Magnolia Pictures releases There There at IFC Center on November 18th, 2022.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally, which of those three elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Andrew Bujalski: There There is such a unique and difficult project. I had the most material I've ever had on a movie and I had the most limited possibilities. All I could do was cut from what character to another. Because I was making something unlike I had ever quite seen before, and certainly anything I've edited before, it was a long process. In a way, I don't know if it was any of those things in particular, but it was about finding out what this movie is and how it speaks because it doesn't speak in a way that I was used to.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be fair to compare pandemic filmmaking to the Dogma 95 movement from the 1990's? How do you feel about the Dogma 95 movement?
AB: Some extraordinary movies came out of that and there were a handful of them that all of us have long since forgotten. I found it very exciting at the time. Our restrictions were chosen, too, even though I don't know if we would've tried this if not for lockdowns and all that. That was part of the inspiration. To me, this is not a movie lockdown. We didn't have to do this. There was a period of about three months where nobody could do anything and then, gradually, things started to come back, a lot of bubbles and new rules, and it was very nerve-racking for everyone, I'm sure. By that time, I hadn't abandoned this idea. I was pretty dug-in because this is a unique thing. We're taking something that's inherent to cinema which is how space and time is always stitched together, and we're just going to push it way, way further than any sane person ever has
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you define the term "cinematic"?
AB: I certainly don't have a clear definition. Given context, you realize that maybe it means one thing to one person at one time and another to another, but I think what's exciting to me when you talk about what's "cinematic" is: what can only be done on the screen? What is unique to the art form? So, it's not literature, it's not painting and it's not music---it obviously has elements of all of those things. What we were doing here is, in a sense, it'll be one of the stranger movies that you might see this year or any year, but it's completely cinematic because it could only happen in this medium--this stitching together of time and space, and telling a story that's about trust and faith reaching across these connections of time and space.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Which differences in pandemic filmmaking vs pre-pandemic filmmaking were most challenging for you? What do you miss about pre-pandemic filmmaking?
AB: It was a very different experience. In a way, there is a kind of lingering sadness that comes from it. There's no walking around the block with a performer or anyone from the crew and just talking something through and figuring it out. There's no hug, there's no wrap party. A film set is usually compared to summer camp. Often, it's like these very, very intense relationships formed in this fire and then it ends. You go home at the end of the summer and say, "Let's keep in touch forever." and then you don't. It wasn't like that on this. In a weird kind of Zoom way, there was an intensity, but I was sitting at my desk the whole time. It was very surreal. So, of course I miss that bond, but this was all built around reaching across an impossible divide, so I'm thrilled with that. What I see on screen is imagination, determination, and people who are isolated, but are taking this incredible trust of all of us together. That, to me, is very exciting.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to come up with the title of "There There"? How did you come up with the design of There There's title card?
AB: The title was actually a struggle on this movie because we had a different title throughout the production. It was very late in the game and a very long, tormented story, but we got nudged off of our title because there was another movie coming out with a similar title. So, we had to come up with something else, kind of, last-minute. We kicked around 100 ideas. I was on an email chain with all of the producers. We were all brainstorming what we could figure out that week. The title "There There" is simple and resonant in an odd way. It's very direct because you're watching a movie where no two people are sharing a scene in the same space, so there is a "there" and there is a "there". It seemed to fit. It seemed to have a few different resonances. I always like a title that you could take in more than one way. Sometimes, maybe I err too much on the side of simplicity. Eventually, maybe, sometime in my career, I'll be able to say very concretely, "This is the story about the guy who has the adventure." But I've always tried to look for something a bit more poetic. As for the on-screen title, everything is an opportunity. If you're going to put something on the screen, then it's an opportunity to do something creative. I knew that with this movie, we were making such a weird, lo-fi, handmade, specific kind of thing, that I thought, "The last thing we're going to do here is just go get a nice, handsome digital title. We have to do this analog somehow. This has to be handmade." So, I'm embarrassed to say, I spent way too much time and energy---those letters are made out of felt and I cut them myself. I shot them in my office. We spent some time in post figuring out what to do with them and how to get them to have the right kind of ghostly vibe on-screen.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is a movie's plot, ultimately? I believe that a movie's plot isn't as important as the feelings contained within the plot. What do you think?
AB: I think I feel the way that you do. For better or worse, when I think back on my favorite movies, I'm almost never thinking of the plot; I'm thinking about a moment of transcendence, a moment of magic or the way that an actor delivered a line. So, I'm very interested in structure, how one thing leads to another, and how story movement happens. But, as far as the satisfaction of "Here's a mystery and I'm going to solve it.", in a way I guess I don't relate to that thematically because I feel like my life as I know it and as I grapple with it is a series of unsolvable mysteries. Of course, it's satisfying to find out who the bad guy was and then go kill them, but I don't relate to that so much. Actually getting to bring some of the mystery and the uncertainty of your story is always very exciting to me.