In Part One of my interview with filmmaker Larry Longstreth and producer Mark Ordesky, we talk about the making of "The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something."
Larry Longstreth has made a film that does more than entertain for a couple of hours. It strikes a nerve. The trailer for “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something” has light saber dueling, a Superman cape, a Braveheart reference and a Wilhelm scream. Which means that to a geek like me, it feels like home. But it has something else too. A gut-punching moment where a father tells his twenty-something son, “I'll always love you, but I don't have any respect for you.”
This indie film hits us where we live, the generation that grew up on a steady diet of movie magic and Steven Spielberg now has to face obstacles like student loan debt and complicated parenting choices. But you can only coast so far on the “follow your dreams” nostalgia of childhood before you start to realize that you have to actually do something to make them happen.
One problem. Doing something is difficult. It's scary. It opens you up to the increasingly cruel criticism of your peers and that anonymous monster called “the internet”. THAT is the nerve this movie hits. The influence of a film can be gauged by what you discuss after watching it. So, the following conversation says a lot about the film.
|Ordesky (left) and Longstreth (right) talk|
over a scene with Jane Fleming.
But let's rewind.
The story of how the film was made in the first place is an origin that could've been lifted off the pages of a screenplay. In 2008, Longstreth and his brother took a trip to L.A. to pass out DVDs of their work that Longstreth describes as “local access sketch comedy stuff”. The night before flying home and with only one remaining DVD the brothers decided to go out for a meal.
And then the restaurant they chose caught fire. No...seriously.
After being directed by a firefighter to a small Chinese restaurant nearby, Longstreth says he overhead a familiar voice while dining. It was the voice of Mark Ordesky, known to film geeks everywhere for his prolific work as a producer and his prominence in the expansive special features on “The Lord of the Rings” DVD box sets. The interviews he gave in those special features brought him into the public eye in ways most producers don't typically experience.
Longstreth took a leap that night by introducing himself to Ordesky. He handed over his last DVD and the two formed a mentorship from there. Now Longstreth affectionately calls Ordesky his “cross country Yoda”, if that tells you anything about how well the two get along. Ordesky says he provides advice and guidance and, every once in a while, picks up the phone to help open a door or two. “I saw myself as a resource. It's a real classic producer/filmmaker partnership in that you're there to enable the filmmaking team to get up onscreen that which they are trying to get up onscreen and then to get the film seen by audiences.”
I know Ordesky's voice well too, having spent many nights devouring said special features with a greedy eye toward learning the filmmaking process. Doubtless Larry and I are not alone in this respect. In many ways, those special features served to demystify the creative process of filmmaking, showing the exhausting work that goes on behind-the-scenes of films like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In the same way that these behind-the-scenes peeks serve to either spur aspiring creatives on toward filmmaking or turn them away with the truth that filmmaking is extremely hard work, Ordesky himself is just as honest and forthcoming on the phone.
I was able to chat with them both about “The Long Slow Death of a Twenty Something”. They overlap as they tell the story of how they met. You can tell they've done this a lot.
“It was a chinese restaurant that I would go to every Sunday to pick up take-out Chinese food. Sort of my ritual to get take-out Chinese food on Sunday,” Ordesky chimes in.
“The Hunan Cafe,” Longstreth says.
“The Hunan Cafe,” Ordesky echoes, laughing a little bit. The two start joking around. “There's a photo, that the night we met at The Hunan Cafe on Sunset Boulevard that I think Aaron (Larry's brother) got someone to snap it, but basically it's Larry and Aaron flanking me. It's like, hey, you know...let's all have a photo together. And literally, I'm pretty Hobbit-sized in that photo.”
“Yeah,” Larry says, “and we look like the two towers.”
Ordesky says that when he watched Larry's DVD a few weeks later, he was struck by the sense of humor and irreverence. “In my career, my greatest successes have come from really talented people that I've met off the beaten path. Not your traditional Hollywood kind of way. That includes Peter Jackson.”
One can only wonder if Ordesky sees some shared qualities between Jackson and Longstreth. “He (Longstreth) decided he wanted to make a feature film and an animated television show. I just really believed in him and his team in Ohio.”
Oh, did I forget to mention that Longstreth hails from the Mid-West? Like so many of us who grew up in the anonymous beige plains in the heart of the country, Longstreth encountered much cynicism regarding his creativity. In fact, that very theme runs all the way through, “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something.”
The film feels like his response. He refuses to let go of his dreams and he's willing to take whatever criticism you feel like slinging at him for holding them close. While a large portion of our generation morphs into frustrated critics, Longstreth actually made a movie instead of taking to reviewing them.
