Austin expats make good on the festival circuit with their debut indie comedy
These days Molly Green and James Leffler are writing and directing movies together, but when they first met, standing in line for a South by Southwest film screening in 2007, they were just a couple of University of Texas undergraduates with a similar Hollywood dream. They struck up a conversation, and Green told Leffler about a short film she was making. Leffler suggested an alternate title. Green considered his idea, then shot it down.
By all accounts, it was the beginning of a beautiful writing partnership.
On May 15, they celebrate the official release of their first collaborative film, Forev. It stars fellow UT alums Matt Mider and Noël Wells – the latter now a cast member on Saturday Night Live – as neighbors who, in the course of a desert road trip, half-sarcastically agree to get married.
The two leads had been performing together for years, going back to Esther's Follies in Austin. "We wanted to build something that would be a good fit for Matt and Noël's dynamic," Green says. "We thought, what a good way to put that on display – two people who barely know each other who've decided to get married."
The film's deeper themes mirror the challenges that Green and Leffler were facing at the time they wrote the script, as struggling would-be filmmakers with none of the trappings of a successful adult life. The idea of marriage was particularly daunting. "We were in our early 20s, working these not-so-legit jobs, feeling like we're not grownups," Leffler says, "and we're getting these wedding invitations coming in from friends from college and high school wearing summer dresses and sweater vests and standing under trees with sunlight streaming through."
"It throws you for a loop, or it did for us, because you realize that these people are adults," Green adds. "You start to see marriage as a real thing in the world that could happen to you."
Not that Green or Leffler would ever be so square as to don sweater vests, except maybe as a joke. Thinking seriously about marriage, however, meant questioning their inclination toward hipster sarcasm. "Sincerity is getting harder and harder to come by," Green admits. "It's easier to jokingly say to somebody, 'Hey, let's get married,' than it is to sincerely tell someone, 'I like you.' That difficulty of sincerity was a big source material for the movie."
So far, audiences seem sincere in their appreciation of Forev. After a premiere at the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival, it won audience awards at the Portland Film Festival and the Tallgrass Film Festival. Reviews have been positive – the Examiner calls it a "delightfully funny crowd pleaser" – with more on the way as distributors roll out the release on VOD, iTunes, and other formats available at www.forevmovie.com.
Despite its strong Austin roots, Forev was made entirely in and around Los Angeles. Building on Austin's reputation as an anti-Hollywood for off-the-beaten-track filmmakers, Green and Leffler represent a new scene of Austin expats in L.A. who carry the banner for weird, smart, quirky fare into the belly of the beast.
Leffler, a native Austinite, is a true child of the Linklater era. "One of the key moments early on that made me want to make movies was Dazed and Confused shooting on my block when I was 8," he says. "Then the movie came out, and I saw there was a scene on my pony league baseball field, and my across-the-street neighbor was in it. It felt like something that was available to me."
Forev shares that homemade aesthetic. Much of it was shot on weekends at a rented vacation home in the Joshua Tree desert. "The producers cooked all the meals and drove us in minivans and jeeps," Green says. "People camped by set in tents. There was an outdoor shower, which was really fun because it was 114 degrees out one day. Everyone would put on a bathing suit and hop in. Also, a horse trough full of water that people sat in like an outdoor bathtub."
The fingerprints of the Austin expat community are all over Forev – not just through Wells and Mider, but also several crew members, day players, and all-around favor-givers. "We didn't tell people we were going to make the movie until we were for sure gonna do it, the same way as, in the movie, once they tell people they're getting married it starts to feel real," Leffler says. "But once we started to tell people, all our Texas buddies were like, 'When and where? How can I help? I'm there.'"
Forev debuts on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD on May 15.