James Westby returns to the Tribeca Film Festival, this time as writer-director-editor of “Rid of Me,” in fact, he shot the entire film himself. Vimooz.com’s Francesca McCaffery spoke one-on-one with the delightful director-star team of James Westby and Katie O’Grady, at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival with their truly wonderful indie comedy “Rid of Me.”
“Rid of Me” follows Maris and Mitch Canfield, newlyweds who move to Portland from California. Meeting his high school crew of friends, Maris loses Mitch and all sense of herself trying to fit in and find balance in her new life. Her life in shambles, she gets a job at the local candy store, befriends a local scenester who introduces to her punk rock and the underground Portland music scene as she tries to grapple at finding her own way. With terrific cameos from Theresa Russell and Everclear frontman Art Alexakis, “Rid of Me” is a hilarious, meticulously crafted and heart-felt little film, and features a true comedic star turn from actress Katie O’Grady. The film also features John Keyser, Storm Large and Orianna Herrman.
Vimooz highly recommends this film as one of the great narrative films at the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Go see it at Tribeca Film Festival if you’re in NYC this week! Tribeca showtimes:
Monday, April 25th 10:30pm Clearview Chelsea Cinema 9
Wednesday, April 27th 3:30pm Clearview Chelsea Cinema 1
Vimooz.com: How did this great partnership between you two begin? (The two are an adorable couple in real life, as well as creative partners.)
James: I had cast Katie in my previous film, called “The Auteur” in a small but really funny part, but I’d written the script for “Rid of Me” years before, in 2003. After working with her on “The Auteur,” she read “Rid of Me,” and she hen really wanted to play a part.
Katie: I read it, and thought, this is amazing! I have to play this part! I had never produced before, but I said, “I don’t care how we do this film, let’s do it with our friends, but we are GOING to do this movie!” We took what we had. People chipped in, and helped out so much.
Vimooz.com: So, James, was Katie then really the impetus to get this going?
James: Oh, definitely. I was holding out for awhile, thinking it would be one of those small independent films with an actor like Sarah Polley in it, that cost $1 million. And then, with Katie, it was just so quick! And I always like to just start making things.
Katie: I set up an office, with two desks, right across from each other. I did! I was like, there’s is your desk, this is my desk.
James: Katie raised all of the money…
Katie: I was just so serious about it. The budget was very small. I literally acted for $100 a day SAG scale, and we didn’t take any producer salaries. But getting rid of things you usually have, that you usually rely on, is kind of liberating. James shot it and light it all on his own, as well…
James: We were able to shoot hundreds of hours of footage this way…I’m also thinking of the editing the entire time. We shot it all in about twenty days.
Vimooz.com: Was “Rid of Me” based on personal experience, James?
Katie: He is Maris!
James: There’s nothing that directly correlates to situations in my own life, but before I got less socially awkward, the more embarrassing thing that would happen with my ex-spouse and her friends I can relate to. I don’t even think that I tried that hard to make an effort (when he felt shy)…
Katie: …and Maris doesn’t, either…
James: …But a lot of people seem to grab onto that (aspect of feeling awkward) aspect of the film. And the idea of obsessing about your partner’s previous relationships is in there, as well.
Katie: From my experience, as a woman watching the whole film, I think what we’re all (as women) really looking for is that peace in there, in your mind, that quiet space, when you’re not always thinking “what should I do?!” , or about the exes, or about your life, what you’re doing or not doing…”You’re not trying hard enough!” And by the end of the movie- Maris is quiet. It’s….enough. And for her, just loving herself, being with people who love her and believe in her, it’s just-enough. That’s one of the things I keep telling my best friends over this year, ever since knowing Maris and playing her, is that-you are enough! Just today, you’re enough.
Vimooz.com: Tell us about the process of making “Rid of Me.”
James: I edited the film for a year and a half. We shot a lot of footage. I always want to edit at my own place. It’s like a whole process me-directing, camera operating and editing.
Katie: He is a great writer and a great director, but he has a true love of editing. I love watching him work, it’s so great.
James: We’d love to do big movies, but I always want to always be able to make films that are “Rid of Me” sized, no matter what happens. It was just like a family of people.
Katie: We shot it all on weekends. We took what we had. Everyone just chipped in, it was amazing. Whatever we needed… When you have a deep passion and a deep love for something, you can make it come to life. I mean, you can get sidetracked, and say, “Oh, it could do this and this, if we had more money,” but we just stuck to the characters and the arc of it. We cast our good friends. The actor John Keyser who plays my husband Mitch in the film, he was in my very first acting class, and I met him the very first day there, eight years ago.
James: The character of Jeremy, the record store guy, is played by our Sound Operator. I wrote the part for him, I didn’t even have to write it for him, that’s him!
Katie: We had a few small handful people who really came together. If we needed a last minute location, our make-up girl said “Oh, I know a great place, I’ll call so and so!” and someone from wardrobe would go pick up a prop when we needed it. They did craft service out of my kitchen practically. One day we did craft service out of my truck. I mean, I love shooting in Portland. One day, we pulled up to this woman’s house, (a total stranger) and said “We love your house!” and she let us shoot there!
James: We were there for a good five hours. She brought us lemonade!
Vimooz.com: Katie, you really transformed yourself for the role of Maris, right?
James: Katie’s very pretty to me. She had long blonde hair at the time. I thought (initially) she could play the ex-cheerleader, man-stealing Brianne character.
Katie: I lost some weight for the role. I wanted to show how thin and drawn she was, her fragility, and how unhappy she was, even though she was working very hard to convince everyone that she was happy. And her hair was definitely not my color.
James: We had a table reading, and she had already done a few things, and you know, I had always pictured her as a sort of young Shelly Duvall for the role, who is one of my favorite actors. That image of this Maris person, compared to what Katie looks like in normal, everyday life, it just didn’t mesh, but then, she became way more (of the character) than I ever could have imagined.
Vimooz.com: How did Teresa Russell get attached?
James- We were looking for someone great to do this cameo…We gave her the script, and she really loved it. I talked to her on the phone, for, like for 45 minutes, and I geeked out with (Russell’s ex-husband) Nicolas Roeg!
Katie: First of all, she’s a lovely lady, and second of all, that lady’s gotta hot body!
James: She’s really on fire. She’s great, and really supportive of the film. She likes it a lot.
Vimooz.com: What were some of your cinematic influences for the film?
James: Definitely “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” “Three Women,” definitely. I love Woody Allen, Terence Malick.
Katie: “Morvern Callar,” and “Three Women” for this role, I actually thought about a lot.
James: We do like a lot of the same films…(James first film was entitled “Film Geek,” and he worked as a video store clerk in Portland for years)
Katie: But we almost broke up over “Annie Hall!” I didn’t like it as much… (as James does.)
James: Oh, you’ll watch it again, and you’ll like it.
Vimooz.com: It’s so great how the story is not tied up in a bow at the end…
James: We did have it end a little differently before, but then, it’s fun to start the story up again, and imagine where it might go, what they might do….
Katie: James was very conscious of that…But…he did let me have a happy ending!
Vimooz.com: What’s next for you both?
James: The next film we’re shooting next is called “Hot in the Zipper,” and it’s a screwball comedy following the bi-sexual adventures of three women in 1947 Manhattan.