Newbie writer and director Dylan Kidd was hit upside the
head with the lucky stick. His first feature, Roger Dodger,
was released this fall to critical acclaim, not to mention
being just plain fun for moviegoers to watch. Roxanne Bogucka
sat down with this nice guy to talk about the writing process,
good storytelling, and being in the right place at the right
RB: Before you made Roger Dodger, did you come
to a lot of film festivals and do a lot of networking?
DK: I really didn’t. This film has definitely been an example
of why festivals matter. Everything that’s happened to us
has been because of the film festival circuit. We were discovered
at a festival in New York, and bought, and now the festival
circuit has been instrumental in terms of getting the word
out. Honestly, before I made this, I’m not so good at, like,
working a room. Not a good schmoozer. So I’m lucky in that
my producer is somebody who’s very plugged into at least the
New York scene, and she for a couple of years was working
at Kodak as a festival rep so she knows… it’s been great.
She’s been a real resource, like “Oh yeah, we gotta do the
Hampton’s, that’s a good one because I know the programmer
and she’ll make sure we get a good slot.” So this kind of
junket has been my first experience with festivals, and so
great to meet other filmmakers and talk to people. It’s been
RB: Great. So this is actually kind of a cool festival
because they have a lot of those roundtables where you can
meet, instead of being in a big room full of people, you can
meet one on one and talk about your particular property and
what’s going on.
DK: Yeah. I mean there’s nothing… some people can do it,
but for a certain kind of person, like me, walking into a
room full of 200 people from the industry and trying to work
the room is my worst nightmare. So this, I like the way Austin
handles it much more instead of like, aahh! It makes it a
little easier to connect. Like, I did a panel yesterday morning
and I met the screenwriter for In The Bedroom and the
screenwriter for Bring It On and it just, already I
feel like I’ve met people I’m going to keep in touch with.
RB: So how did you get the story idea for Roger Dodger?
DK: I wish I kind of knew where—I definitely had a friend
in college, who is still a good friend, and is much mellower
now and is in a wonderful long-term relationship and is a
good guy, but back in school—he’s from Spain, from Madrid—and
I’m Irish, so the two of us together as undergrads, we would
definitely do a lot of drinking. And he was somebody who had
a lot of Roger-isms. He was somebody who, I think because
he was so, had so much self-loathing going on, his way of
attempting to seduce somebody would be to try to break down
their self-esteem or find their one weak spot, really needle
them. And it was really bizarre and compelling to watch, and
so I think that might have been the germ for the character.
And then, just living in New York, you come across people,
there’s a certain kind of person, typically who’s maybe working
in advertising or publishing or fashion, whatever, who is
incredibly, kind of know-it-all character and very hyper-educated
and verbal but has no kind of self-awareness. So I always
saw this guy as somebody who could reduce everybody else’s
world but had now awareness of what was actually driving him.
RB: Did you run the script by women?
DK: Yeah, def—[laughs]—a good question. Definitely. I’m very
lucky in that I have a great, I’m an only child, did not grow
up with a sister, so a huge resource for me are the women
I have in my life in New York, who—it was definitely a concern,
you know. This first, when I had the first draft of this,
I said, “This is just, this could very easily be just a misogynist
rant. Why do we need this in our culture.” This movie, and
I just, the reactions that I got from a lot of my friends
were, and something that carries over to the actresses in
the film and the way they relate to this character is, they
instantly intuit that this guy is just a blowhard, and kind
of just a pathetic character. I think the movie would die
in a second if for some reason we thought that Roger was threatening
in any way. He’s just a windbag, and he’s clearly in the self-destructive
spiral. And so, yeah I definitely was nervous about it and
I have to say that it’s been great after Q&As when a woman
will come up and say, “I know that guy.” Or “I dated that
guy.” Or “My brother is that guy.” And it’s like okay, he
does exist, he’s not just some fevered piece of my imagination.
I always thought of the movie as a movie that would, hopefully,
get people talking. I’m not trying to deliberately provoke
people, but I do feel like, you know, gender stuff is important
nowadays. This is like it’s a tough world to make connections
with people when we’ve got so much imagery and baggage kind
of getting in the way.
RB: Well it definitely got people talking. After the movie
I was talking with my husband and then a male friend of ours,
and the male friend and I had some different ideas about what
happened, even. For example, the scene in the bar, when the
woman comes up to get the drinks, and Roger starts reducing
her life, about how she’s, you know, fucking your boss is
not really smart, and on and on—
RB: And my friend, who’s a guy, said “Well but he was
doing her this favor, because in the long run it will come
to nought,” and I said, “I don’t know that it was even true
that she was fucking her boss.” And he was very surprised
that I would have that perspective.
