by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Director and co-writer Jim Hosking doesn’t have any qualms about admitting that his new film, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, is weird. He told me, “It’s got quite a strong personality, and when you meet someone with a strong personality, you might really enjoy speaking to them, or you might want to kick them in the nuts and run in the other direction.”
For my part, I found the film — which showed at Sundance this year — to be highly entertaining and absurd in all my favorite ways. I was particularly taken with the unexpected performance of Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) as a constantly yelling, jealous maniac. He nailed it.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jim about his distaste for outlines or standard story structure, his approach to character, and what he hopes audiences take away from An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn.
Angela Bourassa: I watched an interview in which you said that your writing partner, David Wike (Hitch, “Sex and the City”), sent you a scene that he liked but didn’t know where it was going, and then the two of you essentially built the script up from there “without a destination in mind.”
That seems very risky to me, as a writer myself. I’m very curious: is that always how you write, and how did you get that process to work for you in this particular case?
Jim Hosking: Oh yeah, that’s how I always write. I think I can only really be interested in making anything when I feel like I don’t know where it’s headed or how it will feel, and then I’m really involved in the whole process. As soon as anything strikes me as structured or strategized, I start to lose interest. The most enjoyable part of the process for me is to be writing something and feel like, “Oh, I have no idea where this is going.”
I mean, the only risk, I suppose, in that is it’s possible you’ll write something that doesn’t go anywhere of any consequence, but I have to have a bit of faith in myself that I’m going to write something that I like.
The kind of films that have inspired me, the kind of work that I like is work that makes me wonder how they arrived at that – why has that director made that film? That’s what fascinates me.
Also, if you let the story present itself to you over time and let it become, in a funny way, what it wants to become, then it feels more truthfully of me or from me than if I was to be conventional about telling a particular story.
Angela Bourassa: What’s your process, then? Do you do character backgrounds or do you discover the characters on the page as well?
Jim Hosking: I don’t do character backgrounds. I think that when I come up with a character, I very quickly have some idea how they look physically and how they might be dressed and how they talk and carry themselves. That really informs a lot of it. It’s kind of like when you read a novel and you start to imagine what the characters look like. That’s the really satisfying part of reading a book – to almost be the author of the film of the book, in a funny way. That’s how it is when I write, and I don’t really care about what the background is.
I only need to know enough about the character for it to be relevant to the story that I’m telling. I don’t really have any rules, I suppose. I just know that I want to tell a story that keeps me interested and that I feel compelled to make. But beyond that, I just want to be making films that nobody else is making.
Angela Bourassa: I think you also said in that same interview that Beverly Luff Linn was the character that this started with, but he doesn’t even speak until the end of the film, so once you have an idea or a character, are you moving around in the story, are you rewriting a lot as you go, or are you writing the story beginning to end?
Jim Hosking: Well, you can think of a character and that will suggest other characters. Actually, what happened is that I had a photograph on my computer of this character who just looked like a really powerful character, and I thought, “Oh, I really want to make a film with a character who looks kind of like this guy.” That’s where Beverly came from in a way.
But the first characters were the three guys from the coffee shop. Those were the first characters that we wrote. The first scene we wrote for this is actually a scene that’s no longer in the film, but if it were in the film, it would be about twenty minutes in.
So we’ll move forward but we’ll also start analyzing the beginning of the script later and we definitely wrote different endings for the script. And that’s just more, “Does this feel truthful?” I mean, it feels funny to use the word “truthful” when you’re talking about an absurd world, but it’s more just like, “Does this feel like what the characters would do? Are we doing enough here? Is this the kind of ending that I feel excited about shooting?”
So we do go back and revise things and rewrite, but it’s really just anything that feels like it needs more attention.
Angela Bourassa: The film reminded me of Waiting for Gadot, both in the conversational style and in the simple fact that much of the film is spent waiting. Could you talk a bit about how you kept the story moving and engaging despite, or maybe because of, all that waiting?
Jim Hosking: Yeah, the waiting is a fundamental part of it. That says very much about the characters being stuck in their lives and the sort of inertia that they have in their lives in this small town where very little happens, but then also a lot of comedy can come from people feeling stuck and getting emotional and passionate about things, and yet they’re not doing anything. There’s something funny about people getting very, very worked up all the time when they’re just sitting around and not doing anything.
The challenge for me in this film was to combine the comedy and the sincerity of the emotion and also to combine the stuck feeling that these characters have with trying to tell a story that keeps people interested and keeps moving. That’s the difficult thing, but that’s also the enticing challenge that keeps me interested.
You know, if I was writing something that was a thriller where everything kept changing and moving fast, I’d think “Oh god, maybe this has been done about a million times. There’s not much point in me doing this.” But if it’s about apparently not much happening, that starts to interest me. Like the thought of, you know, I’d love to do a film with only one character in it and that character never speaks, so it’s a silent film in the middle of nowhere. You know, you just think about things that go around in your head and fascinate you, and then that becomes the challenge that sets light to the whole process of writing that script.
Angela Bourassa: Could you talk a bit about the score, because that felt like such an important part of the film to me in terms of setting the tone and the style. How did you come up with that soundscape for this film?
Jim Hosking: I worked with the composer, Andy Hung, on my last film, The Greasy Strangler, and that has a quite annoying, repetitive, electronic soundtrack – annoying to some people, I kind of loved it – but it had to be very insistent and repetitive. With this film I wanted to go in a different direction and try something that felt diametrically opposed to that, so initially I was wanting to do a piano score. But as we were editing the film, I started to feel like certain scenes needed to have more compulsion and needed to feel like they were kind of mythic and they wanted to impose themselves more on the film. But I don’t try to get too prescriptive with sound. I trust Andy, knowing him, that he will create something that surprises me and that I will really enjoy more than anything I might have been able to suggest myself.
And when I watch films I tend to tune out the music. Even in unconventional films the music can still be quite conventional, and I can understand that – it works. It’s been working for years and years. But I really wanted the music to be another weird, wonky character in this film. It was almost like if Lulu and Beverly had been asked to work with Andy to come up with the soundtrack, they probably would have come up with the same kind of thing.
Angela Bourassa: What would you like viewers to take away from this film, if anything in particular?
Jim Hosking: I would like them first of all, fundamentally, to have enjoyed seeing it. I want people to be inspired, I think, if they see something I’ve made to sort of feel that they don’t have to think or live their lives necessarily in any sort of expected pattern.
When I go to see a film, I’m looking to be transported and to feel something and to also maybe think about life and my life and the way I am and how I feel about things. I just want people to connect and to feel something and maybe not know quite why they feel something and to think about it afterwards.
I mean, I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. I have no specific agenda. I suppose I’m more trying to communicate somehow who I emotionally am and what I emotionally feel, and I’m hoping that when I see the finished film, what I feel is something similar to what everybody else feels as well, which is, you know, a new, unexpected experience, and hopefully a positive one.
An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn will be in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD on Friday, October 19, 2018.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.