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The Infamous Billy The Kidd Goes Back To High School To Talk 10 YEARS With Writer-Director Jamie Linden

 

Jamie Linden burst onto the Hollywood scene with his screenplay for WE ARE MARSHALL, the true story of the 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team. A Nicholas Sparks adaptation later (DEAR JOHN) and Linden was penning a very loose script for a high school reunion film featuring a cast of Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Justin Long, Max Minghella, Kate Mara, Oscar Isaac, Chris Pratt, Anthony Mackie, Aubrey Plaza and many others. 10 YEARS marks Linden's feature film directorial debut and, as he told me in our interview, a bit of an experiment in filmmaking. 

i had the chance to chat with Linden not too long ago about his new film, assembling such a large and impressive cast and our connections to some of the film's character threads and how they relate to our memories of high school. Enjoy...

Jamie Linden - Hi. 

The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Hi, how are you?

Jamie Linden - I’m good, how are you?

The Kidd - I’m doing okay.

Jamie Linden - I’m a big fan of your website!

The Kidd - Well thank you very much, I will spread the word around to everyone else, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate it as well.

Jamie Linden - I started reading it in college... Like ‘99?

The Kidd - Yeah, I think that’s probably about when I actually started reading it as well, because I think we’re actually the exact same age.

Jamie Linden - Oh, what year did you graduate high school?

The Kidd - ‘98.

Jamie Linden - Oh, ‘97. I got you beat.

The Kidd - So I think I started reading it around then, and it’s always been a staple for people who love movies.

Jamie Linden - How’d you get the gig? How long have you been writing for them?

The Kidd - I’ve been with them since February. Because I’m actually based out of Miami, so we kind of got going that way, that we had never had anyone down here before, so we kind of pieced that together with Harry, who’s been trying to expand our fan base, and where our correspondents are.

Jamie Linden - It’s pretty exciting. It’s kind of like the... In the realm of new media, it’s like the gold standard in some ways, you know?

The Kidd - Yeah, I think we were really the first, and now there’s film sites all over the place that have popped up, but Ain’t It Cool was really the first on the scene to do what everybody else now does.

Jamie Linden - Yeah, that’s true.

The Kidd - Okay, let me ask you... Especially talking about new media, I think social media kind of plays to where 10 YEARS is a little bit. This is probably, I would imagine, the last of what we would see of reunion films, and I think a lot of that gets attributed to Facebook, and maybe not necessarily the need to get together every five, ten, fifteen years or so. So I just wanted to get your thought as far as how the film plays, and whether or not we’ve seen the death of high school reunions, moving forward.

Jamie Linden - Well, you know, in showing it to audiences and talking afterwards and Q&A’s and stuff, your theory may very well be right, and I find that kind of depressing, weirdly. The idea that... and obviously I’m on Facebook, I like Facebook, I like...being able to peek into lives with a degree of subterfuge, but nothing can replace the interaction of sitting down and talking to somebody, as awkward as that can be. The idea that social media might replace actual human gatherings for milestones such as 10, or 20 years after you graduate high school or college, feels like the first step to WALL-E. To the people at the end of WALL-E. It feels like something that still should have some sort of value. I guess I’m already sounding like an old man or like I’m... Like i’m outside of what the kids are thinking these days, but I still think there’s something to it. Even if they’re smaller and even if less people go, and even if it doesn’t have as much meaning, because it certainly doesn’t. There’s no surprises anymore.

The Kidd - Yeah. Well at this point, you can see what people are up to on a daily basis. It used to kinda be... You went to your reunion, or you pondered going to your reunion, because you wanted to see where people were at. How their lives turned out. Kinda this curiosity of where people ended up. And now that mystery is gone, you can see... If you want to know, you can look them up. And if they’re not on Facebook, that even seems strange to you. Like, “How come I can’t find this person?”

