My favorite film of the inaugural First Time Fest was Junction, written and directed by Tony Glazer. I had the opportunity to interview Glazer at the prestigious Players Club in New York City, which hosted the festival’s events. Meeting Glazer was one of the highlights of the festival for me because I was able to tell him personally how much I enjoyed the film — and Glazer is definitely the sort of person who was just so appreciative that not only was Junction selected for the competition, its Saturday night screening was a sellout. At the festival’s closing night gala, star Neal Bledsoe was awarded an Outstanding Achievement in Acting award for his role in the film.
Check out my review of Junction here, which goes into some of the storyline questions I asked Glazer below.
Q: Your creative background is primarily rooted in writing and theater, and Junction is the first feature film you’ve written, produced, or directed — and you did all three! What inspired you to make a move into filmmaking?
When I first came here [New York City], I came here as an actor and I sort of segued into writing. That came to me certainly not easier but I was more excited by writing than I was about acting and there was that immediate transition into writing. But when I first started writing, I certainly didn’t have an agent and I certainly didn’t have the means to make a movie. I had written a screenplay, but it wasn’t something I could really do anything with because I didn’t have any means to make it happen. But because I am an actor I knew plenty of producers and directors and I knew theater spaces and I kind of already had that worked out just being an actor. So theater became the way I sort of worked it all out writing-wise because I didn’t go to school for it.
But to go back to your question about what brought me to filmmaking, I think I was always inspired by film, I mean, I was raised on film. My parents got divorced when I was very, very young and my father would take us out on Sundays — which proved to be the most I ever saw him, anyway, when I look back, even before my parents got divorced [laughs]. He would take us to movies and they were movies that he wanted to see, movies that no seven year-old or six year-old should see. You know, I saw Blazing Saddles, Dog Day Afternoon, and I think he took me to Taxi Driver. He just wanted to see these movies, so I saw them. He took me to film by a New Wave director, The 400 Blows, and that was amazingly complex because I wasn’t really reading, though he didn’t seem very overly concerned about that [laughs]. But there’s that moment, that longshot by Truffaut where he’s running and running and even though I missed most of the movie because I wasn’t reading the subtitles I kind of got that it was about a boy and the boy was sort of my age, so I was following it just as basically as a six year-old could follow it. But when I saw that shot I immediately identified with that, so I think in some ways I wanted to be able to do things in a sort of cinematic way that people would identify with. Of course, when I got older I understood why it meant so much to me and I could articulate why I thought it was important to me and why I wanted to do something like that because that was a really striking moment for me as an audience-goer.
I think that was it, I think I always wanted to do film. I just didn’t have the means to do it. It was good that I had the training that I did in theater writing because it was just a great and certainly comparatively inexpensive way to have a training ground to work with actors and find out what my point-of-view as a writer was in creating characters and then put them in action. And then everything else I brought in from theater as much as I could, like rehearsals. But I think I always wanted to do it and I think it was just because from a young age I had been given such a background in it without asking for it by just watching great films.
Q: Why did you think Junction would make a better film than a play or short story?
I think if it never left the house, if it was always about these individuals in the house, there would have been a really strong argument to keep it in the house. There would have been no real reason to take it out. But at the time I was writing it — and I always wrote it as a screenplay — because the core action happens in the house I always wanted to go outside of the house. I wanted to use the cops as a sort of a parallel thematic to what was going on and have them be viewed in that way, I wanted to follow Tai around on his day. If I had kept it in the house, it would have been fair, but if I all of a sudden had to cut to different locations it would’ve been like a film anyway. This is not to be negative, but when I see plays that have too many locations in them I always wonder why they didn’t shoot it as a movie. So because I knew from the get-go that I wanted to really explore all these different storylines and I think it was just always going to be a movie. But it could have been a play, had it not left the house.
Tony Glazer directing on the set of Junction
Q: Many independent filmmakers swap stories on how they raised money for their films and how they made their films on a tight budget. How did you raise the money for Junction?
Somebody asked me what the hardest part of the filmmaking — well, we’re approaching the distribution process so that might prove to be the hardest part of this — but I thought that every phase of it was equally difficult for different reasons, but if I had to pick one, it would have to be the hardest question of “where did you get the money?” That is the issue — how do you find people that will believe in something that you’ve done enough to write a check, and that was tough. We ultimately had about twelve different independent investors who came in and wrote checks for us and were very supportive and that was essentially what it was. It was a four-year raise for us because the first two years they were doing a lot of credit facilities, these little hedge funds and slates and stuff and at the time we had gotten involved with this one company and I think it was right around the time of Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers and all of a sudden everybody was very shaky about the whole thing. I don’t know if this was the result of that, but we all of a sudden got very nervous about hedge funds and at the same time the hedge fund that we were going to do this funding platform with changed their drawdown rules so that we could only have so much money here, and this much money there. Then everybody was like, “Well, what happens if we get halfway into our own movie and we don’t have our money anymore?” [laughs] So we actually had to turn that down and we started over piecemeal.
