Austin Chick has the perfect name for a promising young indie director, but it’s not a stage name. It’s how he was born. He says his mother, Kitty Chick, gets teased more than he does.
Chick was zipping through Denver on a tour to promote his film XX/XY starring Mark Ruffalo. It’s a relationship movie told in two parts. The first half of the film shows two female friends, Sam and Thea, meeting a guy named Coles at a party. Coles had been eyeing Sam all night.
But instead of sleeping with Sam, they decide to have a menage-a-trois. Sounds fun, but emotionally it wrecks the relationships of everyone involved. The second half of the film rejoins the same three characters almost a decade later. When they get together, their friendship is colored by the painful relationships of the past.
Chick stopped in town long enough for a showing of his film and for a few interviews, including this one.
First Feature Film
“I thought the most important thing was just to make a movie,” says Chick.
“I watched a lot of people get out of school and wait for something to fall into their lap. So I tried to come up with something that I thought would make sense to do on DV [digital video]. We ended up shooting on 35 mm film, but knowing that the most important thing was just to get the movie done, I conceived of it as something that could be shot on DV if necessary — kind of an intimate story about relationships, that would make sense to shoot in closeups.”
Luckily, Chick had already cast a young actor named Mark Ruffalo, who earned praise for his work in a movie called You Can Count on Me. Ruffalo’s buzz allowed Chick to scale up his project.
“I got about half of [the initial budget] and was introduced to this guy, Mitchell Robbins, who initially said he was going to put up the other half. But then, as You Can Count on Me won Sundance, there was all this interest in Mark [Ruffalo]. Panavision offered to give us a free 35mm camera. Everything started to snowball and this guy agreed to kick in a little more money, and it kind of grew into a slightly bigger thing and we ended up shooting on film, which was great.
“I never wanted to get my hopes up too high because the chances of it getting into Sundance and picked up by a distributor [were slim]. You hope for them, but I never try to get too fixated on them. Especially since the movie I set out to make, by nature of the subject matter is not a blockbuster type of movie.”
Three’s a Crowd
“I had this idea of taking a menage a trois, which is usually thought of as every man’s fantasy,” says Chick, explaining his setup.
”...but then right away it does this switch-up. The menage a trois goes awry, and somebody starts to cry. What the movie ends up being about has more to do with all the negative fallout of a relationship that starts that way and the kind of mutual mistrust that’s built into the relationship that Coles and Sam try to have after that.”
“Milan Kundera [who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being] talks about how in the first few weeks of every relationship, there’s an unspoken or unwritten contract that you enter into. Your behavior in the first few weeks is established as the nature of the relationship. If it’s changed later on, like if somebody starts acting differently, that feels like a betrayal.”
“I see that as what happens in their [Coles and Sam’s] relationship. It starts out as this open, experimental wild thing that the two of them never completely trust.”
Gotta Love Ruffalo
“Mark Ruffalo is great to work with,” says Chick, who seems to be in agreement with some big names. Recently, Ruffalo has worked with the likes of Robert Redford, John Woo, and Ang Lee.
“I knew Mark through a writing group in New York,” explains Chick. “Mark’s got this quality, which is sort of like shaggy dog — the guy you can’t help but love. I felt like [Ruffalo was right] for the character of Coles — which is a pretty difficult and challenging character; he’s basically an asshole, and yet you gotta love him.
“When I was writing it I had in my mind this young Jack Nicholson. Again, somebody who can be a complete asshole, and yet in a different way. You’re there with [Nicholson] because he’s just so incredibly charming. You see his mind working. I felt Mark’s got a quality that helps people see into that character of Coles, and understand what he’s going through, and not just write him off as an asshole.”
What do you do after you’ve made your first feature? If you’re Austin Chick, you make another one. And another.
“I’ve got two things that I’m working on. One is a studio movie for Universal. I just handed in the first draft. I’m supposed to direct it. Casey Silver is the producer on it. So far he’s been great, and very supportive.
“I’ve also got another independent film that I’m hoping to shoot early next year called Love is Easy and I think Ruffalo’s going to be in it. He and I have been talking about trying to find something to work together on, and this is another kind of fucked-up relationship movie. Sort of like the Memento of fucked-up relationships. It’s in three parts and they’re told backwards. So you see the relationship falling apart. Then you see the relationship in the middle they move in together and sort of start to grow apart. And then you see them meet and fall in love at the end. It has a Hollywood ending. The boy gets the girl and they’re going to live happily ever after.
“There’s this other thing I’m hoping to do between Love is Easy and the studio movie, which is sort of a suspense thriller. But again, a kind of contained, character-driven thing. Sort of along the lines of Shallow Grave, A Simple Plan, or Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Three people who come into some money and they have to overlook the moral question.”
XX/XY will open in April 2003.