Justin Hilliard’s THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is a confounding movie. And I mean that in the best possible way. It is a confounding movie because it doesn’t fit perfectly within a DVD Library Dewey Decimal System label it and slap it on a shelf kind of way. Because it doesn’t just defy your personal need for it to be a basic rediscovered-later-in-life romance. It doesn’t reject outright your hope for a wayward pursuit of a charismatic, yet enigmatic muse movie. You can’t even pin a proper road movie label on this thing. So, while you are working on reconciling the fact that while it liberally delivers elements of each throughout its romantic adventure, yet not one completely trumps the other – it does something else entirely. Something much more satisfying. It gives you a rooting interest with an original couple. Not two perfect people by any means. But two people you could imagine somehow working it all out. Just not perfectly. And that is confounding goodness.
1 How much autobiographical material is there to the film?
Quite a bit of the film is based on real life events that were experienced by Arianne and myself. Our history is really at the heart of the film and was the primary inspiration for Rose and Alex’s relationship. We went through those same issues of trust, abandonment and love. I guess…luckily, the supporting characters, sensationalized drama, and zany comedy come more from our creative collaboration than our past.
2 Who is easier with the script notes – wife and star, Arianne or good friend and producing partner, Ryan?
Both Arianne and Ryan are incredible collaborators. I’d say Ryan is a little easier to deal script notes. From the beginning of the creative process, he manages to find a few things in the story that he will stick to his guns to get. Whether it’s a nude scene, a zebra, or an alpaca (not necessarily in that order or dealing with one another), Ryan knows what he wants. Arianne is incredible when dealing with characters. She takes on writing from a perspective that only an actor could. She understands such depth and subtleties when it comes to defining very 3-dimensional characters in a film.
All that being said, I’m the one that receives the notes from them. Our process generally consists of us writing out the synopsis and scene breakdown. Then, I take it scene by scene and start to flesh out the pages. Next, Arianne reads through and gives me substantial notes and character ideas. We talk through, butt heads, share a drink or two, and after that, we rewrite and rewrite until we are both happy. Finally, we call Ryan in to read over and make further suggestions and tweaks. When that is done, I return to the script and make the adjustments. Now, whom do I find it easier to take notes from? Ha! I’ll leave that one for another interview.
3 Other than the benefits of screening a film locally, what is the best part of having your film at AFI DALLAS?
It’s a top tier fest with an incredible staff, excellent press coverage, red carpet exposure, and an amazing selection of other films I can’t wait to see. I’m am honored to have THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE accepted in to AFI Dallas and thrilled that I have the opportunity to invite my close friends and supportive parents to a red carpet world premiere. I was born and raised in the DFW metroplex and am looking forward to doing my part in representing the local film community at this year’s fest.
4 What was your favorite location in Texas to shoot?
We shot the above ground pool dare scene at the Purple Martin Ranch in Gilmer, TX. It was so deep country that it doesn’t even register on Google Maps. Despite being extremely hot, it was an incredible couple of days. We arrived the night before with the crew, a couple cases of Lone Star beer, and some scotch. After a relaxing night’s sleep at the ranch house, we woke up and started shooting one of the more entertaining scenes from the script.
Our location was provided by Cecil Martin and his wife. We had a long day that included swimming, some of the best improv outtake lines (provided by the uninhibited and brilliant Michael Price and John Elliott), chasing cows for the perfect shot and the most delectable craft service lunch in history of craft service lunches. Cecil and his wife had cooked us up the best mouth-watering ribs, brisket, homemade potato salad and dessert that I have ever had. It was a wonderful day, and a nice distraction from the fierce Texas heat.
5 What should a director do that they never think of until it’s too late?
Okay, I have three useful tidbits:
First, propose to and marry your leading lady. Because of that choice, I’m linked personally and professionally to the most incredible woman I’ve ever met.
And last but not least, take time to hire people that love what they’re doing and are passionate about their work. Finding a hardworking and collaborative crew is a wonderful dynamic. And don’t take their hard work for granted!