Jamie Linden - That’s true, but the mystery is only one part of what a reunion should be. It’s also about the human interaction. That being said, for people who didn’t enjoy high school, and there are a ton of them, I can certainly understand why they wouldn’t want to go to the reunion. And that was kind of one of our challenges. You know, the whole cast here... And we really only used... We talked about what medium we used to bring a bunch of people together. We wanted an excuse. Because we shot this differently than you shoot most big budget hollywood movies. We shot it in order. We shot it chronologically. We had a bunch of actors together with a very, very loose script, and multiple cameras that would catch whatever happened. We didn’t have any marks, and nobody had to stand in a certain place and say an exact line and so we were looking for a way... for a setting for that. We talked about weddings and we talked about funerals and we were all at that age when... Channing Tatum, who produced it, and Scott Porter, I went to high school with, and Channing’s producing partner Reid [Carolin], where reunions were on our mind and we had just gone and we thought that seemed as good an excuse as any, and that was the genesis of it. But we were sort of hyper-aware, because most of the actors didn’t go to their reunion, nor did they have any intent of going to their reunion, or any desire, so we were kind of aware of that, and we took that as a challenge. How do we make somebody else’s reunion where you have no backstory, where you don’t know these people... How do we make that, my the end of the movie, feel interesting. Especially when you’re juggling as many characters as we’re juggling. You know, Altman... again, as a filmmaker, I am the palest of comparisons to Robert Altman, but I just love things like NASHVILLE, where he takes such a broad, broad, broad canvas and tries to allow you to find universality and to find things you can identify with people across a spectrum and in a specific setting. That’s kinda what we were aiming for. 

The Kidd - Well then, when you’re piecing together a film like this, where high school, inherently, it’s just very cliqueish. You know, the archetypes and tropes in films of a high school nature, kind of... go into that, because that’s kind of how high school is set up. So is it just a natural transition to have these character types reflected and represented in how the film came together with each of the actors filling those slots?

Jamie Linden - Kind of... Well, the concept when Channing and I first started talking about it was that we wanted to subvert what THE BREAKFAST CLUB does. Which is... THE BREAKFAST CLUB very clearly delineated who’s who and what’s what. You’ve got your jock, and you’ve got your freak and you’ve got your bully and you’ve got your nerd, and in the world of THE BREAKFAST CLUB... I love THE BREAKFAST CLUB, but in that, you’re defined by the clique that you’re in. We wanted to see if we could take a bunch of people that look and talk relatively similar when we first meet them, and in fact, in the first act you really don’t know who these people are too much. We just kind of drop them right in the middle of the story, and then learn who they were in that John Hughes realm. By the end of the movie, you realize that Channing Tatum was the prom king and Rosario Dawson was the prom queen, and Oscar Issac was sort of the edgy musician and Kate Mara was the mousey girl in the glasses that of course turned into the beautiful thing. So we wanted to both play into and subvert those types, and pay some homage to movies like John Hughes’ and [Barry] Levinson’s DINER. That was kind of our template.

The Kidd - When you’re putting together something very small like this, and considering it’s your first film, how do you even begin to piece together a cast of this size but also of this quality, when you’re talking about something with a very small budget that’s shot very independently, to get someone like Channing and Rosario and Justin Long and Chris Pratt and Anthony Mackie... You can go down the list, but you know, how do you even begin to approach them with a project like this in the hopes that they’ll come aboard?

