Reel People

Andrew Bujalski, Filmmaker

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 22, 2006

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Deserves props for: Funny Ha Ha, his 2002 cult hit that, more than any other film, captures the speech patterns and behavior of inarticulate, insecure twentysomethings. His second feature Mutual Appreciation delivers more of the same, only in black-and-white.

Some people see Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation as a kind of anthropology that depicts an ultraspecific subset of people in America right now.

"For me, they're not anthropological in the clinical sense. I never said, 'What are some characteristics of such-and-such a generation--how can we illustrate that?' It was always more in reference to the characters and specific scenarios. I think my approach is as a fairly conventional dramatist."

How do you get your actors to seem so unrehearsed?

"I guess you're starting from an improvisatory place, then pulling it back toward the structure that's on the page. There are certain elements of filmmaking you have a lot of control over, and one of the elements you have the least control over is performance. Unless you're working with very technically minded actors and you're a very technically minded director, it's hard to tweak these things till they're perfect. It's going to come out different every time, particularly if your actors are trying to stay open to the moment--and usually that's the most exciting stuff."

Your characters tend to come off unflattering, though far from unlikable.

"It's all in the eye of the beholder. If they're dumb in a moment or cowardly in another ... well, I've had plenty of dumb and/or cowardly moments in my life. My fondest hope for my movies is that they're solid enough constructions that they can be seen from a variety of different viewpoints."

Why shoot on film rather than video?

"Because, you know, it's better? [Laughs.] Obviously there's a lot of great work being done on DV. The worst thing is when someone goes and gets something that's clearly a 35 mm epic in their brain, and then they shoot it on DV. You can really feel the difference between concept and reality. I think we're seeing a lot less of that. I think people are figuring out what video is and how to work it."

Has all the attention from places like The New York Times and Film Comment and people like Amy Taubin helped your career?

"Certainly some level of attention can't hurt. By the same token, for all the great attention and the thrill of being able to get it out into the world, the one thing we haven't been able to figure out is how to make a profit. I can point to X number of really nice reviews, but I'm also a demonstrably money-losing filmmaker."

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