Actor Josh Lawson ("Anchorman 2") has just release his debut film as a writer/director called "The Little Death." The film is a modern romantic comedy that delves into the world of sexual fetishes that is both humorous and fun with a heart. The film has won the audience award at two film festivals, and no doubt that this romantic comedy will win your heart as well. Lawson took time out of his hectic schedule for this exclusive interview about his new film and his view on modern filmmaking.
Lawson describes "The Little Death" as "a really funny contemporary romantic comedy. It's about five couples that are struggling with their relationships and their sexual connection and the drama and comedy that comes with that. And of course, they are linked together by this strange new neighbor, who snakes his way through their lives and the story line. It's not an easy film to describe as it is not the average romantic comedy. And that may be why it took so long to get financing for the film, because I could never really could describe it in one sentence."
It was almost eight years ago, when Lawson was inspired to write this film, "My friends and I were at a dinner party, having a few glasses of wine and we were talking about sex fetishes. It became a very fascinating conversation. We were all being very candid about what turned us on, what made satisfied us and how shocking it was when our partners revealed their own fetishes to us. After the conversation, I wondered how to get this story on the big screen. I wanted something that evoke the same kind of feelings we were having around that table, which were: feeling a bit naughty, feeling a bit turned on, and feeling a bit ashamed - all feelings and titillation that goes along with the subject of sex. I've seen a lot ofmovies and nothing had ever came close to that. So, I started researching fetishes. During my research, I found that there were a million stories to be told, much more than could be put in one film. Well, there is definitely enough for a sequel."
Lawson, a funny person just to chat with, describes the demise of the classic romantic comedy as filmmakers are working to find a new way to reach fans. In this interview, we discussed this in detail, "The classic romantic comedies, when you think of 'Pretty Woman' and 'Notting Hill,' I don't think those kinds of romantic comedies are being made anymore. I think that audiences are just getting a little desensitized to them. Today, they come off as a little schmaltzy, because life is hard. Even though we want to escape, those type of romantic comedies have become too fantastical. I feel to do a romantic comedy these days, you really have to give it some hard edges. I do think that my film is really sweet, even though it goes to some really dark places. Ultimately, I think people leave the film feeling really good.
"Another reason that the usual romantic comedies don't work anymore, is that they are just too glossy. For a time that was really attractive - the wish fulfillment type of film. I think we had so much of that that we really have turned the corner. When it use to be 'I want to be that' it is now 'I want to be represented.' 'I want movies to reflect my life and I don't want so much of the movies to be inspirational.'"
You may think on passing on seeing "The Little Death," after noting the lack of big names in the cast, but that is the exact reason you should see "The Little Death," and in theater as well. Lawson notes his casting choice, "Casting unknown actors was a really big decision for me and a very big battle with the producers. It's a battle a director has - put a bankable star in your movie, but at what cost? I was very resistant to even putting one named actor in there. I felt just one would totally imbalance the film. I fell you need either need all celebrities or all unknown actors. For an example, it would be so odd to me to cast Nicole Kidman with nine people you didn't know. It would be so baffling. I think that all the actors in 'The Little Death' were incredible, even though you may not know who they are. Ultimately, I think it is such a more rewarding experience if you can lose yourself completely in those people and don't get distracted by asking yourself: 'Oh, where I have I seen her before?' I am really glad I won that battle."
Lawson continued, "I think all of the cast is also very cinematic. That is partly to do with the way Simon Chapman, our director of photography, shot it. We shot the film in widescreen. My hope was to make was all those little trivial things done behind closed doors that we do, feel really big. I wanted these scenes to seem almost like their own film. Truly, all of our lives, if put under a microscope could be real movies."
Lawson is getting some rave reviews, including some really kind words from critic Rex Reed, "The writing here is slick, sharp and engagingly romantic, and the acting is memorable. Mr. Lawson blends all of the narratives seamlessly."
Lawson is very pleased that his desire to entertain has hit the mark and how bringing comedy to a film takes a gentle touch, "It was always important that the story and the reaction always felt truthful. And in comedy you can really be tempted to keeping a joke, but it has a big price tag. In post production, occasionally we had to cut a joke that was really funny. If people could joke in a situation when the stakes are really high, then it drops the stakes. What was more important than the jokes, was the story about the relationships."
The most surprising thing to Lawson is how different audiences have reacted to his film by country. He expected Australian audiences to be much more accepting of the sexual situations than that of American audiences, but he found the opposite to be true, "Well, I can absolutely say that before the film came out my expectations would have been that Australian audiences to would be much less conservative than American audiences. That would have been my guess. My experience, however, was the exact opposite. American audiences have embraced this film much more warmly than Australian audiences. American audiences really welcomed this film a lot. There was much more debate in Australian reviews."
Lawson went to great lengths to make "The Little Death," as universal of a story as possible, including the look of his set and production, "I had long discussions with the production designer Xanthe Highfield, asking her to take anything away what she would normally be asked to do. There were chances to get the Sydney harbor bridge in the background, and I said 'no' to those offers. I didn't want anything in the film to remind the audience that this was an Australian film. I think by halfway through the film that people forget that they are watching an Australian film."
On the finishing touches, the music was very important and instrumental addition to his film, "I worked with a music supervisor, Andrew Kotatko ('The Water Diviner'), but a lot of the music I had already thought of using. Andrew did a great job in understanding what I wanted. The music was a battle that I fought very long and hard for what I wanted. It's a wonderful soundtrack. The music really helped to set the tone. They are all great songs, but I picked them deliberately for they all had an emotional job to do."
When asked if he had unlimited resources, what movie would he make, Lawson had a unique take on what seems to be a very good thing, "Well, every idea costs so much. In a way, I like having a few restrictions. Restrictions can often be frustrating, but they can also force you to think outside the box and more often than not things that didn't go my way in the film, forced me to make a decision that ultimately made the film better. I worry about what a film would look like if I had all the money in the world and all the access, because I think I would make more mistakes. I think in my greed, I would ultimately regret not having someone tell me 'no you can't have that.'"
Lawson also makes a connection to a lot of money and film sequels, "In my opinion, having a lot of money is the very reason that almost all sequels are worse. What happens is, the first film is a success and producers say 'you are a genius, you can have all the money in the world to make the next one.' And somewhere in there the film becomes mental, it gets crazy and it loses focus. The filmmaker will think 'I can do anything, I can make it bigger and I'll put more extras in it' and suddenly its massive and the film doesn't have a heart because the filmmakers were not forced to think the way they did the first time when they had to hustle."
Now, with his first feature under his belt and having a successful first film at that, Lawson may face a situation he warns against - the idea of a sequel to "The Little Death." Of course the fans of the film will want another film, but how will Lawson keep the all important "hustle?" Perhaps he will sign a production deal with just a $1 above the budget of "The Little Death" and that will insure that Lawson has just the right number of restrictions to bring all of us movie fans more laughs and more heart. Personally, I can't wait!