fighting, Guy goes into therapy and starts taking medication. Both seem to help but as he begins to feel happier, his progress on the screenplay suffers. Fearing the medication has made him mediocre; he believes he has to choose between having a happy life and being a successful screenwriter.
Interview:Natalie: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Alex: Of course, thank you for requesting it!
N: Has the film gone to many other festivals?
A: We just got back from the Central Florida Film Festival, which was a very good festival. We opened there and were received really well. And we premiered at the North Hollywood CineFest Festival, which was at a Laemmle [theater], which was a very good premiere.
N: I loved your movie! I thought it was so funny and so hilarious.
A: That means a lot to me, thank you! I hope it makes people laugh.
N: For me, it had this Woody Allen style and sense of humor going on, was that something you ever thought of?
A: Oh yes - not even thought of, stole, pretty much. He’s always been my favorite filmmaker since I was 13 years old, I love him. The first movie I did, Nothing in Los Angeles, was based on Manhattan, and it was an LA version of Manhattan.
N: That’s so cool.
A: Yes he’s my favorite. You’re exactly right, Woody Allen was a big influence of mine.
N: Guy was so reflective, and so much of the comedy I felt like came from him just being thrown into this world of madness and him trying to figure it all out.
A: Yes, totally. He’s kind of going through a nervous breakdown but there’s a lot humor in it. I’m glad that you laughed and I hope that people laugh.
The first movie was more of a romantic take and had a lot of humor, but this one is more in the vein of Woody Allen and screwball comedies, which I’m also a big fan of. I tried to keep it with a lot of jokes and satire but also a lot of reflection on show business, and the phoniness and superficiality of it.
I kind of got the idea from thinking, you know the first movie that I did, what if someone offered me money to do something that I didn’t want to do, and what would have happened from that? Nothing was autobiographical about it, just my imagination.
N: I was wondering what your motivation was to take this close look at relationships and then what happens when people become successful but it’s not the success they think it will be.
A: Yes, exactly - well, it’s nothing new, but it’s about whether you sell out or not. It was an idea I had a few years ago, because I went into therapy maybe like 10 years ago and my dad was worried about, well, what if he doesn’t write music anymore that’s good? It was kind of a joke, but it was kind of like, what if that suffering and pain that artists feel is really the inspiration for good work? And so I thought, that would be a funny story if the writer was actually feeling better but his work was mediocre.
So that was an idea I had years ago, that therapy helps people but you know, would Beethoven have written great music and tragic music had he been in psychoanalysis? Probably he would have, but it’s just an interesting question.
N: It is, it totally is. Because even now you look at fame and culture and what we decide is, I guess, the defining factors in making somebody successful, and it’s so peculiar. Everybody is so over exposed as well so it’s very unusual for somebody to not be high profile but to be considered very successful. It’s a strange thing.
A: Oh, absolutely. And we’re obsessed with celebrities right now, particularly, in our culture now. It’s very depressing.
N: But it’s good for comedy!
A: I hope so!
N: Have you ever encountered something along your career so far where you’ve been torn because of something similar to what Guy went through?
A: No, not really. My background is in music composition, so I started writing music when I was about 10 years old. I studied with Phillip Glass after high school and then I went to USV to study composition, so my training is really in music. Maybe three or four years ago I wanted to write a movie for my music, and I wanted to see if I could actually make a movie. That’s when I made Nothing in Los Angeles, my first feature – sorry I keep talking about that movie -
N: No, not at all -
A: I’m not trying to plug it or something -
N: Plug away! Plug away!
A: So that was an experiment - my music is very bold, it gets in the way, it’s not traditional film music that exists in the background, so that was when I was like, let me see if I can write a movie for my music. And what do I have to lose? I didn’t go to film school, I had never written anything before, and I’m not an actor but I wanted to be in the movie because I knew how to say some of the jokes. It gradually came out of my background and training in music, and kind of seeing, can I make a story and a movie around certain pieces of music that I have lying around? With Show Business, I mostly created a brand new score; with the first movie, I scored I’d say half of it and the other half was pieces that I had done for other people that got rejected from other movies.
So I kind of came at it from that angle. I’ve never written anything that’s gotten published - I write my movies, so I know how to do that, but nothing that happened to Guy has happened in my life. I’ve never been engaged, I’ve never had a nervous breakdown - I mean I’m nervous all the time, so I never have a breakdown! Which is good! It’s better than never being nervous and then having the big breakdown. So this was all imagined.
N: Do you want to go into more filmmaking and acting, because I thought your performance was hilarious -
A: Oh, thank you!
N: Do you come from stand-up comedy or anything like that?
A: I tried stand-up a few times a few years ago just because I was curious. Being trained in musical composition and also jazz, I was always interested in comedy, especially Woody Allen films, Fellini films, the French New Wave, I’ve always loved that and I tried to educate myself. With comedy especially I was always interested and I’ve always liked to challenge myself, so I thought maybe I’ll write jokes and do an open mic. I don’t really know why I thought that, I just like to challenge myself and I’ve always liked making people laugh and I felt like I can make people laugh. But with the stand-up comedy I didn’t do well at all the first few times I did it, so then I realized, maybe I’ll do a movie that has jokes in it. So I don’t really have that much interest in doing stand-up, but I have such a love for stand-up comedy in general.
And I do want to do more movies; I’m writing another one right now. But I don’t have an interest in acting in other people’s things, or being in actor. I don’t like actors really that much -
N: Horrible people!
