Sometimes the best way to deal with serious issues is by having a good laugh. We had a few of them (laughs, of course) with members of ExTerminators this weekend as we discussed the film at SXSW.
ExTerminators is a dark comedy centered on a group of women who have to attend attend anger management after getting a little payback on the bad boys in their lives. As three of the women form a bond, they also find a way to exorcise their domesticated demons in a way that makes them a little cash and leaves their new therapy partners dying for more.
We got the chance to speak to ExTerminators writer Suzanne Weinert, director John Inwood, actress Farah White and actor Sam Lloyd this weekend about the film, SXSW and what would be the funniest Academy Award speech ever.
For those of you attending SXSW, you can check out ExTerminators at 10 p.m. at the south Lamar Alamo Drafthouse on Thursday, March 19th.
Film School Rejects: ExTerminators is a very female heavy production. What drove you to write this kind of a story. It’s a dark comedy but it seems to have a message behind it also.
Suzanne Weinert: There’s a scene in the movie that’s based on something that kind of happened to me in a bar, where Amber Heard actually sets the guy in the bar on fire. That actually happened in a bar in New York on St. Patrick’s Day. A guy was inappropriately touching women and I wanted to st him on fire. My boyfriend at the time very smartly talked me out of it. He said, “New York’s full of drunken assholes. You can’t set them all on fire,” and I really said, “Why not?” That night I went home and wrote that scene. The rest of the movie kind of came out of it. I told these guys that I thought I was writing a drama. Then I heard a reading of it in New York and people were laughing, and I realized it’s easier to get your point across with funny than to try to preach to people.
Sam, what was the difference between playing this role compared to other supporting characters, like on Scrubs, that you have gained a cult following from?
Sam Lloyd: I would say that this isn’t quite the same humor as Scrubs. It’s a darker character as well from Ted so that was the challenge.
How did you find a way to differentiate the characters. There are certain actors who go into deep character study. Did you do any of that or was this a character you could grasp with relative ease?
SL: It took some discovery. Every part is a process as you try to find the right angle and make sure it tells the story, as well as being an interesting person. It’s all a process and I won’t bore people with my process because nobody likes to hear actors talk about the process, especially if I am talking about it. I know I don’t want to hear that. (Laughs)
Farah White: It’s not legal.
SL: (Laughs) That’s true. I could get arrested in about five states if I told you my process.
(Laughs) We’ll go ahead and pass then. [To Farah White] What was it like working on the film?
FW: Well I read the script and saw the word anus and thought, “This part has to be mine. It is meant for me. (Laughter) I just wanted my parents to come and be able to see me say penis and anus in the same sentence on film. No, actually the film was a lot of fun. Everyone in the cast was fabulous to work with. Excellent energy. It was an excellent script from Suzanne Weinert, and John Inwood’s directing was wonderful. He gave me so much freedom with what to do and still got what he wanted out of you. It was such a wonderful opportunity and dark comedy is my favorite genre. I get to do what I love for a living so it was the best of both worlds to do both worlds.
SL: And working with me.
FW: Right. Sam had me.
SL: We’re working our way back to the A word. (Laughs)
FW: I remember I was changing clothes with Heather Graham and I was like, “You guys, I saw Heather Graham naked,” and they were like, “Hello, we’ve seen her naked a couple of times.” I was like, “But she still looks that way in person!”
So the word anus is going to be in your Academy Award speech then?
FW: Right. I would be like, “I just want to say thank you to whoever created the word anus. It’s so awesome to have a ‘u’ and an ‘s’ in the same word.
You’re living the dream.
SW: We put the ‘us’ in anus. (Laughter)
FW: Suzanne Weinert, everyone.
John, you’ve done music videos and commercials. What were some of the challenges of doing a feature length film as opposed to some other of your efforts.
