8/23/11

Mark Ordesky and Larry Longstreth talk "The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something" - Part One

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 that 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. But doing something is difficult and scary and 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. To me, the influence of a film can be gauged by what you discuss after watching it. And if my gushing so far is any indication, this one might have you feeling uncomfortably introspective...in a good way.


But let's rewind.

Ordesky (left) and Longstreth (right) talk
over a scene with Jane Fleming.
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 (Full service emergency personnel out on the west coast, huh?) 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 and it makes me laugh obnoxiously loud for what should be a serious moment in my life as a writer. “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.”

Sidebar: My sister and I have this way of identifying people who are just as geeky as we are. We'll call each other to talk about someone we met or like and say, "You wouldn't believe it, they're one of us." Mark Ordesky and Larry Longstreth are like that. They're just...really really nice. And they make as many nerdy jokes as you do. (I hate to assume, but you are reading a blog called "Born For Geekdom" so...) Okay, End Sidebar.

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 is almost 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 doing so. While a large portion of our generation morphs into frustrated critics, Longstreth made a movie. No small feat, I assure you.

As a journalist, I admit I'm prone to hyperbole. But there's evidence to my claim this time. 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 road block 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 this, 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 just go for it and make mistakes along the way. 

When fanboys and fangirls become experts, the line between appreciation of a film or TV show can sometimes blur and turn into something dark. But there aren't many films or TV shows willing to get to the honest heart of geek/nerd/fan culture. Most keep it on the surface, chucking in as many pop culture references as possible in an attempt to feel contemporary or relevant. “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something” tries to go deeper than that and pose a question to the viewer. 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 that 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 excited about the subject, because they begin to lead into each other's sentences again.

“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.”

Another sidebar: It's no coincidence that I keep ending up talking to different creative types about what it means to be mature and also live a passionate life and career. Like Larry's main character in the film, I'm getting closer to thirty every day. I'll be twenty nine in eight days. Usually I'm talking about it in terms of fangirl culture. I'm talking Tina Fey, Princess Leia's metal bikini and the over-sexing of female geekdom.

But like most geeks, when I talk about why Tina Fey rocks so hard, what I'm really saying is, "Oh man...I really want to rock that hard and be funny and smart and successful without being a bimbo!" The question of, "The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty Something" is the question of my life right now.

 Do we have to let go of our childhood inspirations to become real women, real men, real adults? (I sincerely hope not, or my Star Trek and Star Wars tattoos are going to give me some serious problems...)

 My point is that if this is the question of my life, then chances are there are a whole heck of a lot more of us out there wondering the same thing...another reason why the film will resonate well. Seriously, this was supposed to be a straight-forward Q & A interview with these two super cool people, but look at the rambling it induced? I'm telling you, the trailer alone will get your wheels turning.

It's also no coincidence that I ended up talking 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?) and 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. 

But one thing that I learned from talking with Larry Longstreth and Mark Ordesky is that a lot of people are looking for some justification. A way to hang on to their dreams, but also a way to move forward with them.

Now I guess I'm the cornball. But I can't help it, and neither can Longstreth or Ordesky or Peter Jackson for that matter. And it's not really being a cornball. That's just what we're afraid people will think of us for trying to, for lack of a better phrase, go out in the world and make stuff. 

Think back to a time pre-Lord of the Rings films. A world where the fantasy genre was in a deep freeze of under-appreciation. But by approaching fantastic material with sincerity and passion, 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.  


Larry Longstreth reviews the script with the Hollywood Superman, Christopher Dennis.

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2 comments:

  1. 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!

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  2. Congrats on the screenplay! Geek envy!

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