Thursday, November 3, 2016
A Distinctive Style: The Alec Kubas-Meyer Interview
For those that don’t know Alec is a true renaissance man. He is a writer of some note covering film for Flixist, video games for The Daily Beast and other outlets. He’s performed a one man show Off Off Broadway, acted in films and his currently working on his first music album. On top of all of that he’s also one hell of a filmmaker. One of the people on my Kool Aide list, great under seen filmmakers that ‘d drink the Kool Aide for, Alec has made a series of great films that keep getting better. His latest film NOT TOO YOUNG recently played the Women Texas Film Festival where it met with great acclaim.
Not long after Alec returned from Dallas he and I sat down at the Skylight Diner in Manhattan to talk about his trip to the festival, his film and films in general. I brought along my recorder in order to do “an interview” but really simply to record the two of us shooting the breeze. When you hang out with Alec great things happen and the conversations go in all sorts of interesting places. More times than not I wish I had been recording our dinner conversations because they end up interesting as hell.
Our conversation that night lasted two hours. Most of it was focused on NOT TOO YOUNG his film about a hebephile trying to stop his compulsion. However we also talked about his past projects Miranda (about a deluded young woman stalking a harmless young man), Reel (an action film about a man trying to get his film back) and his future ones (Denial and Shooter two bleak upcoming films that with Not Too Young form a trilogy).
The talk of his films spiraled out into other directions and in interesting ways. The conversation is something more than just a talk about one man’s films but film in general. You do not need to have seen any of Alec’s films to appreciate the interview. I believe I’ve edited the talk in such a way as to read that you can appreciate it as a discussion by a filmmaker talking about his craft. If you love film you should like this talk.
What follows is more or less the entire two hour talk. I removed anything relating the making of NOT TOO YOUNG which would have required you to have seen the film, or was relating to some mutual friends that had no bearing on the rest of the talk.
I want to thank Alec for taking the time to do this and for helping to shepherd into presentable form.
Steve: How was the festival?
Alec Kubas-Meyer: The festival was good. Are we started?
The festival was good. It was interesting. This was my first time on that end of a festival. It was stressful to some extent, but it was also a women-centric festival. It wasn't really about me.
I'm usually way more stressed leading up to festivals, because like, "Oh, I have to cover this, I have to cover that. I have to deal with people, and know things about them," This was like, "Oh, well if anyone's going to talk to me, they have to know about me. I don't have to know about them."
I could sort of enjoy it, from that perspective. I went in assuming that no one was going to want to talk to me, because I'm weird and I made a weird movie. It was like, "No one's going to talk to me or everyone's going to want to ask me one question, which is why did I make that movie."
Then after I answer that, they wouldn't want to talk to me anymore. Then, there ended up being a couple of discussions obviously, all of them starting with that same question. [laughs] Does that answer your question? The festival was pretty good.
Steve: I watched the interview you linked to on Twitter
Alec: The one with Selig Films?
Steve: Yeah. It was interesting, because they were asking questions about the making of the movie. Then at the end of it, they specifically went to women's questions, because it's a women's festival, therefore they had to ask.
Alec: For sure. Then there's this sort of awkward moment in that interview where I say what I think is the most "female" thing about this movie, which it's kind of a weird thing to say. It's like, I think the most explicitly non-male thing about it is the soundtrack, because I feel like the music during some of the getting ready scene, is just not the same.
I don't think a man would have scored that scene the same way. The reason I answered that instead of Montana [Jaro, cinematographer and composer] who actually scored the thing is that I just don't think it occurred to her. It occurred to me after seeing it again. I'd remembered talking with her about how to do the music, and how she did the music, and why she did it that way.
She sees this romanticism in it. [laughs] I think it works, and I think it makes it a lot more interesting.
Steve: And I have to ask, Where did the film come from? That's a question that everybody asks, but that's a question that everybody genuinely wants and answer to.
Alec: That's true. I get why. It makes sense why people would want to know that because it's a very awkward topic. It's uncomfortable. I had the idea. I basically formulated the entire concept by...What it is, and I'll just say this, and I'm going to point to this as the definitive...
Alec: ...origin story.
Steve: This will be the origin story.
Alec: This is the origin story...
Steve: Whether or not it's true, this is the legend that will now become the story.
Steve: This is the Liberty Valance moment.
Alec: I was browsing the Internet and ended up looking at Medium's "Matter" subsite. Matter had this article called, "You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt anyone. What Do You Do Now?" by this guy, Luke Malone. I believe it was his Columbia thesis project.
I was like, "Well that's a really interesting idea," so I read it. I found out later that this was also a "This American Life" episode, which I've never listened to. I read this article, and this article is genuinely horrifying. It goes into some really depraved shit. I, like, fundamentally rejected it, but at the same time, it's about trying to understand this person and this person's plight. It just struck me in this really visceral way.
I've always been really interested in this idea of people who push back against reject their inherent desire to do bad things. Someone who wants to do something that is the worst, but they fight it because they know that it's the worst.
The thing about being a pedophile or hebephile or whatever is you didn't choose that. You just got fucked. God gave you a really bad hand and you can't do anything about it.
And let’s be clear: No, you don't give a pedophile a cookie for not abusing kids.But, at the same time, someone who looks for help and is like, "Look, I don't want to act on these urges." You have to give that person compassion, because that's so hard. I can't really understand what that feels like, and I imagine most people can't, being like, "Oh, so I just have to give up this fundamental part of my being forever because I don't want to hurt anyone."
That person deserves compassion, if nothing else. That sort of got into my head. I was unemployed at the time, so I was kind of just looking for something to do, and something I could do fairly cheaply (because I was unemployed).
I was lying in bed, and having racing thoughts, like, "Oh my God. You could do this, because you could do this cheap," because it's really about just the one guy. I was never adapting that story.
This is not an adaptation of "You're 16. You're a Pedophile. You Don't Want to Hurt anyone. What Do You Do Now?" It was inspired by the name more than anything else. I was wondering, "So... you're a 16-year-old pedophile, what do you do now?" What would someone do if they were trying to meet those urges but couldn't? What would their options be?
I thought, "Oh, that's an interesting question… I have a friend who looks really young. I can act reasonably well. I have another friend who could be a creepy manager. I have an apartment that I know I could get that would be perfect for a nice apartment. Oh, and I could probably get this other apartment for this," I basically logistic-ed out the whole thing before I got out of bed the next morning.
