JM: Bryan, I was just saying I read your interview with Graham Nash, and I thought it was really well done. “Better Days” is one of my favorite songs of all time, so I loved to read it.
IT: Well, I had this weird thing in college, where people I met assumed that because I had an acoustic guitar that I was into James Taylor and CSN, but I was more into Paul Simon and Randy Newman and the Grateful Dead. But then I heard one of Graham’s songs on “4-Way Street” (1971) called “Right Between The Eyes” that gets me to this day when I hear it. This is the third time I’ve talked to Graham and it does get harder to come up with new questions. I mean, the guy’s been asked everything. But I don’t think anyone’s ever started an interview saying that they’d read something that I wrote, so that’s very flattering. If what happened to you happened to most people, they wouldn’t make a movie, they’d be in therapy. Was this always in the back of your mind?
JM: Yeah. I mean, I wanted to tell a story…I like stories where people are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I always feel like that poses an interesting question to an audience. When I decided to tell this particular story, I think I was excited by how much [laughs]how invested I would have to be in the process of telling it, and really, how much I had to say about my relationship with my dad, and then what that said about fathers and sons in general.
IT: I have this quote from you in the press notes: “I’ve long been a fan of discomfort comedy. I laugh the hardest when I’m the most uncomfortable.” Define discomfort comedy as you see it.
JM: Yeah, when I’m talking with friends about stories of our lives, the things that I often laugh the most about is when someone’s telling me a story and it feels like they were just in an untenable situation where they couldn’t do anything and they didn’t know what to do. And you laugh because you relate to it, and you go, “I don’t know what I would have done, either.” So this story plays with that, where Patton unwittingly catfishes his son, and then can’t get out of it, because if he bails on his son, his son might hurt himself. So he has to go further and further down this path. I see it as kind of discomfort comedy because we as the audience don’t know how we would necessarily navigate it differently.
IT: Can you name some of your favorite cringes? [laughs]
JM: There’s a filmmaker named Ruben Östlund (2014’s “Force Majeure”) who’s made a lot of movies that deal with these brutal social situations. I love the work of Nathan Fielder. He hasn’t really made any films, but his [TV] shows make me cringe in a delightful way. Sacha Baron Cohen, I’ve been a fan of his forever. Yeah, I don’t know, for some reason, that kind of humor hits me, and it feels…I’m able to experience it differently every time
IT: I’ve been seeing a lot of stuff that’s written and directed by the star, like “Barry” on HBO and “Vengeance”, BJ Novak’s directing debut. I’m always impressed by triple threats that write, direct and act, and this was your first time. How did you monitor your own performance and still keep the whole movie in your head?
JM: Yeah, I’ve been making micro-budgeted features before –
IT: My apologies. This was the first thing I’ve seen you in so I assumed this was your first film.
JM: It’s okay. It was my first movie with a bigger budget, a professional cast and whatnot. When I’m writing and directing and acting, it’s something I’ve done since I was a little kid, so it actually comes fairly naturally to me. It’s more a matter of finding partners that are willing to take that leap with me. And I was lucky enough in this case to find some amazing partners. And then, you know, for me, it allows me to have so much creative skin in the game that I have to make it work. [Laughs] Like, it’s high risk, high reward, and gives me a sense of real ownership of the story I’m trying to tell.
IT: I listened to Patton and his wife Meredith Salinger talk about taking their films to South By Southwest. What was your South by Southwest experience?
JM: It was pretty amazing. South By is one of my favorite festivals of all time, and to have the film so warmly received there really meant the world to me. It was also the first time my dad saw the movie, which was amazing and really uncomfortable, a similar tone to the movie, really. But he sat beside me and we watched it in the theater, 600 people together, which was quite a trip. I got a chance to watch a lot of the movies after the fact. We were in great company this year: “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, “The Lost City”, “X” played there.
IT: Wow, I loved “X”. That was my first Ti West movie.
JM: Yeah, it was great.
IT: What was the shooting schedule and what was the budget?
JM: We shot it in about two months. The budget is, I would say, a little less than “Avatar”.
IT: Gotcha. Patton Oswalt is my favorite comic but I love him when he goes dark in movies like yours and “Big Fan”.
JM: Yeah, I’ve been a fan of his for as long as I can remember. I think he has an incredible ability to inject levity into dark subject matter. I don’t know if the film would have worked as well with another actor. He’s just so committed and so smart about navigating this tricky tonal line.
IT: Patton’s not just hired help, he’s a co-producer. What did he do for the movie besides playing Chuck?
JM: Patton was a real champion of the movie throughout the casting process, and just was behind it the entire time, from bouncing stuff off him during the production, and he was just real committed to helping us tell this story. I don’t think we could have done it without him.
IT: Patton’s this amazing film scholar. I can only imagine the amazing conversations you must have had.
JM: That was one of my favorite parts of making this movie. I mean, we would just be going back and forth the whole time with references and movies for one another to watch. And then during production, we would often find ourselves in one or the other person’s hotel room watching a movie. I saw Robert Altman’s “Popeye” (1980) for the first time with Patton. It was so fun to be creating with someone who loves movies as much as I do, and that we both have a real hunger for it.
IT: When I interviewed Lily Tomlin, we talked about how much we miss Robert Altman and Robert Altman movies. It seems like everybody wants to be Michael Bay now. I’m still haunted by the end of “Brewster McCloud” (1970).
JM: Yeah, it took big, big swings. “The Player” (1992) is one of my favorite movies, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971) is one of my favorite movies. He’s able to create environment really well, and then it almost feels coincidental that you’re with the characters you are. He’s able to let his stories evolve very organically. I’m a big fan of his.
IT: At some point you realize that you and Patton are going to have to make out.
JM: Yeah, I think the realization came when I wrote it. [laughs] “This might have to happen.”
IT: I love the way that you took the texting conversations into different areas of perspective, like the various angles on the rooftop scene for instance.
JM: Thank you. That was pretty key for me, going into the process, that we weren’t just looking at phones for two hours. And when I was writing this story, I was thinking, “Okay, what does it feel like when you’re texting with someone or messaging someone, and it feels like the person is kind of right there with you, you’re projecting a lot onto that other person, and you can kind of, you almost feel the person as you’re messaging them, and so I decided to just have them be with the person we’re watching text them. And that kind of unlocked a whole new level of dramatic irony in the telling of the story.
IT: Rachel Dratch is brilliant. I feel like you might be the first person to see her as a sexual creature and not the comedy character actor. She really shows off stuff that she’s never gotten to do.
JM: Yeah, I think her character is…everyone in this movie is desperate to connect in one way or another, and Erica just happens to use her sexuality as a way of being liked and appealing. So there’s something like, beautiful and sad about the whole thing, and I feel like Rachel was able to really lock into that and was able to bring a lot of humanity to that character.