Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
Meet Michael Knowles: Actor, Writer, Editor, Inventor, and Director of The Trouble with Bliss
The Best Narrative Feature winner at the 2011 San Diego Film Festival is currently playing at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15.
The Trouble with Bliss offers viewers three films for the price of one.
Feel like laughing along with slouches? Michael C. Hall stars as Bliss, who lives at home, and as witty, insightful slackers comedies go, the Duplass Brothers' Jeff isn't a patch on Bliss.
In the mood for a high school reunion? Who needs the Stifler's mom, Jim's dad, and two reels of whiny pathos in American Reunion when they can watch former classmates (Hall and Brad William Henke) reconvene only to discover that one is having an affair with the others 18-year-old daughter?
As for teen comedies, not since Emma Stone earned her Easy A has there been a performance that packed the kind of breezy intensity that Brie Larson displays.
Michael Knowles' talents as a writer director of actors are instantly recognizable, but I was delighted to discover that he is also doing something to give back to the Indie film community. Knowles is the inventor of something akin to cinematic Dramamine, the Atlas Camera Support, an inexpensive remedy for the current scourge of rickety, hand-held camerawork.
Maybe I am mellowing with age. Normally, any person who would dare utter "I'm not too much of a movie enthusiast" in my presence would be instantly sentenced to an eternity in Creedmoor. The problem is, Bliss is blissful and Michael Knowles equally divine. What's a curmudgeon to do but sit back and enjoy?
Park the kids in Mirror, Mirror and duck into this offbeat charmer.
Scott Marks: There’s no bio for you listed on IMBD and no Wikipedia entry. Do you really exist?
Michael Knowles: I’m a mystery man. I want to stay hidden and private. (Laughing.) I would change my name evey time I direct a movie so nobody knows who I really am.
Tell me a little about yourself. You’ve done some acting in the past. Is that where you got your start?
Yeah. That’s where it all started. The desire to act. I was studying writing at the time in New York with this actor named Tom Noonan who is also a writer as well. I got pretty good at the writing thing and I wrote my first play called Room 314 which ultimately became my first movie. I produced it in New York as a play and started making short films and that turned into the feature film Room 314.
Now I’ve made three feature films, a couple documentaries, and a bunch of shorts. One thing just led to the other and directing kind of made sense. Being an actor I thought I could communicate very clearly with the other actors. Since I wrote it, I felt that I understood it enough that I could communicate the story and the messages.
You’re a triple threat. Not only is the film well written, the actors superbly cast and directed, you have a clean visual style and strong awareness of pace. I’m embarrassed to admit that this is our first introduction. I have yet to see any of your other work.
This one is definitely different. It’s based on a novel so I really took the tone of the novel and wanted to stay true to that. I fell in love with novelist Douglas Light’s nice sharp wit and I found the character to be enjoyable and fun. There is nothing cliche about them. They are very unique. My first two movies were a little more artsy/dramatic.
Do you remember the first film your parents took you to see?
That’s a good question. I remember the movie theatre. It was at the Echelon Mall near my house. I don’t remember being that big of a movie enthusiast.
Even now I’m not too much of a movie enthusiast. I mean, I like movies. I enjoy them. I meet other directors and filmmakers who are so into movies. I’m more into life.
It’s highly overrated. The movies are better.
(Laughing.) I like telling stories, but I’m more into life and human interaction. I would pay more attention to the guy or girl collecting tickets and their interaction with people as they come through than the actual movie I was going to see.
In looking over your filmography I noticed that you played the same role on two different soap operas. What is it about you that screams “Reporter” in the eyes of casting directors?
I think “Reporter” is one of those roles they let you get your feet wet with. It was early on in my acting career and it was like, “Yeah, let’s give him under five-lines and cast him as the Reporter.”
Have you see Jeff, Who Lives at Home?
No I haven’t. I’ve seen it advertised and think I’ll wait for Netflix. Does it have similarities or something to Bliss.
You could have called is Bliss, Who Lives at Home. The similarities stop there. Your film has a sense of structure, and intent, and purpose. And goddamn if you didn’t have the wherewithal to buy a tripod! Congratulations!
That’s so funny. Did those guys all hand-held stuff on that movie?
It appears to have been photographed in mid-epileptic seizure .
(Laughing.) If you interview the Duplass Brothers tell them they should use my invention, the Atlas Camera Support.
That's a new one on me. Tell me more about the Atlas Camera Support.
