The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Long Weekend.
How did your filmmaking process begin?
Stephen Basilone: When I started my career, I had a writing partner for a very long time and we started off writing features. The first thing we sold, we were 24 years old, it was very dumb and silly and low to the ground — like a Zucker Brothers spoof on a dance movie, sort of? So then we toiled away for a long time writing movies in our 20’s, and then I was fortunate enough to get into television. Which is, you know, much more sustainable, in terms of building momentum and building a career. But what comes along with that (unless you’re fortunate enough to have your own show, but it’s just so difficult to get anything made, and I was just lucky enough to work on things that were consistent), but you do that long enough, you do any job long enough, even if it’s your dream job… it becomes a job. You know, you get tired of servicing someone else’s vision, and you want a little bit more autonomy. And the dream of coming out here to Los Angeles… You know, if the worst thing that ever happened to me was to become a journeyman sitcom writer… that’s pretty good! That’s like a dream life to have. I’ve said this before, but I basically live in a house that dick jokes bought. And that’s crazy, that’s amazing, that’s a very cool thing… but that was not the goal. So I started to think about — after being on this one show for four years — what can I do, how can I put myself in a position to actually let somebody allow me to make a movie, without much directing experience? I had directed a behind-the-scenes documentary on a pop-punk band called “The All-American Rejects” when I was 25, but that was about it. And that’s a wildly different thing and that was made, basically, after-hours by drunk idiots… and it was fun, but it was a wildly different experience than making a feature. So, I wanted to write something that would put me in a position to succeed. Like, keep it low to the ground, make it so that it was about things I felt like I could cover (which is mostly character work), and make it so it was cheap enough that people would allow me the opportunity to do it. I wanted to do a movie that felt somewhat comforting, and like something you’ve seen before, but twisted a little bit. So it’s a movie that’s sort of in the Linklater realm of the “Before” trilogy, and also comforting along the lines of any sort of rom-com, but making it feel a little bit different.
As much as writing is wonderful and I very much enjoy it, it’s also terrible! And it sucks!
How did your experience as a director differ from being a writer?
I think one thing I’ve learned over the past year is that I’m inherently an extrovert. When I was younger, I foolishly thought being an extrovert meant that you’re very socially capable, and when you’re an introvert, you’re more resigned and shy. I didn’t realize until way too late in my life that as an extrovert, by definition, you get energy off of being with people as opposed to finding it exhausting. And I realized very much this year that I definitely get energy off of people. So that is… that was the thing that was great about directing. Because, you know, as much as writing is wonderful and I very much enjoy it, it’s also terrible! And it sucks! And it’s a very solitary experience. So it was nice to have more of a sense of camaraderie. That’s the thing that I’ve enjoyed most about working in television. Because as much as all these people grate on you, and get on your nerves (because you’re sitting with the same eight people in a room that smells like onions and farts all day)… you actually grow to love them! Because you spend all this time together, and you’re doing bits, and it’s fun. So that’s the thing that I enjoy about the television experience. And writing in general is very isolating and lonely, so being a director… it was nice to have all these people around. I really enjoy collaborating. And it was also just such a joy to take things, to take dumb little figments that came out of my brain, and get to see them come to life, and get to see how other people interpreted that. My wonderful Director of Photography on this project, who just made me look so much better and more talented than I am, Felipe [Vara de Rey], it was so great to see— he’d read the scene and he’d say, “I think we should cover it this way,” and I was like, “oh, that’s interesting, I was thinking this…” and just kind of getting into those ideas, and creating something that was better than the individual parts of our ideas. And it was just really fun! It was interesting getting to see two actors who are so incredibly facile and so game, and how they could take what was written on the page and just elevate that, immediately. I was not precious about the script— one of the nice things about being the writer and the director was that we didn’t really need to stick to anything. I knew what a scene needed to accomplish— this wasn’t Fincher or Sorkin! I didn’t have to stick to every “and, uhh, mmm,” it didn’t have to be jazz music with the dialog. It had to be real, it had to feel lived-in. So if words didn’t work the way I originally phrased in the script, then the actors had the freedom to make them their your own. It was very fun seeing how a dumb, goofy idea I had in my brain while getting a massage high one day came to fruition three years later in an actual performance.
How did you work with your Director of Photography to create the sensation of intimacy?
I tried to put myself in a position to succeed as much as possible. And one of the things I talked about with Felipe right off the bat was, I just wanted it to be all hand-held, I wanted it to feel very “lived in,” I wanted it to feel… very intentional, but not so composed that it felt cold. I wanted it to feel very warm. There are a lot blues and oranges. I wanted it to feel intimate, like you were right there as an audience member. For the story to work, you have to be in Bart’s headspace, intrinsically. You have to make this huge leap with him… you have to fall in love with her and the two of them, as they do, because if you don’t… the whole thing falls apart. It’s crazy. The emotional fulcrum you’re dealing with… it’s such a narrow thing that’s it’s all teetering on! So if you’re not with them the whole way, and if you as an audience member don’t feel like an intimate part of the story, I think it just falls apart. So that’s the thing we wanted to do, was create this space for the audience to be right with the characters, and not to have these showy elements that sort of… take you out of the film. While that stuff can be cool, and it can sometimes be very successful, it can also feel kind of masturbatory — “look what I can do!” — stuff that’s not servicing the story. So I didn’t want to stand in the way of the story. To have a very intimate, handheld feel made us feel like we were more a part of the journey with them. And I think that was a really integral part of the success of this film. You have to be there with them.