I also thought about, "OK, if this becomes successful, if anyone sees this, if people ask me questions about it, let me make sure that I can absolutely justify the fact that I made this movie in the first place, so what are things people might ask me?" Then I asked myself those questions, and then answered them, so I've been thinking about this interview for a year and seven months.
Alec: True story.
Steve: No, I know it's a true story, you've told me. You've told me you know it's a tough film to defend. You'd have to defend it, so you thought about what to say.
Alec: I think that's true, but I also think it's a tough film to explain to people who haven't seen it. I don't think it's tough to defend to people who have, because once you see it, you understand what it's about and what it's going for.
People who just see the description might say, "What, a movie about someone who's attracted to kids? That's disgusting. How dare you? Why would you make that movie?" Seeing the actual movie, though, I thinkyou get it.
In general, the response has borne that out. That people are initially a bit more taken aback. Afterwards, they're sad and they're uncomfortable, but they understand the purpose. Then they're like, "Well, where did that come from?" but they're not like, "Why?" There's no, "Why would you make that movie?"
Steve: There's no anger at it?
Alec: Yeah, which is good. I'm sure if this were to get a really wide release, there would absolutely be people who are angry at it, but the people who I've dealt with are not, which is nice.
Steve: You were talking about the sympathy that you give to the main character. That throws people off. I've talked to a couple of people who've seen it. I've talked to you about it. The fact that you feel sympathy for him...
Alec: Who else have you talked to about it?
Steve: Hubert [Vigilla, mutual friend, who also plays the creepy manager in the film]. We hashed it out at one point. It throws you off, because you feel for this guy. It's like, "I don't want to feel for..." For me, I'll take it how it comes, because it's with the film, but I can see that there's people going, "I don't want to feel for this guy."
When I was talking about the film with the guy from Tribeca, and I had mentioned what it was.. [And he said] they don't want difficult films. They don't want films that are real . They really don't want challenging films where they're going, "Are we going to have to fight this?" No matter how good it is.
Alec: It's difficult, but I made it as such intentionally. The fact that he's a hebephile was purely practical, because of the actress I had. The script is only a little over seven pages. It's a 12-minute long movie.
The reason he's attracted to 14-year-olds is because in a lot of places 14 is actually legal. You can have sex with a 14-year-old. When I was thinking about where to submit, I was like, "Well, I can't submit this to European film festivals, because they'll be like, 'I don't get it. Why doesn't he just have sex with a child?'" That's upsetting, as a thought.
14 is absolutely too young, but this person's been a teenager for a full year. They've started to develop. You don't reject it as immediately as you would a younger person, and I had 12 minutes to get you on this character's side. I needed to start at a deficit, because if it was 15 or 16, that's comparatively nothing, and that's also "ephebophilia." Hebephilia's 11 to 14.
In fact, I actually sent a friend a script early on who read it and said, "I don’t think 14 is old enough for what you’re trying to do. Make her look younger." And I said, "Interesting thought... No. Wait until you have seen it. I think you'll change your mind." And I was right. She said, "Man, she looks sickly too young."
I was trying to find this balance where it was young enough to be problematic, but also old enough that in that short a time I can get you on his side, because I don't think in 12 minutes I could have made the audience feel for a pedophile. Maybe I could have, but not with the narrative that I was telling, certainly.
Steve: No, I don't think you would ever have won them over. I think you would have lost them.
Alec: It's not about what he is, specifically. It's about more generally the struggle of being a monster. His plight is as applicable as anyone else who has this internal feeling of evil that they reject, for whatever reason.
Steve: Because of the way you're phrasing this, it begs the question, can you take that further and say you can see it as people who rejected that they were gay, or lesbian, or anything else?
Alec: Yeah, I wanted it to feel broadly applicable.
Steve: If you made this, say, 50 years ago where somebody was gay...
Alec: You could have made the exact same movie.
Steve: 50 years ago, but making the film now you have to consider what are you going to do to trigger the reaction or trigger the thoughts? You think that's a valid thing to say?
Alec: Absolutely. In this case, it's about sexuality, so that's an easy one to do. My concern with comparing it to homosexuality -- and I know that's not what you're going for, but to make the point -- is there's something wrong with being attracted to children, and. there's nothing wrong with being attracted to your own gender... but in terms of societal rejection, I absolutely think that that is a fair...
Steve: 50 years ago or 60 years ago...
Alec: How about 20 years ago.
Steve: 20 years ago, I mean yes it still wasn't as widely accepted.
Alec: Exactly, it could be about a dude who's in love with his dog. It would be a much harder movie to make. It's about societal taboos and the struggle with people who have a predilection towards those taboos that they don't know how to fight, but are trying to anyway.
Steve: Because I will be bouncing all over the place, a technical question:. When you watch the film, do you still look to see if there's anything in the mirrors?
Alec: No. I never really looked in the mirrors because I knew it wasn't the mirrors, because the mirrors are obvious. What I checked were the reflections in the frames and paintings. There's one spot where I wasn't sure, in the opening shot, and what I realized I thought t was Montana becoming visible was actually me, because the camera's moving where I am reflected, and so I appear to move in the reflection. It's not her, because it's shaped like my head. I just saw a movement and I was like, "Oh, nope. It's not there." I went through it very closely.
The place where I was most concerned that it might be is when the camera goes up and then I sit down and the camera drops with it, there's a lot of potential there for her to appear reflected in the painting, but she does not. Surprisingly enough, there was only one we did the opening shot 18 times I think and I only opened the door too much once, which is shocking. 17 of the 18 times, I opened it exactly the right amount and then there was one where it's like, "Oh, shit."
Steve: The question now becomes, why did it take 18 times to do the sequence?
Alec: The first five, I didn't have on an outdoor jacket and I realized that "Oh, I was going to have an outdoor jacket on," so I put on a jacket. Then, the other 13, I just wanted to make sure I have it. I think actually I didn't take off my shoes until take 10.
We changed the way the camera moved a little bit. Earlier on, it sort of hung around a little bit more inside the room itself and they saw the bed. I was like, "You know what? I don't need..."
