SPANISH FILMMAKER ALBERT MOYA TAKES A UNIQUE LOOK AT THE LIVES OF UPSCALE MANHATTANITES IN “AMERICAN AUTUMN,” IN WHICH A GROUP OF FORTY-SOMETHING FRIENDS’ TENSE, CONFESSION-FILLED DINNER PARTY IS PLAYED OUT BY CHILDREN. IT’S AN IMAGINATIVE AND WICKEDLY SMART DEBUT BY MOYA, WHO WASN’T DAUNTED BY AN ALL-KID CAST. IN FACT, AS WE DISCOVERED DURING OUR CHAT WITH THE WRITER-DIRECTOR, HE’D BE HAPPY TO ONLY WORK WITH KIDS IN HIS FILMS.
TEXT Ned Ehrber
DIRTY: SO… WHY KIDS?
ALBERT MOYA: I guess it’s something that always interested me in terms of conveying a message. It’s like this connection, this adult-kids, kids-adult relation. When I was a child I had a lot of intense stuff in my family and I always had to be a bit more like a grownup to understand stuff to be able to know what was going on. I don’t know, I’m 23 right now but I always felt I was born in another year, you know, like I am older.
D: I KNOW THAT FEELING VERY WELL.
AM: I love when you explain a story, if you can just put that theme in another context, in a completely different and unexpected context, I think it’s really nice the way you serve that theme from another point of view. It just gives you another completely new perspective.
D: WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR THE STORY ITSELF COME FROM?
AM: Well, this was my first narrative film. I really love films from the ’60s and ’70s, especially the ones that talk about families and friends and relationships, and I’ve always felt very attracted to this class of people. I think it’s very interesting, all the different colors or things you can find inside this group. It’s something I kind of lived as well, so I guess I was really into explaining a story from a bourgeois kind of people — but with kids.
D: IT CAPTURES THAT NEW YORK, UPPER WEST SIDE ATMOSPHERE PERFECTLY.
AM: Yes, absolutely. It’s great that I wrote the script here because I think Americans are really… I don’t know. Since I arrived here I’ve really learned that they have a lot of obsessions in life. We are more relaxed in Europe, I guess.
D: WHAT SORT OF OBSESSIONS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
AM: I don’t know, for example here right now I think food, it’s like a super-trend. Like, everyone loves to cook. I mean, maybe this has always been like this. I’ve been here for two years and that’s what I’ve seen, but maybe it’s from before that. But I see people really like to take care of eating well and spending a lot of time reading books and trying to surprise their friends with impossible recipes. I don’t know, it’s kind of funny because I have some friends here that when we go to their houses or something it’s like, “OK, let’s spend the day cooking,” and at the end of the day they are doing friend chicken with some kind of weird salad, but then it doesn’t taste so good. But they like to spend the whole day doing that.
D: WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU FOUND SURPRISING OR DIFFERENT IN THE U.S. SINCE YOU’VE ARRIVED?
AM: I feel like it’s harder to find real friendship, in a way. I guess in Europe it’s a bit like this but maybe it’s not so strong. Here everyone who is in New York, they have a goal that they want to achieve. I guess there’s factors like paying the rent is super-expensive and it’s kind of hard, so I guess people don’t have the time. So this is a bit hard for me, being here.
D: I IMAGINE THAT’S ESPECIALLY ACUTE IN FILMMAKING OR THE ARTS.
AM: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I don’t know, I find nice people, but it’s not so easy. I guess, I don’t know, I should spend more time here and see if that’s not true. I mean, I’m just speaking from my two years’ experience here. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.
D: HAVE YOU WORKED ON ANYTHING ELSE SINCE?
AM: No, I’m doing music videos. I’m preparing a big project right now, and I need to find some money for that project, so while I’m not shooting that project I’m just doing music videos. I just finished the new video for the Polyphonic Spree. I’ve been working with them and it was really nice. I had a really fun time. They’re really nice people. I mean, we had a lot of difficulties on set but I think we’re all happy with the results. They really liked “American Autumn,” and we were thinking of doing kind of a remake of the short, and in that the singer of the band was the only adult in the video.
D: FOR “AMERICAN AUTUMN,” HOW WAS IT DIRECTING A CAST OF CHILD ACTORS?
AM: It was very familiar but at the same time it was a bit crazy, especially because we worked a lot of hours and the kids get tired really quick. But I guess the nice part is that we’d been done a lot of rehearsals before shooting. We’d been working for almost a month at my home. I always have a lot of fun working with kids. It’s something magical, it goes well. I’ve never had a hard time working with them. Of course, it’s difficult because they’re very fragile. You really have to find another way to communicate with them differently from the rest of the crew. But I don’t know, to me it’s like I could keep working just with kids my whole film career. I’m always very emotional when I start rehearsals with them. You wrote some specific lines, and the way they deliver those lines, it’s just like another thing. It’s like a surprise, and maybe it’s much better than the thing you thought before, you know? I feel really comfortable working with them.
D: HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THEY UNDERSTOOD THE SUBJECT MATTER?
AM: After two weeks of rehearsal they all understood what was going on. And that was really magical, because we’d be working one day at home and suddenly Ebon, the guy who plays Trevor, who wears glasses, he was like, “Oh, wait wait wait” and stopped the rehearsal, and he said, “I think I got it, so what’s going on is he is having an affair with her, and she was married to him.” And that was like, wow, they really got it, you know? And once he got it, all the rest of the kids really tried hard to understand, and it happened and it was really good, I think. We’d been watching a lot of small parts of Woody Allen movies and all these kinds of characters that really helped them to have an idea of their characters.
D: SPEAKING OF WOODY ALLEN, WHAT WERE YOUR INFLUENCES FOR THIS PARTICULAR FILM AND AS A FILMMAKER IN GENERAL?
AM: I mean, I really love “Interiors,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” and all this stuff, but I think my favorite filmmaker is Noah Baumbach. He made “Margot at the Wedding,” “the Squid and the Whale.” I really love his scripts, especially. I’d already started following him when he was writing stuff for Wes Anderson, and that’s how I started to know his work. I really love all the complexity and all the deepness that he has in his scripts in terms of relationships, family relations and especially parents divorcing and all this stuff. It really got me. And I love David Lynch as well, I’m a huge fan of his. I don’t know, I also love Lukas Moodysson — he’s from Sweden and he made that movie called “Together.” I mean, I love a lot of filmmakers, actually. It’s hard to choose. But to me all the cinema I love or the ones that make me feel attached is when I feel that some truth is going on there — in terms of performances, in terms of the script, when I feel a movie doesn’t have limits and everything is kind of wild — not wild, just true. When you believe what you are seeing, you know?
D: AS A BAUMBACH FAN, HAVE YOU SEEN “FRANCES HA” YET?
AM: Not really. The part I didn’t explain to you is that I hate when Noah writes scripts with his partners. For example, the one he wrote with Jennifer Jason Leigh, “Greenberg,” I thought it was not so great. I don’t have any connection with Greta Gerwig, so I don’t know. I’m a bit afraid of watching this movie — especially because all my friends who went to watch it told me it was a bit like, “I don’t know, it’s fine.” So I didn’t.