Director Chris D'Arienzo discusses his directorial debut, Barry Munday
Chris D'Arienzo has gone from being a production assistant, to short film director to Tony-nominated playwright and now feature film screenwriter and director. Chris D'Arienzo makes his directorial debut with the indie hit Barry Munday, which will arrive in theaters on October 1 in limited release. I recently had the chance to speak with Chris D'Arienzo about his experiences making his first feature film. Here's what he had to say below:
I was curious about how you first discovered Frank Turner Hollon's book and what lead you into adapting the screenplay?
Chris D'Arienzo: Actually, he's repped by my agent as well. Before it was even published, my agent got a hold of it and flipped it to me. He said, 'I found this book, I think you'd really dig it. If you like it, I won't do anything with it so you can go off and do it.' I loved it and I thought it was an incredibly generous offer so I took him up on it. I just started adapting it and, pretty quickly while I was adapting it, I realized it was something I'd love to direct, so I held onto it and suddenly I got to make this movie.
I don't believe you've ever adapted anything before Barry Munday. Can you talk about the process adapting a book and how long that process took?
Chris D'Arienzo: This was the first time I had ever adapted anything. I was actually in a band at the time and I was on tour. I did my initial adaptation of it while I was on tour, in each little town I was in. I'd get up in the morning and go to a local coffee shop and write. What I would do was, on legal pads, I would go through each chapter and literally take each chapter of the novel and convert it into screenplay form, so I had the entire novel figured out in screenplay form. Once I got home, I put all that into my computer and I felt I was able to look at the novel as a film and see where things were going off track, what things I wanted to embellish. Then I could actually craft it as a movie. That was the process for me. It worked well for me. It was the fastest I had ever written anything and it was a lot of fun.
You hear with some adaptations that they take longer than most normal screenplays, so it's interesting that you had that experience. I remember reading that John Irving took 5 years to write The Cider House Rules and 15 years to write the screenplay.
Chris D'Arienzo: Yeah, it's interesting. That was probably also the case since he wrote the novel and then adapted it. It's probably similar to me with editing this film because that, for me, was a lot harder than writing it or shooting it. I think a lot of that was my own preciousness as the writer. You grow attached and say, 'Oh, this is so important. Everybody has to see this thing. This is crucial.' Then you realize, when someone comes in with a more utilitarian point of view and shakes the tree, that you realize what is truly important in the things you were so precious about. I can't imagine if I had written a novel, the adaptation would certainly be a lot harder and a lot more painful. I tried to remain as true to the book as possible. I thought Frank wrote these brilliant characters and that they were so fun. My job, I felt, once I had turned it into a screenplay, was to streamline it and get to the heart of what I felt was important, which was this weird little love story.
The cast is rather phenomenal here. Was there anyone that you had in mind for this movie while you were writing it? Can you talk about bringing this cast together as a whole?
Chris D'Arienzo: Not when I was writing it. I never would've dared to dream that I would have these actors. Honestly, when I finished the script, I thought it would be something that me and my buddies would make (Laughs). Early on in the casting process, when it looked like some real serious actors were coming to the table and wanting to be a part of this, of the cast that's in the movie now, the first person that popped in my head that stayed in the film was Billy Dee Williams. I remember thinking of him for the boss and I had always been a fan of his. Also, in my head, I thought that Lonnie needed to be the coolest guy in Barry's universe. I couldn't think of a cooler guy than Billy Dee Williams.
Exactly. With Patrick Wilson, he's a wonderful actor but you don't see him do lighter fare too often. What was it like to work with him and bring out this lighter side that we don't get to see too often in him?
Chris D'Arienzo: That was intentional. One of the things I really wanted to do, which is the same reason why I changed the titled from Life Is a Strange Place, was it was important to me, right or wrong, I just felt that the audience shouldn't see the joke coming, that we're not waiting for the wacky or strange thing. It was the same with the casting. It would be much more interesting to cast someone who's not so much known for comedy necessarily, in this role, so that the audience isn't waiting for a funny scene or a joke, so those moments are more of a surprise and unfold spontaneously. I knew early on that I wanted to go that direction and when I heard Patrick Wilson was interested, I got incredibly excited because I've always been a huge fan of his stuff.
I've always been a fan of him and of Judy Greer as well. This seems like a role that she was just born to play.
Chris D'Arienzo: Yeah. She's one of those people that, the minute you meet them, you just want to be their best friend. She's so talented and she's probably the greatest gift to a director, especially in a comedy, because she gives you some of the best reaction shots you'll ever get. Every time she's in a scene, I can just look at the footage I have of her reacting to something and use it, because she's so expressive and great.