Each time, I didn't feel I had the shot yet. I didn't feel I had it. I kept doing it until I felt more like I had it. I wasn't really happy with my performance. I think the average for this was lower than my last couple of movies.
Certain scenes had really high averages but in general, the movie did not. There were no shots that I only did once, though.
Steve: Everything, there was multiple.
Alec: At least. There was actually one shot that there's no reason for me to do it twice and we got it. It's the shot of me from behind at the...
Alec: No. I actually did the one of me at the sink six times.
Steve: The fence?
Alec: That one we did I think 12 times. No, of me sitting at the computer, which it cuts two for about a second, it's just like a transition shot. We did it twice because we did it once and Montana was like, "Yeah, it looked good," and I was like, "No. Let's do it again just in case." [laughs] She's like, "Why? We had it."
I was like, "I don't know." It feels weird just doing something in one take. And that one is kind of funny because it is a major continuity error in the film. We use that perspective for two different typing sequences, but we only ever got it with the one outfit, so both times we see that, I am wearing the same clothes. You don’t notice because it’s so fast and they are both collared shirts or whatever, but it cuts from behind me to the computer to the front of me and I am not wearing the same thing. So we actually used the second take of it for that, just so it was slightly different than the first time around.
So, yeah, nothing was done in just one take, but there were a handful of things that were only done a couple of times, and there were things that were done a lot of times. The largest number of takes was 35.
Steve: Did Montana want to kill you?
Alec: Always, but it's not the largest number of takes I've done in a shot either. In MIRANDA, I did a shot 50 times, and that shot was a full minute long. That's the most
Steve: You've told me you have a hard time judging your own performances, so how did you manage to pick the takes for Not Too Young where it's all you?
Alec: I do, yeah, to the point where I don't really even bother trying to judge my own performance. There is only one shot in the film where I can actually divorce myself from the fact that I'm watching myself. In that one moment, I just think, "Oh... that's sad." (And, interestingly enough, it's not the sequence that most people compliment me on when they talk about my performance.)
As a result of this, though, I outsourced picking takes. In this case, I gave them to Montana, and Nicole, who co-starred. I sent them all of the footage of me and said, "Hey, choose your two favorite takes of each shot." If the two of them chose different shots, then I would look at them and choose whichever one I preferred, but if they chose the same take, I went with that one. I didn't even look at the other takes, since I wasn't going to find anything that they didn't.
Steve: With your shooting of multiple takes, 35 for one shot in Not Too Young and 50 in an earlier film, how do you decide which shots to use?
Alec: I like doing a lot of takes. Usually I'll do takes until I feel good about it and ask the others what they think. If Montana says, "I think we got it," I say, "Excellent. Let's do two more." Why? I dunno. Just because. Better safe than sorry to have too much footage rather than not enough.? In the case of this film, there were two or three shots where I didn't feel good about it, and everyone else said that it was good but I knew it wasn't, so I made us do it again to get it right.
A while back, I read an interview with Christopher Nolan where he talked about the making of Memento. Apparently there was one scene that had Nolan's producer breathing down his neck to go on but Guy Pearce asked for one more take because he didn't feel good about his performance. Nolan decided to do it one more time and he used that take, because that was the one. I liked that story, and I definitely think it's important to have the actors feel good about what they did.
But to your question: I tend to use the last take (or one of the last three). Sometimes, I will just watch the last take, and if I feel good about it, I won't even look at the other ones. In my last film [REEL], during one of the fight scenes there was a kick that didn't look very good, and someone who watched the rough cut told me it didn't look very good. So I cut the kick entirely, but then they complained that the shift from one movement to the other didn't quite work. I went back and looked at earlier takes. Lo and behold, I'd actually gotten it the time before. So I used that one and it ended up looking pretty good.
You'd think I'd have learned from that to always go through the footage, but let's be honest: 35 takes is a lot. The reason we did 35 actually related to the end of the shot, which I cut out entirely because none of them did quite what I wanted to, and I realized that ultimately it didn't matter at all. It's better as it is than it would have been even if I had "pulled off" the thing I was initially going for. So at that point, most of the takes were fine. But I probably still used the last one. Because when there are that many slight variations, it honestly all kind of blurs together. As long as the technical aspects came together and the performances were good, then we're good. I just want something I'm happy with. I go in reverse chronological order. As soon as I find one I'm happy with, that's what I go with. Maybe I'll go through the rest just to see, but it's more likely that I won't.
Steve: You've mentioned that there were a couple of thing in the film that you really can't see when you watch the film on a laptop, like the scars on the man's arms and the purple Google links. Can you see with them when it was projected on a theater size screen?
Alec: No. It's a camera thing. It just didn't resolve enough detail. I realized it when I was editing I was like, "Oh, damn. That's too bad." I probably could have punched up the color to make the links more obviously purple. The problem is the film is very muted in its color palette.
Steve: You would have this sudden pop.
Alec: A better colorist than me, could have probably done it, but I did it myself so it's fine. It's not a big deal, but that is one of a couple of the small details. I spent an obscene amount of time making that fake Google page work. I had to pull it into a What You See Is What You Get HTML editor. I downloaded Adobe Dreamweaver for the first time in over a decade. Last time I used it, it was still owned by Macromedia.
I remember it kept crashing, because Google, result HTML filess are actually enormous. The first part of the scene is actually Google. It cuts to my face, and then when it comes back and you actually see the URL of the actual Google search, and then it switches and then you don't see it at the bar anymore, because then it's like a locally hosted file that has the link to the fake website.
Getting that fake version was so stupid and complicated, because it was just so...My computer just couldn't handle it. It's really the editor couldn't hack it.
Steve: How long did it you take to shoot?
Alec: Thursday night, Friday very early morning, Friday night, Saturday a little bit. during the day, Saturday night.
It wasn't very long, a handful of sets of a couple of hours. It was a very simple shoot. Thursday night, the first stuff we shot was the scene in the park. The next morning,bright and early, shot the stuff outside the school, which actually I think we did it 11 times buthad to stop because school was starting and kids were actually starting to come into the shot. We were down there. That night, we shot the roommate stuff. We shot in that apartment. Then Saturday and Sunday, we did everything inside the young man's apartment. There was a lot of downtime, especially during the day. It wasn't a very long shoot or very complicated.
Steve: You blocked it out before you even really put it together?
