Working with the Russo Brothers: A Conversation with Jay Alvarez for DIZZY PURSUIT
Set entirely in one tiny room, DIZZY PURSUIT is an ambitious comedy that tells the story of a young, struggling artist, Adam, and his vegan girlfriend, Carly, who attempt to cast an independent film within the confines of their squalid one-room apartment. Stress mounts as they struggle with the logistics of movie making amidst a cockroach infestation, schizophrenic neighbours, and the arrival of a string of family members whom they are forced to accommodate in their 12×12 living space. More than a simple comedy, the film shines a light on filmmakers and the sacrifice they are willing to make for their art; one that is reflected in real life.
The Russo Brothers came across Alvarez’ first feature I PLAY WITH THE PHRASE EACH OTHER, at Slamdance where it won the Special Jury Prize in 2014. They liked it so much they agreed to exec produce Alvarez’ next film DIZZY PURSUIT. In order to finance the film, the Russo Brothers launched a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo, offering Marvel Universe fans the rare opportunity to visit the set of their highly anticipated film AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.
There is a further twist to the story. Seventeen years earlier in 1997, Anthony and Joe Russo premiered their debut feature film PIECES at the Slamdance Film Festival. In the audience was Steven Soderbergh, along with his producing partner, George Clooney, who offered to produce the brothers’ next film WELCOME TO COLLINGWOOD. Clooney was to star in this movie. Over the next two decades, the Russo Brothers rose to impressive heights of creative and commercial accomplishment, including directing the Emmy award-winning comedy ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, the Marvel Universe blockbuster, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.
In our interview, The Fan Carpet‘s Camila Sayers spoke to Jay Alvarez about Raindance Film Festival favourite DIZZY PURSUIT, they talk about the process of writing, working with the Russo Brothers and the definition of Dizzy Pursuit…
When you sat down and thought “I’m going to write a new project”, what was your process like in coming up with these themes and, in particular, writing about indie film-making itself?
I think that maybe at this point film-making has been absorbed enough by my day-to-day psychology as to separate itself from a conscious conceptual consideration and just be a reflection of daily occupations that I never escape. So, I think that it may occur without as much conscious thought as it may seem from the outside.
Interesting, so you just do it naturally I guess, it came organically to you.
Yeah, I also think that sometimes those particular environments or professions or interests that occur in fiction are often the relatively superficial foils through which we experience the substantial meanings that are the most universal and relatable to everyone.
We have the couple, Adam and Carly – in the film they’re great, they’re quirky and actually if we delved into them I feel we could make countless films about them because if you look into their characters they are very complex. Can you talk us through writing these characters and obviously that element of making them a couple and going through this together? I just wondered; what was the mindset behind creating those two characters and their personalities?
I think they were probably inspired by an oppositional set of values that I’ve observed in life and find compelling between the genders.
Yeah I think that was really explored well in the film in so many ways.
Whether it was from the dialogue or from their idiosyncrasies, they were explored really well. That’s why I say the characters are interesting, that couple (laughs).
This film is produced by the Russo Brothers, how was it collaborating with them and can you tell us how it began, how they became involved in the project?
Yeah absolutely. They saw my debut feature-film, which screened at Slamdance, and they responded really well to it and wanted to support my future work. They had previously been discovered at Slamdance by Steven Soderbergh who had similarly offered to produce their sophomore feature and so they were extending that mentorship and gesture onto me.
Fantastic. You have written, directed and acted in this project. As a creative how do you navigate all three of those different forms of expressing your creativity and the different mediums of expressing that?
I think that I consider myself primarily a writer that happens to be writing films so I….my largest and maybe most debilitating preoccupations are those of a writer; and then I consider the directing process as being writerly, most of the editing process as being writerly.… So it’s an extension of that form of writing. I would even say the same about my involvement as an actor, with which I try in every possible way to influence or guide the continuation of the writing process.
As you said you consider yourself primarily a writer, are there any writers that, when you’re starting out or when you had the passion of becoming a writer director influenced you or what kind of work inspires you?
Yeah, that question really excites me because usually the questions regarding influences are exclusive to film-makers. Yeah, I would say the most directly relevant inspirations, because the narratives are usually driven by dialogue, I’d say the most directly relevant inspirations would be my favourite playwrights, and my absolute favourite playwright is Edward Albee. I would say at all times he’s the one, while I’m engaged in the writing process, who supplies the most consistent psychic company and support.
I can see those influences from him in the black comedy in this film, also in the anecdotal dialogue and the kind of dark elements of the comedic pauses… [Jay interrupts]
Yeah he’s also….. he has an unbelievable talent for demonstrating fundamental conflicts. I think he’s tremendously talented at large, universal truths.
Going to the title of the film Dizzy Pursuit I guess in the context of the film as a viewer, it’s obviously something that we all go through to some extent. Speaking as the writer, what is your definition of the Dizzy Pursuit?
I think that there is something inherently dizzy about a life that eschews comfort, and currency, and every other ingredient that leads to successful co-habitation with women. A life which results in an enormous amount of sleep deprivation. Film-making has taken an unbelievable amount of sleep from my life (laughs). Just preparing for this British screening I’ve lost so much sleep. But it’s not all bad. It’s actually kind of nice. The exhaustion. It’s surprising. I used to think that not sleeping was really damaging to me, but it’s gotten to the point where, there’s so much sleep-loss, it’s started to sand away the negative components of my brain activity. I’ve almost become fatigued into grace. It’s like, I have less anxiety, I have an easier time talking with people. It turns out that not getting enough sleep may be a way for me to live in the world.
This is a question that is always asked, but I do think that it’s quite important, especially now as your film is in the Raindance Film Festival, which is all about championing independent film-making. What advice would you give to anyone, like your character Adam in the film, who is struggling to make their own indie film?
I think there’s a bit of a paradox in attempting to provide suggestions or advice, because I think the ones who most deserve it, the ones for whom it’s most useful and relevant, are the ones who require it least. So essentially for me to provide advice—it’s to follow with an almost delirious confidence and focus one’s primary instincts and motivations.
Absolutely. I’m learning more and more, and it’s a phrase everyone uses, that “confidence is key” and bravery.
It’s akin to a fighter whose confidence seems to be a very essential component to the outcome of his contest.
Last but not least, what are your hopes for this film?
It’s hard to … it’s impossible to ensure the effect that an audience will have about anything, but I always hope the films will inspire. And I hope that maybe they will provide a sense of camaraderie or company that I’ve experienced.
Fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to me, I imagine it’s very busy for you at the moment and I wish you all the best and I greatly enjoyed your film so congratulations.
Thank you so much.
Jay Alvarez released his debut feature ‘I Play With The Phrase Each Other’ to tie in with the world premiere of Dizzy Pursuit at Raindance – available to watch now on YouTube