6 What’s the most underrated job on the set?
Well, according to my answer to question # 4, craft service would be up there on the list; however, I’d have to say art direction. My sister, Randi Frances Hilliard was the production designer/art director for THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE. She created the world that our characters inhabit. From costume to location design, Randi was such a primary reason that our film looks the way it does. Of course, Arianne, Ryan, and I had visual ideas from the start, and Ryan and I designed shots and color schemes for the scenes; however, it would all have been pointless without her hard work. The art department’s efforts are as important to the final product as the lighting, editing, direction, performance, et cetera. Randi did a phenomenal job.
7 What was more difficult: Shooting your wife, Arianne in love scenes or trying to keep your dog, Larry David from stealing scenes?
Are you kidding me?!?! Larry, you just put in position, sit back, and witness a pretty perfect subtle performance. Directing Arianne in love scenes was absolutely a challenge. I was literally in the other room watching from a monitor, so I could be as removed as possible. Believe me, I was the first one to say it if I didn’t find it real or true to her character…and that wasn’t easy. I completely trust her as an actress and as a professional. All that being said…they were not the most fun scenes for me to shoot.
8 What were the challenges in creating the right balance between the light hearted and whimsical with the dramatically intense material in the film?
Finding that right balance never seemed like too much of a challenge once the script took shape. It always felt like real life and especially the reality for these characters. We all have moments when we’ve been goofy, silly, happy, adventurous, or head over heels for someone, and I’m sure there’s been a separate time when we might feel the opposite, maybe heartbroken, lonely, helpless, or hopeless. Good and bad exist.
The balance between the two came with the relationship between ‘Rose’ and ‘Alex’. They are both people who want to trust, hope, love and explore a life where happiness is possible. A life where the good either outweighs the bad or you have someone to trust and share the burden with you. I also tried to give this film an equal share of some of my main influences. As much as I draw on the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s films, I am equally inspired by the brilliant zaniness of Looney Tunes cartoons. From Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards to DeNiro and Scorsese, I pulled from all that I love in cinema, television, music, and art to help appropriately tell the story of THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE.
9 What was the last film that made you cry? Laugh out loud?
Well, this year I’ve missed quite a few films, since we’ve been busy making one. Last film that made me cry was probably LA VIE EN ROSE. Last film to make me laugh out loud was either THERE WILL BE BLOOD or BURN AFER READING. Last film to make me cry and laugh out loud at the same time….has to be PUNCH DRUNK LOVE.
10 Popcorn or candy?
Got any scotch?
Your production company is called “Striped Socks Productions” Explain.
In ninth grade, I played bass in a band with some of my friends. We’d practice about thirty minutes, get bored, and decide to grab a camera and shoot a short film. One day, we were trying to pick a name for our band and our drummer looked as his socks and said, “Uh, how about Striped Socks?” We all laughed at him and told him how that was such a ridiculous name for a band; however, the next time I shot a credit sequence for one of our short films, I scribbled ‘Striped Socks Productions’ on a piece of paper and officially had a production company name. It was the perfect name to represent the fearless joy and passion that I had for pursuing filmmaking as an artist. No matter what else was taking up my time in life, I needed to make films. That was the case then and now. That is ‘Striped Socks Productions’ (http://www.striped-socks.com). I love being a storyteller and filmmaker. No matter where I’m at in life, I’ll be doing those things.
THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE screens Sunday, March 29 at 9:15PM @ NorthPark 3 and Tuesday, March 31 at 10:15PM @ Magnolia 4.
Justin Hilliard, Ryan Hartzell and Arianne Martin will attend both screenings and participate in Q&As afterwards.