John Inwood: I think directing a movie is analogistic to directing a pilot of a TV show. When you’re directing an episode of a TV show, you walk in and all the actors know their parts better than anyone, and the writers as well. You’re there to execute, plan the shot and make sure you get the coverage. You maybe give a little bit of guidance in terms of pacing actors. But really they know what they’re doing and the script is already in place. It’s great. When you’re on a movie or pilot, the discovery process is happening every day. You’re all finding the roots of the characters. With a black comedy, I found it fascinating because you get on the road and don’t know how far you’re going to go towards comedy and you can’t really control it. You want to see it happen naturally. I think that happened on this film. We all kind of discovered it together. It ended up being funnier than Suzanne felt it might be. But it’s still dramatic.
One of the things I am most proud of with the film is in earlier cuts, well it’s so tricky to blend comedy and drama in the black comedy genre. In earlier cuts, it was a little bit jolting. We went into the editing room and worked on that. At a screening a few weeks ago that Sam Lloyd attended, I asked him what did he think of the blend at that point. I felt it was there. He agreed that it was seamless. You never felt jolted. I would like to say it was my genius, but I was surrounded by a ton of talent and a great script. We worked on it in the editing room as well, so it was a fascinating journey.
I thought you handled it well. It was real life situations dealt with in an extraordinary manner You don’t expect people to be using arsenic to handle their problems, although I loved the Arsenic and Old Lace reference. Are you planning on staying for SXSW?
SL: I have to go back for band rehearsal.
Very cool. For those of you staying, what bands or films are you planning to see?
SW: I really want to see Adventureland. I am friends with Sam Rockwell, so I am looking forward to seeing Moon. I will say this. Three years ago, I was at SXSW and was talking to an old friend of mine. That was the first conversation we had about ExTerminators. So I keep saying it took a thousand days from talking about it to getting to the Paramount and listening to people laugh. As a writer, this is always where I wanted to premiere the movie. It’s a dream come true. I’ve done two other movies in Austin in the last eighteen months and I plan to do more in the future. I love it here. I want to live here.
JI: I am a huge fan of Austin as well. I first came here ten years ago as a DP on a movie. Mirimax pulled the plug after we had spent about a million dollars on it, but the good thing is that I got to know Austin. I didn’t know Texas well. I wasn’t originally thrilled to come. But I fell in love with the place in the two months I was here making the movies. Now I am back and I am looking forward to seeing Adventureland as well. Greg Mottola, the director, and I go way back. I photographed the Daytrippers for him. Some ten years ago, we won the first Slamdance with the film. Now I am going through the interview process like he was. It sort of comes full circle. I was really excited that Adventureland and Greg are here. He’s a film brother and I wish him well. Yeah, I love this town and I am looking forward to seeing more of the movies. I am here til the 20th, so I get to see the bands as well.
SL: I am so jealous of you guys. I am so fricking jealous. It’s a drag that I have to leave. I was so excited that ExTerminators was going to be in this festival because I was looking for any excuse to come back here. Every day, depending on how late we went, I would go out and try to find some music somewhere. I was always able to find great music and people who love and respect the music. I was also psyched to come back for the weather.
FW: I’m very lucky because I am a native Texan, so I have known the city of Austin my entire life. I actually looked into it when I first moved back from L.A. I am shooting a film in Dallas but now I am probably going to come back now that I know you all are going to be staying. I think SXSW is the most exciting combination of film and music festival in the U.S. Everyone loves Austin. As a Texan, you think when the word starts getting out about the town of saying, “Oh no, that’s our treasure!” But there is a sense of pride that comes from it. Of course you love Austin. It’s beautiful. Not many places in Texas are green, have the hills, beauty or have as much to offer as Austin. So I am so glad that SXSW has gotten so big. I love that so many people come here and contribute to the Texas economy. It takes me about half an excuse to get my ass up here.
SL: To get your anus up here?
FW: (Laughs) Right.
It only takes half a second to get the anus revved up. Well I am also a native Texan. So I totally understand. When you look at the film industry, you see the sense of community here. You talk about the thousand day process, supporting other directors that have supported you. I think that makes SXSW special. Not everyone is fighting to get ahead of one another. I’m very glad I got to interview all of you. We look forward to following the progress of the film and hope to see all of you around SXSW.
For more of the best damn coverage from the streets of Austin, keep it locked to our SXSW ’09 homepage.