One of the biggest draws at this year's CineVegas was Matthew Wilder's "Your Name Here", a trippy headgame that's half wildly fictional fantasy and half a Philip K. Dick bio-tribute. The audience certainly seemed torn in two after the screening, some were outright baffled while others couldn't stop singing its praises at the after party. Love it or hate it, you can't deny that it's not your everyday film experience.
The film stars Bill Pullman in a fantastic turn as 70's science fiction writer William J. Frick who begins to lose track of his own reality as he stumbled on brand new ones altogether. He's joined by Taryn Manning, Traci Lords and M. Emmet Walsh who end up each playing various manifestations of people and events in Frick's life.
I caught up with writer/director Matthew Wilder to chat a little about bringing his vision to the screen and how much impact the actual life of Philip K. Dick had on his work as well as a little about his next film, a biopic of porn star Linda Lovelace.
Collider: How did you come to be involved with "Your Name Here"?
Matthew: This was a script I wrote a long time ago. It was originally called "Panasonic" which means "all sounds at the same time". Of course that was kiboshed by the Panasonic corporation. I thought, "You know, can they really own a word?" That seems wrong. If you made a movie called "Apple" could they stop you from doing that? Maybe they can. So it was called "Panasonic" and it was essentially the same script. It was about this visionary kind of 70's science fiction writer, William J. Frick. It's about reality and illusion. Like, are we really having this conversation or are we dreaming that we're having it or are we remembering it in our old age? In our Alzheimer's, are we kind of remembering this moment? Where does the floor lie? That's what he writes about. You see him at the beginning of the movie and he's got ex-wives knocking on his door and they want their alimony and their child support. He's got the IRS after him. He's living with these bikers in this slobby house where they're mixing Meth in the basement, you know, drinking all day. And in the midst of all this, he's trying to pull together his masterwork which is this book about his encounter with God in an East LA taco stand. He had this sort of epiphany and he can't quite figure it out. The only way he can figure it out is to write this giant book. And at the end of it is the meaning of life. He's going to have it all locked. To get to that final chapter, he's going to work it all out. So in this sort of "Alice in Wonderland" fashion, as he's trying to get to that end point, he consumes an illicit substance -- we don't know quite what it is -- and he flips over backwards and conks his head. When he comes to, he's gone through the rabbit hole. He's in a different reality. He's in a different universe. He keeps falling asleep and waking up in different realities. In one, he's worshipped as a combination of Jesus Christ and Elvis Presley. In another one, it's a crime to be him. If you even look like him, the Government will shoot you on sight and drag you off to prison. So it's really about him trying to figure out where does reality really lie? Where's the bottom? In a larger sense, it's about that question for all of us. What constitutes the reality of the real?
Collider: A lot of the character obviously comes from Philip K. Dick. Are you a big Philip K. Dick fan?
Matthew: No, I wouldn't say that. This has been a big bone of contention, the Philip K. Dickness of this. This was always intended to be a very fictional movie. It's a fantasia on his life where he interacts with robots and holograms and so on... The thing I liked about this was, it gives you a kind of opportunity to meld religious obsession with a personal, kind of sexual pathology, a political paranoia. Events of your own biography. Like in his books, all those things start pinwheeling together. This was an attempt to kind of do that in a movie. You take all those balls and just try to juggle them together.
Collider: You mentioned at the screening that Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch" was a good comparison. What else did you look at for inspiration?
Matthew: There's a real good one. I friend of mine, I don't know if you know -- a writer named Lem Dobbs. Lem Dobbs is like the best writer who doesn't direct movies. He wrote this movie "Kafka" that Soderbergh directed that was also a big influence on this. It's a movie about Kafka waking up in a Kafka novel. The cool thing in Lem's script is that it's not quite that. You hear that and you kind of go, "Oh, I get it. Kafka's running around and there are shadowy men." But there's a bit more. There's a bit of excess that doesn't quite fit in. And "Naked Lunch", I think, has that also. That's what we wanted to kind of get at here. It colors outside the lines, so it's not just, "Oh, I know what William s. Burroughs is all about and la la la." That movie, "Naked Lunch", for example, it spirals out a little bit. You start getting into the real Cronenberg things like the bug typewriter and all that stuff. It's not Burroughs anymore. That's why when people see the Philip K. Dickness in this, it's not PKD anymore at a certain point. For us, Frick is just Frick. Frick really is a guy. He's a different guy. He has his own shtick and his own pathology. He's himself. He's like a tumor or something that grew out.
Collider: How quickly did Bill Pullman come aboard?