DK: Yeah. I think what’s great about Campbell [Scott]
and the way he plays the role, is that he’s so charismatic
and he’s so sure of himself, and he really tastes the words
in his mouth. Yeah, this guy could be totally… I think 90
percent of what this guy says is bullshit, but he says it
with such conviction that you think, “Wow! Maybe that really
is the case.” But I’ve always loved that scene because that
really shows you where the character’s at because he can really
look that woman in the eye and say, “You’re just going to
be a joke at the water cooler.” And it never occurs to him,
“Wait a minute, I’m dating my boss!” [all laugh] Hello! Just
turn the mirror on yourself, you know. So… it was funny, because
that’s the kind of thing Campbell and I never really had a
discussion about whether we thought any of what he was saying
was true. A couple of times, with some of the actresses, I’d
say, “Why don’t we do one where everything he’s saying is
true?” just to see if we’d get a different reaction, but we
usually ended up going with the performances that had to do
with, like, “Who the hell is this guy?” You know, “Just get
me out of here!”
RB: It was really interesting when my husband and I were
talking about it later, because our background is not a bar
background. We never had anything like, go to a bar and drink
[Elizabeth Berkley walks by. She’s lost in the Driskill
EB: I’m sorry. I have no idea how I ended up here.
DK: See, I told you that’s how I get up to the 11th floor.
You know some secret elevator that I don’t know about.
EB: Yes. Okay. I was just checking out the gym and I thought
I was on my room floor here. And here you are. Is that the
most surreal? Sorry. [She leaves.]
RB: No problem. So we don’t come from the bar background,
but we come from a science fiction background, where you find
some people who are like Roger in the way that… for example,
our friend was saying, “If it wasn’t true, why wouldn’t she
deny it?” And we said, “Haven’t you met these people?”
You know, silence is your only refuge.
DK: Yeah. Totally.
RB: And why would you deny or confirm something from this
total stranger who appears to be a major asshole anyway? So
that’s why we were like, well it could be true or it could
not be true.
DK: Exactly. And I think, what I think is great about the
way that all the actresses handled those scenes is they just
sort of intuit that this guy… that it’s not about them. That
this guy is just in some kind of bad place and it’s a lose-lose
to take him on and attempt to argue. This guy has got his
thing, and your best thing is, yeah, silence and then just
walk away. And I definitely thought a lot, writing the film,
should I have the characters say something so that we understand
that this guy is just full of shit, or… and for me I just
choose to err on the side of whatever’s going to make people
talk about it afterwards. Not to be deliberately ambiguous,
but anything that’s, I always say, it’s like, the parking
lot theory. I don’t want the movie to end the second the lights
come up. I want it to be the kind of film where people are
in the parking lot saying, “Well do you think he was full
of it?” you know. But yeah, whenever people ask me, I’m like
“No no, he’s totally full of it.” Nothing he’s saying is true.
RB: One point that my friend brought out though, that
I really hadn’t considered, because I was just looking at
Roger and not thinking about anything else, is Joyce cuts
him loose, that’s pretty cold.
RB: That’s some cold shit. Just “Sorry buddy. One more
for the road and…” And I said, “Yeah, that is kind of cold
now that you bring it up.”
DK: Yeah. She is… I think Roger’s opening monologue is, he’s
definitely holding court and he’s having fun. He’s the center
of attention. He’s exactly where he wants to be. But what
it seems like he’s trying to express is this feeling that
he feels like a tool. He just feels completely used. And I
think Joyce is probably somebody who maybe was interested
in… I think Roger is maybe sort of entertaining to have around,
but I think he started maybe getting—the fact that he made
a copy of the key and just shows up, I think, “Time to cut
this guy loose.”
RB: Yeah, after my friend pointed that out to us, that
she was kind of cold the way she cut him loose, then remembering
that whole first speech, he was talking to her.
DK: Yeah, totally. That’s what I love about that first scene,
is that there’s all this kind of stuff going on beneath the
surface. But I feel like, if you are a woman in a position
of power in a company, it’s like you can’t, you know, it’s
fine if it’s just a casual thing. But the second some guy
starts showing up at your apartment, with a key that you weren’t
even aware—he basically sneaks past the doorman to get in,
it’s like “Okay now it’s time to really, we’ve got to get
some boundaries back.” So I always saw her as not necessarily—Isabella’s
[Rossellini] great because she plays it, again in this
ambiguous way where you’re not sure, is she just using him,
or is she just realizing that this is a bad situation for
her professionally to be involved in. But you definitely feel
his sense of outrage at being sent off. He really turns into
a little ranting baby for the rest of the film.
