The AFI Interview: Bob Byington – American Film Institute


The AFI Interview: Bob Byington

Writer and director Bob Byington’s film SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME was an official selection at AFI FEST 2012 presented by Audi. We caught up with the filmmaker before the world premiere of his latest film at South by Southwest 2015, 7 CHINESE BROTHERS.

In the last few years since your film SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME you’ve popped up on a few other films as an actor? What’s that like?

I think because directors tend to know how to communicate with other directors we sometimes ask one another to be in movies. Hal Hartley I met at a festival and I was surprised that he followed through on the promise to put me in NED RIFLE. But it’s mostly cameos, and I’d like a role as good as what I had in Alex Ross Perry’s THE COLOR WHEEL soon!

What’s it been like working with Jason Schwartzman in 7 CHINESE BROTHERS?

Jason’s great. Tons of ideas, and movie star magnetism, makes my job not easier but more rewarding. He often, at the 11th hour of a shoot day, recharged the crew with enthusiasm and helped us get material we could use — as I was throwing in the towel. I just asked him about the movie and he said it was about love and loneliness.

Your last film had great success on the international festival circuit. What kind of value does touring with a film that way bring you as a filmmaker?

SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME was pretty low budget and the Locarno prize actually put a dent in our operating expenses. Now we’re sort of swirling in a world where money is slightly more abstract. It’s starting to feel like the big advance mentality is coming back into the picture a little, with Netflix and Amazon throwing their hats in the ring. Since that’s where these movies mostly end up getting seen, it’s nice to see — at least for the time being.

When you are writing a script, are there other filmmakers you show drafts to for advice?

I’ve had a mentor in John Gatins (FLIGHT) for many years now. Dan Schechter is a colleague who is helpful in this regard and also Alex Karpovsky. Nick Offerman is always willing to read my scripts early. As I’ve learned the hard way, the script has to be up on its feet before anyone can help.

On a related note, are you ever interested or pitched to direct something you haven’t written yourself?

I’ve been a miserable failure in the world of material I haven’t generated and my interest in it has waned, though there tends to be more money to be made if people are after you than if you’re after them. I spoke with Austin’s own Richard Linklater (name*drop*alert) on this topic last year, and he said there’s a notion that things get easier, that you don’t have to keep driving like all get out, and the punch line is nothing really changes, per se.

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