Interview: Kyle Alvarez from "C.O.G."
“C.O.G.” is the latest independent film to cause buzz at places like The Sundance Film Festival and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez couldn’t be happier with the success of the film. After garnering several awards from film festivals, Kyle was nice enough to sit down with Movie Room Reviews and dicuss his brand new film which comes out September 20th, 2013 on VOD.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Congratulations on your new film “C.O.G." coming out this Friday September 20th.
Kyle Alvarez: Thank you.
MRR: Kyle, we're here to discuss your new film. It's called “C.O.G.” If you wouldn't mind, could you give our audience a breakdown of the film?
Kyle Alvarez: Yeah. Absolutely. It's a dark comedy. It's based on a story by David Sedaris, and it's the first time that he has ever allowed the rights of any of his stories to be adapted into a film. And it's kind of about this time that he spent working in these apple orchards in Oregon, but it's more about this idealism that he kind of goes out on this adventure thinking it's gonna be this great thing for him, and he's gonna learn a lot, and he has all the expectations of a traditional coming of age type story but kind of gets everything handed to him in the complete opposite way that you expect it to go about.
And, so it's kind of about how his experience out there, sort of his privileged life and how it gets sort of torn apart by everyone out in the middle of this primarily farm blue collar-type work, and how that kind of makes him into a different person by the end of it.
MRR: Samuel, the character, I feel like I've known a few few of those guys growing up. He was played by Jonathan Groff, which he did a great job, but what do you think was the inspiration for Samuel's character?
Kyle Alvarez: I mean part of it was what was there in the story, but another big part of it was I thought it was an unusual character arc to sort of see someone have such a strong level of confidence and actually grow by losing it. Usually it's the other way around.
And someone who thinks they know themselves, but ultimately doesn't really at all. And that was interesting to me because I think that's something at least I can relate to and I think other people can. It's like you like to imagine that you kind of know who you are and what defines your identity, but the truth is that all of that can sort of be stripped away. And if it is, what do you have left if someone sort of either mocked or taken away everything that you sort of come to define yourself through? So, that's what's interesting to me, fundamentally about the story. I mean, on top of it I just thought that there was a lot of great characters there, there was just a lot of experiences that happened in the story that I just thought would work great on camera.
MRR: Samuel's such a tough character to dissect as I was thinking about it because you got this guy, he seems like if you know him really well like his mother, he'd probably be really mean to you, but then when you meet him like by yourself just at a bar, he's actually really nice but a little snooty, but he never comes off as a real jerk in the film. I feel like he just comes off as like a scared boy almost, but I could see why people could assume that from him.
Kyle Alvarez: Well, yeah. I definitely give a lot of that credit to Jonathan because I wasn't afraid to make a movie with an unlikeable lead character. In fact, I kind of wanted to, but I also knew in casting it, it needed to be someone that still felt like a real person like you just said, someone you can relate to, because I think at the end of the day, you don't have to necessarily like your lead person, but you have to be okay spending time with them. And so I definitely give a lot of that responsibility to Jonathan for having pulled that off because he's just a very likeable person and is able to sort of put that in his characters, but he doesn't have the vanity. He doesn't have to be like a really great, nice guy on camera. And so he was sort of the perfect person to try to put those two things together.
MRR: Well, as I watched the film, I felt that the tone of the film changes all based on the supporting characters which who he's with person to person in my opinion. How did you work that through as he's meeting each one of the supporting characters? It's almost like it gets dark at times or it gets happy at times depending on who he is with.
Kyle Alvarez: Yeah. Absolutely. I knew it was gonna be an episodic movie, and there's so many dangers in making an episodic movie 'cause you wanna make sure that the audience is still engaged, not just feeling like they're watching a disconnected series of events. And so for me, that through line was gonna be him. I didn't want this to be where like you could like reverse the order. I really felt each different person or world he sort of starts to experience ultimately contributes to the way he breaks apart towards the end. And for me that was, at first, it's physical labor. It's the actual like physical work, like that just tires you out.What that breaks down to that he's never had to experience before. And obviously a lot of it's done for humor, but I think there's something true in that like actually getting in there and working with your hands is something that he'd never done before.
And then second to that is sort of the more emotional disconnect he gets through his experience with curly. He sort of starts feeling confident in this friendship, and it ends up going down a different path than he expected. So, for me I feel like it's the combination of those two things that then let it become about the spirituality of the character and what does he have left after his physicality has gone and after his mind is gone in some ways, he's just left to his own devices in regards to his relationship with his own spirit or in this case, God or whatever it might be. And then so, that was sort of the pass it took and how I thought it would hopefully make the movie feel a little more linear which would just sort of see how he would change under these circumstances and hopefully evolve into becoming, maybe some version of a better person.
MRR: Well, before I watched the film, the reason I was really excited to watch it was because Dean Stockwell was in it.
Kyle Alvarez: Oh, yeah. [laughter]
Nick Leyland: I'm a huge Quantum League fan and when I saw he was in it, I was very excited. I applaud you for putting him in the film if that was your decision.
Kyle Alvarez: Oh, I love him so. You know what's so funny is that Jonathan is doing this new TV series for HBO and they just cast Scott Bakula on the show, and I'm like you have the Quantum League thing down.
