Andrew Bujalski presents "Beeswax" at the Dryden Theatre, November 7th, 2009
Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 8:00pm
Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House
Rochester, New York
Jim Healy, Assistant Curator, Dryden Theatre
Andrew Bujalski, Director, Beeswax
Beeswax has one connection to Rochester, New York: Katy O'Connor, who plays Corrine, Storyville's cashier, is a native of the Rochester Area. Andrew first met Katy about ten years ago through Kate Dollenmayer, the star of Andrew's first film, Funny Ha Ha. Dollenmayer and O'Connor worked as animators on Richard Linklater's film, Waking Life. O'Connor's Aunt and Uncle were in the audience.
Katy O'Connor's crying in Beeswax marked the first time Bujalski directed a crying scene, the whole process of which made Bujalski very anxious. "I was nervous. That's a very scary thing to ask somebody to do. [The day we shot the crying scene] was a nerve-wracking day in particular. A lot of takes would be ruined by things like a truck starting up in the alley. At one point, we were shooting and the [store's] owner's car broke down.
Still, O'Connor managed to deliver. "There was all this stuff going on. But I remember going back, and she was listening to something on her IPod that kept her 'in the zone'. I would go back and tell her, 'Okay, it's going to be another five minutes, and she'd go 'WHAT?'. She was fine."
"Was she listening to something to prepare her to cry?" Healy inquired.
"'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' by The Platters.", Bujalski answered.
The genesis of Beeswax came after the completion of Bujalski's first film, Funny Ha Ha, when the notion of making a movie with the Hatcher sisters crossed his mind. However, Bujalski was quick to point out that Beeswax was not an autobiographical film.
"This isn't the true story of Tilly and Maggie Hatcher by any means. I don't know their true story well enough to have written a movie of it. What they project to me is what I could imagine they were projecting on screen, which doesn't tell their whole story, but was something I could use and begin to build a story around."
Bujalski went on to describe the casting process of the film, and how he chose his actors. "The casting on this film was kind of a peculiar process because they're all non-professional actors, but I think they're all really, really good actors. I sought out people who don't really want to act for a living, and yet, they're willing to be roped into it.
One of the things Beeswax has been commended for is its treatment of its handicapped character, played by Tilly Hatcher.
"Nine times out of ten, if you see someone in a wheelchair in a movie, it's about the transition, the adjustment, which kind of makes sense, because the audience generally likes having an entry point for watching the movie. 'Oh, what if something happened to me?' But if that's your life, that's not what you're thinking about all the time. We liked the idea of a character with a disability. With that being said, it's a major presence in the film. I realized early on as I was writing this, that it didn't make sense for me to go too far out of my way to call attention to it because it's a visual medium."
"I can't think of a single film where disability is not a part of the story except for your film." Healy added. "Or at least it doesn't seem like a plot mechanic. Even when Lionel Barrymore was in a wheelchair, it was always figured into the story. It was a metaphor for him being a warped, twisted old man."
Healy delved further into plot mechanics. "One of the things that is wonderful about this film is the complete disinterest in plot mechanics. An obvious set-up of something that is going to influence something. Instead, it's about behavior. You're much more interested in watching people as they are, rather than having them decide that 'THEY MUST DO SOMETHING!!!'"
Bujalski responded, "Too often, when I go to see a conventionally plotted film, very often, I'm most interested about the things, that, whenever the cops are like, 'We gotta get there!', and they jump in the car, I always think, "What did they talk about in the car?', and then I make a movie about that." The audience laughed.
Beeswax is Bujalski's version of a legal thriller. "Legal thrillers are almost always offering all these connections. You start to see the big picture of how everything is connected. And I thought, anyone who has been involved in legal problems, it's not thrilling, first of all. It goes on forever. A lot of it fizzles, and it's a great expense, and it doesn't go anywhere. That was something I was interested in."
"In the last decade in particular, I think there's been a real trend in the 'everything is connected' movie. Sometimes they work great, but they always kind of bug me in the sense of, 'I've been around awhile', and not everything is connected. Some things are disconnected. I like films that are more conventionally structured, too, but they feel less magical."
Bujalski and Healy talked about the mumblecore genre, the usage of the word "mumblecore", and the connotation tied to it.
"I'm just as responsible for letting that word out. I thought it was funny. When my last film played at SXSW, there were a few films at the festival that year that were chatty films that were made cheaply. Some blogger felt that with these films, there was a movement afoot. I was talking with my sound mixer, Eric Masunaga. I said, 'Eric, as long as there's a new movement, what would you call the movement?' and he said, 'Mumblecore!'. I thought it was funny. I repeated it to a journalist, and I ruined the day. It's not so funny anymore."
"My problem with it is that it seems to be used more often than not to dismiss a group of films."
"They abuse it," Healy chimed in.
"They'll say, 'Oh, I hate mumblecore!' I'm confident there are lots more people who hate mumblecore than people who have actually seen the films. My other problem with being lumped in that group--and I understand the convenience of the term--but of all those films, some of them are really good, and the ones that are good, the things that are good about them are not the similarities, but the differences."
Healy added, "Like any genre, if everything played by the rules, then it's completely boring. For example, anything with shadows and fog and voiceover narration is considered Film Noir. But really distinguishes Film Noir is the immorality."
Having three films under his belt, Bujalski finds himself at a crossroads. With pressure coming at him from all sides, Bujalski feels he could go either way the next time around.
"I've never made a film with a corporate officer looking over my shoulder. That's very rare. Not many filmmakers get to do that even once. [Beeswax] cost more than my first two films combined. The biggest increase in price just comes from the fact that you're making a film where everybody that's working on the film is in their thirties, as opposed to their twenties, and you have to treat them better. People, like want to sleep on beds, and not have pizza for every meal."
"With or without economic collapse, I feel like the world would close in a little bit if I continued this type of filmmaking. I've gotten older, I've gotten married, which is great! But it doesn't make me think that I should go spend a lot of time and lose all my money again. I have a fairly wide contrarian streak, which has led me to make noncommercial films in the first place."
"Everytime I make a film, there's more and more external pressure. I have a Hollywood agent, and my Hollywood agent would not like it at all if I made another cheap movie that would lose money, which kind of makes me want to do it again. Whatever [my next movie] is, it will either cost ten times as much to make, or cost one tenth as much to make. The pressure is on this film, and I could either try to do it bigger, which a lot of people like me to do, or I could get a lot weirder, which I'd be happy to do."
Healy concluded the conversation. "I'm sure you'll be back, whatever it is. Thanks for coming again."
"Thanks for having me."