RB: So what makes a good story, in your opinion? What
kind of stories do you like to see on the screen?
DK: For me I only have two goals—and I’m saying this like
I’ve made a million movies, but—making this movie, my only
goal was that people not know what was going to happen 20
pages beforehand. Because I feel like that, when you look
at the movies that really click, like The Sixth Sense
or The Usual Suspects, these are movies where the audience
is actually surprised. And that is the hardest thing to do.
RB: Do you like horror?
DK: I do like horror movies. I’m a real scaredy-cat. Like
I will be underneath my chair, but I like… but even in horror
movies, it’s really tough to do. Because I think what was
great about the Scream series and why that first one
clicked is because you honestly didn’t know. Normally it’s
like, well he’s obviously the killer. And in that one you
really didn’t know, and that’s the hardest thing to do in
a movie. I feel like most audiences, even if they’re not aware
of it, you go into the theater and within five pages you know,
he’s going to die, he’s going to get the girl, whatever. So
for me, I love movies where you’re in the middle of the second
act and you have no idea how it’s going to end.
RB: I went to the panel on horror, bringing decent horror
to the screen, and one of the things they talked about was,
you have to make the audience not trust you. They said, and
we talked about some movies like, I don’t know if you saw
Deep Blue Sea, where…
RB: Okay, so I’m not spoiling anything for you then. All
of a sudden, Samuel L. Jackson, whoosh! Gone. They’re like,
I can’t trust these people. Anyone, if he can go, anyone can
go. And they talked about just being untrustworthy.
DK: Totally! Hitchcock basically broke the one rule
that audiences had up until Psycho, which is that if
you’re introduced to a main character, they are going to survive
until the end of the movie. And it’s just genius what he did.
Because Janet Leigh is killed and suddenly you’re aware,
“I literally have no mooring in this movie. I just have to
follow the director through the movie.” So even if you’re
not working in the horror genre, as a director you have to,
I think… there’s a certain type of escapist movie like When
Harry Met Sally… where the pleasure for the audience is
knowing how it’s going to end and just the exquisite thing
of, when are they finally going to get together? But I think
most genres, or at least for independent movies, the audiences
do not want to be able to anticipate 40 pages ahead. They
want, they don’t want to trust the filmmaker. They do want
to just be taken on a ride. So definitely the goal with us,
and that’s why Campbell is so great because he’s not somebody
who—certain actors, you’d be introduced to them at the beginning
and you’d know, “Oh at some point there’s going to be a tearful
scene at the end where he renounces everything.” Or if it’s
a certain guy who’s maybe a little bit more scary, the whole
movie is you warning Nick to get the hell away from this guy.
And Campbell’s sort of in that wonderful middle zone where
you’re not sure where this is going to go but you know you
don’t want to leave until you make sure of what happens at
the end of this night. And of course the joke is, the whole
movie is the night. We always thought, we’ll just keep people
in their seats until the end of the night, and then, boop!
There come the credits. You made it through the movie.
RB: How did y’all find the actor who played Nick? The
young actor was wonderful.
DK: Yeah, he’s so great. That was, I’ve got to tell you,
the amount of lucky, just kind of coincidental things that
happened to make this movie, are just incredible. And when
I was writing the script, I was keeping a wish list in my
computer, which was a sort of inspirational thing that I would
do. If I was watching a movie and I really liked, let’s say,
the way the costumes were designed. I would make a note of
the costume designer and write down their name. Just in case
somebody gave me a hundred million dollars and I could choose
anybody in the world to work with. I did that with technicians
and actors, anybody. And I happened to be channel-surfing
and saw Jesse [Eisenberg] on a promo for a Fox
show called “Get Real” that he was on. This was back when,
of course back when I was writing the script. And I just saw
him for 10 seconds but I loved his face and I thought, “That
guy would be perfect for Nick,” and I went out to IMDB and
found out what his name was and I just added his name to the
list, but I didn’t think of it after that. And then about
eight months later, when the script was done, Anne Chaisson,
my producing partner, and I had a screenplay reading in New
York at a fairly high-profile reading series. And we had a
casting director for the reading, and when I went in to talk
about Nick she held up two headshots and one of them was Jesse.
And I had one of those moments, where, “Well there’s got to
be a reason why the universe is steering me towards him.”
