Take two comic actors, add a dash of Alfred Hitchcock, a sprinkling of Amber Tamblyn, drench the whole thing in a hard Seattle rain and look what you end up with — a psychological indie thriller that might very well surprise you.
Spiral is the brainchild of Joel David Moore who is better known for his work in front of the camera than behind. Though he’s appeared on dozens of TV shows such as House, E-Ring and LAX, he’s best known for his quirky roles in movies such as Dodgeball, The Hottie and the Nottie, Shanghai Kiss and Hatchet. This time Moore throws the switch on a hauntingly lonely character who paints in lieu of actually making contact with the world.
“Mason is an out-of-touch neurotic painter who becomes obsessed with his subjects and we pick up in his life when he meets the lovely Amber Tamblyn,” says Moore. “It’s about their relationship and where that’s going and how it spirals in or out of control. See how I did that?” He laughs, making fun of his own ability to “promo speak”.
And it’s that laughter that makes it hard to picture him in such a dark role. On the phone, Moore is anything but dark. He’s cheerful and funny and enthusiastic about this, a film he co-wrote, co-directed and stared in.
“We were looking for something we could put our stamp on. Something that was more of a drama that could take Zach (partner and best friend Zachary Levi) and I out of the comedic roles we’ve done in the past and show people that there’s more to us than meets the eye. We wanted to make a small, art house film, a suspense movie with a sort of Hitchcockian feel to it.”
A tall order for a newbie director, writer and producer.
“I gotta say it was scary,” admits Moore. “I was very forthright with everybody who was involved. I told people, look, I’m not pretending to know more than I know, there’s a lot I don’t know but I’m ambitious, probably to a fault, and this is something I want to do. So we went and we did it.”
Through the pouring rain in Seattle, they did it. Beg, borrowing and calling in favors in order to make a cinematic feature film on a shoestring budget.
“You have to wear a bunch of hats on an indie film and you have to wear them one after another or all at the same time! You’re going from producer to director or director to actor very quickly, making decisions from both the producer side and the director side. So the director side of me is saying, ‘let’s get a crane in here because I want this to be the biggest shot it can possibly be,’ but the producer side says, ‘we can’t afford $5,000 today, we have to save that for another day.’ I start arguing with myself and people think I’m really crazy.”
So how tough is it switching from director to actor?
“That, surprisingly, was not tough. Directing a feature has its own challenges, and very difficult challenges, but you’re so involved in the shot that pulling yourself out to act in the shot is not the hardest transition in the world. I probably scared Amber at times because I’d be in a really emotional scene and I’d pop out of it real quick and say, ‘Amber, I’m sorry can we move over and catch your light’ or ‘could you say that softer and I’ll try to overpower it,’ then I go right back into it. She probably thought I actually was psychotic.”
Add to that the tricky dynamics of directing your own best friend and it could have gotten ugly. Lucky for Moore, his best friend, Zachary Levi, was willing to pitch in wherever it was necessary to get the film in the can.
“I knew they (Moore and writing partner Jeremy Boreing) were writing the character of Berkeley for me. Then, when we decided to do it ourselves, Joel called me up and said, ‘Zach, we need your money!’ I got Amber Tamblyn involved and after that being a producer meant I was a cheerleader, supporting the people we hired to do what they came to do and making sure everyone got fed.”
Hey, never underestimate the power of food on a movie set or the impact of one actor on a film.
“Zach, he’s such a talented actor. People are going to enjoy seeing the emotions that he carries in this movie,” says Moore. “There’s a scene between the two of us at the end that is pretty gut-wrenching. It took a lot of emotion and hours of time, to the point where some of it I don’t even remember. We got so deep into our characters, it’s kind of a blur.”
Levi credits his friendship with Moore as one of the elements that made their on-screen relationship so intense.
“It was really good. The familiarity helped when it came to communicating. We sat down ahead of time and talked about the character so by the time we were ready to start shooting it was very smooth.”
Moore agrees. “At times there were discussions on set, say if I wanted a specific shot and maybe it’s hard to explain. ‘No, I want this guy inches in front of the camera and a guy out of focus in the back.’ There were some heated moments trying to explain what can and can’t be done. It’s something I will change as I move forward. Either I’ll learn to communicate what I want better or I’ll learn to not be so anal about exactly how the shot will be.
