Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a movieholic with very definite favorites. When I saw that brilliant producer/writer/director Matthew Leutwyler had a new film out, called Answers to Nothing (Great title, isn’t it? Plus, I had loved his This Space Between Us), I tracked him down, wanted to interview him, and he generously sent me a screener—and gave me a phone number.
Answers to Nothing is one of the most mesmerizing, moving, brilliantly done films I’ve seen. These adjectives are not hyperbole.The performances are knockout (the film features Dane Cook, Barbara Hershey, Julie Benz, Kali Hawk and more), and the film, which swirls around the main story of a missing young girl, is so haunting, that there were moments I was watching while weeping—yet, it’s very much a story that is also filled with redemption and hope. I’m still thinking about the story. It’s officially opening December 2 and already is creating a sensation (at the Woodstock Film Festival, people were unabashedly crying.) So I’m honored and thrilled to reproduce the conversation I had with Matthew here. Thanks, Matthew!
Your upcoming film, swirls around a missing girl, but the film is really about all the things missing inside of us that we try to fill. How did the idea for this film spark?
It was a really interesting process. Six years ago, I was going through a divorce and looking at all the mistakes I had made in my life. I started jotting down lists of all the personality traits of myself. Then I began developing characters based on those traits and all those conflicts I have internally. So I came out with all these characters, but I thought, well, I have to have one thread that binds all these characters together, don’t I? And I came up with the missing girl. I always wanted to do a film that was an unflinching look at modern relationships and the mistakes that we make—and how we go about making them right.
My previous work was comedies, or horror, amusing things. It wasn’t really the road I wanted to go down creatively. In fact, I hated the stuff I was doing before and I wanted to get back to dealing with the real issues. It’s uncomfortable to expose your inner workings, but it just felt more authentic.
Although a haunting and dark film, Answers to Nothing also has this seed of hope—lives are disrupted but they are not ruined, and people do find their own kinds of redemption. Can you talk about this?
The film was always about this, people all trying to do the right thing. They take a half step forward and attempt to correct their mistakes. When I first started writing, I wrote sixty pages and then sat on it for four years. I thought I knew where I wanted to go, but I brought in another writer, Gillian Vigman, both to force me to write (I had terrible writer’s block) and to bring in a woman’s touch to it. She helped to lighten the tone. I also got into a relationship and those positive feelings found their way into the writing.
In my novels, I always try to create what I call the never-ending story—a sense that nothing is neatly tied up but these lives keep going on and you wonder about them past the last page. I felt that same sense in your film.
I think about that sense, too. I still wonder, what the characters are doing.
I also wanted to talk about the moments in the film that are so striking. In novels, as well as films, there are always these moments that really resonate—images more than plot pushers. In your film, there is this incredible marathon race. There is a moment when Barbara Hershey opens a box and finds a scarf and we see the pleasure on her face. There is the weird school teacher playing the dangerous video games, and there is the African American woman who is never very nice to people, finally buying coffee for two security guards –I can’t get these moments out of my mind. Did these come organically or were they conscious decisions?
Every single thing was written except for the coffee. The actress, Kali Hawk started fiddling around. She liked to add on these small moments and when she was doing something with the coffee, I thought, “this is really interesting,” We kind of moved the camera around to it and made it a bigger deal.
Can you talk about the title, Answers to Nothing?
This was a title that I had in my head that I thought was going to change. It felt to me like a novel title. The movie is really about all these small moments of decision that we make in our life that we usually feel are small nothing moments, but when we look back on them, they turn out to be the most significant things in our lives.
What's obsessing you now?
Gillian and I are writing a wacky comedy about two women with dead end jobs that open up a brothel. Sort of in the vein of NIGHT SHIFT meets BRIDESMAIDS called ACCIDENTAL MADAMS, a couple of dramas, particular one about the border towns, based on true stories. I used to go down to Tijuana, Rosarito, and Ensenada a lot, but now, no one goes there anymore. It’s pretty much a ghost town. I found a lot of interesting true stories, especially about the locals that have stood up to the forces around them.
My company, Ambush is also producing a whole lot of stuff, the comedy IMOGENE with Annette Bening, a documentary, SPINNING PLATES, about three restaurants, and producing a film version of Martha O’Connor’s THE BITCH POSSE.