I invented this very simple camera support system for Indie filmmakers. It helps get rid of the shake that a lot of hand-held filmmakers get when they're filming. It's a really simple support system that takes all the weight off your shoulders and allows you really smooth shots. Mark Duplass contacted me awhile back to borrow one to try it out on a film they were doing and I don't think they ever actually ended up using it. But they should. It's a great invention.
What is the difference between this and a Steadicam?
About $3,000 to $5,000.
(Laughing.) I set you up good, didn't I?
Thank you! The big thing is that mine is very simple; low engineering. The Steadicam that Garrett Brown invented is incredible. If you're an Indie filmmaker and you don't want to spend $3,000 for their cheapest version of the Steadicam than you buy something like I invented. It can give you some similar stuff that the same things a Stedicam does, but ultimately it allows you to get smoother hand-held shots.
The ensemble cast is uniformly impeccable. I have never watched an episode of Dexter and I think this is my first introduction to Michael C. Hall. He’s kind of like Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s slightly-befuddled younger brother.
That's a good description. Michael C. Hall gave me this adjective I thought was pretty good when we first met to talk about this. He described Morris as rudderless. That's a very accurate description. He just blows with the wind wherever the wind takes him. As the move goes on he slowly but surely gets his rudder and starts steering in a direction. Whether or not it's the right direction, I don't know.
Brie Larson is turning out to be an amazing comic performer. She's easily the best thing in Scott Pilgrim. How did you hook up with her and what about her was right for the role of Stephanie?
We were looking to cast the Stephanie role. We put feeler out to five different managers of five different actresses to get their reel. I wasn't that familiar with any of the actresses because they had been in movies and TV shows that I don't watch. Her reel stood out. The scenes I saw of her were from The United States of Tara and I knew this girl was good. She can act.
The next day her manager called to say that Brie read the script and loved it. What does she have to do to get this role? Could we discuss it over lunch tomorrow? That's Stephanie. In my head, if she's that assertive and she knows what she wants and goes after it, well that to me is Stephanie. We had lunch and got her and Michael C. Hall together to do a little chemistry read. It was done for me. It works. Let's lock her in.
It’s like there constant fireworks going off in her head.
Did I blink and Miss Rhea Pearlman?
Unfortunately, there is a scene in the movie that was really hard to cut. Rhea Pearlman was so good in it and so much fun to work with. It was one of those scenes a little later in the movie that upon further investigation, I felt we needed to get rid of it. It went off on a tangent too late in the movie. We decided to save it for the DVD extras.
Peter Fonda hasn’t been this good since The Limey. He’s almost approaching Clint Eastwood territory.
He was really good in this, wasn't he?
His comedic timing was so good and understated.
I didn't have time to back and scan the disc, but what was the first concert Morris saw? Bob Hope and Liberace?!
Yes. Liberace, Bob Hope, and Bruce Jenner all on one stage.
Is this from the novel?
Yes. If I'm not mistaken, it was the first concert he ever went to.
That explains so much. What an introduction to life.
Can you imagine that?
Does the locks and keys motif also derive from the novel?
You do a fine job of weaving it in and the final kicker is terrific. It's a great way to unify father and son just when we think the bird is finally going to leave the nest.
It's a nice subtle metaphor for Morris' connection to the apartment and need or desire to get out. And his father's need and desire to get him out. One could analyze Seymour's (Fonda) behavior and ask why he keep losing his keys only to have Morris get them for him. Why doesn't he just say, "Morris, give me the keys and get the hell out?" There is a lot of dysfunction going on there in a funny way.
The film is opening in San Diego at one of out premier art venues, the Gaslamp 15. In a sense, you were wise not to peddle this to multiplexes. Slocher comedies are currently hot, but yours isn't fueled by juvenile slob humor. The level of wit in the dialog is really quite refreshing.
We always had the idea that this is not a mainstream movie so to speak. It need to find its audience, slowly build, and get that word of mouth out. That's key for this movie to have a good long life. I don't think splashing us out there in a big way would have been a smart move. I do think a lot of the people who like to text during a movie would lose a lot of the subtle things that happen.
As you watch the finished product, what is the one moment where you smile and think, “That’s it. I nailed it.”
Since I edited this as well, I actually had many moments like that. I think it was when we were sitting at the Newport Beach Film Festival with 1,100 people in the audience watching the movie on a 40 x 80-foot screen and the laughter came at all the right places. I, of course, enjoy many things about this movie. But if the audience is getting it and picking up on the subtle nuance, as a filmmaker, I've done my job.
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