You learn from your mistakes and we were lucky that whatever mistakes we did make on this film didn’t last or effect it in any permanent way. I had a great team and if I went off in a direction I shouldn’t go in they sat me down and said, ‘look, we need this, this, and this.’ I trusted the people around me and they trusted me.”
Zachary Levi and Joel David Moore trust that you’ll enjoy their film, Spiral. Which opens in select cities on February 8, then goes to DVD on February 18.
In the meantime, check out the trailer for Spiral at the official Spiral website.
(Originally published at FilmGecko.com)
Zachary Levi and Joel David Moore in “Dueling Random Questions”
What was the last video game you played?
Zach: Rock Band for Xbox. That way I can get all my friends playing so I don’t feel like I’m alone. It’s like Karaoke on steroids.
Joel: The last video game I played was Assassins’ Creed. I got about an hour into it and went eh, this isn’t my favorite game, so I gave up on it. I’m going to back to a game I left off in New Zealand (where he’s been filming Avatar) called Bioshock for Xbox 360 and it’s phenomenal, a wonderful game and it still lies in New Zealand waiting for me to beat it. I’m going to go back there and kick the shit out of it.
You have $200 to spend a Best Buy. What are you going to buy?
Zach: I going straight for the video game section, but since I already own everything I want, I’d probably buy movies on DVD.
Joel: I’d get every single movie I’ve ever made because screw other people, I’m really happy with my own work so I want to own my movies. I’m going to lay them around my living room on the floor and I’m going to stand on top of my couch like my own proverbial soapbox and judge all others around me.
Captain Kirk Vs. Captain Jack Sparrow?
Zach: Kirk always. 10 out of 10.
Joel: In a cage match, no weapons of any sort, then Captain Kirk, because that guy can fight with his hands better than most of us. He did a lot of hand-to-hand combat. But if they met in a bar, Captain Jack Sparrow would win because he would try to find any blunt object to fight with to get out of the situation as soon as he could. (At which point he begins to ponder the possibilities of turning this into a short but funny video. “In this corner. . . “)
What item have you kept since you were a kid?
Zach: A dresser that belonged to my dad. I’ve held on to that all these years and I plan to hand it to my kid one day.
Joel: I had a Raggedy Andy blanket that I have had since I was in the crib. It literally stayed on the end of my bed through high school and college; it’s somewhere here in LA I’m sure. I actually remember asking my mom where it came from and I think my grandmother made it for me. So I’m going to go put that at the end of my bed after this conversation. (At which point he ponders the idea of bringing his blanket on every movie set from now on. It could be my trademark. I could work under it. My blankie, like the dude on Charlie Brown.)
Zach, tell me something people need to know about Joel.
Zach: He has no concept of time. He has this seven-minute rule. He thinks he can get anywhere in seven minutes. Burbank to Santa Monica in 7 minutes. I’ve learned never to travel with him. We live down the street from each other so it would be convenient to carpool, but I know I’ll be late.
Joel, tell me something people need to know about Zach.
Joel: I have a fun answer and serious answer. This movie is a perfect example of what people need to know about Zach, this is a wonderful character piece and something we wrote for him that can sort of be a catalyst to what I believe he’ll be doing in the future – this kind of drama, acting that’s not always comedy.
On the other side of it, he loves to play hours and hours of video games even when we all need to go and get something to eat and we can’t get him out the door. Sometimes I literally have to drag him out and away from his video games.
And on a more serious note:
What does the future hold for you?
Zach: It’s all about character to me. It’s about entertaining people. If I make them laugh or cry, I want to do it all. I’ll do any role people will trust me with. I also see myself writing, directing, producing. I want to do it all.
Joel: What’s nice about this industry is that I don’t have to choose; I can continue to act and direct. I can write while I’m doing a project. I’ve been shooting a movie all this year and my partner, Jeremy and I are now writing a comedy. So it’s something Zach and I could go and I could direct, if that’s the way it goes.
I definitely will be directing in the future and I will of course, continue to get better unless I get worse. . . . I’ll get a bigger head and get jaded about it and be like, ‘look if you can’t do this get off my set!’
What do you want people to know about Spiral
Zach: We’re three guys that never made a movie before. We worked really hard and we’re proud of it. It’s the real deal and I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they see it.
Joel: The biggest thing we want people to know is that it comes out in a limited theatrical release February 8 then we turn it right around and go into a DVD release on February 19. So check their local listings and if you’re in a city it’s playing in watch this movie in the theater. It’s cinematic and that’s one of the things we’re most proud of.