Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Filmmaker Focus: Amy Talkington

Amy Talkington, writer/director, THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS

Before writing and directing "The Night of the White Pants," Talkington directed five short films that played festivals all over the world. Three of her shorts played the Austin Film Festival, including "Second Skin," which won AFF's Student Film Award in 1998. Talkington was selected as one of Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Indie Faces to Watch" and was singled out as one of four up-and-coming female directors by Vogue Magazine. As a writer, Talkington adapted Linda Francis Lee's "The Devil in the Junior League" for Fox 2000. She wrote "Rodeo Girl" for 20th Century Fox and Madonna's Maverick Entertainment and she has developed several original TV pilots. Before making films, Talkington wrote about music and film. She was nominated for a Rockefeller Foundation Film Fellowship in 2000.

Briefly describe your film.
It's a punk-rock dysfunctional-family comedy about letting go and learning how to say "#*&% it all!" starring Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl and Selma Blair.

What led you to filmmaking?
I grew up thinking I was a painter, but I was also in love with music and writing. Then I saw some art films in college and realized that filmmaking might be a way to do it all. But this was just a theory until I assisted my brother Carty on his film Love and a .45 (which shot in Austin and screened at the Austin Film Festival in the early 1990s). Being on set and watching him work inspired me. I went to film school and started making my own short films the following year.

Where did the story idea come from?
I started with the character of Max (which is played by Tom Wilkinson) -- a man who has been very successful and has always controlled his life but is now out of control and doesn't necessarily even realize it. I thought it'd be funny to force him to spend a night with his daughter's "fuck up" boyfriend Raff (played by Nick Stahl) and see what happens.

What was your writing process?
I thought about the idea for at least a year and then I went away for Christmas 2004 to Key West, Florida. Alone. It's amazing how prolific you can be when you are locked up in a room, alone, in a strange town. I was thinking, "If I'm gonna spend Christmas and New Year's alone, I am sure as hell not gonna leave this town without a feature script." And I did. I cranked out a rough first draft over those nine days.

Describe the process of getting it from a written script to production.
Well, this movie came together pretty quickly, but only after I spent five years having other movies fall apart. One of the other movies that I nearly made was with White Pants producer Anne Harrison, so when she put together a production fund to make a low-budget movie, she called to ask me if I had anything that could be made for cheap. I didn't. But I had an idea that had been stewing, and her call inspired me to sit down and write the first draft. After we developed the script for about six months, the key was getting some really great actors excited about the parts. Once I had Nick Stahl and Tom Wilkinson interested, then it moved forward pretty quickly.

How long did it take to shoot? Were there any memorable/unexpected moments?
We shot in Dallas for 22 days in July. It was hot as hell. An intern told me that the heat index was over 100 every single day we shot. That was tough, but nobody complained. The actors were all so wonderful. One day, Tom Wilkinson skipped lunch, so I suggested we walk over to craft services to get him a little snack. When we arrived at the table, there was literally one cracker out on a paper plate. He said, "Amy, do you sometimes find that the craft service table is a bit uninspired?" And that is the closest thing to a complaint that I got from Tom Wilkinson.

A particularly memorable moment was when we shot the driving scenes on the last night. We had the Judge (Grant James), his wife (Gwyn Little), a stuffed deer head, Raff (Nick Stahl), Felecia (Laura Jordan), Max (Tom Wilkinson) and a bottle of tequila all squeezed into one tiny old yellow Camaro.

Talk about the music in the film.
Music plays a huge part in the movie because the character of Raff (Nick Stahl) is in a band and very involved in the Dallas music scene. So I used a local band, 25% Toby, to play Raff's band in the movie. I think it adds a real authenticity to the band performance scene that it is really the band on stage playing their song (not "actors"). Then, in post, I decided to create a soundtrack of all Texas music. We have something like 21 tracks, all from Texas bands ranging from the very hip Spoon to Austin punk legends the Dicks to the legendary 13th Floor Elevators and up-and-coming rockers Riverboat Gamblers. We also recorded a cover of Iggy and the Stooges "Search and Destroy" with local Austin band Young Heart Attack. I am really, really proud of the soundtrack.

In addition to all the songs, we have an entirely original score by up-and-comer Tony Tisdale (Little Miss Sunshine). He created a sound that I feel really reflects the tone of the movie. It's funny and playful but it's got heart. He uses a lot of ukulele.

What movies inspired you?
As far as this movie goes, I revisited a bunch of my favorite comedies. Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, the Coen Brothers and David O. Russell are some of my favorite comedy filmmakers. They make it look easy, but it's not. Comedies are hard. On set, Tom Wilkinson kept telling me, "In the Bedroom ... piece of cake. Night of the White Pants ... really, really difficult."

The narrative feature THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS will screen at 9:30 pm on Saturday, Oct. 21, and at 7:15 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Film passes to the Austin Film Festival are just $35 for admission to all screenings (space permitting).

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