This Tangled Web He Weaves
Small-screen experimentalist Max Juren goes big with his debut feature, 'The Third Person'
There are two trailers for Max Juren's The Third Person on YouTube, and they are both self-deprecating in different ways. One has little more than slow-motion shots of people falling and flying accompanied by Eighties synth ditties while the voiceover of God heckles, saying things like, "Boring" and "This is so slow." The other trailer is edited and soundtracked like a Lord of the Rings installment except with Frodo replaced by snippets of tea bagging (in tea), rhythmic gymnastics, and a flying dog. The two takes on the same film make it hard to estimate how the director and star's first feature will ultimately look. Should viewers put on their snooty specs to prepare themselves for non sequiturs and outré imagery layered with meaning? Or maybe people should slip into their viral video undies and get ready for 80 minutes of Rickrollin' and Web-ready freakiness. The reality is in between ... or perhaps both at the same time.
The film's identity crisis began early in production. "At first I thought this was going to be groundbreaking, and I'd be breaking all of these cinematic rules," admits Juren, "and as I moved along, it turned out to be a pretty straightforward narrative." Juren remembers co-star and co-writer Michelle Devereux observing early on that the movie had a lot in common with "dudes just livin' their lives in a crazy world" films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Weekend at Bernie's. Devereux plays the love interest and helps clarify her role in the writing process thusly: "He has all of these short vignettes that don't really make any sense," she laughs. "I felt like I helped him work it into a narrative plot." Juren concurs, "I couldn't have written a narrative that long without help, and Michelle was a huge part of that."
That plot involves Juren's character going so deep into the modern voyeuristic wormhole of online videos that he comes to see his own life as a movie that he is both watching and directing. That skewed viewpoint leads to action sequences, Bollywood dances, and even a romantic arc. There are more than a few wrenches thrown into the plot from left field, lending The Third Person a feeling of accelerating unpredictability. Add to that sense of a life out of control some dated visual effects, and you've got a finished product that Juren describes as being "rampantly unconcerned with fidelity."
That lack of concern likely comes from his experiences in the realm of YouTube, making short videos that owe as much to experimental cinema as they do to clichéd tropes of the viral variety (see "Crowded Canvas," April 10, 2009). That quick and dirty filming and producing process of getting videos online became a thing of the past as Juren embarked on a three-year production put together with sweat and spit. "If I could have shot it in three weeks straight, I would have loved to have done that," says Juren. "It's a lot to think about for me: getting locations and doing it all yourself and doing it for virtually free." But as the intermittent shooting schedule (or lack thereof) finally came to a close, it was time to think about showing the movie to the masses.
It's fitting that a movie done on the fly and on the cheap should bring the darkened halls of the Dobie Theatre back to life, if only for one night. How exactly did Juren score the Egyptian Room for this feature debut? He asked. Juren explains the process more completely, "I called up the manager, and he was OK with it." End of story. The necessity of providing a projector and sound equipment is a hoop Juren is willing to jump through for the legendary space.
Discussing his own inability to incorporate all of the cinematic themes he started with, Juren says: "As you start to edit, you think, 'That motif doesn't fit.' I have to just make it not boring if at all possible." The Third Person is anything but boring. Despite the hiccups in production and harsh lessons in the editing room, Juren has the heart of a dedicated filmmaker. Self-deprecation is replaced with confidence when Juren discusses the meaning of his movie. He can discuss themes of "auto-voyeuristic egotism" and the "aping of mass-media culture" without hesitation. And it was the hope of communicating these ideas to an audience that motivated Juren. "It was the strength and relevance of these concepts that kept my heart and intellect committed to the project for so long," says Juren, before returning to his usual humility, "... even if the execution was less than exemplary."
The Third Person premieres at the Dobie Theatre's Egyptian Room at the Dobie Mall (2021 Guadalupe) on June 11 at 7pm.