By Alison Veneto
Brad Anderson is a nice guy.
After interviewing him once, my tape recorder proved faulty and recorded nothing. Fortunately, Anderson was game to do it all over again.
While Anderson is well known on the independent scene, he's practically anonymous to the average filmgoer. But it's a badge of honor among film geeks to declare your favorite Anderson - of Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson and Brad Anderson - who all hit the independent scene at the same time. I prefer Brad Anderson's oeuvre, and not only because he's a nice guy. (Not to mention that he's the only one of the three still officially working independently - as of this writing anyway.) This may have a lot to do with his ability to take you to the brink of believability, yet keep you grounded by the realistic reactions of his characters.
He made splashes at Sundance with his first two films, The Darien Gap and Next Stop Wonderland, and by the time his third feature, Happy Accidents, rolled out, it's no surprise Anderson was known at first for his romantic comedies and particularly for his female characters. But with Session 9 and his most recent, The Machinist, his career has taken an unusual turn and he's now considered a master of creepy, slow-building, effective horror. It's hard to know what he might tackle next.
I talked to him, the second time, while he was between finishing the shoot for a television pilot [he's also directed episodes of The Wire and The Shield] and mulling over working for a big studio for the first time.
Tell me how you got started and how you came to make your first feature?
I went to a film program in London briefly - London International Film School, just to learn the technique of filmmaking. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. I moved to Boston after that. And then I just started out as an editor really - editing other people's independent films. I also worked at PBS for a little while as an editor. That was my avenue into film directing. To my mind editing is the best way to learn how to create films, because you learn from other people's mistakes, as opposed to your own. But of course you get to the point where you're like, "Well, I want to do my own movie."
I just did the typical low budget guerilla style approach - cobbled together forty grand from friends, family, some of my own savings, wrote a script and just shot my first film. Used friends and family in the cast, too. It was your classic credit card movie, called The Darien Gap. I didn't know anything about making a movie or telling a story but just launched into it anyway, because at the time I was very passionate about this story I wanted to tell. And I was fortunate enough to get into Sundance with that film back in 1996. That experience introduced me to a lot of people in the business - my agent, my lawyer, the whole nine yards. It introduced me to people who could open doors for me.
And I met a guy in Boston, Mitchell Robbins, who at the time had produced one or two movies. He wanted to do another one, a bigger movie, with me. So he commissioned my fellow writer Lyn Vaus and myself to write a script he said he'd finance for a million bucks or so.
And that became Next Stop Wonderland?
Yes, which we again got into Sundance, sold it there to Miramax, and which kind of put me on the map a little bit. We never really sold my first film to a distributor - or no, a small distributor picked it up, briefly, but it never really got out.
Wonderland was really my first experience with the business side of filmmaking. One film led to the next after that. I did a movie called Happy Accidents for IFC films, and then I did a movie called Session 9 for USA films. Finally, the last film I did was The Machinist, which I did independently over in Europe, and which got picked up by Paramount Classics.
But each of my films have been their own thing, more or less independently created and financed. They've all been very small movies because of that. I haven't done a studio film, or certainly not on that level financially, by choice. I haven't really wanted to venture into that world quite yet, because of the advantage of being an independent filmmaker - writing my own scripts, editing my own films - I'm involved from the beginning to the very end. I just get much more satisfaction out of that kind of approach as opposed to being a simple gun-for-hire to direct someone else's script. My last film was the first script I directed that I didn't write, Scott Kosar's script for The Machinist.
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