Alec: I didn't really block it out. There was no shot list, or floor plan or anything. I basically winged it. Funny because while I was doing it, I was like, "Wow," I thought this is going to work and I'm going to be, "Hah, I'm a genius," or it's not going to work at all, and then I can be like, "Well, I should have gone the shot list, my bad."
I don't think, "Oh, I'm a genius," but I think there's only one shot that I wish I had and honestly, I don't think I would have come up with it from a shot list perspective. I don't think the shot would have occurred to me. I think what shot is what I... what was the question?
Steve: When you shoot, how close does everything fall to the way you have it on your head? Does this really vary?
Alec: I am fairly open. Part of the reason I don't do shot list (or I didn't do a shot list here,) was not because I was lazy or ran out of time. It's because I generally don't trust myself. I don't trust the way my brain sees a thing to actually represent the way a thing looks.
The only time I ever did storyboards, I was like, "OK. This is where I go and this where like and it look like this." At the end of the first shooting day, I reviewed the footage, I was like, "Wow, I hate every single one of these shots," and just restarted the next day. We did everything without a shot list because I feel much more comfortable.
I racked my brain about how to do that opening for a long time, and we came up with the idea to do that in one take that day or maybe the day before.
The blocking of it was I think improvising and using the space, and being able to do that is crucially important and because I do such small-scale productions that use practical lights mostly. It's easy to be like, "Oh, let's put the camera over here."
That said, I might not know exactly what the shot is beforehand, but once I've decided on a shot -- this has gotten me into trouble in previous projects -- I commit to that shot and I don't necessarily shoot coverage.
If I fuck up, it's not going to work. This is especially true in fight scenes, but it's also the opening shot of "Not Too Young". If, at any point of that walk, the shot gave in, too bad, it's like, "OK, this whole shot has to work, because there's nothing to cut to if it doesn't." I do that with conversations sometimes too.
I did that with the shot that I did 35 times, it's like this shot is following her. She stops at the door. Her roommate has lines that they have a little back and forth, and then she leaves. I cut out the her-leaving part, but there was no coverage. There was no cut to a close up of either of them. That is what that shot is, period.
In general, there's pretty much no coverage of that movie. What you see are almost all of the shots we took, except for a couple of things that got cut entirely.
Steve: That's the way John Houston shot. You did it because this is the way you think. He did it because he was making the movie and it was going to be his movie regardless of anything.
Alec: Even if someone else wanted to edit it, it's like, "Oh, shit."
Steve: It has to go together that way.
Alec: I do it. I am a firm believer in distinctive style. I don't know that I have a distinctive style necessarily, but I'm trying to build one and I have my specific ways of working. It could be that I have a bit of a theatrical background. That might be part of why I really like long takes. The long takes just feels right to me.
That opening shot, the guy opens the door. He takes off his jacket. He takes off his tie. He takes off his coat, whatever he takes off, his shoes. You don't think about the fact like, "Oh, now, I have to deal with all that stuff again 18 times." You don't think about it. It's just like, "Oh, yeah. This makes sense. This is natural. This is what a person does."
The longer the shot is and the more things they do, I think the more real the whole thing feels. For example, "Beyond the Hills" by Cristian Mungiu there is one shot in it where these people nail a cross together and then chain a girl chained to it, and I was like, "They only did this once. There's no way they did the shot more than one time. The lumber costs alone would have made this ridiculous to do more than once." Apparently, they did it 40 times.
The length and intensity and what happened in that shot, made it seem they could only have done it once, and that made that scene feel realer to me. Obviously, getting ready or whenever, that's not really that impressive in turn.
Steve: It's true for your film.
Alec: It makes it feel like, "Yeah, this is just what a guy does and it's not a new shot: unbuttoning a tie new shot taking off shoes, new shot: whatever. " This is this guy's routine when he gets home from work. He's just the guy who does that.
I felt doing it in a single take, it helps with that. It did a bunch of different things, but I think that's one of the things I did.
Steve: You broke the wall down between you and the audience.
Alec: Right, as much as possible. I sent an early cut to a friend, and he watched it with his fiancée who didn't know me, and said for both of them, they had felt the entire time it was real. Like, "This could be happening. This is happening." Just complete verisimilitude. Now, it was the point it was like, "OK, cool. I think I succeeded in doing what I set out to do."
It's hard to know if you're doing it right when you're making it and when you don't tell people that this project exists. Very few people knew. You didn't know.
Steve: In how much time did it come together, it seems you did so fast.
Alec: I had the idea January 21st of last year and shot it March 19th, less than two months from conception to starting shooting. The whole thing was very rushed, and I was very quiet about it. I showed the script to a few people. I got a little bit of feedback, but the script we shot was version 1.1 of the script, which is basically the same as the first one, very little changed.
Steve: I have to ask this. I know you, I know Hubert, and I've seen Montana. I’m guessing some part of my reaction to the film was affected by that, but how was the reaction to people who didn't know you, didn't know anybody?
Alec: I showed it to a lot of different people, people who knew me to different degrees. I showed it to some people who knew me really well, and I showed to some people who just met me, and I showed it to some people who know me but also like you who would tell me if you didn't like it.
They definitely have no investment in me feeling good about it, so if they didn't like it, they would just be like, "No, this isn't very good. Try again next time," or like, "This has potential, but it didn't work." I didn't get any bad feedback from them anyway. I didn't get any bad feedback at the festival either. That said, I imagine if someone didn't like the movie, they probably wouldn’t have told me. Unless it violently angered them, they wouldn't come up and be like, "I'm not a fan." That's not a nice thing to do." However, we did have people come up to us and be like, "That was so good. I love the film." That was really cool.
Honestly, I didn't expect it, but people genuinely liked it. At the festival, they had no reason to like it, because they don't know me. They don't know anyone. Everyone who I talked to has liked it. Weirdly universal acclaimed, in a sense.
Steve: I'm sure you did the Q&A after the film, but you were there with the other filmmakers, how much was directed at you? Just out of curiosity.
Alec: Half and half. The only question that the audience asked of me specifically was, "Where did the idea come?" The thing about that question is like, that's not an interesting question. What I usually answer is, "Why did the idea hit? Why did the idea resonate with me?"
