This movie seems like a bit of a departure for you.
Yeah, it isn’t as sweaty. [Laughs.] It was nice to step out of the South and explore a different landscape. It was a departure in a lot of ways—it’s taken from a book, and big-name actors, and working with a Canadian crew, for the most part, but keeping my traditional department heads.
How did you first get involved?
The producers at Crossroads and the director that was attached at that point, Jesse Peretz, gave me the book and asked me if I’d be interested in adapting it. So I worked with them for a couple of years on it and Jesse went off to do another movie, and I got to take over the reins.
Did you immediately decide you needed to transpose the setting?
You mean from the ’70s? The movie takes place in Vagueville, USA, anytime, timeless. But the book is very specifically the ’70s and very specifically small-town Pennsylvania. So we put Pennsylvania license plates on the cars, but just because we had to put some sort of license plates on the cars. But yeah, we play it all generically.
I guess the only thing I particularly pegged down was that it was somewhere with no Chinese people to run the Chinese restaurant.
Yeah, I always thought that was funny. When you go to Chinese restaurants up north where there aren’t any Chinese people. So that was my sly little comment on ethnic cuisine. In the novel it’s a burger joint. I thought it would be funny to have a Chinese restaurant run by a Croatian guy.
The uniforms are great, too.
[Laughs.] Yeah, our costume designer was really good—she was a local. She brought a lot of amazing touches, like the pink hat for Arthur, and Lila’s kind of eccentric wardrobe. Even Nicky Katt’s jacket—old leather, and folds, and pleats, and zippers and stuff.
What attracted you to the novel? Did you just want to try doing an adaptation?
That was part of it, but I also just liked the emotion that was involved, and the various interweaving love stories. It’s not just one love story, it’s little slices of the intimate elements of relationships on the rise and on the fall. It’s not about Annie and Glenn getting a divorce and their custody battle—the major headlines of the issue—it’s about, you know, him trying to buy her a spaghetti dinner.
It does add poignancy to the kids’ relationship, given that Annie and Glenn presumably started dating in high school.
Hopefully if there’s anything people take away from the movie, it’s to reflect back on that point when you had every opportunity and you were at the emotional launch of your relationship career. Where you can see that youthful enthusiasm without the burdens and the pressures of responsibility and financial frustrations and emotional disconnects.
There are some great moments in that courtship.
It’s also the fact that we don’t see them meet. We don’t see the typical—oh, who are you? Come around the corner, run into each other, and the books go flying everywhere. It’s just about the simple, little, “I’ve got a pencil, here.” A little awkward, but… pretty realistic, I hope. I was just trying to capture those moments of anxiety that you have when you can’t stop smiling when you see somebody.
That dialogue is very David Gordon Green. Is that stuff in the book?
[Laughs.] No, no. That’s about the only thing I’ll take credit for. When she says, “I like your shoes,” and he says, “What’s wrong with them?” That’s taken from my life.
What shoes were you wearing at the time?
They were snakeskin shoes with taps on them.
The relationship between Annie and Glenn is really quite heavy, for a film that’s also about young love.
It’s got “layers of emotional gravity.” [Laughs.]
Did you look at any other films with similar themes?
What’s that Alan Parker movie with Diane Keaton and Albert Finney? Shoot the Moon. I didn’t watch it again, because I couldn’t find it. But I did think about the emotions in it. I was thinking about a movie that has those imperfections and focuses on the imperfections in people. You hope to set up these happy accidents, so that it doesn’t feel so preconceived. So it’s got some clunky transitions in it, Snow Angels. It’s more about spending time exploring these characters’ emotions. Then you cut to the next one. Sometimes we’d cut in the middle of, like, a word. I think it’s an interesting way to avoid the fact that you didn’t think about your transitions.
So you’re saying the clunky transitions are intentional?
Kind of. You know, I have this thing we’re I’m afraid of not being naive. If I’m shooting, I hate to think about the editing of it. And it’s hard once you’ve—I’ve done five movies now—it’s hard to not do that. It’s hard not to bring the baggage of experience to the table. But there’s no greater freedom than if you can just truly appreciate the production process for being a production process, and not think of the post-production process.
It’s more like a documentary. You’re creating the film in the editing room.
If we’re in a scene, and I have to think about where I’m going to cut, that’s boring. It’s annoying. But it’s hard not to, sometimes. I try to decompose all of my half-ass wisdom, and just strip it down, so that each process is its own true process. I just wish I could keep making first films. I wish I could approach every project as if it was the first thing I’d ever made. With that hunger and enthusiasm and lack of knowledge.
Not to psychoanalyze you or anything, but do you think that’s because George Washington was so successful?
[Laughs.] I guarantee you that not one person in this hotel, besides you and me, has ever heard of George Washington. The way I look at it, my lack of success has been the true blessing of my career so far. Hopefully that will change—I’ve always wanted that to change—but to not have to deal with the burden of expectation has been great. Ultimately, I make movies that it may take audiences a while to find out about, but then [my movies] find open arms. They find people who really relate to them, and hopefully with a movie like Snow Angels, it’s universal enough in its themes that people can appreciate the fact that I’m asking them to engage in an emotional experience with an audience. I really want people to see this movie in a theater, because I think Snow Angels is about the exercise of feeling things in front of people.