That’s probably the toughest thing, because you say “Yes” to every meeting, you go to every meeting, but certainly not every meeting yields anything. It probably like seventy percent of it doesn’t amount to much in terms of immediate financing but that thirty percent does.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you were shooting the movie from a storytelling standpoint? In other words, was there anything that worked for you on paper but didn’t work as well on film?
I think that’s always the case, and certainly with this movie because it was so performance contingent and so character-driven that whenever you insert actual behavior into something you’re always going to have a moment where you say, “Now that this is up and running and I see it happening that maybe we should go for a different choice.” But that didn’t happen a lot, for the most part it was exactly how it was written. But there were certain key moments when actors brought something to the table and that was something that I thought was important to address. You know, you have a living, breathing character in front of you now doing your script and you realize, “Oh my God, now that we’re here we should do this,” so it evolves. It’s less that it didn’t work but more that something better came out of the process in this collaboration between myself and the actors.
Q: Junction is marked by a number of great performances, and the cast is made up of actors with a variety of experience. In particular, I was most taken with Tom Pelphrey as David and Neal Bledsoe as Donald. Did the characters as you initially saw them change at all once you cast those actors in those roles?
It didn’t change in the story sense, and it didn’t really change in a scripted sense — certainly the story and the story arcs were all the same. But what did change were moments in certain scenes became perhaps organically more volatile, more visceral, than I had originally thought. In fact, it was at those moments that I sort of threw away what my shot plan was and reverted to trying to reimagine the way the scene could be viewed. There’s a scene when Donald is having what is essentially this psychotic break where he ultimately just snaps, so we start crossing the line back and forth and it was in part inspired because he couldn’t keep still. And the initial idea was that I was looking for something a little more contained but he couldn’t keep still. Because he kept having these moments that I thought that was a good opportunity to explore that a little bit with the camera. So there were some moments, not a lot, but some moments when something like that would happen and with Tom there were moments too where I would think what they’re doing is really interesting. It wasn’t so much throwing away a shotlist or a gameplan but it was sort of tailoring it a little bit and saying, “This is really, really interesting.” Of course, that meant I was crossing the line back and forth with him, but it made perfect sense in that way with to sort of break structure and break the visual aspect because he is breaking down. So in retrospect it worked — it certainly wasn’t the plan, but it was driven by performance.
Q: On that note, was it difficult convincing the primary cast to allow you to make them look like filthy meth addicts?
[Laughs] They were game. There was never an issue. Nobody ever said, “I was too ugly.” They want it and were on board. I think it was a combination of just being committed and serious, and they all were, and just wanting to take it as far as they could. But I think in some cases for some of them they were roles that they hadn’t had a chance or opportunity to play. So they would’ve done it anyway even if they just gotten off of six films like this they still would’ve done it because they’re really amazing. But they were really hungry for it, they were hungry for the part, they were hungry for the characters, so they just didn’t care. so there was never a moment where someone thought “Do I look too bad?” in any of it. They just gleefully jumped into it.
Q: One of the best things about the movie is that there’s a major shift in tone. Can you talk about what inspired that?
Someone asked me last night, “Where does your sense of humor come from?” and I thought, “Gosh, aren’t those things predetermined in some ways? What you think is funny and what you don’t think is funny?” But if I had to track it beyond the fact that to me — and I know that there would be a challenge in it — when the subject matter hits a certain point it becomes a really grueling kind of film and becomes relentlessly grim in many aspects, so I had to temper it in a way so that you almost like releasing a steam valve a little here. Also, in doing that you can disorientate the audience a little bit so suddenly they’re laughing and then you come in and gut-punch them with something else so they’re never quite settled and it remains in sort of a very tense “Okay, okay, what’s going on here?” Humor became a big part of that because it sets you up for one thing and then suddenly you come right into it, but then it comes back. Definitely finding a balance was hard, so it was very premeditated in that way specific to the subject matter.
But at the same time, it’s hard to discount certain influences in that regard and I grew up as a kid where my father would let me watch television and I would watch Monty Python and even though I missed probably the more profoundly intelligent aspects of it and was stuck on the slapstick [laughs] that became a sort of grounding board for me. You can’t rule out Tarantino‘s ability to take serious subject matter and then all of a sudden throw you into something comically slapstick, although I wasn’t thinking of him specifically when I put it in there. I think this is my theater background too, you begin to learn the value of an audience, and I get this from theater because I can go into a bunch of different audiences and see how audiences respond to things differently certain times and then you’re in an audience enough watching them watch your work as I did in the theater world you begin to start seeing what they’re going to go for and then you can get really good at saying “Well, I just want them to reach this far,” and then like poke them in the arm. Just do something in a way that can try to not manipulate but really try to control the experience in a way based on what their expectations may or may not be. I was just assuming at a certain point that the subject matter would make audiences say, “Jesus, I can’t take it,” so it was meant to come in there and tactfully do that.
