Goodbye to All That was one of the delights of the Tribeca Film Festival last year, a mature comedy with a divesting first act twist: a likable young suburban couple Otto (Paul Schneider) and Annie (Melanie Lynskey) split up following a reckless accident that leaves Otto injured. Rebuilding his life, he takes to dating websites and after a series of encounters, one night stands and confusion towards Annie, he slowly rebuilding his life. Offering no easy answers, with the film now available to stream on Netflix, we’re sharing our conversation with Paul Schneider and first-time director Angus MacLachlan (screenwriter of Junebug and Stone) about love, life and filmmaking. Check it out below.
I’ve been a fan of your work since Junebug. How did this one come together – and what made you want to direct it?
MacLachlan: It came about because I had a lot of friends who went through similar experiences and I found them horrifying or funny…
MacLachlan: Horrifying. Every screenwriter probably wants to direct and I’ve done it on stage. As I said last night we talk about Phil Morrison [director of Junebug] maybe doing it, but I said I wanted to push myself. The biggest satisfaction is really getting to see your intentions and images realized the way you wanted it to. I write as an actor with a lot of subtext, so theirs people that might read the work and think there’s nothing going on their, and its not heavy with plot. So it’s really about human beings, and theres not a lot of films made about that these days. So to be the director and say, “this could be funny” — and I’d have to sometimes argue that with producers sometimes when they’d say, “I don’t understand why that’s in here. It’s not doing anything,” and I’d say, “It’s funny.” If someone’s not getting why something is funny, you can’t convince someone that it is funny.
Schneider: Did you feel you tried to escape the fate of some of the people who were divorcing by ventilating?
MacLachlan: In my marriage?
Schneider: No, no — by ventilating your ire into this script as if to save yourself from this fate?
MacLachlan: No, no. I’m always afraid being psychic about something that’s going to happen to me later.
Schneider: Really? Oh Shit. Why didn’t you write about a lottery winner or an ice cream taster, or a…?
MacLachlan: No, but it was kind of scary to show the film to my wife for the first time.
What about your friends who have gone through this?
MacLachlan: Well, some of them who have seen it really like it, and one friend in particular who went through a lot of these similar experiences, I would consult with him. I gave him the script to read and actually later he thanked me because he got to talk to someone about it. And he really likes the film.
So he’s not upset about the film?
MacLachlan: No, but his ex-wife hasn’t seen it yet. And I said, “Oh, what was she’s going to think?” and he said, “I don’t think she’s going to realize it’s her.
Schneider: I’ll tell you a funny story. The woman that mostly inspired All the Real Girls, David [Gordon Green] and I broke up with around the same time. He had his ex-love and I had my ex-love.
The same women?
Schneider: No, no – different relationships. We sort of poured our pain into that script and there’s some extremely autobiographical, I mean un-missable things — if you were one of the parties involved, unmissable factual moments. So years and years later, that very women, who broke the shit out of my heart and who is a beautiful and really great woman, she was at graduate school and really had the hots for this guy and sort of engineered as women do, a way for him to ask her out. And so he did and said, “Let’s go out Friday night, what do you want to do?” He said, “I don’t know, how about a dinner and a movie?” And she’s very excited to go out with this guy because he’s handsome and smart and she said, “What movie do you want to go out to?” and he said, “There’s a movie I heard about, it’s supposed to be amazing” and it was All The Real Girls. So she went and saw it, on a first date, and watched moments of her life.
MacLachlan: How did you hear about it? Did she call you up and tell you?
Schneider: A couple of years ago, I heard it from someone else whom I don’t remember, but then she confirmed it on the phone. It wasn’t such a break-up…it was probably the right thing to happen for her in her life and I was kind of sad.
So filmmaking as therapy?
MacLachlan: It can be, certainly art is.
I feel as if this role is a similar. In that you play kind of the American everyman, but here you seem a little more neurotic than anything else you’ve done.
Schneider: Well, the way I prepare is I write my lines down on index cards with a particular kind of pen — it is a colored wet erase sharpie, a thinner sharpie. I put the cards in my pocket and I record the other side of the conversation on to my phone, and I wonder around around the city and I learn my lines speaking to myself. Thankfully now with the earphones it doesn’t sound like I’m schizophrenic. It just sounds like I’m on the phone although I’m having a really dramatic, well-written conversation with a beginning, middle and end – with a button on the end. To be perfectly honest, that’s 90 percent of how I prepare, just learning the lines. Especially with this one, because there’s a lot of lines to learn. I’ve never been in a film more than in this film. The heavy lifting of acting, it was just learning the damn lines and I don’t think there was that much character development, but I don’t know what character development is because do you just watch someone on the street and walk like them? I guess I understand if you’re playing someone whose a real-life person who has lived and you’re in a biopic. I guess I can understand looking at footage and trying to speak like them. I don’t understand character development but maybe it was easier in this because he was clumsy and had foibles and had self-doubt and was unsure he had things figured out and strange, painful things had happened in his life. And that wasn’t much of a stretch.
MacLachlan: And yet its a complete a character that’s unlike Paul.
How did you come about casting everyone in the film?