Jamie Linden - Well the first thing is that you start planning the project with... Of all the characters, I wrote four specific actors. And, in fact, I use their real names in the script. In the script, Channing Tatum plays Channing. Gary plays Gary, Mackie plays Mackie and Pratt played Pratt. We changed the names on the day before actual shooting. I let the actors pick their actual names so people wouldn’t confuse the actor for the character. I didn’t want everyone to this was autobiographical and it was Hollywood High. You know, I wanted it to feel like it could be anywhere. So, I knew the actors, and I spoke to all the actors before, and we came up with eh storylines together. I brought them into the process. Channing and I talked about what we wanted to do, which is to make this really naturalistic movie where the actors have control, and where they get to decide what happens and why, and I wrote a script, but the script is very loose, and we would figure out scenes and change it if we wanted to. If we disagreed with a character decision, they win the tiebreaker, because I trust them. I hired actors that I like, and that I trust, and that was the experiment. That was sort of our grand experiment. Can we do something like that and make it feel, at the end of the day, like a real movie. Because we were really doing it for the process. It was sort of a tonic for Channing, but especially for me, from the way that big budget studio movies are made. It confuses me as a writer to not have any rehearsal, and to start day one on scene 108 because that’s the location that’s available and the actors aren’t available until two weeks later for the first scene. And I get that that’s the reality, but we wanted to domsehting that felt much more natural and organic. So that’s how we got the cast, and that’s why they did it for nothing. The opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty and say, “Alright, this is as collaborative as we’re going to have of an experience in this town for a while, so let’s see what happens and cross our fingers.

The Kidd - The Chris Pratt character is really interesting to me because it’s a different take than we’ve seen on this high school bully type of archetype, because here you have this guy that’s kind of come to the realization that he was an asshole in high school, and is trying to make amends for this, but doesn’t really know how to. He still can’t get out of the way of who he was. When you’re crafting this with the actors in terms of developing the characters and what not,how much leeway do they have, and how much is being drawn in from people’s personal experiences as far as trying to make the characters then feel as if they would exist in a real world?

Jamie Linden - Yeah, well just using your example for Pratt, who, by the way, is a genius. Pratt is like... The other actors, when we were filming, would come down just to watch Pratt work. He’s so quick, and he’s so funny, and he’s so smart and he can improvise in character so quickly. A lot of actors can improvise in their own voices, but Pratt can improvise in characters that are polar opposite to him, and this guy is. Pratt wasn’t a bully at all in high school. Pratt was kind of the polar opposite of that, so what we wanted to do was to try to humanize a guy like that, who also can’t get out of his own way. I think it’s kind of heartbreaking. His heart’s in the right place, but he can’t... He can’t help but revert back to his old ways. He wanted and I wanted... I didn’t want this to be... In movies, and especially in movies like this, at the end of the movie, at the end of the night, everything to wrap up with a perfect bow. I really wanted to use his storyline and his character and illustrate the fact that that’s not the case. The vast majority of nights you go to sleep and you wake up and things are worse or things are better, and for Pratt, he wakes up the next morning and things are definitely worse as it comes back to him what happened over the course of the night, because he set out with the best of intentions. We wanted, for Pratt, who... There was a guy in high school who Pratt strongly didn’t like, and spent a lot of time wondering what made that guy tick, and what he would be like now, and that’s kind of what he drew from. This guy was a mean guy, and Pratt wanted, because Pratt is such a generous guy, he wanted to find something that existed between the two, and I think it’s really real. And that was our rule. It’s got to feel real. It’s interesting, because that character, when we did test screenings, it so wildly varies, between women and men. Men tended to love him, because he’s really funny, and you can sympathize with him to some degree, because all of us have gotten into our cups a little too much. And women to a large degree hated him, and hated that storyline, because they sympathized with Ari Graynor’s storyline, his wife. They know what it’s like to have to put up with something like that and having to apologize for something like that... Something like him. It’s hard to watch. Movies are still escapism, and that maybe felt a little too real to women, if I had to psychoanalyze people I don’t know. But it was really interesting, above all else. Like Oscar Issac and Kate Mara’s storyline tested great and Channing and Justin [Long] and Max [Minghella], but Pratt was such a wild swing, I found it kind of fascinating.

The Kidd - The other thing I found interesting was the Lynn Collins thread. Because here you have this popular girl in high school, kind of the life of the party, and then high school ends, and life kind of happens and there’s this concerted effort on her part to try and put back this perception of who she was for the people as to how they remember her. It kind of reminded me of the FAMILY GUY episode where Peter goes to his reunion and he’s like an astronaut-millionaire-secret agent, to try and impress people. I just wanted to get your thoughts on why people... With social media it’s a little bit less now, but why people feel the need to go to these events and put on this facade for people that you haven’t kept in touch with, you’re probably not going to see until the next reunion, but you want them to think that you’re something you’re not.