Matthew: He came right away. We had the first bunch of casting people who worked on this. There was a guy, I think, at APA who really wanted to pull Pullman in to his stable so he kind of floated the script to him to kind of tantalize him. Pullman didn't actually get with this guy, but he did do the movie. It was great. He just read it and met with the guy a day or two later. He talked very briefly and said, "Let's do it!". That was the master stroke. After that, lots of people came following after him. People we couldn't have gotten in a million years signed on because they wanted to do something with him. It's rare. Taryn Manning, who I think is one of the great actors. But you know, she rarely -- look her up on the IMDB -- you don't often see her with someone like Bill Pullman. You'll see her with teenage him-bo number three, but not with a guy like that. I think that was a real lure for people. They said, "Wow, I really want to get in there with a heavyweight."
Collider: A technical question; What did you shoot on for this?
Matthew: It was shot on HD on the digicam.
Collider: And the process was fast?
Matthew: Oh my gosh. It was crazy. It was 15 days and the amazing thing is -- I forget when I look at the movie now -- the movie was barely there. Just about everything you're seeing was barely there. Like we just got the end of the scene. For example, the scene where Bill Pullman takes Taryn into the bedroom and kind of flops around on the bed, that room was, while we were doing that, literally falling apart. Stuff was taken out of the sound where -- not the headboard, but the footboard of the bed when they flop over, he's literally kicking the shit of that thing on the floor. It was like the walls were going to just fall down at any moment. Things were just held up with Scotch tape. But they work. It's one of those things where, at first, you're just holding your ears, but you get to the end of that first or second take and you're like, "Hmmm. Nice." Because of the cast and the DP and the design, it works. But I'm telling you, man, it was barely there. The whole movie was barely there. It feels like it's part of the Frick-like nature of the whole thing. It was just effervescent. It felt like it was going to just blow away at any time.
Collider: You shot in and around LA?
Matthew: It was shot in this incredible part of town called Huntington Park down Soto street... Huntington Park is cool. We didn't even get that much of it. If you go down there, it's like a very industrial thing. Everything around there, all the signage and the burger joints is like 1974. The 7-Up signs are the old logo and the taco stands and everything there is like that. The freaky thing about that place is that we shot in this old beat-up studio called the Escarpment. Not too far from that is -- if you remember De Palma's "Carrie" -- is that slaughterhouse with the mural where Travolta goes to kill the pig with the sledgehammer. That's like right next door. Every night at like eight o'clock they would just have like a slaughtering party. It was horrifying because you would just step outside the studio for a second and it was like "Schindler's List" or something. There was just the stench of blood. It's unbelievable. But that seemed appropriate, somehow, too (Laughs). We're shooting this movie in the middle of an abattoir. That's where Indie cinema is in 2008.
Collider: Let me ask real quick about the baby in "Your Name Here". It has a sort of "Blue Velvet"-ey robin feel to it.
Matthew: (Laughs) That's hilarious! You mean deliberately mechanical? There's a line. Like I mentioned in the Q&A, Bill Pullman said, "Oh, we gotta do this baby!" The reason we landed on the baby was that -- strangely enough -- if you look at "Children of Men", it's about as good as the baby in "Your Name Here". Which is to say, "eh." You're not sitting there saying, "Oh my god! Where did they get that baby?" It definitely has a mechanical feel. It feels kind of appropriate to the pulp novels that this guy would write. When you see the baby, it feels a little like those early 80's Carlo Rambaldi -- what's the name of the one with the monster poking out of the toilet? "Ghoulies!" It's about a "Ghoulies" level. And that just felt right to me in terms of the pulpiness of the whole thing. It's not the Peter Jackson. It's kinda the "eh" version. There's something kind poignant about that where you have the actress who plays her. Adair Tishler, she's on "Heroes". She's one of the superheroic children on it. She's also the girl that sings at the end [of "Your Name Here"] and does the voice of the baby. I think there's a lovely simplicity to her voice that, combined with that freaky animatronic baby is just very touching about that to me.
Collider: Do you know what's next for you?
Matthew: Yeah! I'm making a movie called "Inferno", also set in 1974 and it's about the 70's porn star Linda Lovelace. Anna Faris plays Linda and Sam Rockwell plays her husband. It's set in the same period as "Your Name Here", but it's a very different movie. "Your Name Here" is kind of a movie you think about. You sort of stroke your beard and reflect on. This is very visceral, in-your-face, very upsetting movie. It doesn't have the whimsy, I think, of "Your Name Here". It's a very dark, kind of two-handed movie about a marriage. It's like the grindhouse version of Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage".