Sunday, January 24, 2010
Playing in competition this year is Austin filmmaker Bryan Poyser’s Lovers of Hate, starring Alex Karpovsky and Chris Doubek as brothers, Paul and Rudy, vying for the attention of Rudys’ soon-to-be ex-wife, Heather (Heather Kafka.) Paul is enjoying wild success as the author of a Harry Potter-like series of children’s books, which are based on stories that Rudy used to make up for Paul when they were children. Rudy, who calls himself a writer but who seems never to have written a page, seethes with rage and resentment; in fact, his wife is leaving him because of his bitterness.
The brothers spend the film lying to each other, stealing each others’ property, and sleeping with each others’ wives, grasping at some way to finally feel that they’ve got the other beat. But it’s never clear what the point of the game is, and by the end, all they’ve done is gotten hurt and destroyed the playing field.
Sundance viewers will recognize the sprawling Park City ski lodge where much of the movie takes place; the 7-11 shuttle stop even makes an appearance. This is Poyser’s second feature as a director; his first, Dear Pillow, played Slamdance in 2004 and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
Filmmaker: Have you had vengeful impulses in your own life?
Poyser: I have had my share of relationships that ended poorly, and I’ve asked myself, if I could be a fly on the wall when my ex first slept with another person, would I run away or would I stay and take the torture? Rudy doesn’t react in a healthy way, at all, but that’s the part that I find really funny. He fails and fails and fails to try to break them apart, and then he finally succeeds, and then he realizes what a toll it has taken on the person that he was trying to get back in the first place.
Filmmaker: How would you classify this film — as a drama, a thriller?
Poyser: Unfortunately none the films I’ve made so far fall neatly into any genre classification — they’re all dramas, they all deal with human emotion. I’m interested in dark, serious subject matter but I want people to watch the films and enjoy them. Dark, funny films are what I’ve tried to make. Humor is a very useful tool to get people on board with you — it can deflate tension, it can get the viewer on the side of the character, it can prime them for some of the more serious stuff that you want to bring to the story. With Lovers of Hate, I wanted to make the first five minutes kind of broad. I wanted to make a movie that’s surprising and goes to unexpected places, which of course is always a challenge when you’re trying to get people interested in the movie, because what do you call it? My hope is that if people stick around and watch the whole thing, they’ll be surprised by the turns the film takes.
Filmmaker: Was it hard to keep that tone consistent through the rehearsals and shooting?
Poyser: Early on, a lot of people were pushing for the story to take a very violent turn, but I never wanted to do that — as soon as somebody does something deliberately violent or hurtful, they become a movie character, and not someone relatable. I was more interested in emotional violence, the psychological torture that [Rudy] tries to put them through and that they are inadvertently putting him through.
Filmmaker: You’re very entrenched in the Austin indie film scene, which usually means working with very little money and a very small crew. Do you feel hindered by small budgets?
Poyser: I do have the experience of working on a bigger film — The Cassidy Kids, which I didn’t direct but was very involved with in the writing and producing, was a crew of 50, with 35 speaking parts. Sets were built; it was a “real” movie. It was a huge challenge and an amazing education of how the hierarchy of a movie set works. It’s really there for the director to not have to do anything but direct. But it’s also a giant machine that’s very hard to stop if it’s going in the wrong direction. If you change your mind on a tiny movie set with five people, it’s a hell of a lot easier than if you want to turn around a crew of 100 people who have all been working for one goal. In a way, making it with a more realistic and humble attitude made the work a lot better, because I wasn’t so focused on where the film was going to go when it was done, but on the work itself.
Filmmaker: Can you think of any lessons you took away from that production that you used on this?
Poyser: Rehearsals, for one. We had no rehearsals on Cassidy Kids, and it really made things difficult. The characters in Lovers of Hate are supposed to have known each other for years — we did about a month of rehearsals, meeting two or three times a week for a few hours every time. It wasn’t about working on the script, it was just about getting to know each other. We played theater games, hide-and-go-seek, relaxation exercises, silly stuff, to just make us feel comfortable with each other and build this family bond in a month and a half. When we were in the house I made Alex and Chris share a room, like brothers, hoping that they would get pissed off at each other.
Filmmaker: For me, the film was less about sibling rivalry than it is about male competition.
Poyser: I don’t have a brother, I have a sister, and though we did have a similar creative childhood in the way that Paul and Rudy did — but yeah, I think that as closely knit and collaborative the independent film world is, we’re all competing for the same very limited amount of attention and resources. In a way, writing the movie was a process of me examining jealousy, a feeling that everyone has but not many people quite know what to do with.
Filmmaker: The film made me think about one aspect of success, which is that if you do become successful, even if you believe you were very lucky, you still believe that you were rewarded for good work and capability. And it’s very easy to judge those who are less successful than you, or feel that you can see clearly the reasons for another person’s lack of success.
Poyser: Yeah, I mean one part of my job at the Austin Film Society is to administer a grant for state funds for filmmakers, which has gotten very competitive. I have been fortunate enough to get grants from this group early on, but there was a time where I felt like I was just not included. I felt like I was not getting the recognition I deserved. When you’re young, you think you can upset the apple cart so easily. One thing I definitely learned from my mom, who was an illustrator, is that rejection is a part of life as an artist. Your job is to go out and try to get what you want and be rejected over and over again. You have to take those rejections and turn them into fuel to keep you going.
The rewards are so paltry, and they end up costing so much — for instance, I am dropping a lot of money to come to Sundance and have this experience. I’m thrilled to death, don’t get me wrong. But before making this particular film, it did take a while to get over the experience of making The Cassidy Kids, which was disappointing for a variety of reasons. But eventually I thought, if I don’t make another feature, I will kick myself forever. In a very simple way, making this film was a way to tell myself to shut up, and be working on something, rather than sitting around and feeling worthless for not working on something.
Filmmaker: Neither brother in the film, either the unsuccessful writer or the successful one, are made happy by writing. And neither of them, even though one is a complete failure and the other is a huge success, seem to ever have been humbled by failure. They’re both terrified of failing.
Poyser: You could say that they don’t actually want what they say they want, but just that they want to get back at each other. I tried to make something about selfishness, which is something that all artists have to contend with in some way. At the end of the day, all three of them get a little bit of perspective on the way that their selfishness has hurt other people. Hopefully it leaves each of them in a space where they can rethink their actions.
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