What kinds of things did you learn in your directorial debut with this cast that's just a wealth of talent, as far as your directing approach?
Chris D'Arienzo: I hadn't directed anything before so I was kind of diving into the deep end of the pool (Laughs). I was incredibly nervous, obviously, when photography started and working with these amazing actors. They were so game and so generous and really so trusting in me that it was definitely empowering. One of the things we wanted to do with this was to adopt a style that felt like a 70s comedy, so I did a lot of scenes in masters and you can only really do that unless you have really skilled actors, who don't need you to cut away, and you can do a whole scene from start to finish in one take, which we did a lot of in this film. I think that was enticing for the actors and a lot of people really got excited about that. Usually you do 100 setups and maybe just once sentence of the line and then move on to the next angle. This was definitely a different type of experience and a throwback for them. They really embraced it and embraced me and it was a real joy. A lot of people always say this, that everyone got along so well, but it really was so much fun. Everyone kept it really light and professional and just came ready to play. It was great.
With all this talent, there has to be a lot of stuff that you can put on the DVD when it comes out. Are there a lot of things that you would throw on there that didn't make it into the movie?
Chris D'Arienzo: Oh yeah. We just went through it, actually, and there are just a ton of bloopers, obviously. There's a lot of that and a bunch of deleted scenes. There are a couple that I wish were still in the film, but there was a pressure, early on, to get the length down. Now I realize that there were a couple of moments where I threw the baby out with the bath water, so there will be those on the DVD's. There are a lot of funny scenes that just drifted from the plot. There's this whole moment that wasn't in the film where Colin Hanks plays this air guitar guy that ends up kidnapping Barry with his guys. There's this whole van kidnapping that happens that was really fun to shoot and we had a blast, but it ultimately derailed the movie a bit, in retrospect. We've got that and there's this other scene that we did with Malcolm McDowell that we'll put on the DVD. In the dinner scene, I asked him if he'd help me recreate the opening shot of A Clockwork Orange, with the milk. So we have this pull-away shot of him across the table, drinking the milk very menacingly, straight into the camera.
Is there anything that you're currently writing right now that you can talk about, or anything that you're looking to direct?
Chris D'Arienzo: Right now, I wrote this musical that's on Broadway right now called Rock of Ages, so I've been doing a lot of work with that, getting the national tour ready, which is kicking off in Chicago. I've been doing that and, actually, Patrick Wilson and I are developing a stage musical. I unfortunately can't give details away, but it's based off a movie and it's pretty epic and great. I'm really excited about that and I'm still kind of dipping my toe into both theater and the film world and hopefully looking for a film project to do sometime soon here.
You said you were looking for a film project. What kind of movie would you like to follow up Barry Munday with? Would you like to stay in this realm or would you look into going to different genres?
Chris D'Arienzo: I usually don't get too genre specific with things I get excited about. It's usually about character. One of my heroes is Tootsie and Jeremiah Johnson. If I could have any kind of career, that would be a dream career, to do all sorts of genres. I don't know. I usually tend to gravitate towards character, no matter what the genre. I'd love to do a Western someday. I'd love to do a musical. We'll see what people will let me do next.
I'd love to see more Western's, period, to be honest. I love Western's.
Chris D'Arienzo: I do too. I'm a huge fan of Western's and it's sad that it's one of those genres, like movies about movies, that studios are scared to make because they don't make money. I'd love to do one.
To wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about Barry Munday about why they should check it out in theaters this weekend?
Chris D'Arienzo: It's a movie that, if you go in looking for a real, sweet and peculiar love story... as ridiculous as it sounds, it feels like the ultimate date movie, to me. It's two people really falling in love in a real and kind of messy, funny way. I'd love people to just give it a chance. It's a little movie, but we're all really proud of it.
When you look at the synopsis, people might not think of it as the ultimate date movie (Laughs).
Chris D'Arienzo: Well, that's the thing. That was always the trick. The log-line of this thing sounds so weird and off-putting, and it's not the movie that it is. That's the trick of marketing this film too. It is one of those movies, more than a lot of other movies, where you really just have to see it. To describe it, doesn't really do it any justice. So, hopefully, if there's any message to the audience out there, the description doesn't do it any justice. Just go see it (Laughs).
Well, that's about all I have for you, Chris. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the movie and everything else you have coming up.
Chris D'Arienzo: I appreciate it. Thanks a lot.