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BAMCinemaFest: Ry Russo-Young Talks Creating Complex Characters & Collaborating With Lena Dunham For 'Nobody Walks'

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage June 21, 2012 at 12:07PM

With BAMcinemaFest kicking off this week, New Yorkers who didn’t get the chance to attend Sundance, Cannes or SXSW this year will have a opportunity to sample the best of both fests alongside other cinematic special events. The lineup includes festival favorites “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Compliance,” and “Nobody Walks" among many more (check out the full lineup here). And while the latter hasn’t generated quite as much buzz as some of the other entries just yet, we called it “a sensual, emotionally complex film” and “one of the best at [Sundance.]” The third feature from writer/director Ry Russo-Young centers on a young New York artist who comes to stay with a Los Angeles family while she completes her short film and ends up affecting the lives of each family member.
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“I definitely wanted to make something that was funnier than what I had made before and that was part of the fun of working with Lena. She has such a great ear and is able to write dialogue [so well] which is really something I hadn’t done before [working on the improvised script for 'You Won’t Miss Me'] and that was really exciting to me.” Russo-Young said, adding that she and Dunham hit it off after meeting at a film event a few years ago and the script developed naturally from there. “We actually met at an IFC mixer. Basically we met there and just hung out and we got along and had a lot to talk about. And then we hung out a couple times after [that] and it just came about really naturally. I think she was sort of interested in writing something that she wasn’t going to then make and I was really interested in working with a writer who was willing to collaborate in that way. So it was always clear that we were going to write a movie together for me to then go and make, probably on a very limited budget. So we were really conscious of keeping the scale pretty modest in terms of locations and actors.”

The filmmaker had nothing but praise for her collaboration with Dunham. “She’s a really, really talented writer and she has the ability to write different voices [for] people. And in collaborating in the writing it was a great opportunity to get outside what I’d made before and do something different.” When asked about Dunham’s series, Russo-Young said that she was a big fan and on the subject of its backlash said that she thought it was “inevitable because Lena’s so young and so smart and has so many positions on that show, the jealousy factor does work its way in, in weird ways.”

For “Nobody Walks,” Russo-Young and Dunham got together to write an outline and define all the characters before trading the script back and forth to come up with a finished draft. The filmmaker described the writing process as “very fast” saying that the pair had attended the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2010 and were shooting the film by June of 2011. One of the most compelling aspects of the film is that even though the characters may act in screwed up ways, there aren’t any villains. According to the filmmaker, this was part of the film’s design from the beginning.

“In life and in movies, even people who do bad things are still human and filled with pathos and they’re just making mistakes and they’re trying to survive,” she said. “That’s something I’ve experienced in my own life, trying to be a good person, to make good work, have real friendships and be in love and all of those things. And I feel like everybody around me that I know always has the best intentions even if they’re doing terrible things. But so often in movies, you get very black and white [depictions] in terms of the polarity of who is good and who is evil. And I like showing a more complicated, more realistic side of human beings and why they behave [a certain way]. I haven’t seen enough of that, [which is something] that I crave [when I’m] watching movies.”

After reading the completed script, producers Alicia Van Couvering (“Damsels In Distress”), Jonathan Schwartz and Andrea Sperling (“Like Crazy”) came onboard to help the filmmaker assemble a proper budget and amazing cast anchored by Thirlby, Krasinski and DeWitt. When asked if she felt any pressure working with such recognizable names, she said she “didn’t have time to be intimidated but was completely honored to be working with them.”

This article is related to: Ry Russo-Young, BAMcinematek, BAMcinemaFest, Nobody Walks, Interviews


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