When Roger Ebert says a performance is one of the most remarkable that he’s ever seen, well, it’s probably one that you shouldn’t ignore. Patrick Wang gives that performance in “In The Family”, a drama about a gay man who fights for custody of his son after his partner dies in a car accident. Wang is not only the film’s star – he’s its writer and director, and a critical darling as a result.
Sitting on a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Wang has received rave reviews from the likes of “The New York Times” and been touted as a “major filmmaking talent” by “The Hollywood Reporter.” With “In The Family” playing at the Scottsdale Film Festival this weekend, Wang took the time to chat with The East Valley Tribune about the film and the challenges he faced bringing it to life.
When did you begin writing “In The Family” and what inspired you to tell this story?
I started writing it in 2009 and the inspiration started with, kind of just a picture that I had in my mind – I have no idea where it came from, it was just these two dads playing soccer with their kid. I didn’t know much about them, but I could tell it was the South – I don’t know why it was Tennessee – but it just started with this little flash of something. I’m one of those writers that, I like to write to find out the story; find out who these people are.
What were some of the challenges you faced acting in and directing your own movie? Did you find any advantages in juggling both roles?
You definitely know the disadvantages, as in, you kind of have all these perspectives collapsed into one person. You have to kind of throw your perspective around, and with one person, it just takes more time. If you shoot something, you have to figure out how it was. Sometimes you can tell, you know, if I’m acting within a scene, I can tell how it was or I can tell from other people’s reactions. Sometimes you have to slow down the whole work and actually watch playback. That’s definitely one of the disadvantages.
One of the advantages is that we had a very fast shoot – we shot in three weeks, and I think on a film like this, if I were the director working with another actor, I would spend most of my time and energy trying to communicate with that lead actor. I think because I played both roles, things could move a little faster and I could prepare ahead of time, and all those conversations I might have had with the actor on-set I could have with myself. You definitely need to use a set of new tools.
In multiple reviews that I’ve read, critics have commended you for avoiding stereotypes in both the story and its characters. In what ways did you try to steer clear of clichés during your writing process?
Well, they’re pretty easy to avoid when they just don’t interest you. I think the parts to people that are very interesting are the parts that surprise you. Then, when you’re writing, you realize how much a film narrative relies on various types of clichés, and if you depart from them a little bit, it keeps your film very interesting. I found that not only was it something that didn’t interest me, but as I avoided them, and as people, like they do in life, think that you can find any combination of qualities in anybody. Yeah, I found it much more interesting and I think it’s what keeps the audience guessing and the film unpredictable.
Was it difficult for the film to find distribution and why have you been so adamant against making cuts?
Well, I got to a point – I didn’t know that it was going to be that long of a film until I was watching it, and, you know, you want it to have an easier life when it comes to focus or distribution, and you know it’s going to be that much harder for the film if it’s a little longer than your average film. It’s not going to make a difference if we cut a couple minutes, but something like 20 minutes or half an hour…I think you cut out 20 minutes, half an hour from the film, and you lose so much. You lose so much of what makes it unique; you lose so much of what makes it work. You end up with something that’s a little more predictable and feels a lot like other movies and I thought, “I would rather give the world something different than another movie that has an easier time in the world.”
How has it been receiving such high praise for your directorial debut, and are there any political statements or social commentary that you hope audiences take away from “In The Family”?
You know, when people say great things you feel great, but I think what I’ve been really impressed with is the quality of thought people put in, and I think it’s getting better and better. People think very clearly and deeply about the film, and I like to think that they write really well about it. I think that’s the ultimate compliment for any filmmaker – it’s not really how much they praise your work in the end but how much they think about it and how much, you know, they care to think about it. That’s been really satisfying.
We don’t have distribution right now so, you know, I’ve been the distributor for the film and that’s been taking up my time for the past year and probably will for about the next six months. We’re still playing here and there, getting bookings, so I think when we finish that, even though it’s kind of a small rollout distribution, I think that in the end, we’ll be in theaters for at least a year and a half. It’s still pretty fast in terms of the changes and the people talking about the film that I think I’ll need some time to decompress and digest it all before I figure out where I’m going to go next.
In terms of statements, I think I wanted to set up political types of situations – very personal types of political situations – things emotionally and let people think about them. I thought someone said something really clever about the movie: “Some movies make you think; this one lets you think.” I love that people can have very different thoughts coming out of it and that it activates something. Not just in the thinking but it activates something in how they feel or how they sense other people. I think everybody comes out – even wonderful people – come out, and I think there’s just a part of them that’s just that much more sensitive to those around them, what people are feeling, to the things people don’t say. I hope that it’s an exercise in sympathy for people.
DETAILS >> “In The Family” is playing at the Scottsdale Film Festival on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale. For more information, visit scottsdalefilmfestival.com or call (866) 811-4111.