And he was so, he blew us… you’ve seen the movie, you know
how good he is. He was that good at the reading. And it was
just, totally like that moment of “Now we have to make this
movie. Now we have to find a Roger because we’ve got this
kid who is so good. And if we let him grow a beard and get
all bulked up and not look 16, I’m never going to forgive
myself.” That really lit a fire under us, to find Roger.
RB: So you’ve been, like, shot in the ass with luck—
RB: —so tell me about the Lana Turner moment in the deli,
where you met Campbell Scott.
DK: Yeah. I literally… that’s a great way to put it. I wake
up every morning and I’m just like, I’m going to get hit by
a bus. I’ve got so much good karma built up that I keep waiting
for the other shoe to drop. I had, Anne and I had really been
running into a problem which happens with any first-time filmmaker,
that even if you have a script that you feel is really a strong
script, it’s very hard to attach talent because agents and
managers really have no motivation to pass along a low-budget
film. I mean these people are making 10 percent of whatever
their client makes in a movie. It would be financially suicidal
of them to pass along dinky little indie movies. So basically
we were kind of running in circles. And last July, really
last summer, last June, I started carrying the script around
with me in New York as a sort of last resort. Because I think
I’d seen somebody in the street and thought, “You know what?
If I had a script I could just go up and see if I could, cold-approach
them.” And about three weeks after I started doing that, I
was sitting in a coffeeshop and Campbell Scott walked in.
We had never considered him for the role before. Seems crazy
now, but you know, at the time he was not on our list. But
I sat and watched him for 10 minutes and thought, “Well, gosh,
this guy would be great, and he’s got a history of supporting
independent movies.” And I went out on the sidewalk and I
called Anne and said, “What should I do?” And she said, “Oh
come on! Give it to him!” So I went up and our initial thing
was literally probably 30 seconds. I said, “Look, I have a
script and I think you’d be great for the lead role. Will
you read it?” And I had approached a couple of other actors
in this sort of gonzo fashion, and been told very politely,
“I can’t accept unsolicited material. You need to send it
to my agent.” And then once you send it to the agent, forget
it. You might as well just flush it down the toilet. So I
was expecting Campbell to do the same thing, and he was just…
talk about the universe steering you toward the one person
you need to meet, he just runs his career a little bit differently,
and he said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll read it. I’ll let you know
exactly what I think.” And what can you say to that? “Great.
Fair enough.” And I still didn’t think I’d ever hear from
him again but he called two weeks later and said “I like it.
Are you planning to direct this?” “Yes, I am.” “Have you done
anything before?” I had a short film that I could send him.
And we had another meeting and basically, he agreed to come
on and help us bring other actors on board. And it was through
him that we got Jennifer [Beals] and Isabella
and Mina Badie. And once we got those four people,
and the fact that the script could be made for such a low
budget, it really made it a much easier sell to investors.
So we met Campbell in July and we were shooting three months
later. Literally we went from being just another producer-director
team in New York City to… it was just incredible. The universe
just, yeah, talk about a Lana Turner moment, yeah! I still
think about that. I could’ve gone into, “Of all the coffeeshops
in all the world…” [all laugh] It’s crazy.
RB: That’s amazing. Have you and Campbell Scott talked
about, did you talk about it later? “Why did you take my script?”
RB: This must not be a unique experience for him, that
someone comes up with a work.
DK: Yeah, I read an interview with him… yeah, we have kind
of talked about it. But in some interview he said, “Yeah,
you just get, like, a feeling about people.” And I think he
said, “He didn’t seem to be psychotic.” Which was good. And
what’s great about filmmaking is that it’s so intensely collaborative
that it forces you to make gut, instinctual decisions about
people. Who you want to work with, who certain red flags go
up about. And I think Campbell, as an actor, he’s very intuitive.
And I think you just, you know… who the hell knows? But I
just approached him as politely as, you know, “I don’t want
to take up any of your time, but I happen to have this script…”
And thank God he took the script is all I have to say. So…
RB: That’s fabulous.
DK: I know. It’s incredible.
RB: So how long did you work on the script? How long were
you writing it?
DK: The first draft came out very quickly. Because it’s so
dialogue-driven, it was like, poof! The first draft took about
three weeks to write. And then I really believe in, not workshopping
necesssarily, but I like to knock a script off its pedestal
and just give it to all my friends and have readings and just
see what’s working. Kind of like get over my kind of protective
feelings towards it. So we spent about six or eight months
doing revisions. The structure was always there. Basically
this is a movie with no plot, it’s just two people going on
this journey. But we did a lot of revising of like, tweaking
dialogue and how the audience felt towards Roger. The film
was originally much darker and we kind of took it back from
that. So the whole thing, about a year. Little bit less than
a year, maybe, before we felt we were ready to go out with
RB: And before the script go picked up by Campbell Scott
and all this, you were, I hear, working in a video store?
