Nothing says Thanksgiving like stabbing your step mother with a fork...
and Will Slocombe's Cold Turkey, which premieres tonight in New York at Cinema Village, gives us just that and more in this holiday film that reminds all of us why sharing our real feelings is neither safe nor festive.
The film stars Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Witt and Sonya Walger as members of the Turner clan who stumble, tiptoe, wrestle, tangle and even manage to fight over yoga poses in the patriarch's tasteful contemporary home in northern California during the Thanksgiving weekend. While happy families are all alike, unhappy upper class step families like this one are unhappy in their own well-spoken way.
Slocombe, 29, represents the newest generation of filmmakers breaking away from the mumblecore genre into one that is more emotionally sophisticated. His shorts are edgy and funny, and this feature is clearly the next step for a Hollywood filmmaker to keep an eye on. Just be careful of sharp objects.
I recently interviewed Slocombe about this film:
Nancy Doyle Palmer: What is it about Thanksgiving that makes people so crazy?
Will Slocombe: I can only speak for myself, but I know that whenever I go home, I revert EXACTLY to the age I was when I left. Which was 18. And being 18 is INSANE. You're the whiniest, most self-centered, most hormonal little s*** on earth. Everything is EXTREMELY dramatic.
NDP: To me one of the biggest themes of this film is damage -- damage done to children of divorce, damage done from neglect, damage done from labeling and assigning roles, damage done from alcoholism and fidelity... how did you balance such a painful theme with what is essentially a comedy?
WS: Yeah, I think Cold Turkey is about trauma. It's about folks being frozen in the past and needing to get shocked out of it. Or in this case, needing to get stabbed-in-the-shoulder-with-a-fork (as a family) out of it. Well, I think sad stuff is funny. And funny stuff is sad.
NDP: Tricky, I know, but how close does this family come to the story of your own parents and step-sisters?
WS: Tricky for sure! Look -- I have a dad who is a foreign policy expert, and I have two half sisters from my dad's previous marriage. Those are facts in real life and facts in the movie. But, beyond that, virtually everything in Cold Turkey, from a plot perspective, is made up. I'm not $300,000 in debt (woo hoo!), I never went to law school, and my sister never stabbed my mother with a fork. But I like this thing that Quentin Tarantino once said about your friends (or family) watching your movie: if they're not cringing, you've done something wrong, i.e. there needs to be something personal, something about YOU in there, for it to be any good. And the funny thing I've found is that the more personal you are, sometimes the more universal you are. Virtually everyone I've talked to who has seen Cold Turkey has some of these issues in their own family.
NDP: You're 29 -- was there any issue directing such veteran actors or was it an easy role for you?
WS: It was TERRIFYING at first. Especially working with Peter Bogdanovich, who's such a legendary director and critic. I've probably read his interview book with Orson Welles like 15 times. Never mind the number of times I've seen Paper Moon... But I think writing the Cold Turkey script, and not just being a director-for-hire, really gave me a leg up. The actors trusted that I knew what I was talking about. And (like the audiences), the actors also had lots of this sort of stuff going on in their own families. So -- it was personal for them too. Which helped them trust me.
NDP: As the film's screenwriter did you change some of the dialogue once you were shooting?
WS: Not as much as I would have liked, to be honest. Especially when you have someone like Cheryl Hines, who is such a genius improviser, on set, I would have liked to "play" more. But, we simply didn't have the time. We shot the whole thing in 12 days, so there wasn't much room for wiggle.
NDP: Do you see yourself as part of a new corps of young filmmakers in Hollywood? How would you describe your focus?
WS: Well, in terms of the indie world, I don't think Cold Turkey's a mumblecore movie. It has dolly shots. It has actors you've heard of. It has a script. And I personally like seeing that in a film. I like when it feels like the director's done their homework. Like you're in good hands. One of the reasons I liked Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture so much was that it was so beautifully shot and the script itself was so funny. The LINES were good.
In terms of being a new corps in Hollywood, I think that my company Midway Films has been able to make feature films (this is our third) look good on very little money, using things like DSLR Canon technology and Final Cut Pro (and, of course, the bulldog negotiation tactics of my producing partner Graham Ballou). It just doesn't take a ton of money to make a movie look like a movie these days. And I think we've taken advantage of that.
I think there's also in way in which we're directly engaging with our audience. Example: I have a podcast called The Great Debasers where me and my buddy Jeremy re-watch old movies like Clueless or Silence of the Lambs or Last Tango in Paris. Anyone can get the podcast, anytime. We have our own little pirate radio show! Which, never mind as a filmmaker, but also just as a guy who likes movies, is extremely exciting.