Alex Beh's indie rom-com "Warren" is the kind of indie festival hit that, with the right distributor, could go far.
Set in and around the improv comedy scene in Chicago, the film follows its ambling title character (played by writer/director Beh), a late-20something comedian who moonlights as a barista. He's caught in the polar vortex between his divorcing parents (played by great character actors John Heard and Jean Smart). Meanwhile, an old flame (Sarah Habel), now engaged, shows up in town. Over the course of a few days, Warren and his ex Emma reconnect, and Warren begins to find his own groove.
I sat down with Beh at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival after-party for the premiere screening. Dapper and charismatic, he's young and optimistic about the future, but not overly idealistic. After a bevy of short films (check out his wonderful "Coffees" below) and a few TV and screen appearances, he decided it was time to make "Warren," a film so full of zeitgeist about the aimlessness of our culture -- and of one individual in particular. "Warren" is still seeking distribution.
Ryan Lattanzio: You write, direct and star in this film. Why did you want complete creative control?
Alex Beh: My standard for aesthetic is very important to me and the way things look is very important to me. I have specific places I want the camera to be. I collaborate with everyone. I like to surround myself with people who are experts in their own field. I love acting, acting is my first love, writing is something I'm always doing. When I'm writing I know how it needs to feel so I direct the way I'm writing. When I get to set, everything has been planned out, the shot list has been meticulously worked over. Acting is then now the place I get to release and be there. I like collaborating but I like to keep it small so there's not so many cooks in the kitchen.
Why set the film in the Chicago improv comedy milieu?
My mom's a drama teacher so I grew up around improv my whole life. My house was like a Saturday Night Live sketch all the time. It's funny how humor has a few notches that you need to hit personally. Improv I fell into out of the blue. I didn't realize that's what I had been doing my whole life. With improvisers, sometimes they're stuck in improv. They're a paralegal or working at a restaurant and they do improv at night. When I was at Second City doing classes, someone said to me, why do you have a headshot? Because this is what I want to do with my life. Training is not just to be the funny guy at the bar -- I actually wanted to make a living doing this.
The struggle of late-twentysomethings is a favorite topic of many contemporary films. But "Warren" doesn't overly romanticize the depravity of that.
I try not to be pretentious. There's definitely a part of me in this.
You've made several short films prior to "Warren." Why did you decide to break down and do a feature?
It was time. It's been time for years and years. You have to make a feature. If you keep making shorts you will never learn. A feature film is an endeavor, an economy, it's a commerce, it's people being paid to do something. It's all those things. There's a whole business side to it and then there's the creative side. For me as an artist, I finally had to make that painting. I got in this because I want to do this for the rest of my life. I've been writing features for awhile now. I've got a number of projects.
Talk about the casting. You have some known quantities on board.
I knew John Heard would knock it out of the park. I needed a guy who was going to play a sad clown, which is deeply rooted in comedy and tragedy. John is so jolly and relatable because he embodies all these emotions at the same time. We went to him, and he said yes. And Jean Smart said yes right away. I had these people in mind. But I also wanted to get involved with some up-and-coming stars. It's a good level of stars. They're not huge stars. It doesn't feel like stunt-casting.