Jess Weixler was the girl from TEETH. If you are one of the film fest faithful (or frankly, even if you weren’t) that’s what you heard. “Wait, a minute wasn’t that the film where the girl’s hooha had teeth?” And if you did more than just recoil at the thought of the film’s premise or giggle like a teenager at the idea and saw the film, you likely had a gotcha moment. And much of that was due to Jess Weixler and specifically her level, yet emotional performance. And now, in PETER AND VANDY, she follows up with a tortured romance opposite solid-as-they-come Jason Ritter. And when we say tortured, we mean the kind of torture that evolves when two people are not made for each other. Yet still love one another. It’s a simple equation that just doesn’t add up. And one of the reasons that ultimately make it tangibly tragic is that longing to make the relationship math work that Weixler conveys. I’ve been there. And you’ve been there. And Weixler does a damn fine job of reminding us how much it could suck while still holding on to the hope that it could all still be good again.
There is an admirable quality about the way the characters you and Jason Ritter play in PETER AND VANDY are presented that is more than willing to delve into the mismatched at best or unlikable at worst. How tough is it as an actor to fight against our natural urge to be liked or seen as attractive?
Thank you. Yeah, I would say the urge to be liked is one of the harder things about acting. You personally want to be liked, but what people/ characters want at a given point in time is not always admirable. What is likable about everyone is usually not the full story. Every character I play I want to be whole and flawed, but what’s good, is that usually people are trying to make their lives better, there is just no quick answer for that. Yeah – sometimes when I see myself do stuff on screen I think ‘yuck, what is your problem?’.
Was there an official ceremony where Zooey Deschanel handed you the indie girl crown she received from Parker Posey or has she not willingly surrendered it yet?
Ha! I would be hard pressed to say that Parker Posey or Zooey Deschanel have taken off their crowns, nor should they. I believe they are both still the queens of their own indie universes. I just want to hang with them.
Jay DiPietro has said that PETER AND VANDY is “just as much about what the characters are thinking as it is about what they are doing”. What do you think he meant by that?
I guess what Jay meant is that these two are not always saying what they are thinking. And very much like in life, you can usually tell what they are thinking anyway, it’s just hard for the characters to admit it to themselves or each other. I hope the audience can tell what we are thinking.
Your roles in TEETH, PETER AND VANDY and ALEXANDER THE LAST all share a degree of fearlessness. Have you turned down a role yet because you thought it was too risky?
Thank you again. I have not turned down a role because I thought it was too “risky”. But in my mind the idea of taking a risky role is, reading a script and thinking, “Oh, this is kinda bad and cheesy, but I’m gonna do it anyway because I need the money, and just hope it turns out”. That is risky.
Having top lined a series of films already at this stage in your career, what is the percentage to scripts being offered to you outright versus projects you are asked to audition for?
Uhmm, I’m not being thrown offers or anything, I audition for most everything aside from stuff that involves friends. PETER AND VANDY is an exception because I just took a meeting with Jay and he must have thought to himself that he trusted me for whatever reason. I’m very grateful for that. Honestly, auditioning is the pits. I’ve spent a decade trying to convince myself I like it, but I really think it depends on how people are wired. It’s a bit of a nightmare personally to try and smash lines in my head for a day or two and then walk into a room and act. I just think sometimes it takes longer to digest; so much of my energy goes into thinking “what’s my next line”. People don’t act in a movie or play the way they act in an audition room (at least not from what I’ve seen). For most people the idea of getting offered something is adream come true because it’s so difficult.
Choose which cross comparison people actually have made on IMDB that you are most happy with:
A) Meryl Streep and Kate Hudson
B) Natalie Portman and Alicia Slverstone
C) Kate Winslet and Sarah Polley
D) Joan Cusack and Sharon Stone
E) Heather Graham and Juliette Lewis
I’m totally flattered by most of those comparisons and I’m a fan of at least someone in every letter, but if I had to pick, weather it’s at all true or not … C. They are both amazing…Sarah Polley has a reigning indie crown too, right? I mean she directed AWAY FROM HER. Wow.
PETER AND VANDY screens Saturday, March 28 at 5:30PM @ NorthPark 7 and Sunday, March 29 at 10:30PM @ NorthPark 7.
Jess Weixler will attend the first screening and participate in a Q&A afterwards.