After directing a number of studio movies the past several years, filmmaker David Gordon Green has returned to his indie roots with his latest, Prince Avalanche, starring pal Paul Rudd along with Emile Hirsch. During a discussion at the Elinor Bunin Munroe last week as part of Film Society's ongoing Summer Talks, the filmmaker noted that he had the idea for the film after attending last year's series, Images from the Edge: Classic & Contemporary Icelandic Cinema.
“It is based on the Icelandic film Either Way [by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson] that played here last year,” said Green to Film Society's Eugene Hernandez during the hour-long discussion that touched on the film as well as the director's earlier work. “What I loved was its simplicity…For me it was an opportunity for me to find a location that meant something to me and sculpt the character piece to be personal and allow me to feel emotionally connected.”
In the film, Paul Rudd plays mid-mannered Alvin who is teamed with an immature chatterbox named Lance (Hirsch) to spend the summer of 1988 repainting a highway in a fire-damaged area of central Texas. The pair work all day and then set up camp at night, bantering by the fire. Isolation soon gets to Lance who is more interested in partying and women, quite the opposite from Alvin who serenely takes in the setting and gets by writing letters to his sweetheart. The two initially have little in common, but a friendship grows out of their mutual annoyance.
“There's a weird odd couple dynamic [happening],” said Green. “It's a conflict of characters and you turn it on its ass and find out that they're not what you expect them to be.”
The filmmaker, whose first film, George Washington, gained attention back in 2000, said he wanted to pair Rudd and Hirsch because he saw them as an unlikely screen duo. “I wanted to take what you know about Paul Rudd and what you comedically know about Paul and show the depth and tenderness to him. And I wanted to take what you know about Emile from watching his movies — the dramatic side to him — and show you how funny that kid is. So we play the contrast of characters in the narrative into the contrast of what you expect from these two actors.”
David Gordon Green filmed Prince Avalanche in Bastrop, TX, not far from Austin where he currently lives. Born in Little Rock, he grew up in Dallas and eyed filmmaking as a teen. He readily said he's not “academically inclined,” and after deciding to go to film school, he didn't get into some of the country's marquee film programs. Instead, he attended North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, which he noted also boasts a great dance program.
“It was a state school so it was economical and they accepted me and I had a lot of artistic ambition,” he said. “I knew I loved film, but didn't have anything to do with Hollywood [in terms of] access to the movie business. But through that particular school, I met incredible people. I'd say sixty percent of my crew on this film were my film school buddies and we've worked together for 13 years now.”
While Green didn't have natural entree into the filmmaking biz through personal connections, he did have a brush with Hollywood as an adolescent, which proved a pivotal moment for the budding director, recalling one day when his father allowed him to skip school in order to be an extra on an Oliver Stone film.
“When I was 12, my dad let me skip school for the first time to be an extra on Born On the Fourth of July, which was shooting in Dallas. And there was a scene where you can see me and I look right into the lens and wiggle my eyebrows…That day was the first movie set I had ever been on. And I watched [Oliver Stone] and Robert Richardson, the great cinematographer, and my mind was blown. I remember saying I want one of their jobs and somehow I was going to do it.”