Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bob Odenkirk and Michael Blieden on "Melvin Goes To Dinner"

What first attracted you to this project?

BOB ODENKIRK: I saw the play a couple times -- I think five, all told and I felt that if all I do is shoot this play in some form, then that would be worthy of the effort. It was so well played, so well written, and the cast was so perfect, that I felt I had to fall back on. It was just worth shooting. And I thought I had an idea of how to shoot it and keep it lively, which was multiple, handheld cameras.

I had some ideas on what I thought would help make it feel and work like a feature film. It's a very good performance piece for the stage, and one of the reasons it's so good is, it's very much alive every night that you do it. One night it could be a little more comic, another night it could be more dramatic. It all depends on the tone of performance and it depends on the audience and it depends on their interaction. That's what a great play does: it lives on stage every night, and it lives a little differently.

When you're making a movie, you're committing to one performance. Unlike a play, where your eyes can move around and the energy can shift in this interplay between audience and performance, you're committing. You're saying to everybody, 'Look at this person and look at this performance and this is the right performance.'
How many cameras did you end up using?

BOB ODENKIRK: We used five cameras, so everybody is on camera at all times. And we tried to layer it so that you can follow everyone's performance throughout the movie, even though we commit to singles angles at any one time. When a person's talking and telling a story, we cut from them to watch the people listening, because the way that anyone of those persons stories is affecting the other people is the depth of the piece.

When one person tells a story about infidelity, clearly there is an issue there with some of the other people, and you can read that I think subconsciously. And, if you watch the movie a second time, you can read it consciously. You can see people getting uncomfortable at certain topics, and now you know why.
Although the cast is relatively unknown, you did add some cameos by better known performers. What was your thinking behind that?

BOB ODENKIRK: I knew that we weren't going to use any names in the leads. And I thought just having a few name people would help the movie, and I do think it did help.

Now, some of the people, like Jack Black and Melora Walters, wouldn't let us put their name or their image on the poster, which is fine and understandable, and in fact I would want. The last thing I would want would be for it to be released as
'The Jack Black Movie.' People would hate me, Jack, and the asshole who made the poster.

I do think the cameos help. It helps people to consider the movie legitimate. The thing I'm most happy about is that those people were right for their parts, they were funny and good in their parts, and they don't overshadow the movie.

You like Jack Black, and you like Maura Tierney, and you like Melora Walters, they're all good in their roles. David Cross is great. But none of them overshadows what the movie's about, none of them dislocates the core of the movie.

When the movie's over, you don't go, 'Wow, that was about Jack Black's scene.' Instead, you totally go, 'That was about this couple who are lying and this friend who's in a bad relationship and this girl's story about ghosts,' and about the ninth thing you mention is that Jack Black's in it. And that's perfect. Perfect.

How did you get hooked up with Bob Odenkirk?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Bob had seen the play and said he was interested in making a movie out of it. So I said, 'Why don't I take a crack at the script, and if you like that, then we'll move forward.' 

And he said, 'That's sounds good. Let me give you a couple of general notes.' And his notes were, number one, why don't you try to focus the story on one character, and why don't you make it Melvin's character, since Melvin's kid of a device to get the other characters' stories out. He's the audience. So why don't you make it from Melvin's perspective. We need to see one character go through something during the night.

I worked on the script for a couple months and sent him a draft.
What was it like to write a screenplay for your play?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: When I sat down to write the screenplay, we'd been performing the play for so long and the characters were so vivid to me, it felt like I was writing the sequel, because I got to write more words for these same characters in this same world.

I write in a completely nonlinear way. I believe in 'write what you're excited about first.' Always work on what you're excited about first.

I started writing scenes that I felt exemplified each character. I wrote a little intro scene for each character -- except I never really wrote one for Sarah, so there isn't one in the movie.

I wrote the story in a linear way -- the first scene was 6:00 a.m., Alex getting on a plane to fly to LA, and Melvin waking up in his office, and each character chronologically. And then they get to the restaurant and then it was -- aside from the internal flashbacks -- it was basically the play. It was like two movies: a single-camera, thirty location film, and then a multi-camera restaurant movie.

Then, for about a full month, I almost exclusively worked in the scene navigator mode (in Final Draft), where I just cut and pasted scenes and I did a paper edit of the film. The script, when it was finally a shooting script, is pretty much the way the movie was edited.
After writing and performing a five-person play, how did you feel about the cameos in the film?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Maura Tierney accepted the part just based on the script. The first day -- she is so warm and you have so much affection for her instantly. Everyone just loved her. Some people can say 'Hi' to you and you like them instantly, and she has that quality.

After shooting with her for one day, I went home and thought, I'm in this great position. I can do whatever I want. I get to act with her. So I wrote three extra pages of dialogue, because she was so much fun.

So I went back in the next day when she was in make-up and said, (whisper) 'I wrote more stuff for us to do!' The whole walking scene on the roof of the ramp, about my mom and her nose job, I wrote the night before because I wanted to do more with her.
What about Jack Black?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: Bob said he was going to ask Jack Black to do it, and I said, 'Let me re-write the scene then!' So I did a special version. The original scene was about a page, but for Jack Black it was about five pages. That was directly written for him.
How do you feel about the finished movie?

MICHAEL BLIEDEN: The movie has given me the sense that I could retire, I could work in a bank from now on, and I'd be like, 'I made a movie once, an honest to god movie,' and I have such a feeling of accomplishment about that, there's a part of me that really let go and said 'You knows what, you've done something you never thought you would do.' There's times when I'm actually able to relax a little bit, and that makes it worth it.

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