It's not like, "Oh, I read a thing and I was inspired." It was like, "Oh, I was inspired because of all these things, and I took this name and then went this totally other direction because that's the narrative that I want to tell. It's a 10 word answer to a question that's ultimately not really interesting.
It's just one of those generic things. Admittedly, you see a generic action movie or even a generic drama, you might wonder, "Oh, where did you get the idea?" They don't really care. I think people are more generally curious where I got the idea for Not Too Young then they are for most movies, where they came from.
Steve: It is an interesting question because the film is so off the beaten path that you really want to know. You and I have both done enough press stuff where you go and you're at a film and it's an autobiography of their aunt or something and you know where it came from.
But you always hit the one person who'll ask you, "Where did your idea come from?" It's a lazy question, because you just don't have to ask it. But with this it's like, "OK. You're not like this, so how did you cross this bridge to get to this place?
Alec: One of the things that's been so weird is that periodically, throughout this process... regret isn't quite the right word, but it's also not the wrong word. I'm a bit unhappy that I put myself into this whole thing, because I'm not attracted to kids and I don't like people who are attracted to kids. Ultimately, I don't really care what people think about people who are attracted to kids. That's where it's like, this movie to me isn't really about hebephilia., It's more a conceptual thing about people who are rejected by society, but I still made this movie.
Making the movie is a political act, and every time some big news came out that was like, "This person's actually a pedophile, this person did this horrible thing." I'm like, "Why did I make this movie? Why would I put myself into this conversation that I don't want to be a part of. I don't want to be here." Yet I made the movie.
Steve: I would have to admire you for making the movie, because you didn't do it to grab attention to yourself. You didn't do it to get into the middle of the discussion. You made the movie because you had to make the movie.
"I have to, I can do this, it's something I want to do," for better or worse. That to me makes it a better film, and it's not where secretly you're saying "T this is going to get me noticed."
Alec: To some degree I didn't want anyone to see it.
Steve: You didn't? It's a good enough film that it should be seen.
Alec: Thank you.
Steve: It raises important issues.
Alec: I was talking to Montana about this question of vanity projects. This project, I wrote, directed, starred in, edited, I helped shoot a couple of moments... I did sound editing, mixing, I basically did it all. I paid for it. [laughs] I did almost everything except shoot and compose Montana did that and then the actual sound recording was a friend, Lily. Basically, everything else was me.
Steve: It's still not a vanity project.
Alec: Yeah. Generally speaking, those projects are vanity projects. This one, I didn't do it to showcase me or my talents or anything. The fact that I starred in it is really a practical thing more than it is anything else. It's like, "I'm the best actor I know, whose schedule I have control over." I can always act for me, because I always have time to act for me.
I don't have to find another actor, and I think I'm a fairly good actor. It's like, "OK, I think I can do this. I know I can do most of this." There's a question of a couple of moments, would I be able to pull them off, and I think I did reasonably well.
There's only one shot in the movie that I watched and I'm like, "Oh, that's sad." I don't think that's me looking dumb, and it’s the bed shot. I watched that and that one emotionally hits me, and none of the other ones do.
It's important to me that it doesn't feel like a vanity project, because it's not a vanity project. I don't want to make vanity projects. My next movie I am in, and then my movie after that I'll be in. The movie after that I have more of an emotional stake in it, but even that I don't want to feel like I'm trying to exploit an idea, I'm trying to take advantage of it.
I want it to feel like this is a thing was important, this is a thing that had to be made. No one else is making it so it had to be me.
Steve: Your doing everything was purely a budgetary thing. What did you say the budget was?
Alec: Like $600. It was $200 of equipment and then...I was unemployed. I got a job offer two days before we started shooting. I was like, "Guess what guys? I can pay for your travel and food!"
Getting out the $600 in cash from the bank to give to the young escort, I had to borrow money, because I didn't have it yet. It's funny, because you don't even see the money. There was originally an insert of her grabbing the cash, and it's like, "Why? What is the point of that insert shot?" Having that continuous motion, when you see her on the bed, she's holding the money, she says, "For me?"
That's enough, you don't need that cut-in. Overuse of insert shots it ruins the effect of sequences. That's part of my point. I don't do a lot of coverage, and I don't do a lot of insert shots either, because I want the thing to play.
Inserts and everything absolutely have their place. Not Too Young is not a movie that would benefit from them, and I think my movies in general don't. The style of movies that I make, don't benefit from heavy editing. I don't like heavy editing.
That said, several of my favorite movies of all time are very heavily edited. MAD MAX:ROAD FURY has crazy amounts of editing. That movie's flipping incredible. Editing is incredible, but I'm not making MAD MAX ROAD FURY.
Also I was thinking REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is also this hyper-edited thing. It uses editing to make its point, to show its version of life and drug addiction.
What I'm trying to show is much more minimalist. It's real. It's not really stylized. It's simple but hopefully it looks good.
Having inserts, having cutaways distracts from letting... Honestly the ending cuts more than I wanted to. It has more back-and-forths. It's how it had to go.
Steve: Sometimes it happens
Alec: I wanted for more of the conversation at the end, of the two of them, the young man has five lines, all of which come in the last minute of the film. I had originally wanted that whole thing to take place in a two-shot, but that shot itself was very flat. I didn't like the way it looked.
It was probably the only shot in the whole movie that I don't like the way it looks, so it's not on-screen for very long. I wanted to use it more...I wanted to have that one and not cut into the close-ups, but it didn't work.
That's the one case where I did get the coverage. It was a good thing that I did. In general, I want to let things play.
I like long takes. I always have. I really appreciate long takes. I appreciate information. Last night, I saw DON'T BREATHE. I liked it a lot. I didn't love it as much as some people do, but I liked it a lot.
There's this one shot, which is not actually a single take, but it gives the appearance of a single take, that goes throughout the house and gives you all of the crucial information that you need. That shot I love. The film HONEYMOON from a few years ago also did the same thing, where the shot sort of goes around the house and shows you everything that you need to know about that house.
To some extent, "Not Too Young" opens with that same thing. It's just one shot that shows you where he lives. You see all of the important stuff, except the bed, right from the opening. A long shot can do so much to tell you so much. Editing sort of obscures what a long shot reveals. The opposite can also be true, but I think it’s a not-terrible rule of thumb.
I've had this discussion a few times, even my films that are about psychosis, or hallucinations, or whatever, which several of my earlier ones are, I'm never really trying to hide things from people. My films are really very straightforward, all of them.