I asked Longstreth if he thought that some of those “moments” in the trailer that I mentioned earlier (the geek references, the emotional gravitas of the father-son moment) were responsible for pulling in musician Patrick Carney of The Black Keys to lend his songs to the score.
“I went ahead and made a private video that only he could see, and Mark and a few others and I showed it to Pat and he goes, 'Alright, give them everything they want.' That was the most flattering thing. I realize that we're not going to blow anyone away with production quality, not yet. We're trying to bring those things up. But I do believe in those moments. Not to be a cornball.”
Longstreth made a lot of disclaimers, like the one above, about the quality of the film during our interview. Which lead to a discussion about the dark side of fanboy/fangirl culture. The cynicism. The bitterness. The hostility that sometimes accompanies a lifelong devotion to literature, film or television can prove a very real roadblock to artists like Longstreth who are contemplating whether or not to move forward with trying to create. As they know full well that delivering anything less than perfect can garner scathing criticism.
But the catch is, you can't ever deliver anything that feels perfect to anyone, and you can certainly never work up to your own potential unless you are willing to simply go for it and make mistakes along the way.
When fanboys and fangirls become armchair experts, the line between appreciation and envy for film can sometimes blur. There aren't many films willing to delve into thia bitter side of geek culture. Most keep it on the surface, simply checking off as many pop culture references as possible in an effort to seem relevant. “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something” tries to probe deeper than that, posing a question to viewers. What does it mean to be a grown-up without being a sell-out? Is there something in between becoming a successful jerk or a basement-dwelling loser? Longstreth hopes his film puts geek culture on a broader spectrum.
“I feel like they don't understand it just yet. They think putting some Star Trek ears on somebody, all the sudden we're gonna relate to it and that's not what it is. I think what I'm trying to say is that my generation does need to grow up but that sometimes we mistake growing up with stop watching so much Star Wars and start being more business-oriented. We mistake growing up with losing heart and I don't think that's exactly the answer. It's not so literal and easy. The film is about how there's a very real mistake to be made with mistaking growing up for being somewhat of a douche-bag in a way if that makes sense. That's the fear, that's my fear. It's kind of the inner child thing I think, to simplify it.”
Ordesky's voice pipes up, “I think that's totally right, because you can stay in touch with your inner fan and your inner child and still be a man. Still be a grown up.”
Longstreth and Ordesky are clearly excited about the subject.
“It's totally about being a man. It (the film) looks like it's about nerds, but it's totally about how you don't have to shake the nerd to be a man. You have to shake the boy.”
Their volley is more relevant to me than they know.
I spoke with them about the film in this context, because I just sold my first screenplay. (Don't get too excited, who knows if it will actually get produced?) I also just took over a local television show about theme parks as my post-grad career choice. So maybe I'm looking for a little justification amidst the blind panic of leaving academia?
One thing that I learned from talking with Larry Longstreth and Mark Ordesky is that a lot of people are looking for justification. We all seem to be seeking a way to hang onto our dreams, a way to move forward without feeling self-conscious.
I guess I'm the cornball now. But I can't help it, and neither can Longstreth or Ordesky. Truthfully, it's not really being a cornball. That's just what we're afraid people will think of us for making an effort.
Think back to a time before the Lord of the Rings films. A world where the fantasy genre was in a deep freeze of under-appreciation. By approaching fantastic material with sincerity and passion, Peter Jackson reminded the world of the validity of an entire genre.
I wonder what Larry Longstreth will do by adopting the same attitude. I'm just saying right now, he's one to watch. Closely. (Via the internet, of course...don't be a creeper...) Every now and then, Google his newly formed production company "Eddy Spaghetti Productions" and see what's shaking.
If this were the end of a cheesy black and white horror movie, this is where someone would point at the screen and say, “What about YOU? What will you do?”
My vote would be to watch “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something”, try to remember what you wanted to be when you grew up and don't be afraid to pick up a light saber every now and then.
You can pick up a copy of the film on October 4th at Best Buy.
You can pre-order it on Amazon. (Larry says don't worry, the price will drop.)
And you can look for it on Netflix.
You can pre-order it on Amazon. (Larry says don't worry, the price will drop.)
And you can look for it on Netflix.
|Larry Longstreth reviews the script with the Hollywood Superman, Christopher Dennis.|
So much fabulous truth here! I'd like to add, as someone nearing my 40th year, it's never to late to go back. You can lead a "regular" life...husband, kids, work...and still exercise the inner geek. It's ok to take a break and live "real life", then realize you can still reclaim the geek you always wanted to be. You don't have to choose one or the other. A responsible adult can wave their geek flag just as high as anyone else! Long live the fangirl!ReplyDelete
Congrats on the screenplay! Geek envy!ReplyDelete