Max Winkler Talks “Ceremony”, Vampire Weekend Covering Paul Simon, and More
Tue, 26 Apr 2011 07:39:44
“When you make a movie, all you want to do is setup an accurate mood,” exclaims writer and director Max Winkler.
With his brand new film Ceremony, that’s precisely what Winkler has done. The film follows Sam [Michael Angarano] while he crashes the wedding of the girl he wants back [Uma Thurman]. In the process, Sam undergoes some sardonically hilarious trials and tribulations while growing up. Winkler examines the character’s evolution via eloquently written vignettes that perfectly temper emotional and funny moments. It’s an intelligent, inviting, and ultimately invigorating character study that illuminates the filmmaker’s storytelling talents. Plus, Winkler found the perfect soundtrack to create that mood, rounding out the entire experience nicely.
Max Winkler sat down for an exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about the playlist at the heart of Ceremony, flawed characters, and so much more.
Was your goal to strike a balance between funny and emotional moments with Ceremony?
I did try to really hard to get that balance. A lot of the best comedy always comes from sadness. That was definitely something that we were very conscious of the whole time.
What resonates with you about the film’s protagonist Sam?
Despite what he thinks, he wears his flaws and his youth so blatantly on his sleeve. He’s trying so hard to be something he’s not—which is a fully functional romantic lead. He really is a supporting character who’s stepped into the lead role because the lead is somewhere else. Sam represents that id which comes out when you’re so young and romantic and you feel everything so much. A lot of people are afraid to act on it because of social norms. They think, “Maybe it’s better if I don’t say this” or “Maybe it’s better if I don’t buy a suit in this color” or “Maybe it’s better if I don’t wear a mustache that’s so blatant.” Sam represents that. The only thing that keeps him from going off the deep end is we can see his flaws so clearly from the beginning of the movie. He has a totally different perception of himself than the rest of the world and me as the director.
Those quirky characters tend to be the most memorable.
It’s also entertaining for an audience to see somebody who clearly has such a delusional aspect to their perception of themselves. Sam wants to be Clark Gable. He wants to be Cary Grant. He’s been too influenced by all of the books that he’s been reading at too late of an age. I think the greatest flawed character to ever steer a movie is probably Jeff Daniels in Squid and the Whale. He was a real influence on me. I gravitated towards him even though he did some things that weren’t the most honorable. He was a character who really polarized a lot of people, and I just loved the courage to put somebody up there who was so unlikable yet completely charming in his own way.
Is Sam cut from that same cloth?
I think he’s a polarizing figure too. Some people don’t get that we, as the filmmakers, are presenting this guy as someone who’s right on the edge of a nervous breakdown and complete identification crisis. At first, I was trying to figure out how to smooth his edges out. I was very concerned about that during our initial test screenings. Then I realized the movie doesn’t work if this kid is so sweet at the beginning. It’s about him realizing he is just a joke. He’s somebody who needs to go through the shit, so to speak, to see themselves right.
Were you listening to anything in particular while making Ceremony?
I make a big playlist before I start writing something, and it’s usually got hundreds of songs on it. As I start to write, I listen to songs over and over again. I take the songs off the playlist that I don’t listen to as much. I basically get the soundtrack of the movie that way. A lot of the songs on the soundtrack were on that initial CD that I gave to the people who financed the movie and the actors. It usually takes a two hour movie to set up the tone that we’re talking about. However, you can get two-and-a-half minutes of a song and it’s an immediately gratifying experience. Paul Simon’s music was really important to me because it has the playful yet melancholic feel. Kate Bush, Dory Previn, and Karen Dalton were very influential. The singer-songwriters of the ‘70s, John Cale, and Roy Harper were very important as well as current bands like Vampire Weekend. I’m friends with them, and I really love their music.
Is there one song that comes to mind when you think of Ceremony?
Ezra Koenig’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Papa Hobo”—I knew that song had to be in the movie no matter how hard it was going to be to get. I shot a sequence with that song in mind and we laid the song down without editing it at all. It just fit perfectly. Then there was The Animals song that ends the movie, but that was a later discovery. That was put on a mix for me by my girlfriend. The second I heard it, I knew it had to end the movie. “Papa Hobo” was on the original playlist. It’s a Paul Simon song that not many people know, but it has an incredible sense of humor as well as an overlying sadness.
Have you seen Ceremony?