DK: Oh yeah. I’ve had every dumb job you could imagine. So
I was, yeah, working in a video store and doing a bit of teaching.
Teaching film production. But yeah, at the time we made Roger
Dodger, I was five months behind on my rent. I mean it
really was like, we met Campbell and then it looked like we
might be able to get some money and I just, I quit all my
jobs and just said “You know what? I’m just going to go for
it. I’m just going to take it on faith that we’re actually
going to make this movie in October.” And the whole thing
happened so quickly, there was really no time to get nervous.
RB: So now, film work is paying the rent.
RB: Is that nervous-making?
DK: Yes. It totally is. What’s great is that I love teaching
and I know that I could probably make a living doing that.
And to me it’s very important not to, just for me personally
now that I’ve had a little bit of experience with the studio
people and the people in L.A., it’s really important for me
to know that, if I had to, I could go back and make a living
and I’m not forced to take writing work that I don’t believe
in. So I really want to try to remain in New York and keep
working at the small level and I just, I don’t dislike money.
I certainly would have no problem if somebody wanted to give
me a million dollars to write something, but I just don’t…
that system out there is, I’m not strong enough to deal with
it. It’s too crazy the way writers are treated, and I wouldn’t
know how to direct an $80 million film. So for me, you know,
I have a good life in New York. I have a nice apartment. I
have a couple of cats. I’ve got good friends. I don’t… talk
to me in five years, when my kids need braces, but for now
it’s like, there’s no reason why I would make that jump to
the studio system. I’ll try to stay on the East Coast and
keep working. Keep working small.
RB: Would you be comfortable writing something for someone
else to direct? Or directing something someone else had written?
DK: I love directing. That’s what I… I never even… it’s so
funny, I did a panel yesterday with the woman that wrote Bring
It On, and she did a bunch of “Sex And The City” episodes.
She’s a real professional screenwriter. And I realized, being
on that panel, I don’t even think of myself as a writer. I
mean I love directing. I’m a filmmaker. And I only wrote this
thing because nobody was going to write anything for me. So
I don’t want to rule anything out, but I feel like, if you
gave me a choice of whether you could write for other people
to direct or direct other people’s writing, I would direct.
I’d choose that in a second. And I’m just not prolific enough.
I feel like if I actually do write scripts, it has to be with
the intention of directing it myself. But who knows? It’s
RB: Never say never.
DK: Yeah. It’s my first… what do I know about the system,
you know? It’s easy to say that now. But for me, directing.
Writing is hard and scary. Directing is fun and scary. Because
you’re collaborating with people.
RB: So what’s this vagabond life like? Now you’re going
from festival to festival. Where’re you going next?
DK: We are, things calmed down a little bit. This is like
the end of the craziest, most hectic, you know, we did like,
Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, all in like,
eight days or something. I go back to New York, and we have
our press day. Press day is tomorrow, which is like this crazy
thing where you sit in a chair and one person after another
comes in and asks the same questions…
RB: Not much different than today, for you.
DK: No, actually this is great. Austin is great because people
are so, it’s a different, people love the movies and the questions
you get are great. It’s not just like, “What was it like working
with Isabella?” I mean it’s real serious questions. But we
have a festival in the Hamptons. And then I think the only
thing we’re doing is, we’re going to St. Louis but that’s
going to be after the film comes out. So we’re only like 14…
RB: The 14th.
DK: We’re 11 days away from our theatrical release in New
York. So it’s like we’re in the home stretch.
RB: So the 25th. October 25th?
DK: The 25th is New York/L.A. and then I believe it’s November
1st. If not November 1st, November 8th in Austin. And it’s
apparently at the Dobie, which is a good arthouse theater.
RB: Nice theater.
RB: Part of the Landmark Theatres chain.
DK: Yeah. It’s great. This is a perfect, this is like Austin
could not be more like the demographic we’re going for. I
really hope that people respond to it here because this is
our audience. People who are passionate about this stuff and
don’t necessarily… will sit through a movie that’s very dialogue-driven
and character-driven, and so…
RB: I loved it and I think the audiences will too, and
I thank you very much for writing it and directing it and
bringing it too us.
DK: Yay! Thank you so much. That means a lot. I appreciate
RB: Okay, thanks.