Harmony & Me @ the Dryden Theatre, December 4, 2009
Harmony & Me
L-R: Jim Healy, Bob Byington, and Kevin Corrigan
December 4, 2009 at 8:00pm
Dryden Theatre, Rochester, New YorkFeaturing:
Jim Healy, Assistant Curator, Dryden Theatre
Bob Byington, Director, Harmony & Me
Kevin Corrigan, co-star, Harmony & Me
Following the screening of Harmony & Me at the Woodstock Film Festival, producer and co-star Kristen Tucker mentioned that Bob Byington was inspired to title the movie after listening to Elton John's "Harmony" over and over again.
Kristen Tucker, Justin Rice, Kevin Corrigan
at the Woodstock Film Festival
Byington made an attempt to clear the song for use in the movie. "I was convinced when we made the movie, we had to get the Elton John song in order for it to work. I told Justin [Rice] when we hired him, 'We gotta get that Elton John song, it's really hard to get!', and Justin was like, 'Okay, okay, good!' To get that song, you'd have to sell your foot, basically. The quote we got was $250,000, which is more than what the movie cost. We had to accept that at some point, that wasn't a reality."
Fortunately, Justin Rice is also a musician. Surprisingly, Byington was completely unaware of this prior to hiring him. "Justin's musicianship, which I was ignorant about--and I'm not kidding--was an accident that we applied to what we did. The movie would've been very different (without Justin's talents), and I don't think as good. On the other hand, if we had deliberately hired him to 'Dance, monkey boy, DANCE!', I don't think the movie would've worked, either. It had to be accidental."
Also in the film is curator Jim Healy's brother, Pat, who plays Harmony's boss. The following is part of the Q&A that took place following the screening.
Healy: I've been reading a lot of reviews that say that you don't stay in any one moment for too long. Is that by design, or did you find that in the cutting of this?
Byington: The script is like that. The executive producer, Anish Savjani, seemed uneasy that the script seemed too short, and he made a real effort to make it more coherent. He wanted a better sense of what was going on. I didn't understand. I asked, "What do you mean you don't know what was going on?" If you write a script and get that type of feedback, it's pretty hard to hear. I wasn't too keen to hear it, but it was pretty important, and you really need people who really know how to tell you that stuff.
Healy: Kevin, have you ever had your heart broken by being cut out of a film? Does it happen to you a lot?
Corrigan: I've had whole movies that don't come out. But it reminds me of the first time I met Martin Scorsese. We were in the Brill Building, where he had an office at the time, and where he would edit his movies. He looked at my resume, and I had just done this movie called The Lemon Sisters with Diane Keaton. [Scorsese] pointed that out and said, "Oh, hey, they're editing that downstairs!" And I said, "Do you know that I'm in it?" He responded, "Acch! That reminds me of...", and he told this story about how two guys got cut out of The King of Comedy. Then he said, "Yeah, it happens!"
Healy: Roger Ebert said that Harmony & Me made Austin look like not such a pretty place.
Byington: I think he mentioned "unlovely". I like when he writes about movies, but the movie does tend to garner that type of review.
Healy: So more than one critic said that Austin doesn't look pretty.
Byington: I think The Village Voice singled it out and said it looked bad. Then I looked at the other reviews, and they said, "This movie doesn't look very good."
Healy: So you're not planning on showing this to the City Council or the Chamber of Commerce anytime soon.
Byington: We had a horrific screening at the Austin Film Festival. It had tons of technical problems, which makes me grateful to show it at a place where people care and pay attention to the way it looks. Which was not the case at the Austin Film Festival. That was really difficult for us.
Healy: So it was especially unlovely looking.
Byington: Yes. I came out for the Q&A, and I could tell that the audience genuinely felt sorry that we had such a cruddy movie. You could feel the audience's pity. It was crushing.
For Byington, Austin is very convenient to work and live. Kevin Corrigan lives and works out of New York, and other actors come out from LA. "You can usually get people to come out for a weekend or a week." Later, Healy opened up questions to the audience.
Erin: I saw this movie a couple of months ago at the Woodstock Film Festival. After the movie you (Corrigan) came up, Justin Rice came up, as well as Kristen Tucker. Someone asked how you (Byington) came up with the title Harmony & Me, and Kristen Tucker answered that you had been listening to a song by Elton John, and either the title or some song lyric stuck in your head. Do you think you could elaborate on that?
Byington: Elton John did an album in the 1970s called Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and the last song was called "Harmony". They were going to put it out as a single, but they never did. It has a very catchy quality, like a lot of songs on that album. I always loved that song, and he sings, "Harmony and Me" over and over again. I listened to that song a lot when I wrote that script.
Healy: Was it important for you to cast Justin Rice, a musician?
Byington: Justin really hit the idea of the character, demeanor wise. The fact that he was a musician was, believe it or not, incidental. It became a gigantic part of the movie.
Healy: The music wasn't as big of a part in the movie before you cast him?
Byington: No. The piano lessons were more of a structural idea. The wedding singer was a friend of mine, and the wedding scene was not scripted in the way it was eventually shot.
Q: I kept thinking during the film that this might be a film John Cassavetes had made if he had a sense of humor. I was wondering if he at all was an influence on you?
Byington: [Cassavetes] has a quality to his movies that are fresh and unrestrained. I marvel at watching a movie that's 45 years old, and still feels like you could feel it. Altman has the same quality with Nashville. It feels like the characters are going to come off the screen. I'm sort of inspired to get that...thing. A Woman Under The Influence was definitely an influence and an inspiration.
Corrigan: I introduced this film once by reading a section of this book called Cassavetes Directs. I read a part of a book that attributed all these qualities to Cassavetes that I felt fit this film. It was a great introdution.
Q: There are a lot of movies that seem to be like this, but it seemed like there were tons of jokes where the punchlines were missing, or maybe I didn't know the inside story.
Byington: I think a lot of the punchlines were cut out. I read the script for Rushmore, and in the movie, they cut out every punchline in the script. Not that I deliberately learned that, but I loved that movie. I read the [Rushmore] script before I saw the movie. When I went back to the script after I saw it, I was like, "Huh! They pretty much cut out every single joke." I think it's to keep the flow. You don't want to try and be like, "Isn't this funny? Isn't that funny?"
At the end of the Q&A, Bob Byington announced his next movie. He wrote it eight years ago, and initially tried to shoot it five years ago. It will star Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and also appeared in Rachel Getting Married. Byington didn't divulge too much of the plot, besides the involvement of a German Shepard. He thanked the audience for staying and participating in the Q&A.
"It helps my work."