Three days ago, Scoot McNairy and the rest of the cast and crew of In Search of a Midnight Kiss stood on stage at the Independent Spirit Awards, receiving the coveted John Cassevettes Award. It’s a statue they can place at the top of their giant Christmas tree of success – a tree that has over $1 million in foreign and domestic box office receipts all wrapped up in nice little bows. Not bad for a film made for $25k. Not bad at all.
The film, if you didn’t get a chance to catch it last Fall, tells the story of Wilson (McNairy), a misanthrope whose life has been throttled by a move to Los Angeles. He wants to spend New Year’s Eve hiding under his covers, but some friends convince him to post a personal ad that leads him to find a girl looking for the love of her life and a worthy midnight kiss.
Around lunchtime, McNairy calls me and immediately asks for me to call him back on his house line – a dangerous mistake, as I now have the power to call and ask if his refrigerator’s running on a weekly basis. The Austinite is transplanted firmly in Los Angeles, so we find ourselves in an interesting situation of having switched cities. We talk about Austin a bit, talk about how he stays creative in Los Angeles without losing his mind, and discuss the striking changes that each city has gone through in the past several years. Los Angeles plays a significant enough role in In Search of a Midnight Kiss that it becomes its own character, a stark downtown conglomeration of blood, guts and concrete.
“No one ever shoots L.A. like L.A.,” McNairy says, commenting on the dynamic that occurs when a city that is pliable enough to stand in for any location loses its own cinematic identity. For the film, McNairy’s Wilson did something very few characters living in Los Angeles ever do. “I would go on the subway, go downtown, just take pictures. Downtown is so incredible, overwhelming, but you never get to see it like that in movies.”
One of the reasons that the film works so well is that it’s based off of a lot of things that actually happened to writer/director Alex Holdridge – a car flipping over on the drive out west, a computer getting stolen, meeting an idiosyncratic woman online. But, it will work especially for anyone who has ever moved to Los Angeles in that Go West attempt to become someone larger than you already are. “We all kind of identify with that first year [in Los Angeles]. Which is hell,” McNairy says. “It was one of the most miserable, questioning times in my life. It starts off as this adventure, and then you start thinking, ‘Did I just jump into something much bigger than myself?’” The actor and producer continues, talking about how he used to take walks and hang out with a homeless man at a gas station near his apartment to clear his head with cigarettes.
I ask if there was any trepidation about making a film about a struggling screenwriter and an aspiring actress, and he admits that there was. “Usually, I’m super turned off about actors, but Alex [Holdridge] was doing it, and I’ve worked with him three times before. He could make a film about a dinosaur on stilts – I would have been on board.”
That faith in Holdridge began when the two first met a few years ago. McNairy was attending a $20 acting class, and Holdridge visited in order to find actors for a no-budget flick that required a six month commitment. Holdridge offered McNairy a part, and McNairy was game. He’s been game ever since.
“The things that we both think are funny, usually other people don’t find funny,” he says about his relationship with his frequent collaborator. A statement that might pinpoint the exact reason the two work together so often and remain so loyal to each other’s projects.
This is McNairy’s first film as a producer, a role that can be overwhelming when the bottom line can’t exceed $25k. It’s difficult enough when there’s a few million dollars to work with. Still, he wasn’t exactly daunted by the job.
“A producer is just someone who gets shit done. Whatever it takes, you get it done. How I am – you wanna go camping, you get it done. You gotta chop down a tree? You get it done. I want to constantly be working, shooting something, writing something…”
Odd camping analogies aside, it’s clear that this philosophy has served him well, a realization that success only comes at the end of back-breaking hard work. The sort of rare Los Angeles attitude that mirrors the different view of the city offered up in his film.
McNairy seems to have his feet planted firmly in both the indie world, the television world, and the mainstream film community. He’s involved in another Holdridge project that’s being read by Jeff Bridges right now in hopes that he’ll join, a film he’s done with Gareth Edwards about a viral outbreak in South America (a sort of experimental action flick that shot without a script), and the actor/producer that once wanted to be a DP has just bought an editing bay so he can keep busy on the back end of things as well.
In true fashion, even though he’s not a director, I ask McNairy about film school. I could have guessed his answer even before I ask.
“I hated it. Didn’t learn a thing. It was a waste of my time.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that answer is right up our Reject alley around here. Luckily, McNairy will stand as an example of what energy and perseverance can achieve even without a piece of paper signed by the Provost of a film school.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss made a big splash last year on the festival circuit and in theaters, and now it’s got a few awards under its belt. I highly suggest searching around your local DVD store – it came out on DVD last December 23rd.