Kyle Alvarez: I just in awe of him. I was so nervous to even work with him and meet him and I mean he's just, he's one of the true lifelong actors. He took a little break in the 70's I think, maybe 60's but that's it. He's been working since he was like six years old. And I don't know if anyone else alive has the kind of varied career, a respected career, and the amount of work he's done. But in a lot of ways, he's sort of not given his due credit because he's almost always been more of a character or supporting actor. So, that's the exact kind of person I want to work with. So, we were kind of talking about, I know I wanted a veteran actor for that part but I also wanted someone that's not so overtly familiar, that shows up and you're like, "Oh there's," I think he's phenomenal, but there's James Cromwell again, you’ve seen him play this part. But Dean is just one of those guys there's a comfort to seeing him but he's also still his own person through and through and has such interesting instincts. I don't know, it's still crazy to me that he did the movie.
MRR: Let's talk about the title a little bit, and obviously, it's a religious title and what are your thoughts about that for audiences who might think it's all about religion?
Kyle Alvarez: Yeah, I mean it's interesting, it's obviously the title and the trailers they got a heavy focus on the religious aspects too. For me, I wanted to make a movie that dealt with religion but hopefully not in a way that felt insulting to one side or the other. I mean I think it has something to say about religion, but I don't think it necessarily has an opinion about religion. I think there's a really important distinction because I'm not a religious person but some of my closest friends are, and I wanted to make the kind of film that they could watch and appreciate.
And so, for me, the religious aspect of the movie really doesn't even come through 'til the end, it's not really important 'til even less than second half of the movie because I felt like I wanted it to be the thing that kind of springs up on you, you don't totally expect it and I think that's sort of the way the character goes through with it. And I didn't want the movie to sort of wear it on it's sleeve right away as being the main crux of the movie because I think it's ultimately about a little bit more than just that. I think it's more about the way people engage with religion as opposed to religion itself. So,it's also one of those movies you could watch and feel like it was something totally different. I don't think the primary core point of the film is to talk about religion, I think it has a lot more going on.
MRR: Right. And audiences have seem to responded fairly well to it because I believe you won at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Kyle Alvarez: Yeah.
MRR: You were nominated at Sundance, how does that make you feel as a director?
Kyle Alvarez: IIt's good. I mean it's a sort of vain form of validation, but it's really really nice. You know my first film, it did well, I mean it did respectively well, but we didn't get into Sundance, and we didn't get into any really major film festivals. And so it was, there was a big fight for that movie to get people to see it, to get it released. And there was a big fight to get this movie made but then getting into Sundance I just, having had the previous experiences I was able to really appreciate what it would bring to this movie which is to get it in front of distributors, to get it in the front of critics, to get it on a platform like the Sundance Film Festival is, it's incomparable for. It's something I've always wanted, wanted to have that experience. So, I was really grateful for it. I'm just grateful for distribution, that people are going to be able to go out and see the movie. I mean that's not it doesn't happen for every independent film nowadays. It's getting harder and harder in a lot of ways for that to happen. So, I'm excited about it and curious to see how people will respond to it.
MRR: Well, let me ask you a few questions about yourself, how did you get into making films?
Kyle Alvarez: I've always loved film like when I was young I was never that kid like making movies in my backyard, but I was a kid who would like go to blockbuster and like load up ten movies in my arms and go home and spend all weekend watching rented movies, like that's sort of my thing and like really just got a big, I loved old films, I just got like a huge education that way. And then that was sort of around the time, this was the late 90's and it was sort of this great broom of amazing independent films getting made whether it was the Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson stuff, on the other side it was also like “The Ice Storm” came out. And Todd Haynes had a couple, “Safe” and “Velvet Goldmine” came out. That's when I knew I kinda wanted to be an independent filmmaker. As much as I loved Jurassic Park, I wasn't necessarily interested in making Jurassic Park. I was interested in going to make something like “The Ice Storm” or something, something just more different or even, I use as a reference a lot in this movie is “Citizen Ruth”, Alexander Payne's first feature. That was a movie that had a lot of influence on me.
So that's sort of how I started falling in love with film, and then I went to film school at the University of Miami in Florida and then moved to LA right afterwards. I made some shorts there, I kind of made my mistakes there. I didn't really know what kind of movies I wanted to make, and I don't think my shorts really reflect... You don't see anything of the shorts in my features or vice versa. So, when I got to LA, I had my various jobs, you get production jobs and everything, and then I read this article that became “Easier with Practice”, my first film. I sort of found, I think the kind of... I guess I found my confidence in that film and the kind of movies I wanted to make, and then I was fortunate enough to get to make this film too. I mean, it took a long time to get it going, but I'm grateful it actually happened.
MRR: Well, the film comes out September 20th, this Friday, on VOD and in some cities nationwide. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future, Kyle?
Kyle Alvarez: I think something a little different you know? I'd like to get to make a big film at some point in my life. That would be great, but I'm thrilled to keep on making smaller, independent films, and so I think something might be a little more ambitious than this one in terms of its scope, but I think very different in tone. I don't think the next thing will be a comedy, but you never know.
MRR: [laughter] Well, I enjoyed the film, and I really appreciate you talking with us, and I hope it does great in VOD and the theaters on Friday.
Kyle Alvarez: Great, thank you so much.