The Academy Awards are coming up this weekend. They’ll honor the top films and filmmakers from 2016. But if you want to be ahead of the game when it comes to what’s going to make a splash in the film world this year – the best places to look are film festivals. The first big film festival of the year is always Sundance. And the big winner this year was a movie by a first-time director from Texas, Macon Blair.
Blair is a writer, a director, an actor, and a dad, but the title you’re probably most familiar with is actor. Blair has been in well over a dozen film and TV projects – most notably starring in Blue Ruin, Green Room and Murder Party, films directed by his childhood friend Jeremy Saulnier.
“When we were younger, in elementary school, we bonded over movies like Robo Cop and Aliens and Die Hard and sort of action-thriller type movies.” he says.
Action-thriller certainly describes Saulnier’s body of work. And those influences are clear in Blair’s directorial debut, the appropriately if not long-windedly-titled I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. It’s about a woman having the worst day ever – so she decides to take matters into her own hands. But there’s another element in this film, starring indie giants Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood. There’s a large dose of comedy.
“Very broad tonal shifts just make sense to me in my own head and it’s a personal thing but when I was writing I saw no conflict with having something really horrific going on with also something very slapsticky and broad and something you would think it would come from an ‘Airplane’ movie.” says Blair.
That’s probably part of what impressed Sundance audiences about this film – that they could be prompted to laugh so hysterically during otherwise very intense and drama-filled scenes.
“Knowing that it was something I was going to direct, I kind of had this attitude of let’s think about it as if you’re never going to get a chance to do this again so what are the boxes that you want to check if you only get to make one movie. If this is like the thing that’s going to be on your tombstone.” says Blair.
One thing he did was employ a lot of people he liked.
“I put my mom and my dad in it in small parts, my brothers recorded the score, my wife’s in it.”
He also planned to make the film in his new hometown, but that didn’t work out.
Blair says “It was written to shoot in Austin. The house that Ruth lives in – the character played by Melanie Lynskey was written as my house. All the geography was, I just assumed we would shoot it there and in my backyard.”
But it turns out that it was cheaper – even with the expenses of moving his whole family across the country – to film in Portland.
“And it boiled down to the tax incentives which were much more attractive in Portland and we could just get more bang for our buck. I hope at some point to do a movie in Austin. It’s certainly easier than moving the family to another state for four months but… I don’t know, it was hard to argue with the math.” he says.
That’s the equation a number of filmmakers have encountered recently. Oscar-nominated films Nocturnal Animals and Hell or High Water were set in Texas but not filmed here. The good news for Blair it that it looks like it won’t be long before he gets another chance to direct. He’s already moving forward on a project – and he’s still balancing acting and writing gigs.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is skipping the rest of the film festival circuit and the theatrical debut. It will be on Netflix starting tomorrow.
“When we delivered all the elements to them it was getting translated into just dozens and dozens of languages because it will literally be worldwide all at once on the 24th – which is just wild. That sort of scope is never something I thought we would have had in a small film like this.” Blair says.
Macon Blair’s next film just may be larger. With a Sundance Grand Jury prize under his belt he seems to be a Texas filmmaker worth keeping an eye on.