One-on-One Q&A with Daryl Wein, Director - "Breaking Upwards"
In anticipation for his narrative feature directorial debut, Breaking Upwards, at SXSW this weekend, Daryl Wein participated in a One-on-One Q&A with The Film Panel Notetaker. Wein's documentary Sex Positive debuted at last year's SXSW.
Q: Can you tell me a little about Breaking Upwards, how it all began? What's the story behind it?
Wein: Breaking Upwards was inspired by an open relationship I was in with my girlfriend (and co-star/writer/producer), Zoe Lister-Jones a few years ago. As a means to ultimately separate, we decided to strategize our break up over a period of 12 months. It was neurotic and insane, but somehow worked for us and, rather than process the insanity of it all, I immediately entered filmmaking mode, and saw a totally unique but entirely relatable story that I wanted to share. I felt like we had seen enough relationship movies about the moment a couple falls in love. I was more curious about how you grow apart with someone, and what it’s like to negotiate that space. There was also an aspect of frustration that fueled it, as I had been seeing a lot of films that were supposed to be representing my generation in complicated relationships that I felt were falling short on a lot of levels; craftsmanship being the most obvious.
Q: The promos for Breaking Upwards are very clever and hilarious. Zoe is super funny. Did you write and direct the promos yourself? Who came up with the concepts?
Wein: Zoe wrote all the promos, and we alternated directing them. She conceived all of them and then, because there was a lot of post production involved in the three greenscreened promos, I added some final touches during the editing process. Because we have no money, and no publicist, we decided to create a viral marketing campaign on our own. We've had so much fun making them, and the response has been overwhelming. It seemed foolish not to take advantage of the marketing capabilities that the Internet now lends to anyone and everyone. It's pretty amazing.
Q: Had you seen Arin Crumley's and Susan Buice's Four Eyed Monsters, which is a fictionalization of their then real-life relationship? Did that have any influence on you for Breaking Upwards? Are there any other films or filmmakers who have influenced your work?
Wein: I did see Four Eyed Monsters. When I heard about that movie, I got really excited. I thought it was really cool what they were doing. Posting the movie on Youtube was awesome. Using technology in all the ways it did was awesome. Being a real couple was awesome. Basically, they took the whole do it yourself model to the next level. It definitely inspired me. I love to see my peers elevating the form. I can't say it directly influenced me, but it lies somewhere in my subconscious for sure. Our aesthetic is definitely different though. I like to use more actors it seems, more structured story...etc. As far as films that influenced me in relation to Breaking Upwards, I would say they are: Manhattan, Jules and Jim, Annie Hall, Water Lillies, Brief Encounter, Good Will Hunting, Amelie, Badlands, Days of Heaven, Moonstruck, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Me You and Everyone We Know.
Q: I recently went to the Upright Citizens Brigade for the first time to watch an improv show. From watching the trailer, it seems like you and Zoe might have some improv or sketch comedy in your funny bones? Is Breaking Upwards completely scripted, improvised, or a bit of both?
Wein: It's completely scripted. Zoe, our co-writer Peter Duchan, and I spent over a year finessing the script. It was really important to us to infuse every character with their own energy and arc. And to have the piece be highly structured. That said, once on set we all did a bit of improvising, as actors are won't to do, but for the most part we stuck strictly to the page.
Q: Sex Positive, your feature documentary that debuted at last year's SXSW Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize at L.A. Outfest, is about 1980s gay S&M hustler turned AIDS activist Richard Berkowitz who contributed to the invention of safe sex. How did you get involved in the making of that film, and what was it like to transition from making a documentary on a serious topic to a seriously funny narrative feature on the topic of a straight couple breaking up?
Wein: I met Richard Berkowitz at Zoe's mother's house in Brooklyn for their annual feminist Seder. Zoe had told me about his life, and her mother, a video artist named Ardele Lister, told me I should read his book. So knowing nothing about that time in history, I was immediately captivated. And Richard is such an amazing subject, after our first (6 hour!) interview, I knew I had a great film in the making.
To move on to Breaking Upwards was a nice shift of pace. I think more than the change in tone, the most intense transition was on a producerial level. Making a documentary for nothing has its challenges, but to make a narrative feature using a SAG contract, esteemed theater actors, acquiring insurance, permits, etc...all the logistics of it on top of acting, writing and directing was seriously overwhelming. But I think in terms of story, it's always important as a filmmaker to explore what you know and what is foreign to you. So I'm happy to have begun balancing the two.
Q: What was it like developing an all original soundtrack for Breaking Upwards that Zoe wrote lyrics for and you both sang on?
Wein: It was really fun, but like all things indie, a huge amount of work. Our friend Kyle Forester composed all the music, and is a genius, so we really owe it all to him. But the process basically entailed Zoe writing the lyrics, sending them to Kyle along with a general idea for the style of the song she was looking for. He'd compose it and send it back to us and then a dialogue would ensue. We spent a lot of days in the studio, driving Kyle crazy, but Zoe and I are both serious type A folk so we had to make sure every detail was perfect. We're really proud of the soundtrack, which is now available for download on iTunes. We'll also be selling copies at SXSW after our screenings.
Q: What's next after SXSW? Do you have any other projects in the works?
Wein: We have a few in the works, but I'll have to keep you posted once they're fully formed.