October 19, 2003|It's in a subterranean hotel breakfast nook with fountains and a tiny little glassed-in room for God knows what that I meet the manic Scott Caan, who wears a tight baseball t-shirt and demonstrates yo-yo tricks to the slight consternation of a publicist eyeing the glass enclosure, I thought, a little nervously. After showing me a trick of his own devising, the Caan Machine Gun, I asked him to repeat it so that I could photograph it:
"You wanna shoot the Machine Gun?"
Caan--son of James Caan and actress/model Sheila Ryan--is in town for the 26th Starz Denver International Film Festival, bringing with him his hyphenate debut, the excellent small-town crime thriller Dallas 362. Kinetically compelling while combining elements of Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy and the seminal TV dick series "The Rockford Files", the film announces Caan, a theatre brat at heart, as a talented writer and director as well as one of the more exciting young actors of the new generation. In person, he's insouciant and laid-back, a little disdainful of the journalist breed and the junket process but quick to come to life when a question or direction in conversation perks his mercurial interest--his persona in a professional environment more guarded than in a social one as, in meeting him the night before at a party, he was the model of magnanimity. If nothing else, then, Caan has learned the wisdom of moderation under the Media Eye's scrutiny from his dad--that and a certain wry pugnacity, a sly intelligence that can only serve him well now and in the future.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL: So Dallas 362 looks great.
SCOTT CAAN: Thanks, yeah, you know I didn't really have anything in mind. It's my first movie and all I knew was that I wanted something moody and dark. I originally had Matty Libatique, but he went off to do something with Darren Aronofsky--and I met Phil Parmet, he was the first guy I met after Matty dropped out of the film, and we sat down and talked and started looking at books. I'm not a huge film buff, my influences aren't really about that, I didn't grow up obsessed with movies. But we sat down to look at these books and I really liked Nan Goldin so we based the look of the movie on the book.
She has a keen understanding of fore- and background, depth of field, and a certain philosophy about static two-shot portraiture.
Exactly, that's exactly what we were looking for--and for that uncompromising reality. I set up every shot, Phil and I did a shot list, but that was a lot of fun for me to let the actors do their thing, to let actors interact in their environment rather than do a lot of cutting. So it was important to me to find the shot and then hold the shot--the transitions are a different story, but the scenes between the characters, that's where I'm interested. If it were up to me I'd do everything in one shot.
You mention "cutting"--how involved were you in the editing process?
I guess editing, I had a little bit of a hard time finding my space in the editing room, but I was there all the way through. I guess I lost sight in there a little bit of what I loved about the movie--you see it so many times.
That's ironic, isn't it, because that's where a film is ultimately discovered is the editing room.
Yeah, I totally agree, it was a learning process for me. Probably as far as stuff that I'll carry over next time as what not to do is probably all there in the editing process. Andrea [Bottigliero], I found her because Neil LaBute's editor was friends with Phil [Parmet] and said that she was really great. It's funny because she came in and said, "This is my reel, but don't watch it"--so she was hired. (laughs)
You've written and directed a lot of theatre.
Yeah, I've written and directed six plays in the last few years. First one was a long one-act called "Almost Love" about a cat who can't decide whether or not to be with this lady--it ran for three-and-a-half months at the Playhouse in North Hollywood. Then I wrote a play called "9/11" about the WTC, it ran for several months, also. And just last year I had a group of one-acts produced called "Minor Holidays", all with the same theatre, the same reparatory. Mark Pellegrino, Val Lauren, really good actors that have been involved in that project for a long time.
Your dad is a legendary film actor, what drew you to the stage?
My mom studied theatre about fifteen years ago and she used to talk about it a lot--when I was seventeen I checked it out and it was a great fit for me. It's funny, when I write theatre all I think about is character which is probably not the best idea, story's important and dialogue... but the theatre stuff is usually about relationships. But when I go to write a screenplay I always go more towards starting with story and then going into characters built around that story--stories that are based in some way about things from my own life, my own childhood. Kids with nowhere to go, kids involved in bad stuff trying to make a change: take something really dark and make something light out of it. My play "9/11" was actually a comedy. When I write screenplays, for some reason, there's crime involved.
The strength of your film, though, is that it is less about the crime than the characters.
See, that's what I really want to do. If I write a movie about a bank robbery, I want to find out about the people. Whatever the story is, I want to think that it doesn't matter as much as the people involved in it.
You played baseball in high school. Shortstop.
Yeah, I was a Yankees fan, which is odd because I'm from L.A., so I'm one of those fake Yankees fans. My dad, you know, he always wanted me to play shortstop for the Yankees. (laughs)
But then they drafted Jeter...
(laughs) Yeah, sometimes my dad'll be watching Jeter and he'll say, "Hey son!" and I'll say, "Nah, dad, c'mon relax, that's not me"--but as far as his influence on my career, it's only very recently that he's realized that, "Okay, my son is a filmmaker"--he's seen some of my plays and only now come in as an influence and become really helpful.
What do you think of the health of independent cinema?
The health? I think it's good, I mean, there's so many people making good stuff... But I think that independent independent movies, movies that really don't have any studio backing, are in a bad place because people aren't buying movies right now. I think that everything's already been sold before it's shot and if that's what it means to be independent, it's good, but I'm still in love with the idea of people going out guerrilla filmmaking--killing their cousin to make a movie. Everything's pre-sold, people aren't taking risks anymore. I have a script right now I want to make for zero money--I wanna borrow a camera, shoot it, light it myself, I wanna do it illegally, I don't wanna' pay anybody, get my friends that are actors, and if it sucks it sucks, but that's not really...you have to have a Cassavetes attitude that it's about the process, not the profit. If I lose twenty grand at least I only spent twenty grand, and there's a nobility in that.
You've worked with Steven Soderbergh. He's really experimental with the medium--would you model your next step after him?
No. James Toney.
(laughs) Yep. I like to do, I don't like to watch.