Bob Byington's Infinity Baby
Austin director has made a reputation for his low-key social comedies
Indie auteurs rarely end up in each other's orbit. Austin director Bob Byington has made his own reputation for his brittle, low-key social comedies, while New York's Onur Tukel is raising eyebrows with his unique fusion of genre and arch satire. Now the duo merge styles as Byington directs Tukel's script for Infinity Baby, a sci-fi-tinged story of babies and men that never grow up.
The pair met at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2012. Byington was there with his breakthrough Somebody up There Likes Me, and decided to catch Tukel's Richard’s Wedding. Byington said, "I walked into a screening of his film about 40 minutes in, and there were a lot of people leaving." It was when the fascinating and complicated Tukel took to the stage post-screening that Byington's interest was really piqued. "He did a Q&A that was unlike any Q&A I have ever seen, where he was using words and asking people what the words meant."
The two filmmakers became friends, and Tukel gave Byington the script for Infinity Baby, a near-future tale of arrested development. The film's resonance with Byington was simple ("I thought it was funny"), but there was something deeper. "I've heard it said that you should be the only one who could make the movie, and I felt that way. I don't mean that as hubris, but I read the script and felt I could make the movie."
Byington increasingly felt that Tukel, who usually directs and stars in his own work, didn't want to make Infinity Baby himself. Indeed, the risk for any writer/director/actor is to second-guess their work. That's a curse which Byington said he saw his collaborator as prone to, such as with his vampire-as-schlubby-hipster satire Summer of Blood. "Great script," said Byington, "but he completely self-sabotaged the third act. ... We didn't do that. We took the script, and we treated it like you'd raise Kobe beef."
Yet Tukel's shadow is still there in his anti-protagonist, played by Kieran Culkin. Like most of Tukel's leading characters, he's modeled on the writer's own life (in this case, his near-pathological commitmentphobia), but that doesn't mean he's the good guy. Byington said, "Kieran read the script and said, 'I don't like this guy. I want to play him.' You don't often hear that. I was directing a movie liking the guy, and Kieran was acting it disliking him, and I think it lead to a certain kinetic tension."
Infinity Baby may also be the only film at SXSW this year with a mid-credit outtakes section. "It was a nod to Smokey and the Bandit," Byington intoned drolly, but then he'd deliberately homaged Airplane! in the closing titles for Somebody up There Likes Me. It's also more than just a hysterical outtake of star Nick Offerman flubbing a line, like a whole subplot involving Baskets’ Martha Kelly. That wasn't originally in the script, and was added to expand on existing elements, but "we just couldn't wrassle that storyline," Byington said. "That's when you discover how determined the script is. It's a lean, mean, fighting machine."
VISIONSWednesday, March 15, 1:30pm, Alamo South Lamar
Friday, March 17, 4:30pm, Stateside