Daniel Schechter on 'Supporting Characters' and Indie Filmmaking
Shalom Life talks to the rising director about his new film and an upcoming project starring Jennifer Aniston.
It may seem like everything is happening a little too fast for writer-director Daniel Schechter, but it’s been a long time coming. The New York-based filmmaker dreamed of being a director since he was a kid and now his lifelong goal has come true. His latest film, Supporting Characters -- the second feature he’s ever directed -- premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to rave reviews.
Supporting Characters tells the story of two best friends who are brought in to edit and rework a movie. But what’s supposed to be a business assignment eventually turns personal. The indie film stars Alex Karpovsky (a.k.a. Ray from HBO’s hit new show Girls) and features a cameo from Schechter’s friend, Girls creator and star Lena Dunham.
If you haven’t heard of Schechter yet, you’ll definitely be hearing about his new movie. The project, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch, will star none other than Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell. We caught up with the rising filmmaker to talk about Supporting Characters and how he’s making the move from indie filmmaker to big-budget movie director.
When did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Ever since I was young, its all I ever wanted to do. I had an uncle who was in the "biz" out in California, so even before most kids my age, I was sort of aware someone was writing and directing even the cartoons I was watching. I feel very lucky that I always had "a thing." Some people never find that.
You’ve been very successful at making movies with tiny budgets. What advice do you have for filmmakers who want to do the same?
Don't make a short film, just go ahead and make your feature. For many reasons but mainly because they're so cheap to make today, and I'd rather see a mediocre feature than a polished short. Also, watch other films of the same budgets and see what they do right and wrong. Lastly, make something personal; it'll likely make more sense and help you connect with audiences.
How did you come up with the concept for your latest film, Supporting Characters?
The film was based on the experiences of me and my best bud, Tarik Lowe (a terrific, very funny actor who went on to play one of the film's leads.) I was sort of having issues in a longer-term relationship I was in, and he was struggling with a recent, short-term fling. Much of the movie is fictional, but so much was taken from something that may have happened to us literally days before we would write those scenes. Since I didn't act, I hired a wonderful actor named Alex Karpovsky (HBO's Girls) to play a version of myself, and it just so happened Tarik and Alex had this wonderful chemistry that's really the heart of the film.
Supporting Characters was well received at Tribeca. How important was it for you, as a New Yorker, to have your movie premiere there?
It's the best. Even if you're lucky enough to play at another premier U.S. festival (like Sundance, say) only a small portion of people who really care about you and the film can attend. But in New York, not only could all my friends and family come out to support, but so can the cast, the crew and all of their friends and family. It's a pretty once-in-a-lifetime occasion, to have your small, scrappy film play at such a prestigious level. Easily one of the best weeks of my life and I'm really grateful to that festival for selecting the film.
You don’t often see movies that revolve around two friends. Why do you think they’re somewhat rare?
It works better for a film like mine, which is small, quirky and personal (like Swingers, Clerks, etc). More studio films have to be plot heavy, and those kinds of nuanced relationships aren't as fun to explore in those vehicles. Unless its like Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan meeting, but that's an entirely different animal. I think what makes this film special is that its about two friends, written by those two friends, with no interest in romanticizing the friendship or those characters. It’s a pretty fair, often harsh look at us as people.
Alex Karpovsky has been getting a lot of positive reaction for his performance in Supporting Characters. What made him a good fit for the film?
He was simply the best person I could've cast for that role, which surprisingly isn't often the case when it comes to why an actor is cast. I couldn't think of anyone that I wanted to play ME more, that would be a realistic version of me. But even Alex is an improvement over my "persona." He's a lot more calm and magnetic, with unbeatable comic timing... yet when you watch him, it helps you get into the film because he just feels like a "real guy," for lack of a better description. I'm very happy I was aware of him, and that he took the part.
Speaking of Alex, his Girls co-star Lena Dunham is also featured in your movie. How did you get her on board the project?