But I also just can’t help myself sometimes. I come from a comedy background, I had a sketch comedy group years ago. There’s also something farcical about the movie which lent itself to using comedy. At the time I wrote the script, there was nothing on the cultural landscape on television or film where you had lead characters who were ravaged by meth use, and there was nobody really talking about it. So when I started doing research about it, it was farcical to me that this was information that was not readily available about how fucked up this drug makes you. I mean, it just wasn’t out there. That’s not funny “ha-ha” funny but farcical in the sense that this is really ridiculous that we don’t know this, so I think a lot of ridiculous things found themselves tonally into it based on my own point-of-view about it.
I think in some ways that comedy was tempered in some ways that this was fucking absurd and I have to laugh at the preposterous of the situation that we find ourselves in that we don’t really talk about how fucked up this drug is and how surprising it is when it shouldn’t be. That seems like such a feeble thing for us to cling to.
Q: Ultimately how closely does the final product reflect your initial conception of the project?
It’s what I wrote. It’s exactly what I wrote. Someone asked me if I would change anything and I think, well, it’s absolutely impossible not to look at something again just because you’re always in a different place. Once more time passes you appreciate it, but can find yourself going, well, now that I’ve had time to look at it maybe I would have tightened this or done that. But they’re very small things and in the end it doesn’t change the fact that it’s exactly what I intended it to be.
Q: The First Time Fest isn’t the first film festival that Junction has appeared in. Can you talk about what the experience of presenting Junction at film festivals has been like?
It’s been great and it’s been different in every aspect. The screening here last night was fantastic and people really loved it and it was great and the post-screening questions were amazing, David’s [Schwartz, Director of Programming] questions were amazing, the judges’ questions I thought were great, probing, and very thoughtful, and people seemed to generally like it even though there were things they found maybe a little off about it.
We’ve been in other festivals where audiences just could not handle the violence. We had some people walk out during the broomstick scene — that was it, that was their threshold, and that’s fair. We had audiences that found it just fucking hilarious just all the way through, and whether it was because they were just nervously just finding something to laugh at or they genuinely found the humor in it and thought it was very funny. And we had audiences that loved it, but the humor was not something they responded to audibly. So I thought at those screenings like, “Oh God, they’re dead, I guess they hated it!” But then they would say, “Oh no, it was great!” but that just wasn’t something they responded to, which I guess in a way going back to my theater background was good to know that about audiences, that no one audience can be the same sometimes. Maybe there’s a general feeling that people can maybe, hopefully come away from it. But certain lines, certain sections, it’s just very volatile, people coming into in a certain way and you never know how they’re going to respond.
I think the responses have generally been good. I think a negative response is a good response, I think people walking out is a good response for me because going back to being a six year-old seeing films I had no business seeing there’s an identification process. You know, you go, “Oh, I think I get that, I understand that, it moves me in a way.” Sometimes people are moved out the door. Well, you moved them! You’ve moved them somewhere! You moved them to not say great things about your film [laughs]. But, whatever, I think that’s always a good thing.
Q: Even though you’re not quite finished with Junction yet, what’s next for you, as both a writer and a filmmaker?
I’ve been going back to theater, I have had a couple projects in the interim while taking the film through post I’ve worked in a couple theater productions. One of them was last year — we just had at the New Jersey Repertory Company a play of mine [American Stare] that we’re going to bring into the City, so we’re starting to work on that. I have another play of mine that I’m beginning to work out and trying to put together. Because some things are plays, some things are films, some things are short stories, some things are graphic novels — I’ve never written a graphic novel, but some things are just strictly for a specific medium. I like being able to tell a story in different ways. Theater has such a profound impact on me that I find myself going back to theater when I can, but then when I’m doing all that I’m working on another screenplay to follow up Junction with.
I had a friend of mine who’s a film person who’s not big on theater who said, “Well, obviously you did a lot of theater because you had to” — [laughs] so it already comes with a certain attitude about theater — “But now that you’ve done a movie why don’t you just keep doing movies?” I told him and he either didn’t buy it or didn’t like my answer, “Because some things are a play.” Some things aren’t really a movie. Like a novel is meant for you to come to on your own time — you pick it up, you put it down, you pick it up, you sit back, you’re with it — but a movie you’re in and you’re captive and they’ve got you from beginning to end. A play sometimes will have a break in the middle because you’re meant to go away and have a drink and let it sit for ten minutes then come back. It’s all how you want somebody to experience whatever you’re trying to pitch to them. Some things just aren’t the same. I’ve had people approach me to have some of my plays that I have written — not with funding so it wasn’t a really tempting proposition [laughs] — saying “You know, you shouldn’t write that as a play you should consider writing that as a film,” but I never wrote it as a film. I don’t know how it would work, I would have to completely rewrite the entire story as a film and I just never even attended it so it dropped off. I mean, I was flattered that someone thought it could be something else, and I took it as a compliment, but then you look at it and say, “Yeah, but it’s a play! It’s meant to be seen on stage, it’s meant to be seen live.” If I all of a sudden put the distance of film up there I don’t even know if it would work, if the story would happen.