Director Jonathan Levine

The director of this 90s period film talks about his inspiration for the film, working with Ben Kingsley and more

Recently we got to speak with Jonathan Levine, director of The Wackness, which comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 6. Here's what he had to say.

How did you come up with the idea for this film?

I started writing The Wackness in film school. The genesis was the idea of the weed-therapy exchange, of two lost souls connecting over their collective coping mechanisms. Then I set it in '94, inserted a bit of my personality into the Luke character, and it really started to flow. The first draft was like 3000 pages. I reworked it over the course of 3 years, cutting approximately 2880 pages.

What inspirations from your youth drove you to this project?

For me, coming of age movies are all about the details. That's how the teenage years work, I think- it's associative memory: the clothes, the video games, the music. Every detail evokes a time, a moment, a feeling. New York in the summer was a big influence: the heat, the vibe. Early-90's hip hop, obviously, was a big influence too. Mostly, though, it was the details from my own memory, whether it be the way people talked, the way they wore their jeans, etc. All that stuff inspired me.

What were the challenges presented to you in bringing this story to film?

Finding the distance as a director, to interpret one's own script, is always challenging. There were lots of logistical challenges as well, from shooting on location in New York. Certainly, adhering to period correctness was a major challenge.  There were always things we couldn't show: cell phones, cars, street signs. We had to be very careful about what we put in the frame, and what we left out.

If you could only take away one learning experience from this film, what would that be?

Ben Kingsley taught me so much about an actor's process. Just watching him work was a lesson in what it means to be an artist.  You also learn a lot about screenwriting from the directing process (and, especially, the editing process). I learned to rely more on looks, images, etc. rather than the written word. I will certainly incorporate these lessons into my next screenplay.

Looking back on the film now in retrospect what do feel proudest of?

I don't rewatch my movies, nor do I swell with pride when I see them. I beat myself up!  I see every little thing I could have done better. So I try to resist doing that. That said, I'm proud of my collaborators. My crew. The actors. They're amazing. I'm very lucky to have worked with such an incredible cast, and I love them all.

The Wackness hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on January 6.