A: Haha. I’m more interested in pushing my music forward and making stories and jokes and scoring and editing these movies myself, and making small personal films that people can enjoy. So I don’t really have an interest in acting or writing for other things -
N: It’s more of a platform for you to explore your own musical work...
A: Yeah, I have an interest in doing these things where I have complete control and I can keep the budgets low so nothing goes over. What I’m writing next is an ensemble piece, and I have a small part that I’ve written for myself. I’d love to grow as a filmmaker where I write and direct and score the movie, and use my music somehow to make people enjoy light comedy or something like that.
N: You wrote this, you acted in it, you produced it, I think you edited it as well – was it a lot for you to take on? Was it in between other jobs? How long did it take for you to start and finish it? How did you find balancing all those different roles?
A: We shot the movie in 17 days, I think, in November. I took about a month to write the script. My producer, Bonnie Hargett – she’s coming to New York with me so you’ll meet her - her husband produced the first movie, and she wanted to produce a movie, and she was like “Do you have anything else you’ve written?” I was like “I have this.” She read it, and she really liked it, she laughed a lot, and she was like “Well, we should just do it!” And I was like “Yeah, okay!”
We put together a very small budget that was manageable for us to pay for all the SAG actors and to do a very low-budget, guerilla style movie – shooting without permits, shooting in our own homes, using friends (all the friends were actors that we know). It took about a month to write – intense writing, mind you – and a few months of pre-production, maybe a month of casting.
It’s a lot of work, but I didn’t think of it as work. I’m a very hard worker, that’s really what’s most important to me, and I’m also very resourceful in terms of problem solving. So it was a lot of work but I believed in the jokes and I believed in the music, so I knew that okay, I can maybe pull this off - but I don’t know! Maybe I didn’t! But it was a very fun experience. It was a lot of hard work, but because it was completely my vision and imagination, it was very easy for me to see how things needed to be and how to change things along the way. Because I had such a vision for how the joke should be said and how the music would possibly save a scene when I would edit it later, and I just knew how it should be in my mind, it wasn’t maddening like it might have been if I was using something else’s material. If you have complete control over it, like I did, it’s easier to hire good people and trust them to do the best they can.
N: That’s amazing, that when you have such a clear vision of what you want, you can set yourself up to have the freedom to go out and just capture it.
A: Yeah, and I think part of my jazz background is being open to spontaneity and not being so tied down to ideas. Plan as much as you can, but come to set being willing to make compromises and be okay with it. I wasn’t anal about certain things, and I never want to be that director. It was completely a collaboration, but I knew that it was, um -
N: It’s a group effort, but someone’s leading the pack in way.
A: Exactly. So a few months of pre-production, which included finding locations, which I would do, and casting with my producer Bonnie, and that took up a long time, and then shooting the month of November.
I was editing the movie as we were shooting, which everyone was like “You can’t do that! You’re not supposed to do that!” And I was like, “I don’t care! I’m doing it!” I don’t know the right rules or anything, I didn’t go to film school, so this was just my intuition.
N: Editing as you went along, did that help you figure out if you got stuff or missed stuff, did it help you gauge where you were at?
A: A little bit, not too much because I knew we didn’t really have the funds and the liberty to go back and shoot, so we didn’t really reshoot anything. I made sure we didn’t shoot over 8 hours; our days were very short, I wanted 6 to 8 hours of intense work. Everyone was happy, everyone had a nice lunch on set, it just a very nice group of people that were happy. And that’s why I wanted to use a lot of maxer shots, and long shots, and wasn’t big on coverage and stuff. To me if the scene played we would do a few takes, and if I just felt that it was right we would move on. I never went back to do any reshooting. That’s not to say I thought it was good or perfect, just that for me it resonated, well, this is good enough, and this is all we have. So editing did enlighten me in some way, unconsciously I guess. It helped.
N: Did you guys rehearse at all?
A: No we didn’t rehearse. We had a table read of it maybe a few weeks before we started shooting and that was fun. And then everyone showed up on set and they had their lines down. For the most part how it would be was that people would show up, they would go off, and I would spend most of the time with the cinematographer, Danny Belinkie. I would tell him how I envisioned the scene for the day and we would walk through it. I would set up the shot first while the actors were getting ready and getting make-up, then I would sort of plant them and we would walk through it, and then we would really just go with it. It took several takes, but there was no rehearsal scene or anything.
It was more just, I wanted the shots to be set up in a certain way and then to just plug in the actors, and sometimes have it be spontaneous. I kind of like that spontaneity. There wasn’t any improvisation; all the jokes were there – I would let actors reword things, obviously, I wasn’t anal about every single “the” or “and,” it wasn’t anything like that - but I knew exactly what needed to be said in every scene and how I wanted the jokes to be said. I just trusted my actors and trusted a lot of people around me, and people work better when they feel they’re respected and trusted.
N: What are the three words you would say about your experience making this movie, if you had to pick three words?
A: Three words about making this movie, hmm…what do other filmmakers say, what’s a good answer?
N: Are you willing to cheat?
A: Three words…let me think, what’s so not what everyone would say? Ok, so, let me think for a second…three words…would “I don’t know” suffice? I’m just kidding. Hmm…geez, boy that’s the hardest question anyone’s asked me, I think.
N: Oh my God.
A: Collaborative. Accomplished. Exciting. Great questions by the way!
N: Thank you Alex!
***Natalie is the narrative curator for the NYC Indie Film Fest and Alex is the director, writer, producer, music composer and editor of Show Business.