David Spaltro's …Around is appropriately subtitled, “Embrace the Fall.” For “falling” – both emotionally and financially – is what happens to the film's protagonist, whose hurdles are based on writer-director Spaltro's own experiences while studying film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
…Around follows the travails of Doyle (Rob Evans – a better-looking and more naturalistic James Stewart type), a young film student from a highly dysfunctional family who suddenly finds himself without the means to pay for a place to live in pricey New York. As a result, home becomes where Penn Station is.
Curiously, the film's chief concern is not Doyle's struggle to come out of poverty or to succeed in film school, but his conflicted relationship with a beautiful struggling actress, Allyson (Molly Ryman). Doyle fears that his precarious social (and emotional) condition precludes him from getting involved with anyone – no matter how seemingly perfect. In order to surmount this obstacle, Doyle must first come to terms with the person he is.
…Around had its world premiere at the Tribeca Cinemas in September 2008. Additional New York screenings were held at the New Filmmakers series at the Anthology Film Archives and at the Big Apple Film Festival (BAFF). The film should be hitting more festivals in the coming months (it's been submitted to the SXSW Film Festival), and later this year will become available online by way of Cinetic Media.
David Spaltro has agreed to answer (via e-mail) a few questions about his very personal project, which is described as a film about “finding home.” See below.
Update: …Around is currently available for download/view at Amazon on-Demand.
Photos: Courtesy of David Spaltro
You've said that …Around is based on your own experiences while a film student. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
…Around is a love letter to the places, people, and experiences I had while attending film school at the School of Visual Arts in NYC from 2001-2005. While being asked how much of the film is based on actual experiences – reality – I've tried to stay away from saying “autobiography” or “true story” and leaned more towards “autobiographical” because of my firm belief that once you start writing, it's all fiction simply because you can only tell events from your POV.
It's also four years condensed, with certain characters and events smooshed into a narrative structure, but the heart of it is very much me and certain “economic” struggles and creative solutions to those problems I attempted. It's a valentine to the person I was and in a lot of ways still am, with a lot of word-for-word scenes and some that aren't, but at their core the feelings and emotion are from me and from a place that is very personal.
What made you decide to film (a version of) your difficult experiences? And how much of the film is fictitious – in terms of characters and relationships?
Well, first and foremost I'm a total and complete narcissist…
Actually, I was looking for a story for my first film when I decided I would write and try and direct something, and got tired of my friends rolling their eyes and yelling at me, “How can you not have a story?!” I never thought my own personal experiences would be that interesting, probably because I was so in them at the time.
Then, writing it all sorta came out and was very cathartic, and it was a chance to relive a lot of good memories and sort through a lot of painful ones. It helped me understand and grow a lot, let a lot of stuff go. And it also was a bit of a masochistic exercise when you shoot these moments, then edit them, and then watch them one hundred times over in sound mixes and screenings. But I guess all good film work should probably feel that personal, because even when it's not autobiographical you put that much of yourself into it.
What was it like working with Rob Evans, considering that he was playing a character based on yourself? What made you pick him?
Rob was great to work with as he was very committed to the role and the film. He put blood, sweat, and tears in really “getting it” and going for it. The only times we butted heads at all on set were when I didn't give him extra direction because he was flowing in a scene. I think the pressure of carrying the film and doing all these complicated emotions and covers in one character, he felt that maybe I was abandoning him when he didn't have a “plan.” Later on, he confessed, much as I told him on set, the scenes he got frustrated on or fretted the most and was out of control ended up being his favorites or his best work. Sometimes, you just have to let go and trust that it's clicking; if it wasn't, that's when I would walk over and say something.
Originally, even knowing how talented Rob was as an actor, I was reluctant to cast him because of our many differences both in character and background. Rob grew up with a large family in Alabama, he is a much slower and thoughtful speaker, and is far less of a street-smart hustler and risk taker – as well as smaller in stature than myself. It was during a read-through of a heated scene with actor Marcel Torres ([who plays the character named] “Logic”), where Marcel pushed Rob, that I saw what could possibly work. I offered him the role on the spot.
What about Molly Ryman? Is her character based on a real person?
Molly was an absolute joy to work with and a real find for the role of Allyson, which is based mostly on one real person and also a few others. She was cast in a marathon casting session in January '07 out of thirty NY actresses. Other than being a very gifted actress and a classically beautiful girl, she has the ability to walk into a room and light it up with just a genuine sweetness and energy. She's so committed to the work that her level of excitement about it brings up everyone on set. She's also a very funny improvisational actress and some of the film's best lines and moments come wholly from Molly, such as the “can I get you anything… tap water?” line. She had us in stitches during rehearsals.
I don't think the film would work without her, especially her supporting Rob. It was just the right balance of chemistry. She makes Allyson more than just the “girlfriend.” She makes her real. You understand immediately why this guy does instantly fall in love with this girl – and she also allows the audience to relate to her and walk in her shoes. She truthfully humanizes the dilemma of having any kind of relationship with a person such as Doyle and the complications that can arise when that relationship changes.
…Around doesn't have a pat Hollywood ending. Without giving it all away, why that choice?
I find most audiences love a happy ending and that I in turn hate most audiences…
I'm a firm believer in realism and not cheating with a quaint, little wrap-up. I don't feel the ending is a sad ending, though. I think there is a lot of hope and it's actually more of a new beginning – but [it has been] also earned. And while I do feel we close out the particular story we've been telling for two hours, the last scene of the film could very well be the first scene of a different movie. I find that to be true in life as well as in storytelling. The good fight goes on, always. Or maybe the main character's assessment of his inability to begin or end a story – and being a “shit storyteller” – is just me making a confession of my own inabilities.
What are the distribution plans for …Around?
We've signed an agreement with Cinetic Rights Management (CRM), a division of indie guru John Sloss' Cinetic Media, who will be handling our deals for DVD, streaming online, on-demand and other forms of distribution. It's really a great new company that is on the cutting edge of the future of film and media distribution, whereas in the past a film like ours with no attached “bankable stars” might either get lost on the festival circuit and not find distribution, or die a two-week death at a coastal art house theater and actually lose money. Here, with so many avenues to distribute and show films and media content with little or no overhead, the possibilities are limitless and we are happy to be at the start of it and embrace it.
Any new projects at the moment?
I'm finishing up the script for what I hope to be my next directorial project that I'll be shopping for financing while …Around makes the circuits and is distributed. It's called “Things I Don't Understand.” In some ways it's even more personal a project to me than …Around, and I hope to reunite Molly Ryman, Marcel Torres, and Ali Tobia, who had a small role in …Around as Doyle's sister Lizzie. My biggest regret about …Around is that there wasn't more for her to do and I'm sort of correcting that this time around. I'm also fielding offers and writing other scripts to possibly develop or simply sell.