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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 time.

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 fun.

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. It’s great.

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—

DK: Right.

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 with strangers.

[Elizabeth Berkley walks by. She’s lost in the Driskill Hotel.]

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.

DK: Yeah.

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…

DK: Uh-huh.

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—

DK: Literally.

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?”

DK: Yeah.

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 it.

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.

DK: Yes.

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 like…

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… what’s today?

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.

DK: Yeah.

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 it.

RB: Okay, thanks.


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