Director Daniel Adams‘ satire An L.A. Minute centers on Ted Gould (Gabriel Byrne), a bestselling novelist who, despite living in the lap of luxury, is frustrated by his life’s work and is in need of a spark. A chance encounter with a performance artist named Velocity (Kiersey Clemons) may inject some long forgotten humanity in the now jaded millionaire, but this is Los Angeles, and things can absolutely turn on a dime. During our discussion with Adams, he talked to us about the evolution of his narrative and why, even though it was written over 20 years ago, it’s a very timely (and in my opinion, refreshingly uncompromising) tale.
What is the key to make an indie film that’s set in Los Angeles?
We did a lot of the interiors outside of L.A. – we did them in Georgia so we could take advantage of the tax credit. To answer your question in the short sense, that’s the key. Even if it’s set in L.A., you have to figure out how to do whatever you can do in an area that does give incentives and then just come to L.A. to do whatever you need to do to sell the fact that it takes place in L.A.
(Regarding) the tax incentives in California, I think there are 360 million in tax credits every year but only six or seven million of it goes to independent films. The rest of it is just studio incentives so most of that goes to TV shows and things that get shot on the studio lot. If we had to shoot the whole thing in L.A., that would have been very difficult.
Your movie is about manipulation and the idea of what is truly authentic, especially in Los Angeles. Was that always the theme behind your film?
The premise was that one character wanted to be the other character. Ted wants the young, morally and ethically conscious artist and Velocity wants to be the celebrity (laughs). That is what ultimately propels the story. When we started to write it, that was the basic premise. There’s a guy who is just so jaded because he’s been forced, in his mind anyway, to sell out his integrity, that he doesn’t care anymore. And then he meets someone who makes him care. That was definitely the premise before we sat down and wrote it.
Can you talk about casting Ed Marinaro in the pivotal role of a homeless person who has a fateful encounter with Ted?
I just saw in him the ability to play someone who is just sort of down and out and brow beaten. But he could deliver those lines subtly. He’s a very underrated actor. He’s really great and I had a feeling that he was going to nail it and he did. He’s never done anything like that before and just looking at some of the other stuff he’s done from Hill Street Blues on down, I always thought he had that ability. So I was psyched when he said he was going to do it.
Kiersey Clemons is great in the film, and she a memorable performance piece in An L.A. Minute. Can you talk about working with her?
She worked really hard on that, especially the performance piece. She’s such a great actress, I have to say. She was 22 years old when she made this film and she worked as hard and has as much skill as an actress as any 40-year veteran that I’ve worked with. She’s just phenomenal. She just seemed right for the role.
It’s funny, because I had never heard of her before casting her. I asked my son, who is a 20-year-old stand up comic, ‘who’s really hot right now as far as actresses are concerned in your peer group?’ He didn’t even flinched and said ‘Kiersey Clemons.’ I said ‘Who’s that?’ and he said ‘Well, you’ve got to see Dope.’ Dope had already been out and I had seen it and I was like ‘Wow I didn’t even think of that.’
Because the character (in) Dope was so different than the character of Velocity I didn’t think of her which is sort of stupid on my part. As a director I’m supposed to know actors are chameleons. I should have thought of her. I saw some more work of hers and I realized that she was perfect for this. She’s just amazing.
Was this movie always set in Los Angeles or did the story evolve throughout the years?
First of all, Ratso (writer Larry Sloman) and I wrote it some 20 years ago and it was set in New York. It just sort of flowed back then and what happened was it was so outrageous back then that nobody wanted to make it. No actor wanted to be attached to the project. Even though we had funding back then, we couldn’t get an actor to actually take the chance in being in such an outrageous film.
And then time caught up with us. What’s in this film is done on cable TV these days all the time. Politics caught up with us. The whole idea of people falling for a shallow celebrity, someone who’s willing to compromise for the sake of celebrity, seemed to be more timely right now. We got it out of mothballs and redid it. It seemed like it was necessary to set in in L.A. as opposed to New York because the downtown performance thing that was so prevalent twenty some odd years ago no longer exists. Secondly, we deal with homelessness as one of the issues. Two years ago, the mayor of L.A. declared a state of emergency with regards to the homelessness and it’s still an issue. The great thing about doing a satire, to me it’s the best way of dealing with very serious important issues is to joke about it. It’s the only way to make it palatable otherwise it becomes too heavy. Then it becomes journalism.
Can you briefly share some of your favorite movies and what makes them unique in your eyes?
For this film, Putney Swope by Robert Downey Sr. That’s a film I hope you can still get somewhere. I saw it years ago – with that sort of satire he’s dealing with a very heavy subject but he did in a great way. I thought it was a powerful little indie film. I always love Billy Wilder. He did a movie with James Cagney called One, Two, Three . . .
I’ve always wanted to see that movie
Oh my gosh, it’s so good. What happened was it dealt with the very serious issue of the Berlin Wall. And in between the time when they shot it, it went up. The Berlin Wall was built and the tensions grew between east and west. It’s such a great film (and its satirical approach) was also an inspiration for (An L.A. Minute).
In general, The Bridge Over The River Kwai is probably one of my favorite films. The reason why is it deals with something about the human condition. The entire movie was this intense effort to build a bridge that ultimately gets blown up in the end (laughs). It’s a metaphor for life and it’s the most profound expression of that particular aspect of life is David Lean’s take on it. It’s just a great, great film.
Are you more passionate now about filmmaking than you were at the beginning? Or can experience leave one jaded as with your lead character in An L.A. Minute?
Time has made me more patient in making films. But I wouldn’t say I’m more jaded. I think I’m just as enthusiastic now as I was 30 years ago. But I think I’m more skilled as a filmmaker than I was 30 years ago. I hope I am. The great thing about filmmaking is you can take on any subject, you can shoot in anywhere, you never get bored making films. If someone gets jaded making movies, it’s because they’re not doing it right. As a filmmaker you’re always trying to shed light on the human condition. I can see if you’re making big budget films that are purely entertainment and there’s not really a profound message behind the film. I can see getting jaded pretty quickly. Just like Ted Gould in An L.A. Minute, it’s as if he’s making those big budget films which have no substance whatsoever. He gets jaded. If you’re a filmmaker you continue to make films that you feel are important. If you do, you’ll never get bored and jaded.
*****Note: the following answer discusses the ending. If you’ve seen the movie or don’t mind spoilers, read below!
You could have made your film a feel good story or ended on a dark note, but An L.A. Minute thankfully doesn’t hit those notes and panders to the audience.
The reason why there is that complexity at the end is because it’s a complex issue that we deal with. As far as celebrity and the draw of celebrity and what you’re willing to do and compromise to achieve it. And even though there is a happy ending sort of, there isn’t (laughs). When you walk and you go, ‘Well I guess Ted redeemed himself’ but then you think, ‘well wait a minute, he stole that idea from the homeless guy and where was the homeless guy?’
It’s complex for a reason. We want the audience to think about how hard it is to not compromise your integrity when you’re faced with fame and riches (laughs). You’ve got to think, ‘Well Ted, he really came around,’ but did he? That’s the point. It’s ambiguous and I’m glad you picked up on that and I hope audiences pick up on that.
An L.A. Minute is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.