Director Gavin Wiesen, who just released his directorial debut called The Art of Getting By, slightly based the film on some personal experiences that one may have had or may soon experience in high school. He sat down with us recently to discuss the making of the film, some of his favorite directors and his upcoming projects.
Check out the interview below.
We Got This Covered: What is The Art of Getting By about?
Gavin Wiesen: The Art of Getting By is essentially a coming of age story of a kid in New York City, George Zinavoy, who’s a senior in high school, who has essentially made it through the majority of his high school years without ever having done a lick of work. He’s someone who’s very bright but ultimately a little bit depressed, a little bit in a adolescent existential crisis of “What’s the point of doing anything and why should he apply himself?” He doesn’t have a lot of friends. He doesn’t have a lot of proof of there being meaning in his life enough to make an effort. And he is befriended by the prettiest girl in his school, who he’s viewed from afar for years and all of a sudden, there’s this sort of tenuous friendship being formed and he’s suddenly out of his comfort zone and all of a sudden, he’s got a lot of things to apply himself to and everything sort of changes for him.
WGTC: Is this story based on anything, like a personal experience or a story you had written beforehand?
Gavin Wiesen: It is. It’s based on personal experiences, not specific ones in my case. I mean, this isn’t strictly autobiographical, but it was me coming up with a story as a way of framing my experiences at that age in terms of how it felt to be 17 and 18 and how it felt to be on the verge of graduating high school and venturing out into the unknown. It’s about the first crushes on girls, first relationships, the uncertainty of how to pursue girls you’re interested in and how much things at that age can break your heart, confuse you and scare you. All of those things were something I really wanted to capture about the experience of being a teenager and capture it in a way that was a little bit more adult and viewed from the nostalgia of my being in my mid-30s when I wrote it.
WGTC: Do you think 17 and 18-year-olds of today’s society might see something that they relate to, or is this mainly for people already out of high school and is kind of a look back episode?
Gavin Wiesen: I think that it plays most strongly to people who are still fairly young, in their teens and early 20s, because they are closest in age to the characters and they can probably relate the most. But, in my experience, a surprising amount of people my age and older and even people who are parents really connect with this because it reminds them of an episode from their past and, sometimes, that’s the most powerful thing of all. So I think that it really kind of spans. I saw that it played really strongly with kids who were in college who were looking back at high school for the first time, but they’ve only just left it. And it played for people my age who hadn’t thought about their high school experiences in years, but it made them remember that girl or that experience or what being a senior in high school was like.
WGTC: I saw that it was originally called Homework before being given the title of The Art of Getting By. What prompted the switch?
Gavin Wiesen: I love the new title. I came up with the new title. I had always known that Homework presents a bit of a marketing challenge. It always did. Even when were making the film, certain people were like, “Well, it’s a great title, but it’s going to be a hard one to market.” The logic of that is you call a movie Homework and you try to get kids who hate doing homework, who have to do homework five hours a day, to spend their hard-earned cash to see it in a theater and they’re not going to want to. That was the main thing. To me, it was a metaphor. It summed up the whole thing. It wasn’t really about homework. It was about the work we all have to do in order to get by in life. But I think, taken too literally, Homework, apparently, didn’t sound exciting enough. The Art of Getting By was a very nice alternative title.
WGTC: With this being your first full-length feature film, what was your reaction once it was all done shooting and production fully wrapped?
Gavin Wiesen: It was a really, really satisfying experience, because I’ve been trying to break into the film industry since I was in college. To see a movie that you write yourself actually get made and you’re able to direct it is incredible. Every single idea, every single shot and every single song had been figured out in my head years before. Literally, the song I was listening to when I wrote the script managed to get to the point where it’s in the soundtrack of the movie. The soundtrack has a Leonard Cohen song and a Pavement song and these songs that inspired me when I was writing it. Similarly, the thing came out much like I had planned for it to look, so it was a really satisfying experience. On top of that, to go to Sundance with this tiny little movie, to have the caliber of actors agree to be in it for zero dollars was a dream come true and the fact that Fox Searchlight bought it. It couldn’t have been better.
WGTC: Were Freddie Highmore and Emma Roberts the actors you envisioned when writing the screenplay, or did you envision someone else?
Gavin Wiesen: I wouldn’t say that I envisioned them. I wrote it because I was envisioning people who didn’t yet exist in the world – characters who were a figment of my imagination. But they were both the first choice. The minute their names popped up, I stopped looking for other actors. In Freddie’s case, the very first thing they had to look for was a George, who is the main character. It never occurred to me that Freddie was old enough, because, like everyone else, I remembered him as a little kid in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But when someone said he was 16 going on 17, I knew it was going to take about a year to get the movie financed and by then he would be almost 18. He’s such a powerhouse actor and he’s got such purity and innocence and such a unique personality and soul that comes out of him. That was it. I didn’t look for anybody else. We got Freddie and then moved on. In Emma’s case, what it came down to was we started looking for, “OK, who’s the young budding movie star/actress who’s this age who could be right for the role?” Emma was the only one I was interested in. It took a while for her to read the script, but once she did, she connected with the material and that was it also.
WGTC: Now, on to your career as a director, what inspired you to become a film director?
Gavin Wiesen: I think it’s true for almost anyone who ends up in this position. I was obsessed with movies from my earliest memory. I never really wanted to do anything else. I am not sure that I specifically knew that that was going to lead to writing and directing when I was at a young age. I was making videos and reviewing movies for my high school newspaper and reading biographies about film directors. It was all I was ever interested in.
WGTC: Who are some of your favorite directors?
Gavin Wiesen: Hal Ashby, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, I mean, I have a lot of favorites. Stanley Kubrick is another. Mostly, the sort of golden age of the 1970s American cinema is really my number one favorite group of filmmakers.
WGTC: Do you have any projects you’re currently working on right now?
Gavin Wiesen: I am. I’m adapting a novel by Benjamin Kunkel called Indecision. I’ve only just begun turning that into a script, and I’m also rewriting a friend’s script that I loved that I think would make a great movie if we get it right.
WGTC: What’s Indecision about?
Gavin Wiesen: It’s a comic journey of a young man, similarly coming of age, but he’s in his late 20s facing his high school reunion. He essentially finds out that there’s a drug that cures chronic indecision and it’s in the experimental phase. He gets himself into the test program for the drug and suddenly, his whole life changes and it leads him on an adventure that leads him to South America.
WGTC: All right, well, that’s all I have, unless you wanted to add something about The Art of Getting By or any of your other projects.
Gavin Wiesen: No, I think that’s it. I mean, I’m psyched that you guys are writing about it. I think it’s a movie that I hope gets discovered by a wider audience, because I think it’s something that people of all ages can connect to and I’m glad for having this interview to talk about it.
This concludes our interview, but we would like to thank Gavin for taking the time to speak with us. The Art of Getting By will be available to rent or own on DVD/Blu-Ray on November 29th.