There's not big, last second twists that totally make you question everything you've seen. It's just like, "Oh, it's exactly what I thought it would be," and then you react either positively or negatively to that.
I'm not super into being tricky, narratively. I think it's probably true that the thing I like about long takes and the fact that they show so much, and they reveal a lot, part of it comes from the fact that I'm not making movies to trick you. I'm making movies to show you.
That sounds like something I'd do.
Steve: They're not a M Night Shyamalan...
Alec: Or J.J. Abrams or anything. No, I don't see everything as like a mystery box that needs to be opened. You find out what the young man's deal is very quickly. What's the point in hiding it? What's the point in hiding any of this stuff? Just get into to it to say what needs to be said.
Steve: Actually, I was just thinking about Reel is, not to give anything because almost nobody's seen it, Reel is the closest thing to a flip that you've done, you can sort of see that where that's going if you're paying attention.
Alec: It all sort of follows this simple trajectory. I'm not comparing myself to Nic Pizzolatto. To some degree, it's almost like how in TRUE DETECTIVE, everyone was expecting the eighth episode to have this big trick,even though, from the beginning he'd been saying, "No, you see the guy in the first episode and you can figure out 85 percent of what happens from the first episode." He's like, "I'm not trying to trick you. This is a straightforward thing. You're not going to find out it was Matthew McConaughey."
Everyone's like, "It's got to be Matthew McConaughey." Then it was who everyone actually thought it was, and there was no bigger trick. Everyone was like, "What was that?" I was like, "Well, he told you there was no big trick. You had built up all these expectations that like, that's kind of on you, dude."
To some degree, that's kind of what my films often are. In Miranda, it's like, "Oh, yeah, so he's actually just a guy and she's just crazy and wants to kill some random dude who has no idea who she is, and isn't actually trying to undermine her and whatever." [laughs] It's what you think it is. If you're looking for some trick, you're not going to find it, because that's not what I'm interested in.
Steve: Do you think that audiences now almost expect there has to be a twist? "There has to be something, you have to give me something." Like on TV, say every 10 episodes or in a movie, you have to give me something, at twist at every ending for it to be...? Are we getting to the point where that's becoming the norm?
Alec: I think so, because there always has to be the big turn. It's like, "What's the turn going to be?" Sometimes it's like something that's like, "OK, here's a new obstacle," and sometimes it's like, "Well, actually, it was this the whole time."
Especially with big budget things, that's where it goes, because what it is is that a twist gets mistaken for a quality narrative moment. A moment that should be like, "Oh, this is this significant, pivotal moment where things change" or you could introduce this twist, and then you don't have to do that.
Twists mask shoddy writing. The best example of this, or worst, really, is NOW YOU SEE ME 2.The original NOW YOU SEE ME had an interesting twist. I don't know that it actually made any sense, but it was an interesting twist.
Steve: It made no sense. But it was fun.
Alec: Now You See Me 2 is twist, after twist, after twist -- none of which make any sense and also undermine the first movie. There's no internal logic. It's twist, twist. You're like, "Whoa, I didn't see that coming," and then you're like, "Well, because there was nothing to telegraph it."
Steve: Nothing to support it.
Alec: The twists keep coming so quickly, and then you're like, "Oh," and you're not thinking about... I was, because that's what I do, but most people aren't really thinking about how dumb it, because they're like, "Whoa, that was weird. Whoa, that was weird. Whoa, that was weird."
They're hiding behind it. Definitely not all movies are doing that, but a lot of them are, for sure.
Steve: Here is a question from left field:, were you really going to do a lesbian romantic comedy instead?
Alec: I wanted to. I genuinely did want to do a lesbian romcom. The problem with the lesbian romcom is that I couldn't get into it. I want to write a comedy. I want to write comedy so badly.
This isn't true about NOT TOO YOUNG, because NOT TOO YOUNG was always sad, but I wrote Miranda conceptually as a comedy. It's not funny. Reel was sent to me as a comedy and I sent it back as a really straight drama with a completely stupid premise.
That movie is actually problematic that I co-wrote it, because basically a lot of what I did was a lot of remove the humor and make it very, very self-serious. The premise is so dumb that this whole thing being taken really seriously throws people off, and they're like, "Wait, why was that not funny?"
The reason it's not funny is because I co-wrote it, and I removed the jokes. I was like, "No, there shouldn't be a joke here. No, why is this trying to be funny? This isn't funny." There are a couple of jokes here and there, but on the whole it's like, "No, this is a weirdly serious stupid movie."
I'll write something that I think is funny, but then as I go over it again it's like, "No, you know what, I don't think this joke actually works. I don't actually like this. I don't want this., I don't want that." Slowly, but surely, I remove every last ounce of mirth until it's this terrible, sad, awful thing with no hope in it.
I want to make a romantic comedy, because I don't do romance and I don't do comedy, but this is not it. I'm also not a lesbian... maybe next time.
Steve: What would you like to do, other than a romantic comedy? Could you do a comedy?
Alec: I don't know is the honest...
Steve: If somebody give you a Marx Brothers thing, you'd turn it into SCHINDLER'S LIST [laughs]
Alec: I think I'm fairly funny in person. I don't know if that's true, but I think it's true.
Steve: No, you are funny.
Alec: I could probably do comedy, but the problem is that comedy is never the thing that interests me, ultimately. I love comedies. I watch comedies more often than I watch dramas, especially TV. I watch sitcoms. "Sitcom" is my most watched TV genre, other than maybe comedy newscast.
I really like comedy. I really like comedies. I was listening to comedy albums earlier. I use Netflix for comedy specials. Comedy is very important to me, but when it comes time for me to make the thing I'm trying to make, comedy is usually the last thing I think about.
I'm never like, "How can I make people laugh?" because that's not the thing I want to go for. I'm not doing stuff to make people laugh. It's not a goal of mine. I've never wanted to be a comedian. I like laughing. I like it when other people make me laugh.
I'd like to make something that would make people laugh, but I won't do that at the expense of making something good. If I think that comedy will make a thing bad, I'm not going to make it bad because I'm trying to make something funny.
Honestly, my talents, whatever they are... I don't think comedy is one of them. Who knows, maybe I'll find out that actually I can do comedy, I just can't write it. I could direct a comedy, that's possible.
