The Easier With Practice director talks about the weight of expectation that comes with having a breakthrough indie hit.
Kyle Patrick Alvarez wooed critics and audiences on the festival circuit this year, picking up awards at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Independent Spirit Awards with his feature debut, Easier With Practice. A film of depth and substance, it points to a bright future for its director, who spoke to LWLies recently about the career change that preempted his move into filmmaking, and why he hopes to be in it for the long haul.
LWLies: It's been 10 months since Easier With Practice was released in the US, how's that time been for you?
Alvarez: It's been great. In some ways it's such a liberating feeling to get the film out there, because you spend so much time on it and it's really such an insulated experience until you get to the point where other people see it. But people have responded so well and we've been so lucky to win the awards that we've won. I've learned more and more in the last couple of years just how hard it is for a small film to even break through in the slightest, let alone get an international release. For us to be able to break through... I'm so grateful for that.
This was a real labour of love for you?
Oh, completely. I quit my job in LA and dedicated myself to making a film. That was in 2007 and since then I've put everything of myself into it. It was a very small group of us making this film, we were going around putting the posters in the theatres and that kind of thing. So it's been a strange but amazing experience seeing it come out in theatres in the UK and other countries.
The film is based on a true story, what was it about that story that made you think, 'This is going to be my first film.'
I'd moved to LA from film school and I was working as an assistant and I just started to question what I was doing there. I wasn't making movies and I really didn't feel like I was a part of the filmmaking community, I wasn't where I wanted to be, so I left my job and put myself at risk so that I had to do something. And at that same time, in August of 2006, I read this article and it was exactly what I wanted to do – the story just hit me right. I felt t would be daring and challenging for me because all my short films up until then had been sort of exaggerated and comedic and I felt they didn't really reflect the type of filmmaker I wanted to be.
What types of films do you want to make?
I wasn't one of those kids making films when I was eight in my backyard, I went to Blockbuster a lot with my mum and watched a lot of movies at home, and I grew up loving classic films, that kind of pure cinema where you shoot what you need and every cut has a significance, there's no unnecessary angles... The language of the camera is so important to me and so I tried to embrace that ethos with this film. I think though that American indie generally has been edging towards a sort of handheld, grittier realism, and while I really love that for me I love incorporating the language of the film into the story as much as the story and the characters themselves.
How much was the real Davy Mitchell involved with the film?
We spoke a lot but I had to adapt his story quite a bit because originally it was only a three-page GQ article and I had to stretch that out into a 100-page film script. I completely rewrote the character, but it was the way that he handled the story that really fascinated me and I wanted to keep that tone. He turned something that could've been a bit hokey into something really intimate and personal. I wanted to try and recreate that on film. But he got from the get go that this was going to be an interpretation, he was very open to changes which was great for me.
How did you get Brian Geraghty on board? He's become quite a sort after young actor over the past couple of years...
Well Brian had shot The Hurt Locker but no one had seen it and I had tracking him since Jarhead, which for me he was the best part of, and again in Bobby and The Guardian. He always stood out for me and he'd been on my list for a long time for this film, but we ended up auditioning about 200 people, which was really exhausting, but when Brian came in he just had totally the right vibe. We were looking for someone who could hold the camera on their own for long periods and also someone who was a great character actor. He brought so much humanity and belief to the character, and a lot more levity than I realised was in the script too.
Has this project galvanised your hunger for making films, or has it made you want to take a break from directing?
For me it's had such a fuelling affect – I want to keep going, keep being challenged and take things to the next step. I'm working hard to try to get as many movies as I can, even though it's so hard to get indie films financed and distributed. Since we wrapped on Easier With Practice I've been working really hard to get another project made, I'm just so eager to get back on set as quickly as possible.
What have you got lined up next?
I'd been chasing David Sedaris about a story he wrote that I loved, and about a year ago I managed to get in touch with him and secure the rights to this particular story. Since then I've been working on the script for that, getting it cast and working on the financing.
That's a long process. Are you tempted to go for something a little easier, or is it about being patient and waiting for the right project?
I'm realising that some of the filmmakers that I admire who work a lot – like Gus Van Sant or Wong Kar Wai – what they do in between bigger studio project is make small, personal films. Obviously I'm on a much smaller scale than that, but what I'm doing right now is this really fun thriller/horror that's totally different to Easier With Practice but is a really short shoot, really gutsy, and is going to be really ambitious. I'm going to do that while the David Sedaris one gets off the ground, however long that might be. I'm hoping I can keep that balance in my career where I'm keeping consistency and making films, but also keep my passions projects going at the same time.
What's the Sedaris project called?
It's called C.O.G.
What are your long term ambitions?
I'm looking at the next couple of years and I'd like to get bigger, but I don't really have lofty ambitions of making huge, expensive films. It's already so much pressure to have one million, two million dollars on your shoulders, and I never want to lose sight of that.