Director David Gordon Green

In our travels we have found that just about everyone in Hollywood seems to have their own “film school reject” story, especially noteworthy directors and screenwriters. Recently, when we sat down with indie wonder-director David Gordon Green about his most recent film Snow Angels, which gets its limited release this weekend, we discovered that he too was a film school reject. “I went to the North Carolina school of the arts. It was great, the film school really hadn’t even started,” he explained. “It was a state school, so it was cheap. And it was all people who couldn’t get into other film schools, or didn’t know about other film schools.”

At the North Carolina School of the Arts, Green found a love for making comedies, something we should see shine through later this year when Pineapple Express hits theaters, but he also found a bit of failure in drama, something that ultimately would set the tone for his professional career as a director. “In film school, I mostly made comedies.” he told us. “And then, the one failure I made was a drama. And I was so frustrated by that experience that I went back to make the feature version of the failure, which was George Washington — the first movie that kind of got me in the door and certainly set the trend for a dramatic professional career.”

Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale in Snow AngelsAnd it was that dramatic tone that has led him to the dark, emotionally heavy story of Snow Angels, which is Green himself adapted from the popular book by author Stewart O’Nan. It is a film that interweaves the lives of a teenager (Michael Angarano), his old baby sitter (Kate Beckinsale), her estranged husband (Sam Rockwell) and their young daughter.  But even though the film itself deals with some very deep, emotional and somewhat disturbing themes, Green insists that in order to make such a film, it is all about having the right personalities on set:

“To me, its about putting the right actors in it. And a specific element of the casting process was to cast funny people. People that had a sense of humor so that they don’t get caught up in their own brooding, like the Oscar-caliber wannabe kind of nature of how you could interpret the material. You could go make the TV movie version of this content no problem. I mean, there’s nothing revolutionary about the concepts. So it was about the environment on set.”

And to create that environment for Snow Angels, it took a cast filled with comedic talents like Sam Rockwell and Amy Sedaris to do the trick.

“It was about casting enjoyable people. And if there is something distinctive about this movie, it is the emotional exploration that we had the capability to go into. There’s nothing that can provide that other than the environment. It is about casting actors that enjoy each other, trust each other and have the discipline. We were really lucky to have people that were funny all the time, like Amy Sedaris, but know when the emotional circumstances were right for the environment to be able to take a turn and show us a new side of who she is.”

“I wanted to have a sense of humor to the movie,” he continued. “I wanted to have a sense of enjoyment to the process. Because, I genuinely think its a healthy movie for people to see with people they care about, with strangers, in a theater, where that kind of a magnitude and emotional roller-coaster can bring perspective to situations that we face or we read about in the headlines. I think we are so conditioned as a culture to keep emotion at arms length, [so] we can use movies as a way to safely navigate situations that can come back and hit us. And if we’re not ready for it, we can repress them all we want and its gonna end in some of the cautionary tale that Sam Rockwell’s character Glen warns us of. So having the right actors gives you the right environment to safely go to dangerous places.”

Michael Angarano in Snow AngelsAnd along with the right cast, Green infuses some quirks into the mix to keep even the most seasoned viewer on their toes. One particular element that my cohort Kevin Carr noticed was the particularly strange cable programming in the town where the film is set. As Green explains, it was an intentional part of the experience, born of his own personal need for escapism at times:

“When I’m going through emotional situations I turn on Full House. I have to watch Bob Saget, with the Olsen twins running around and Candace Cameron and whatever antics she’s up to that week. I [also] have all the episodes of Get a Life on DVD. And I watch those a lot, and they help my brain go to a healthy place when I’m dealing with something with more of an emotional weight. So I kind of looked to those programs for what would be on TV. And this is a no-budget movie, so we didn’t have the money to license stuff like Full House. And again, [we were] trying to make something that seemed timeless. So I had my friends Mike and Matt Chapman that run the site Home Star Runner do a little puppet show for us for one of the things that would be on television. Any time I could put some humor in to add a little levity and humanity into the situations of drama I thought would be helpful.”

And it is that level of humor that keeps Snow Angels from being a complete downer, an otherwise extremely depressing film with a great emotional weight. Switching gears, we prodded Green about his upcoming film Pineapple Express, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco and is due out on August 8th. On Pineapple, Green was brought to a glow as he said, “Just wait. Its a wild ride. Its fun sitting down with a crowd and watching them go with it. It’s a new experience for me to have a movie thats actively participated in by the audience. That navigates the success or failure of any movie, but here its not being sitting quietly and shedding a tear or giving a little sigh of anxiety, its totally, lets raise the roof.”

We will be there to “raise the roof” indeed when Pineapple Express hits theaters. And while you might not be raising the roof after you see Snow Angels, you will find yourself to be deeply affected. Watch out though, because underneath the layers of deep emotional


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