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Epoch director Matt Aselton debuted his first feature, Gigantic, at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year.The film, which Aselton also co-wrote with college friend Adam Nagata, is the second produced out of Epoch (after Phil Morrison's Junebug). The absurdist, not so neat love story revolves around Brian Weathersby, a young mattress salesman (Paul Dano) trying to adopt a Chinese baby, who falls in love with the free spirited Harriet Lolly (Zooey Deschanel), the daughter of one of his customers Al, played by John Goodman. Other featured talents include Ed Asner, Jane Alexander and one very disturbed Zach Galifianakis. The film launched in various cities earlier this month and premiered Friday in Los Angeles at the Nuart theater. Aselton spoke to Creativity about lessons learned from his big screen foray, his storytelling M.O. and what it's like to stalk John Goodman.
Tell me the history of the film. Has making a movie always been a goal for you?
It's something I always wanted to do. I wrote it with Adam Nagata, who I went to college with. We probably started writing in 2005 or so, and then in 2006 we finished and the first person we gave it to was Mindy [Goldberg, Epoch EP]. I think she was just finishing up with Junebug. She passed it on to Christine Vachon, who's sort of a pillar in the independent film community for 20 odd years. She was one of the founders of Killer Films, she did Boys Don't Cry and the Todd Haines movie, I'm Not There. She and Mindy had a relationship and when she got involved that was it. In 2006 the ball started rolling. There was casting and financing and all that stuff which was really, really hard.
What was the learning process like?
It's not the most difficult thing in the world, but it's a certainly a different education. It's mostly talent-based, trying to figure out what the metric is—when John Goodman can shoot, and we need him to overlap for this many days with Ed Asner, Paul Dano and Zooey Deschanel, who's on tour doing her album. Frankly, from commercials you never have to a) worry about that necessarily or b) nobody brings it up to you. Producers make it happen. In this situation you kind of have to be your own advocate and meet with the actors, convince them. There's no way that you can learn it except from doing it. There's nothing I could have done before that was going to prepare me for having to fly to New York to meet with John Goodman to convince him not to do the studio movie but to do my movie. (Laughs)
How did you get that cast? It's an amazingly accomplished group.
A fair amount of luck, to be honest. Mindy and Christine have a certain amount of credibility, but they're also very persuasive people. They were able to get me the meetings. Paul Dano got interested and he had not yet done There Will Be Blood, so when he got involved it made it a lot easier. So Paul liked the script a lot, we met in New York and once we met that was great and we agreed in principal. We weren't financed at that point, we were still scrounging for money. Paul is an executive producer on the movie for that reason because at the very beginning he said, "Whatever you need, I'll support the film and let's try and get people." After that Zooey Deschanel read the script and liked it. There were other people who read the script along the way that never made sense to me, but Zooey and Paul made sense. Once I had them, I just kept calling John Goodman. He was in Berlin doing a big studio movie so we'd have different time zone conversations. It was like Lost In Translation, except I was Bill Murray's wife. After some considerable badgering, John got involved. We had written this role for John. I think not giving up on cast is the most important thing I learned through this whole process. If you think these are the people you want, don't give up. Getting the right cast was to me, really crucial.
Tell me about the story itself. Is this a story you really wanted to tell?
At its bones, in a way it's a story about privileged kids who can't find something to commit to. I'm not sure that that's necessarily the most compelling thing in the world—J.D. Salinger told that story, a lot of people have. I think it's trying to put a modern voice to modern dysfunction, which again, has been done before, but it's a strange movie, an odd film. There's a homeless stalker in it played by Zach Galifianakis and a kid who wants to adopt a Chinese baby. It has its own original storytelling ideas, but we wanted to tell that in a new way, provide a voice to I guess, in a way, a different generation of fathers. Ed Asner plays the oldest father, John Goodman plays a baby boomer father and Paul Dano becomes I guess a modern view of a father—a 28-year old single guy who is trying to adopt a baby. I can't say I know exactly why we wanted to do it. It's kind of one of those stories that just unfolded. That's how I worked with Adam—we came up with the central components of it, built our archetypes and characters and worked backwards.