ABOVE: DANIEL SCHECHTER
If there were a motto to describe director/writer Daniel Schechter's career trajectory, it might be a line uttered by Alex Karpovsky's character in Schechter's latest effort Supporting Characters: "Do it better next time." After a look at Schechter's solid directorial résumé, like Goodbye Baby and The Hole Story, it would be safe to assume that he's doing just fine. Then comes along a charming, independent film called Supporting Characters, which Schechter co-wrote with untapped talent Tarik Lowe. It's obvious Schechter has a lot left to say about this industry, and in that case we're lucky: Supporting Characters seems to be just the beginning.
After a few years of making films with modest but workable six-figure budgets, Supporting Characters represents Schechter's micro-budget love letter to mumblecore. Earnest in its form, Schechter reinvents how we watch these films, with a polished aesthetic, top-notch acting, and a witty spin on the tortured artist.
A semi-autobiographical film, Supporting Characters features a Who's Who of indie darlings, with engaging performances from Alex Karpovsky (Girls), Arielle Kebbel (John Tucker Must Die), Tarik Lowe, and an amusing cameo from our cover girl Lena Dunham. Capturing both painful and humorous portraits of a film editor's life inside and outside of post-production, editing partners Nick (Karpovsky) and Darryl (Lowe) are thrown into a nightmare of a film that only they can attempt to salvage.
Bringing their own unique rhythmic chemistry to the forefront, Schechter and Lowe examine creativity, race, the lines drawn between friendship and professional relationships, and struggling with mature love. We recently sat down with Schechter, who is in the middle of prepping for his biggest film yet starring Jennifer Aniston, to talk about micro-budget films, Lena Dunham, and learning from past mistakes.
NIKI CRUZ: Sometimes editors tend to be unseen figures that ultimately have all the control over a film's outcome. Is that how you came up with the title Supporting Characters?
DANIEL SCHECHTER: No. The original title was This is My Girlfriend, and then the material between the two guys became so strong that I really wanted to have a poster image of just the two of them, and it just seemed odd to have "This is My Girlfriend." It was just a title that everybody made me feel insecure about. Someone said Supporting Players, and then I think I turned it into Supporting Characters, and it just had a warm feel. It worked in terms of smaller players in terms of a movie, small players in terms of real life. It just seemed to have an appropriate feel for the entire movie.
CRUZ: Supporting Characters felt very much like a mumblecore film that you would see from the Duplass brothers. Did you have those types of influences in mind?
SCHECHTER: I was wildly jealous of mumblecore movies, because I actually started out making movies for much higher budgets, like high six figures. Those movies felt very ingenuine to me, and I would watch Joe Swanberg, the Duplass brothers, and Lena Dunham, and they had these micro-budget movies that seemed deeply personal and would be really entertaining. I wanted to make one of those films.
CRUZ: Our cover girl right now is Lena Dunham. How did her cameo come about?
SCHECHTER: I know Lena. We're friends. I gave her some notes on her very first film, called Creative Nonfiction, and we sort of buddied up, and she was somebody that I was able to call and say, "How do you make a $40,000 movie and what can I learn from that?" She was also the one to introduce me to Alex Karpovsky, who I decided I wanted to play a movie version of me.
CRUZ: You and Alex have a similar comedic tone in your work. Did you always have a comedic tone in mind with this project or did that evolve?
SCHECHTER: I had seen only his acting work up until that point. I had seen him play a really nice guy in a movie called Beeswax by Andrew Bujalski. Then he sort of plays more of the standard prick as he does in Tiny Furniture. I figured I'm kind of somewhere in between a nice guy and kind of a confident asshole type, so that was pretty perfect.
CRUZ: Since Alex is essentially playing you, how much of what we see onscreen is your story?
SCHECHTER: I would say it's 50 percent autobiographical, and the same goes for my co-writer Tarik Lowe.
CRUZ: How did Tarik become involved in the project?
SCHECHTER: He was an actor, and we met at a poker game. He kept on showing me writing of his, and his writing was good, but it wasn't great. It was the kind of stuff people tend to write in film school. He never went to film school, so he never sort of got all of those clichés out of his head. Once I started calling him out on it, his writing got exponentially better. We just wanted to write, like you said, a mumblecore project that would be a vehicle for me as a director and for him as an actor.
CRUZ: It was intriguing that this working relationship took place for the most part in post-production. Why did you choose to center this story around two editors? Why not writers?
SCHECHTER: I needed these guys to work together to have a place where they could essentially bitch about their significant others. I chose editing because I come from an editing background, and I thought it was a bit of an unsung hero in the filmmaking process. I thought maybe I could make this movie more about editing, more than a movie about making movies. Modern Romance is a massive influence on this movie, where Albert Brooks plays a film editor going through a personal crises.
CRUZ: Is it safe to assume that there was a bit of improvisation on set? The space in conversation felt incredibly organic.
SCHECHTER: Every actor that we hired was a really good improvisational actor, but we worked really hard on the script to make sure there was a great first case scenario. So I would say the movie is about 85 percent scripted and 25 percent loose. Tarik and I, when we were writing because I was essentially Nick, and he was essentially Darryl we would do two or three scenes that we recorded a bunch of takes into an iPhone recorder. Then we would listen to the best takes back and kind of cut and paste certain lines together. We would get really good scenes that way.
CRUZ: Is that because you were on a micro-budget?
SCHECHTER: I really wanted something that looked polished. I think so many people embrace the fact that it would have bad lighting, bad sound, and amateur actors. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to have something that I was very proud of the aesthetic. I got a really great cinematographer, and we looked for really high quality locations, and we were very careful about our compositions all the way through.
CRUZ: Was the working relationship of the film always apparent to you as you were writing the script, or did you really want it to be more about their relationship with their girlfriends? The two themes run parallel.
SCHECHTER: Yeah, I would say originally it was much more about relationships but then writing about editing was so fun and irresistible. I also feel like me and Tarik wanted to capture this thing he and I had. We would go out and we would rag on each other and people would laugh. We had an interesting dynamic, and I think a part of that was because one of us was white and one of us is black. We had an interesting rapport. It seemed worthy of its own movie.
CRUZ: One of the most enjoyable moments was the placement of Childish Gambino's "My Shine." He's a musician that often speaks about racial dynamics in our society. Can you elaborate on the role of race in this film?
SCHECHTER: Tarik and I are obsessed with race, probably all the time—probably much more so than Nick and Darryl. There would be something disingenuous if we didn't point out to people that one was white and one was black. I think we do it with a semi-delicate touch. It doesn't come off in every single scene, but somehow I think it adds credibility of the relationship.
CRUZ: The line "do it better next time" stuck out in this film. What does your "next time" look like for 2013?
SCHECHTER: That's the key line to the entire movie. I'm the type of person that tends to beat myself up about the mistakes I've made, whether it's in my career or my personal life. I think it was me telling myself that one of the few blessings that comes with a break up or with a new job is that you get a clean slate. You can start over again and you can only learn from your mistakes. That's essentially the theme of the movie. Right now I'm in prep for a dream project. It's based on Elmore Leonard's novel. It's a pretty big budget movie with Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins, and Will Forte. It's a '70s crime movie that takes place in Detroit. It's a treat.
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON VIDEO ON DEMAND.