Steve: You've never made a comedy film?
Alec: No, I was cinematographer on one when I was in school way back when. I had some ideas of how I thought to make it funnier, but, no, it wasn't my film. In general, no, not really.
Steve: Your crews seem to be always people you know. Is that important to you, you know everybody?
Alec: I like knowing everybody. I wouldn't call myself unprofessional, except in the sense that I'm totally unprofessional. That's exactly what I would call myself.
Steve: What is professional?
Alec: Professional is everyone gets paid. When I'm making a movie, people don't get paid because it's all coming out of my pocket. Once I have someone who's funding me, I will absolutely pay people. Also, if I get a higher paying job, I will totally pay people. I can't afford it.
I'll pay for food, as was the case in NOT TOO YOUNG. With REEL we paid for food and stuff, because we got the Kickstarter money. (That movie's going to be finished at some point.)
Working with people I feel comfortable around is nice, Also, I have my own weird way of talking. Talking to people who I know makes it easier, because they get what I'm saying when I'm talking.
Montana understands what I mean when I say dumb shit better than pretty much anyone else. It's easy, because I can be like, "Do that thing," and then she'll do something that isn't what I was saying. Then she's like, "Dude, you need to be clear." Then I'll be like, "But the chair," and then she'll be like, "Oh, OK." It's not really any clearer, but she still gets it in a way that most people wouldn't.
Steve: She's on your wavelength.
Alec: [laughs] More on my wavelength than most people are, and so having that is good. It's also that I want it to be a fun atmosphere. I want people to enjoy themselves.
It's also, because I'm doing it at this micro-budget level, I'm not having big lighting rigs. I'm doing practical stuff. I'm trying to make something that's good, but it's this small thing.
I feel more comfortable not paying my friends than I feel not paying people I don't know, or friends of friends. It doesn't have to be someone I know, but I would rather cast a friend of a friend than someone I found on Backstage, which isn't to say I won't cast people I've found on Backstage.
It's really about me being comfortable, and I'm more comfortable around people I know than people I don't, which is true about most people. I'm fairly introverted, ultimately, and I don't like big groups.
That's part of the reason I like to have small casts and crews, because, the more people that are there, the more people to deal with then it just gets complicated, especially because I don't have a producer.
I should really get a producer, but then I'd have to pay them and I don't have any money, which gets back to that first point.
Steve: They're supposed to get you the money.
Alec: Well yeah, but they won't.
Steve: At some point, it's going to happen. How are you going to handle a feature? Are you going to still try to do it?
Alec: It's going to depend on what the feature is. It's going to depend on how much it's going to cost and all that other stuff. NOT TOO YOUNG is the only time I'll ever be able to do a film on that tiny scale of a six person cast and crew combined.
There's never more than two people on-screen together and that only happens once. We can do that with such a tiny group. The next film has four people on-screen at once for a lot of it. It's a more complex film. It has more moving parts.
I really need to increase in scale. Even so, I prefer skeleton crews. I really do. I feel more comfortable that way.
Steve: Have you thought of talking to Ted [[Geoghegan, director of WE ARE STILL HERE]?
Alec: Not really. Once I'm closer to there I would, but I have at least two shorts to go, and then I'm sure I have more. Not Too Young is the start of my "Suffering" trilogy. SHOOTER was supposed to be the second although realistically DENIAL is also about suffering, just in a totally different way. It could be the middle part of that trilogy.
SHOOTER is the catastrophic way to end it. DENIL is no less bleak than SHOOTER is. SHOOTER is just much sadder. SHOOTER is real in a way that I think even NOT TOO YOUNG isn't. SHOOTER hurts.
Making that's going to be really hard, my plan is to do that next year sometime. That's my hope.
Steve: Do you really feel that you have to do the shorts, or would you rather just let the film be what it is? What I'm saying is if SHOOTER or something else suddenly popped up and became instead of 15 minutes, 95 minutes, are you going to let it go the way it goes?
Are you going to try to keep it like, "This has to be a short. This has to be..."
Alec: Shooter has to be a short. Denial could be longer, maybe, but I don't think it should be.
If I had a thing that could be longer, and I could make it longer, I would absolutely make it longer. What's happening is, whenever I write a script, I write knowing I have limited resources, what do I think I could make?
I don't put in fancy special effects. I don't put in big sequences with tons of people running down Madison Avenue. I do small, intimate shorts because that's what I can do given my resources. It's also where I can do what I do reasonably well.
Steve: I can't see based on your past work suddenly going, "You know what? I'll do the next STAR WARS.
Alec: Yeah, although that said,. iIf I could do another one of those spin-off things, if they called me and they were like, "Hey, do you want to do this?" I would say, "Can I do a sad drama set in a Star Wars cantina?" I would totally make that movie. Just saying. [laughs] I would never want to do a STAR WARS EPISODE EIGHT or whatever, though. Honestly, I would need to do infinitely bigger budget things before I could get there, but that's not what interests me. I like blockbuster movies. I like seeing blockbuster movies that are well done. I've never thought, "Ooh, that's what I want to do." I never wanted to make that kind of thing.
Steve: I see this with a lot of people and you're like that, you're a funny guy, you're great to hang out with, and when you make your own films and they're these dark little voyages to Hell.
You see that with other filmmakers, where it's like... Michael Haneke, and you see him working on the set, like in the film that was at Tribeca which was all behind-the-scenes footage. You see Haneke in person and he jokes and he's carrying on, and yet he makes these films you see and then want to kill yourself. Why do you think that is?
Alec: Everyone likes laughing. Everyone likes comedy. In my case, my head is a dark place to be. A lot of comedians joke that comedy is their way to cope with all of their darkness. When I write, I write the world as I see it, maybe a slightly darker version of it but not really.
As a person, being gloomy all the time, isn't fun for anybody. Cracking jokes it's fun as a pleasant guy, but he has this deep down layer of...This is his actual worldview. My fundamental worldview is very bleak.
That's very obvious for anyone who's seen any of my movies. It will be even more obvious if anyone sees either of my next two movies. It's this hopeless worldview, and I don't...
Steve: Is that really your worldview?