Jamie Linden - Well, I don’t think that social media has lessened that. I think that social media is aligned with that, and to some degree, with was my... That storyline was my nod to social media. I really didn’t want... You know how fast... It was not long before I started writing this I watched YOU’VE GOT MAIL... Have you watched it lately?

The Kidd - It’s like, I can’t believe we used AOL like this all the time.

Jamie Linden - Oh it’s crazy. The moment you hear the dial tone... the dial up... The 32.6 whatever it is, you go, holy cow... It just feels so dated, so quickly. And who knows what’s going to happen with Facebook 10 or 15 years from now, but I wanted to make a movie that’s... I don’t want to say timeless, but I purposely didn’t say where the movie was set, and I didn’t want it to feel too specific to this very specific day and age. So, the Lynn Collins thing, I think that’s what we do on Facebook every day. I think that’s what Facebook is set up to do. You can cull the images of you, and you can allow the perception of you to blast out to your friends. If somebody posts a picture of you, and you are blind stinking drunk, you untag yourself, you know? You post your accomplishments, and you don’t post your failures. Because who would do that?

The Kidd - Very true.

Jamie Linden - And I think Facebook is really about curating an image of what you want people to think of your life. In some ways, I think going to a reunion allows you to get past that and see who a person really is in real life, because... I’ll tell you... This is certainly true in... You hear all these stories of personal ads where the advertisement does not live up to the actual product, but I think that’s true with Facebook, too. I think all of us, and it’s just human nature, to want to put your best foot forward, and to try to find happiness and illustrate happiness, you know? And that’s what Lynn is doing... Lynn’s character is doing when she goes to this reunion, and when you strip away all of the artifice of what we do naturally, you’re left with something real and genuine and kind of naked, and hopefully kind of honest.

The Kidd - Let me ask you about the Oscar storyline, too, because there’s a real commentary about high school behavior in it, and the choices you make being dictated by your surroundings and your environment, almost as if high school makes the choices for you. You don’t really have a lot of say into what it is to what you do. Why do you think it is that in that time of your life you don’t realize that you can be whoever you want to be or do whatever it is you want to do until you are out of high school and people will accept you for whatever it is that you’re choosing to be in your life?

Jamie Linden - I think high school is all about... It’s such a rat race, and it’s such a little petri dish of competition and emotion and it’s all about... You just don’t want to stick out. You want to fit in. You don’t want to be ostracized. You want to make it through, and that’s part of growing up. Getting through that stage, and I think that’s why a lot of people don’t want to go back to their reunions and don’t want to think back on high school. It is because the person that they projected then isn’t the person who they really are. But you have to go through that, in order to come out of it. It’s kind of interesting though. We’re here at my high school, Lake Howell... The real Lake Howell, which is also where the characters went. Me and Scott Porter, who is an actor in the movie who went to high school here with me, we just talked to all of the kids, and it’s kind of amazing actually, just to... How things have progressed, and they all feel realer than it feels like we did.It somehow feels like it’s more accepting of... It’s more okay to be different, and I think that’s a good thing, and I think that the quicker we can get to that, the better off we are.

The Kidd - Alright, thanks a lot. I really appreciate you taking the time, and I really enjoyed the film. It’s got a nice trip down memory lane, and kind of this nostalgic take on high school and how you remember it. So good luck with it, and I hope it does really well.

Jamie Linden - I’m glad you liked it. I’m a fan of your site, congrats on the gig, and good luck.

The Kidd - Alright, thank you, man.

 

10 YEARS is open now in select cities.

 

 

-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

BillyTheKidd@aintitcool.com

Follow me on Twitter.

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