It's Hard to Compete With My Blind Brother
Sophie Goodhart on expanding her award-winning short into a feature
For Sophie Goodhart, one of the toughest challenges of turning her 2003 short film "My Blind Brother" into a full-length feature of the same name was staying afloat. Literally.
"One of the greatest challenges of trying to make your first film is that it's really, really hard. It wasn't a very expensive film, but the main scene is on the water. You can't shoot it for $300,000, so trying to get someone to give you enough money to make this as a first film was really difficult. It was the perfect storm of getting money, finding a producer who was great, and getting agents excited who would show actors. I kept having near misses and by the time it came together, I was pregnant and thought, 'Oh shit, is anyone actually going to allow me to get in a boat six months pregnant?'"
Pregnancy was the least of Goodhart's concerns. Thirteen years after her short film version of My Blind Brother played SXSW in 2003 and led to her nomination for a Palme d'Or at Cannes, she returns to Austin for the world premiere of her first feature film, a remake of the wildly successful short under the same name, about the sibling rivalry between an egotistical, athletic blind man named Robbie (Adam Scott) and his sighted, guilt-manipulated brother Bill (Nick Kroll) as they prepare for Robbie to compete in a triathlon. Though the feature hews closely to the original short, Goodhart, who wrote and directed both films, didn't intend to remake her own work at all.
"After Cannes, I thought it was done and I was finished with this story. And I was thinking about the Rose character," says Goodman, referencing the film's origin story for Jenny Slate, who plays Kroll's love interest. "You know when boyfriends die? There's this sweet victim/hero of the girlfriend, and I wondered, 'What the fuck would happen if you broke up with your boyfriend on the day of his death and everyone knows?' You're just a shit villain.
"So I started thinking about Rose and I wrote a whole different script, just about her. And then I started thinking, what if I put her in a relationship with Bill, because they both have strange, complex relationships with guilt?"
By Goodhart's own admission, the 14-minute short film is much darker than the updated tone of the slightly romantic (yet firmly blue) feature, a conscientious choice to keep the film from veering into a grudge match between two seemingly unlikable characters – the vainglorious, blind Robbie, and perpetual sad sack Bill.
"I got these great actors, so I could quite quickly connect to seeing them in the roles. What I love about Robbie is this discovery that he has to be this way in order to manage his life. It's really, really hard work. He's got to carry on pushing because no one is going to push for him, and you give that character to Adam and suddenly he brings such a beautiful sensibility to those moments. You think he's a dick, and then he shows you a flicker of vulnerability."
It's the acting that Goodhart credits most – heaping praise equally on Kroll, Scott, Slate, and an immensely charming Zoe Kazan – with elevating My Blind Brother to more than just a taffy-stretched remake of the original. And lest you consider it selective bias, Goodhart's gut may have been more than just a little intuitive.
"I was very, very pregnant during this film. I was enormous, and sort of hormonal, and a few of the times I'd be watching Adam do something and just say 'Oh my God,' and the next thing you know, I'm violently weeping."
Narrative Spotlight, World PremiereMy Blind Brother
Saturday, March 12, 7:15pm, Topfer Theatre
Monday, March 14, 4pm, Alamo South Lamar
Friday, March 18, 2:15pm, Alamo Ritz