NO film at this year’s Raindance Film Festival has a more unusual and unexpected backstory than Jay Alvarez’s Dizzy Pursuit.
Set entirely in a grotty apartment room, Alvarez’s darkly comedic film tells the story of a struggling indie filmmaker (Alvarez) who holds auditions for his next film while he and his girlfriend (Megan Kopp) also contend with bug infestations and awkward family visits.
Yet for all of its humble quirks, Dizzy Pursuits was made with help from the unlikely source of renowned directors Joe and Anthony Russo. After seeing Alvarez’s first film I Play With The Phrase Each Other at Slamdance Film Festival in 2014, the Russo brothers offered to help fund his next film with set visits to Marvel’s blockbuster hit Avengers: Infinity War. A plan that paid off thanks to some added promotion from Marvel superhero star Robert Downey Jr.
As we gear up for the world premiere of Dizzy Pursuit at Raindance Film Festival (3 and 4 October), Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke with writer and director Jay Alvarez to learn more about the bizarre circumstances surrounding his film.
Q: Anthony and Joe Russo are executive producers on your latest film Dizzy Pursuit. Can you tell us about your reaction when they first approached you after seeing your first feature ‘I Play With The Phrase Each Other’ – available to watch now on YouTube – at Slamdance Film Festival in 2014?
A: I was elated in a way that only someone who had endured the indolence, indifference, discouragement, and opposition of countless sour, cowardly, regretful men can be. To enjoy that peak of validation one had to have previously received endless droning lectures. One must have been the nodding victim of tired warnings and bland advice.
There was a time in my adolescence when my mother and I reunited after a period of her absence from my life. And during this time, we mutually discovered Arrested Development and watched the original three seasons together, with intense enthusiasm.
And that show has always represented for me the mending of a wound. And to be discovered and championed by its original directors is an enormous source of personal and maternal pride.
Q: The Russos had a similar break at Slamdance in 1997 when Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney offered to produce their next film. What do you admire about the Russo brothers and how has their influence altered your path?
A: THERE is enough endearment and suavity between those two brothers to inspire a healthy amount of resentment. Their ease and intuition with actors is outstanding. Their innovation, in the original Arrested Development, of pace and compression, informs the intentions of countless inferior programs, that have aired far longer, and collect more awards.
When their encouragement came, it altered the colour of people’s perceptions. This is immensely important when a film is made underground, with amazing discomfort. These types of productions require a rumour of greatness, a transcendent purpose that excuses the pain.
Q: There is something poetic about Marvel set visits funding a film that is set in one dingy, cockroach-infested room. How do you reflect on this entire situation?
A: IT is testament to the Russo brothers’ omnivorous sensibilities, and to the great tradition of established directors fostering underfunded talent. The irony of how the film was funded, how far the commercial spectrum stretched to link our respective worlds, provides a great amount of romance for me.
Q: Robert Downey Jr. also gets a special thank you at the end of the film. How surreal is it to have Iron Man attached to your work?
A: ROBERT Downey Jr. was kind enough to endorse Dizzy Pursuit’s crowdfunding campaign, which provided the money we needed to shoot. I am grateful to him for this contribution, and also for a performance of his in Fincher’s Zodiac.
In this film, there is a scene in which Robert Downey Jr.’s character is seen living on a houseboat. He is wearing boxer shorts, drinking liquor, and demonstrating a lethargy of spirt that betrays a manic ease of thought and speech.
In childhood, I knew a man like this. He was a friend of my parents, who referred to him as my “uncle”. There was an air of retirement about this man that went beyond professional conclusion. Like Robert Downey Jr.’s character, he was an alcoholic, and spent many late nights playing cribbage with my father for money.
I remember the sounds of this man cursing loudly and throwing his playing cards violently at the cribbage board upon defeat. He wore shorts very much the same length as the ones Robert Downey Jr. wore in the film. His bare legs gave off a similar feeling too, except that one of this man’s thighs had large amounts of scar tissue from gunshot wounds he had suffered in the Vietnam War. As a fisherman, he had also spent a good amount of his life at sea.
This man recently died. I am thankful to Robert Downey Jr. that there exists a cinematic link to my childhood figure. Robert Downey Jr. carried this man’s essence, with great authenticity, into a permanent document. It contains his energy, his posture and legs, and while it isn’t featured in the film, you can tell that there’s a poor cribbage game somewhere in that character.
Q: Dizzy Pursuit is a film about artistic sacrifice. How much of this film was autobiographical?
A: ALL transcendent art is autobiographical. In the ways that matter.
Q: Art very much mirrored life for your producer Alexander Fraser. Can you talk about the stress Alexander and his girlfriend went through to help get this film made?
A: THE production’s received a lot of criticism for Alexander’s recent homelessness and for causing he and his girlfriend to live in a storage cage during principal photography. I want to stress that if we hadn’t desperately needed their apartment for the film, they certainly wouldn’t have slept in a cage.
As for the homelessness, I would like to point out that everyone who worked on the film who relocated to Los Angeles during post-production withstood some form of transient housing. It’s true that Alexander was the only one who actually slept outside, but he was eventually able to gain access to an elderly couple’s camper next to the Union Rescue Mission, which, if you’re going to be homeless in Los Angeles, is about as perfect a location as you can conceive of. If we had had enough funds to rent Alexander a hostel bed for seven months, we would have done it in a heartbeat, but that wasn’t our circumstance.
Q: The Russo brothers have commented on the brilliance of your dialogue. What is the art to your skilful dialogue?
A: SCIENTISTS say that it is the result of an ideal level of testosterone in the body. I’m not a scientist, so my understanding of how this works is very simplistic, but from what I gather, this level of testosterone is very high, without being too high. Due to conversations that make me shudder, I know that both my parents had exceptionally high sex drives, which is an indication of high testosterone levels.
While I inherited these testosterone levels, I also possess an exceptional emotional vulnerability to pathos in life and art. This may be how the balance manifests; as two powerful, contradictory forces.
My reaction to stress and personal threat is extreme anger. For instance, if I was being home-invaded, and my perpetrator and I engaged each other in a fight, I would be capable of killing the perpetrator unnecessarily. This is a characteristically masculine potentiality, and the result of high testosterone levels. At the same time, if, before being home-invaded, I read a poignant poem about the perpetrator’s loveless upbringing, I would be much more likely to cry from this poem than the majority of people who shared my capability of gratuitously killing the criminal.
Q: Your first feature ‘I Play With The Phrase Each Other’ premiered at Raindance in 2013. What does it mean to you for ‘Dizzy Pursuit’ to be screened at this year’s Raindance?
A: I am honoured to return to a wonderful festival, in an overcast country, that displays remarkable taste and an ability to champion transcendent talent at a time when it most depends upon the advocacy of courageous associations.
Q: What is your next step? Do you see yourself in the Russo brothers’ position one day or are you happy making smaller scale films?
A: I possess too little knowledge of comic books to direct in that specific genre. My blockbusting future would more likely involve injecting marketable movie stars with a seductive inner life. Also, if I was given pale, voluptuous, greasy dark-haired women with visible ribs, I could sell an enormous amount of perfume.
Jay Alvarez’s debut feature film ‘I Play with The Phrase Each Other’ which first drew the attention of the Russo brothers is available to watch on YouTube now.