Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez knows how this Hollywood thing works. An assistant to Warren Beatty straight out of the University of Miami, the 29-year-old has been putting in work to get his name recognized as a filmmaker. After toiling away, living his life opening mail and answering phone calls, he finally got his first feature seen at Sundance, Easier with Practice, about a struggling writer who begins having phone sex with a stranger. An adaptation of an essay by Davy Rothbart, it was a quiet feature that opened in a limited release.
So how did this relatively unknown kid, with only one feature on his resume, get the pickiest author David Sedaris—who, until Alvarez, never let anyone adapt his work—to allow him to make a movie about one of his stories? It turns our persistence and clear vision is all that Sedaris was looking for.
Which brings us to C.O.G. In limited release and on VOD now, Alvarez's feature film, based on Sedaris's short story of the same name, follows a pretentious Ivy Leaguer who travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm to "get his hands dirty" for this first time, only to find his life entirely dismantled by the people he encounters.
Complex got the chance to speak to Alvarez about his working relationship with David Sedaris, what quirk means to independent film, and the importance of V.O.D. to indie cinema.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
How did this collaboration with David Sedaris come about?
I knew he had been passed on many film opportunities before so I tried to approach him in a way that was better than anyone had ever approached him. My approach was to try to make a film that felt as much, or if not more, like it came from me than it did from him.
I loved this specific story. I said to him one of the first times we talked was that even if he hadn't written it, if it had been from some writer that no one had ever heard of before, I’d still be trying to get this film made.
David's always wanted to be protective of his family, and the fact that they weren't in it, on top of other reasons, made sense for him to allow this story to be made into a movie.
Did you write the movie first or did you write a spec and then send it to him?
I got in touch with him first. He said, "Well, if we’re going to agree to do this, I’m going to let you go do it and this film is gonna come from you and I shouldn’t influence on that." I said he could approve everything. I gave him whatever degree of control he wanted over it, and his response was the complete opposite of all that. He loves movies, but I don’t think the process of adapting and making movies was actually that interesting to him.
How did you keep his distinct tone?
I lost a lot of great moments and a lot of great punchlines but I didn’t want two things: voiceover and what I call, "the Ally McBeal flashovers," which is kind of mind’s eye. That’s the easy way to adapt his work and I don’t think it would lend itself to a very good movie, you know? Because then you’re trying to take what works on the page and assume it’s gonna work on screen.
I would take one line of dialogue in the story that one character says and put it into someone else’s mouth or context. I saw the story as a rich trove of stuff to pull from and build on.
Why did it take so long to get it financed?
No one wanted to finance a movie about a gay guy becoming a born again Christian for two days. People got excited by David Sedaris and the thought that it's going to have voiceover and have really funny moments, but it's really dark.
Also, Hollywood is irreverent. It's like, "There’s never been a David Sedaris movie, so how do we know it’s going to be successful?" Which of course is silly because look at all of his book sales and blah, blah, blah.
People told me to get bigger names and I still couldn’t get the financing. At that point, I decided to cast whoever I want and cut the budget down. I was going to make this movie without everybody telling me how to make it.
Every independent film I watch, I have no idea how it got made. Except for the ones with really, really big stars in it. Otherwise, those movies are made on like, persistency and dreams and a lot of sacrifice from people. That’s actually the only way this film got put together.
Because it deals with sexuality and religion, did you fear any backlash?
A little bit, but not fear. I’m not a religious person, but some of my closest friends are, people who I consider family. So when I was writing the film, I knew I didn't want to make something I would be embarrassed to show them. Having said that, I’ve been really surprised, maybe because festival audiences tend to be a little bit more liberal, that there hasn't been any uproar.
It’s also because of the movie. When people get angry, it’s when they feel like their buttons are getting pushed for the sake of it. And that's not what this movie is meant to do. I tried really hard to make sure this was balanced by adding diverse characters. Casey Wilson’s character is invented for the deliberate sake of trying to make sure both sides of the religious experience, the religious conversation of the film, was accounted for.