"Ceremony," the feature debut by Max Winkler hits VOD tomorrow, and for those that track it down, they'll be rewarded with a film that shows off a young filmmaker who has firmly made a mark that he's a director on-the-rise. The film stars Michael Angarano and Uma Thurman and tells the story of Sam (Angarano), a young brazen adult who stalks his penpal and ex-girlfriend Zoe (Thurman) all the way to her wedding in the Hamptons to try and win her back. It's a delicate balance between a broad comedy and a quieter character piece and Winkler navigates those tones with an assured hand. We spoke with the director on the eve of his film's release and he revealed that his next project will be influenced by one of the great unsung classic films of the 1970s and should find him again weaving a variety of tones and textures.
"I just finished writing it and I'm very excited about it," Winkler said about his next film. "It's a love letter to the '70s rogue movies, something like 'Scarecrow,' that's a movie changed my life. Our movie is about two brothers who are traveling across the country. It's also similar to 'The Last Detail,' in fact, we had 'Scarecrow' on when we were writing it, similar to how P.T. Anderson had 'Treasure of Sierra Madre' on during 'Blood.' As for actors, hopefully there will be some of the cast that was in 'Ceremony.' I wrote it with Teddy Bressmen and David Branson Smith." And speaking of those "Ceremony" connections, Winkler also added that Jake Johnson, who plays the scene-stealing Teddy in the film, helped develop the story and script from its earliest stages.
"Scarecrow," starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman and directed by Jerry Schatzberg, originally gestated as a straight-ahead comedy with Bill Cosby and Jack Lemmon attached, but morphed into the moving, complex Palme d'Or winning film we know today about two drifters who share the road and their dreams as they trek across the country. It's a wonderful film -- the kind of which they don't make anymore -- and with Winkler intoning its inspiration on his next project, we're eager to see what he pulls together. It's a great next step for a filmmaker who is clearly staking out his territory as a writing/directing double threat.
But Winkler has always had a couple of other projects percolating over the past little while. There's "The Adventurer's Handbook" which he wrote with Jonah Hill and Matt Spicer that for now seems stalled and there's also "The Ornate Anatomy of Living Things," picked up by Fox Searchlight back in 2007. The good news is, Jason Reitman is still producing and the project is still kicking, but the bad news is that it's still a bit of way off.
"Reitman's producing, it was originally set up as my first movie to direct but it was never going to get made with that budget, and so I think we need to polish it off a little bit, but I'd like to make that soon. We haven't even looked at it since we had gotten it sold," Winkler said. "It was the first script [me and Matt Spicer] had written out of college. We were both having nervous breakdowns post-USC Film School. I mean, you can't exactly go up to the pearly gates of Sony with a mini DVD of your 4 minute silent black and white film. We decided to just write a movie and try and sell it, so we sat for a summer and wrote it, thankfully sold it. Clearly if I had made the movie then it would've been terrible, I wasn't ready to make a movie. It was Jason who said that I should make a personal movie first, that was 'Ceremony.'"
It was a smart decision by Reitman that allowed Winkler to flex his muscles a bit and jump headfirst into getting a film made from script to screen. But is there any shot that 'Ornate' will move up the queue for Winkler? Not likely. "No actors [are] attached with it, it's definitely not going to be the next movie I'm going to make," Winkler told us.
But we can't complain too much. It's not very often that filmmakers attempt to mount the kinds of films they made back in the halcyon days of the 1970s and Winkler clearly seems very inspired by his latest script; if he's excited, so are we. More from this interview soon but check out "Ceremony" on VOD tomorrow or even better, when it hits theaters in limited release on April 8th. -- interview by Chris Bell