Chicago native Steve Conrad, writer of The Weather Man and Pursuit of Happyness, has his directorial effort, The Promotion, with Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly, coming to theaters this Friday. I had a chance to converse with Conrad on myriad different topics, ranging from how excited he was about the Bulls getting the number one pick in the draft (his response–”oh, my son mentioned something about that this morning”) to Conrad’s upcoming film project he’s developing with Brad Pitt (more on that in a sec).
First, I wanted to ask Conrad about filming in his hometown.
FSR: What about the city warranted the story taking place here? Or, rather, what about the city enhanced the filmmaking part of it for you?
Conrad: Well there’s really two reasons I wanted that. The story is about writing for a living and what it might all eventually add up to. I learned how to work for a living while living in this city, so it seemed pretty natural. Also, just being able to work here! I live here with my wife and son so it was very convenient for me.
I like they way that The Promotion leans into, but then shies away from cliché. For instance the relationship between Jen (Jenna Fischer) and Dr. Timm (Bobby Cannavale) appears a bit sketchy in Doug’s eyes. Lesser writers would’ve taken that somewhere obvious but you used it to showcase Doug’s insecurities, the same way with Richard’s drug problem.
Those elements you talk about, and I like that you used the word insecurity, are worthwhile to resist when writing. It allows you to stay interesting. You want to remind people about the things in their lives, relate to those. You don’t want to constantly remind people of different movies. You know, you don’t always need a bad guy to remind us there’s bad things in life.
That was very apparent with these characters, that they’re just like normal people.
Yeah. In real life you’re not competing with guys in eye-patches. When you go in for a job interview you’re competing against guys with families who are probably just as qualified as you are. We compete against good people, generally.
The Promotion, like Alexander Payne’s Election, shows characters making questionable moral decisions. How important is it to you that you make sure these are clearly defined three-dimensional characters so that we don’t just brush them off or label them?
Maybe getting a managerial job at a grocery store is kind of a small thing on the grand scale, but it’s huge for these characters. It’s like how big that student-body election was in Payne’s film. These are two guys trying to take a small step for a huge gain. These are big life decisions. Should I take this job? Should I buy this home? Morals are called into question for all decisions in life, big or small. Can these characters remain decent when they see something they want? Should they?
Before I let you go, what’s the deal with this Chad Schmidt movie?
It’s this project I’ve been developing with Brad Pitt where hopefully he’ll star as a man in the early 90’s who looks like and is competing for the same roles that go to Brad Pitt. So people will basically make fun of him for looking like Pitt.
That sounds hilarious.
The Promotion hits theaters this Friday. Some side notes about Conrad: If you see The Promotion you’ll know that the guy who keeps slapping Seann William Scott (a character named Teddy Grahams) is actually Steve’s brother, Chris Conrad.