Alec: To some degree, yeah. It's not like I think, "Oh no, we're all doomed." It's not anything as obnoxious as that. I do think it's a dark world and that sometimes evil wins and there's nothing that any of us can do to stop it. [laughs]
Steve: What a fun guy.
Alec: Yeah, right? That's me. Alec Kubas-Meyer. Alec, "Fun" Kubas-Meyer. I think that's what they called me in school.
Steve: Dressed all in black.
Alec: Yep. That's me.
Steve: Black eye-makeup.
Alec: I had my goth phase, obviously. (I did not have a goth phase, absolutely not.)
Do you have any more questions?
Steve: I probably do, wait a second.
Alec: That's fair. It's interesting. It feels good that the movie's out, done rather, not out. It feels good having shown it. It feels like it's done what I needed it to do. I wish more had seen it. We'll see, I might try to do something else with it. I'm off to my next projects.
I'm happy with how it came out. I think it's a film that matters, it's a film that does what it's supposed to do. Maybe I should try to do something more with it. I'd rather have someone else try to do something with it, because I just don't have time.
Steve: Let's talk about that for a little bit. It's a great film, you had a good reaction: Why do you think it hasn't gotten picked up for more festivals?
Alec: I think people are really bothered by it. I don't think that they should be, but it was designed to make people uncomfortable.
It doesn't make people uncomfortable the way most movies that make people uncomfortable, It's a very different kind... It's also really hard to program.
I talked to Justina Walford, who programmed the Women Texas Film Festival. She said putting Not Too Young in there was really hard, because it doesn't fit with other movies that make people feel the way it does. In her mind, it makes people feel more like horror movies make people feel than the way dramas do.
It's very clearly a drama, and to some extent it's like a "prestige drama.". It's not lurid. It's not exploitative. It's just sad. It's this thing that makes people feel really uncomfortable about the fact that it's sad.
It was very important to me that I would only submit it to festivals that either had a good reputation or had some important purpose, like the Women Texas Film Festival. It's a festival for films that were made by women or had women in key creative roles.
That's important. If the Women Texas Film Festival is the only festival where it plays, I'm OK with that because that's a thing that matters, if it was played at the Sick 'n' Wrong Film Festival, which is a film festival that exists, that would undermine everything I was working for.
This is a normal guy who has abnormal tastes, and his abnormal tastes make him weird and off-putting, and that bothers people. That's just what it is. That's who he is. By making that film and making a film that does not judge him at all. (And it also doesn't judge the escort.) It's a film complete without judgment. This is a guy, deal with it. People viscerally respond negatively to it because they're like, "Why? Why should I have to acknowledge that this person exists?"
The reason is because he exists. If we don't deal with that, someone's going to get hurt. I think it's really important that we as a society deal with that particular topic, but it's really taboo. I understand that, but it's problematic, ultimately, to sweep all that under the rug.
There's only so much you can... You can't hide things forever. You can't pretend things don't exist when they do. To some extent, rejecting the film is rejecting that reality. I think in a lot of cases, it's more practical. It's like, "What do you put that film with?" It's hard.
Steve: I figured that when I saw the listing of the films at Women Texas. I thought that the film would end because you can't follow that. That was the problem. Was BETTY following? BETTY is a comedy. How do you follow that?
Alec: It's funny, because no one laughed... BETTY's 12 minutes long or something like that, 15. No one laughed for the first two-thirds. It seemed like Not Too Young had knocked the humor out of the room.
People did eventually start laughing towards the end, but it was dead silent for a while. I felt bad for them, but I also felt kind of good about it. I felt like I had an impact. It was like, "It sucks for these guys, but my movie did what it was supposed to do," which is shock people into thinking about it. I hope that the people who saw it are still thinking about it.
Steve: It's over a year since I've seen it the first time and I'm still thinking about it.
Alec: Probably, yeah. I finished the first cut last July, last June.
There were a handful of films at the Women Texas Film Festival that I it fit with. MOSCA, I know you also really liked.
Steve: I really loved it.
Alec: MOSCA was by Lizette Barrera, she won Filmmaker to Watch, and she should have. Her film is excellent. If there was any film in that festival like NOT TOO YOUNG, it is MOSCA.
Steve: Your two are the closest of the shorts.
Alec: Originally it was supposed to be programmed with the PTSD film and a film about human trafficking, but the filmmaker who did the human trafficking short pulled out.
Justina then had to change around where to put me in. That's why it became a problem, it's like, "Oh, shoot. Where do I put this movie now?" The idea of where she had to put it fell apart.
It's clearly a super difficult thing and I immensely respect programmers, especially, the ones who do the job. I think Justina did a good job. NOT TOO YOUNG is a little weird, and I totally understand that it was hard to put anywhere.
And NOT TOO YOUNG is not really bleak at all. It's probably the most hopeful movie I've ever made. It ends on this bittersweet note.
Steve: That was the thing that I thought would push people over the edge who didn't want to watch the film, is that you end it on a hopeful note. I could see people going like, "No, he's not allowed to be happy. He's not allowed to win."
Alec: To some extent, you don't know that he does. Those last two seconds are not...
Alec: Yeah. The camera starts to shake again right before it cuts to black. It goes still. His head is up against her shoulder. He lifts it up just a little bit, but the camera starts to shake and it cuts to black. It's still something. It's more than he's ever had before.
This person has had a hard life, he's going to continue to have a hard life, let's give him some kind of victory, just for this one night. He's not a bad guy. He just wants to do bad things, but the fact that he fights them means he's ultimately a good guy.
The good guys don't always win, and in my other films, they generally don't. When I conceived this movie, I was like, "No, this is about making you feel sympathy for this person you don't want to feel sympathy for." That's what the movie's about. It is about my desire to make people feel sympathy for someone they don't want to feel sympathy for.
However, they also need to be someone who I believe is sympathetic. I would never make a movie about someone who actually was a child molester. I would not do that, period, end of story.
I certainly wouldn't try to make that character sympathetic. The fact that [the lead character in NOT TOO YOUNG] is not an offender, does not want to be an offender, and plans to never be an offender, that's what makes that movie a thing I can make and a thing that I'm interested in making.
I will push audience's buttons, but I'm not going to push their buttons just to do it, and I'm not going to push their buttons for something I don't believe in. I'm not going to do it because I think, "Oh, this'll be shocking." I have to feel that it's a point worth making.