MacLachlan: A lot of it is you have dreams of who you want to be in it. Paul was one who came up soon, and Melanie Lynskey was connected to it and she suggested Paul, whose name had come up earlier, so we contacted him. A lot of it is intuition, hope and in a some instances we had some actors who were cast and sort of dropped out and then we got who we got. Now I can’t imagine anybody else in these other rules. I had the same instances with the DP whom I worked with for four months and he couldn’t do it, he dropped out and then Corey Walter came in — now I don’t want to do a movie without Corey Walter. A lot of it is out of your hands which is incredibly nerve-wracking, but I like actors who fundamentally can play comedy and are true actors. And one of the things I like about Paul is he’s an actor whose always thinking — he’s a thinking actor. Even in small roles, you look over and he’s in the background and something’s going on in his head – and that’s very intriguing and interesting to me to me. The way I write or my intention is that there are scenes going on that are very funny or serious at the same time or back and forth, and that’s the way I feel like life is. Someone like Celia Weston, who was in Junebug, I was a fan of her work way even before thinking of Junebug, because she has that way of being really true and being really funny at the same time, and that’s sort of electric when you hit that spot.
Can you talk a bit about setting the film in Winston-Salem. Aa lot indie American films here [at Tribeca] are set in New York by people who rarely leave Brooklyn, so this one certainly feels rare?
MacLachlan: What’s funny in the catalog is I’m listed as New York film filmmaker, which I kind of think, okay – alright. But no, I live in Winston-Salem. Ideally I wanted to shoot there. There was a small window where we were maybe going to shoot it in L.A., which was a nightmare to me. But [Winston-Salem] is my hometown, so I got to sleep in my own bed at night, and got to sort of show a story that could happen in any place. It could happen in Portland, Oregon or Des Moines or Ann Arbor – these towns that are not Chicago, L.A. or New York. A lot of the actors are Southern and we don’t all sound like the Dukes of Hazard if you’re old enough to remember that people have different accents..
Schneider: Now it’d be Duck Dynasty.
MacLachlan: But Paul is from the South, Celia is, Anna Camp is from South Carolina, Amy Sedaris grew up in Raleigh — we have have a lot of Southerns there. And, in fact, one of the test screenings we had someone said, “How come they don’t have Southern accents? This is completely inaccurate.” And I know its always a Yankee that writes that down. Heather Lawless is from Cherokee, North Carolina.
Schneider: And that’s countttrry…
MacLachlan: I love at the end when she says, “Do you have a pitcher [picture]?”
Schneider: I remember when we screened George Washington up here for the first time and there was a very self-important New York-style critic who said, “This movie does not ring true to me because it’s set in the south and the black kids and the white kids are getting along, and if you expect me to believe this is happening…” And I’m like wow, this is amazing.
MacLachlan: I’d like to say a little about Heather Lawless who I think does such a beautiful job and she’s never done anything like this. She’s a stand-up comedian who does this crazy show called The Heart, She Holler. She’s crazy in this, she’s just a lunatic, she’s great. And she has such a beautiful quality to me in our film, and it’s who she is. And I really need a woman who had lost a child and had not been completely crushed and that character is actually based on a friend of mine who lost a child, and she’s seen the film and she’s an amazing person – my friend is. So Heather has this gravitas as a person and still is funny too. Even in that scene where he says, “Did you and your husbands fight?” and she says, “Yeah, I had a warning against him,” and she gets a little laugh in, then she’s completely heartbroken in the next moment.
There’s a tonal shift in the film. There’s some great, subtle moments and some broader comic moments and I know last night during the Q & A there was a heckler at the screening…
MacLachlan: I believe that life is like that. I believe you can be in a very emotional place and find something funny, which I believe can save one — it saves me sometimes. Things that are funny can be very serious. I did talk to him afterwards and he was an Italian and he’s like, “Why weren’t they more emotional?” And the sort of the point of the movie is [Otto] is not a man whose in touch with his feelings. We’re all in the arts and we deal with our feelings and stuff, but there’s a lot of men who are like I’m tired, I just want to watch the game, get a buzz off my thing, fuck my life, and earn enough money not have to work, and that’s fine for me. I don’t want to know how I’m feeling or express my feelings.
So Paul, why didn’t you get more emotional?
Schneider: We dialed back the emotion for God’s sake. It played much better, the peak of his emotion being expressed in that push-in on the phone. Why didn’t I get emotional?
I’m kidding — sorry.
Schneider: I think a lot of people handle their emotions by avoiding them, and you have to be fucking vigilant to not be a member of the herd, in this society. Because it’s really easy to sit on the couch and drink your beer.
But he kind of doesn’t. He runs a race in the opening scene and what’s so weird is when they break up, it really does come as a shock in act one, because they remind me of my friends and people I know who seem to have functional relationships and marriages.
MacLachlan: Have you had friends like that yet [you say], “They got divorced, I thought they were so great.” I think that happens, a lot. I was engaged for a year and a half and this couple asked, “When are you going to get married? You’re never going to get married.” I’d say, “Well, we have to think about it, what we really want, what we’re going to say,” and she said we didn’t think about it, they just did it. And they’re divorced now, because they never asked these questions before they got into it. They just went into it and had a family and they got frustrated.
Schneider: They might use marriage to cover up the work they need to do for themselves, you know. I don’t want to look in the mirror, I want to look in someone else’s eyes. Maybe I’m just congratulating the way I went about things. I spent the last ten years thinking about my feelings. I too was engaged for a year and now when I think about marrying that women, give me a fucking break, you know? That’s a marriage you get into because you fucking hate yourself.
This was great, thanks so much. I hope this was therapeutic for you guys.
Schneider: Thank you.
Goodbye All That is now streaming on Netlix.