With Sundance festivities in full swing, we were lucky to sit down with some of the key creatives behind a number of the festival’s best films.
First off the bat, we sat down for a chat with Jim Hosking, the director of 2016’s acclaimed The Greasy Strangler and this year’s insane Sundance comedy entry, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, to chat about assembling big name casts, pitching chaos, and repeating words over and over, among other things.
Hi Jim. How do you pitch something as crazy and out-there as An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn to the likes of the bosses at Film 4 or the BFI?
I didn’t really have to pitch it to anyone, though I did have to have phone call with the BFI about the film and I remember that was quite a funny conversation. The thing is, the two films I’ve made so far are quite strong, idiosyncratic films, so there isn’t really a lot of pitching that can happen. How could I persuade them to get onboard with the idea? They’re either gonna be into it or it’ll be the last thing they want to do. They’re either going to be ‘yeah, let’s go’ or ‘fuck that and fuck you’! (Laughs)
Compared to The Greasy Strangler, this has a much bigger A-List cast. Did you have to adapt your way of directing to suit these comic actors who are used to working on less-subversive comedies?
Well, the fundamental difference was, with The Greasy Strangler, there was no doubt that everyone in that film was simply thrilled to have the opportunity be in a film. So they would go anywhere and do anything and I could do everything the way I wanted to. If I wanted to just put two characters in room and not tell the actors what was going to happen, they’d just have to go for it. They may be completely confused, feel dislocated, lost, but I could just do that.
Whereas with this film, I’m working with experienced actors with tangible careers who are going to want to know why they should do the film, what I’m intending to do with the film. So we would block scenes before we shoot them, we’d talk about the characters and why certain things were happening…it was a more rigorous approach, but then saying that, still a lot less rigorous then other directors would have it. I like to keep things spontaneous and alive as possible…keep it teetering on the edge of chaos, I suppose.
Chaos is a good word for the film – I found watching it, every tiny moment like a line or the way someone walks into a scene had been carefully considered for the sake of getting a laugh. Every tiny thing has to be funny…
Exhausting to watch, I bet (Laughs).
But it works here, because not many other comedy do it. Where do you start with achieving that?
Well, because I started out making commercials and stuff, I was always making really weird ones. So I’ve always started at a point where every second is kind of important, or I’m really focusing on every detail to just have some kind of satisfaction with the work. So when it comes to making a feature film, I’m still very conscious of all those little details. I will think about how someone holds a bag or uses their hands or how they walk into a scene. I think if theres a chance for a small moment to be interesting, I like to make that choice and do it.
And how much of that comes from the script? Or does a lot of this happen once you’re on set shooting and experimenting with those moments?
The script is one thing – a lot of the dialogue is very specific and that still remains in the film, but there are some scenes – in fact, there’s one particular scene where Emile Hirsch‘s character Shane and his underling Tyrone (Zach Cherry), and they are deciding that they need to go visit the hotel to see if Shane’s wife Lulu is there with Beverly Luff Linn. I think in the script there’s just one line where Shane says ‘We need to go to the hotel and see if Lulu’s there immediately’ and Tyrone repeats the word ‘Immediately’. And I think it was Emile’s idea to keep repeating the word ‘immediately’ over and over with their heads up against one another. It’s funny, we did that a lot in The Greasy Strangler, so I’m not sure if Emile had seen it and thought I liked repeating things or whether it was just his idea. So there are things that you take from the script and it inspires you to head off in a different direction. I’m definitely pretty free about coming up with other ideas in the moment and letting people go with it.
You mention the script, which brings me to the obvious question – where did the germ of this idea begin? What was the initial idea behind the film?
When you say the initial idea, I struggle to think of what that initial idea was myself! I’d be hard pressed to even tell you what the film is even about! (Laughs)
I mean, this was already written before I made Greasy Strangler. But after making that film, I definitely wanted to make a comedy that didn’t push people’s buttons as much or be quite as disgusting or gross. I was keen not to make a gross film, but have some fun and be outlandish still. I didn’t write the script for Beverly Luff Lin thinking it would just be a romantic film or an emotional film.
David Wike, who I wrote the script with, he initially sent me a scene (one that’s no longer in the film), featuring three characters in a coffee shop, and said ‘hey, I’ve written this scene with these three characters, I don’t know who they are, what the scenes about or where it’ll go, but if you think of something to follow on from this, then just write something’. So I wrote a few pages and came up with a few of the characters who are in the film, and it started to just feel like it was becoming something more. It felt a lot like some of those old American films from the 70’s, a bit like Robert Altman or Hal Ashby‘s work, where it feels kind of absurd and there’s a bunch of eclectic characters, but they’re also quite sad and emotional. So it required some more sweetness in there too and that’s where we got to this point.
And where will we be seeing you next?
I’m working on a TV Series at the moment for Adult Swim, and I’m also trying to get a film going at the moment.
So we will get to see more of your wonderful weird characters on screen soon?
Well, I hope so. (laughs)
Special thanks to Jim Hosking for taking time to speak to us. An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn is out in UK cinemas later this year, check out our thoughts on it here and book now to see it at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.