Interview: Masterful 'Oconomowoc' Writer/Director Andy Gillies Talks Script Smarts
Nothing is more savory in cinema then really meaty dialogue. And while masters like David Mamet, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino may make it look easy, trying to sound clever without being pretentious is a script art form onto itself. That’s why the new heightened slice of life dramedy "OCONOMOWOC" (in select theaters April 19th from What Productions) is such a rare gem indeed. Featuring a script with a healthy mix of funny, witty and totally irreverent, "Oconomowoc" (the name of a city!) tells the tale of a confused adult moving back home for a little direction. The film is the brainchild of writer/director Andy Gillies and all but announces a unique new filmmaking voice. Gillies not only fans the flick out with memorable dialogue, characters and story run amok, but wisely tells it all through an everyman lens that keeps things real. We got a chance to sit down one-on-one with talent to watch for Gillies who talked about the origin of the films’ title, his terrific casting choices, plus insight into his interesting and original dialogue. Welcome...
First off let’s begin with the title – pronounce it and tell me what it means?
Andy Gillies: (Laughs) Yes! It’s pronounced O-con-om-walk and it’s the name of a city in Wisconsin right in between Milwaukee and Madison give or take two miles West of Milwaukee. I was dating this girl and I started visiting Oconomowoc and just completely fell in love with the city – it’s gorgeous. So I started writing a script and I wanted the script to be about ideas of dislocated identity. It was a much longer script and as we realized that we would have to shoot this on credit cards I began to make even more fragments in the story. To me when I was thinking about the title it not only added to the fragmentation of the story, but also added an ambiguity.
Where did the inspiration behind the film come from?
AG: I would say just living life. Meeting people in a lot of towns and travelling a lot – I really enjoy meeting strangers. Everyone has their own little story regardless if it’s paramount or something that the masses would call substantial. I wanted to make this dislocated comedy about how people see each other. It’s so bizarre to me that everyone thinks they have an idea of what they want, but yet no one really knows how to achieve that or even if its right. Also about how ridiculous it is to believe anything that anybody else thinks.
The situations feel incredibly real and authentic – did you take them from real life experiences?
AG: Yeah, I definitely draw from a lot of real life experience, but all of them are highly fictionalized. So none of them are exactly what happened – maybe they’re partly what happened and partly in my mind what I wanted to happen.
Your dialogue is a mix of David Mamet and Kevin Smith but filtered through a "Napoleon Dynamite"-esk lens – can you talk about your unique dialogue approach?
AG: I’ve always really liked dialogue a lot more than story. A great story is still a great story and you can’t beat it, but I just feel like so much of life is dialogue. A bunch of conversations, endless verbal diarrhea and people are just trying to be heard.
Your casting is also very notable especially the odd but inspiring chemistry between leads Brendan Marshall-Rashid and Cindy Pinzon and the unbridled oddness of Andrew Rozanski – can you talk a bit about your casting choices?
AG: Well we shot this thing on credit cards – there was no budget. I went out to LA for a long time trying to have my scripts read and it was a nightmare. So when we shot on credit cards we looked at the budget which was no budget and we couldn’t pay anybody. So Andrew and Brendan were close friends of mine and Andrew had never acted in his life. We were actually auditioning other people for that role and I couldn’t find anybody who would fit totally with Brendan and I. So when I couldn’t find anybody, Andrew was always in the back of my mind. He’s one of the most sincere individuals I’ve ever met in my life. So I would call him when we were in pre-production and say you gotta do this man. It took twelve times and we were down to the last month before principle photography and I was like just come in god dammit and read the script. And so he did and for me he knocked it out of the park. Brendan acts as well and he was always gonna be there. For Cindy Pinzon we were very lucky because I had moved out to LA and when we decided to shoot the script I signed up for acting class because I thought it would help my writing. I also wanted to understand actors better because I had never acted before except for shorts we made. So the teachers were very helpful and they allowed me to shop each scene in the acting class where all the students were doing my work and I was able to see what worked and didn’t work. Cindy was one of the girls in the class and after this one scene I went up to her and asked, ‘Would you be interested in doing this movie?’ And she was like, ‘I was coming to you today to ask you if you were going to make this!’ So I was lucky there.
Your music selections seem very specific – what kind of vibe were you going for?
AG: First and foremost I’m a terrible musician – I’m absolutely atrocious. But thankfully Joe Haas is a fantastic musician and Brendan, the lead character, he had just started playing the guitar but he understood music. So basically I got the two of them together and said ‘I want the three of us to improvise all of this music.’ So it was like whatever happens in two hours we’ll see what we can use – and ninety percent of the music was improvised in one take. That was probably the best part of the experience and it was a lot of fun to do.
I like that in life and your movie life doesn’t always have a happy ending or at the very least the ending you may want – can you talk about the decision behind yours and if there was ever any resistance to it?
AG: I’m a big fan of things that don’t end cohesively. Very seldom do things work out in the way that you intended them to. I like not giving the audience exactly what they want and I wanted to leave it open-ended.
What’s next for you and can I buy both your shirts and the ones from the guy you threw out the door in the film?
AG: (Laughs) Yeah, we definitely could make more! We sold some of them too. Like I said we had no money so once we got on the distribution side I started auctioning them off. Thankfully some people were very interested in the apparel.
I wish I had known – I would have bought one!
AG: (Laughs) But we do have all the templates for everything, so we were planning on making more. Maybe wearing the “Team” turtleneck to the premiere! And the one I do have is my sweater from the film – I made it myself! As for a new project, we definitely have some good ones. But for me in the scripts I have worked on they rely heavily on dialogue and very inclusive dialogue – it’s the reason why I write.
"OCONOMOWOC" OPENS IN SELECT THEATRES APRIL 19 FROM WHAT PRODUCTIONS