Paul Risker chats with Ideal Home writer-director Andrew Fleming…
Andrew Fleming’s comedy Ideal Home tells the story of Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and Paul (Paul Rudd), a gay couple who have to quickly adapt their party lifestyle to look after Erasmus’ estranged grandson unexpectedly turns up on their doorstep. The filmmakers previous work includes cult film The Craft starring Neve Campbell, The In-Laws with Michael Douglas and Ryan Reynolds, as well as episodes of Arrested Development and Red Oaks.
In conversation with Flickering Myth, Fleming discussed the lack of intent behind his creative journey, an obsessive-compulsive drive towards the film frame and the importance of rhythm.
Why filmmaking as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
When I was very small we had a very inexpensive Super 8 film camera and so I made films. I painted and I acted in plays, and tried all kinds of artistic things. I’m from Los Angeles, but I was exposed to the idea that people make a living making films and TV. I made films in high school and decided to study film in college, and backed into the idea of directing because I was not sure I wanted to be a director – it just happened over time. At a certain point I realised that had caused me to not do anything else, and a year after graduating NYU film school, I managed to sell a script.
You mention painting and drawing in your formative years, both of which are visually creative. Do you perceive those to have fed into or influenced your approach to filmmaking?
Well I love painting and drawing, and I love going to museums. There was a reference to an Andrew Wyeth drawing in my first movie, but I wouldn’t say that I use or imitate paintings and drawings in my films. I am constantly taking photographs and looking for the frame that expresses the story. The two are similar disciplines, but I wouldn’t say they overlap for me, except for the photography part. I am very particular about what goes in the frame or what exactly the frame is about – how the building or the architecture is lined up to the frame, or how it’s not. I feel with the work of the best directors, you look at the camera angle and you understand what is happening in the story, even if you don’t see what is happening quite yet. I also like to have a lot of control over what colours are in the frame; I’m a little obsessive, compulsive about what it looks like. It is just an instinct and I don’t think about it that much because most of the time my energy is focused on what the actors are doing. When I walk onto the set, the frames are worked out ninety percent of the time. Sometimes it changes, but I have got all of that visual work done ahead of time, and when I am shooting I am just concerned with the actors and what are they saying – is there a better joke, or is there something that shouldn’t be that emotional?
There was a point in my childhood where I thought should I be a writer, should I be a painter or should I try to be an actor? Then I realised I should make a movie. I also wanted to be an architect at some point, but if you make a movie you get to do all of those things. You get to be an architect, to make pictures and to act things out. So it asks everything of you if you direct.
Is an important part of the process for you balancing instinct with preparation, and is it necessary to embrace your instincts or spontaneity when transitioning from the writing to the shoot?
I am not a comedy director that says: “Okay, here’s your subject matter, go.” I’ve seen that and I’ve worked with people like that. This was fairly tightly scripted, but you have to be very loose and open up your mind, and if somebody says something that turns the scene on its ear, then you have to try it. It’s a mixture of planning very carefully how you want things to go, and then also just being open because you never know what someone might come up with, especially when somebody is as funny as Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan. But that’s true regardless; that’s true of anybody. The worst thing is when people just get locked into a performance and repeat it over and over again, which is scary to me. I love people who can try different ways and keep coming up with a different version of the moment. It’s fun to watch somebody do that, so actors who get up and say the same lines twenty different ways, I think that is magic and I never cease to be amazed at the possibility of what they do.
Could the construction of a comedy, from the writing on through the shoot and the edit be compared to music, specifically the idea of creating a rhythm?
Well, this movie has a strange rhythm because it’s not manic like a lot of comedies are, and I knew that going in. The rhythm of living in Santa Fe and having that type of lifestyle is punctuated by quiet. I wanted it to feel like Santa Fe, which is this visually beautiful place, and occasionally you’ll just look at the sky and you have to stop, and I wanted that to be part of the rhythm of the movie. But I also wanted it to have a punchy energy, so it was a long process trying to find those two things.
I used to have this theory that the film is alive when you are writing, shooting and editing it, and then it dies when you lock it [laughs]. I don’t know if I believe that anymore. I think I have learned that you have to explore all the different ways a film can be cut and then you have to say this is the truest one. For a long time the movie existed in a version that was ten minutes longer, and I think it was as funny and as good, but something happened when I punched it up a little bit and it got a little sharper. It still had those little pretty quiet moments between, but it made it more eventful; it made the story a very compact ninety minutes, which is as compact as you really get with a feature film. But the rhythm with any movie, and especially a comedy is crucial. It is like music and you have to have it in your head before going in. It’s not something you can find in the editing room, but it has to be embedded in the material.
Many thanks to Andrew Fleming for taking the time for this interview.
Ideal Home is in UK cinemas now courtesy of Signature Entertainment.