Greg Mottola: interview

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After making a splash directing ‘Superbad’, Greg Mottola returns to his indie roots with 'Adventureland' - a self-scripted film about teenagers sentenced to gruelling summer jobs at a low-rent fairground

Adventureland’ feels like a personal film, something you had to earn the right to make. Was it like that?
‘It’s my ambition to be able to make one studio movie, then follow it up with something a bit more personal. I came from film school wanting to emulate my heroes – mainly Woody Allen – and write and direct all my own stuff. That isn’t necessarily what I’m doing, but then I never viewed “Superbad” as a pay-cheque movie. I loved making it.’

The new film is set in the late 1980s, but you keep the period design subtle.
‘I just wanted it to feel like it was a story that took place 20 years ago, but due to the actual fashions of the ’80s, it’s tough to keep the kitsch at bay. I also tried to make sure that there were no jokes about how lame the ’80s were. When I sat down to write it, my memory of that time – before the internet and mobiles and texting – was of a time of innocence. The way young people had relationships back then, I felt that it might as well have been the 1880s.’

The main character, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is a college leaver who is forced to take a low-paid job because his parents can’t afford to fund his travels. Where did that come from?

‘Back then I had a couple of friends whose families were struggling with money, and some of my ideas came from there. The year 1987 was when “Wall Street” came out, and bankers and businessmen were treated like icons. Within cinema, too, it was the time when the system became geared towards box office and wages and advertising. It’s not like this film offers a profound discussion of the effect money had on culture, but there’s a little of the panic one has when you don’t know where you’re going and you’re short of cash.’

What other things were you thinking about when you wrote it?

‘I was remembering a time when I came out of school, brimming with enthusiasm. I was in architecture college but was obsessed with film and writing. I wanted to go to film school in New York and I had these fantasies about paying for an apartment with an internship at The New Yorker. I learned quickly that I wasn’t skilled enough to be doing interesting things, and that internships didn’t pay. I found myself taking a really shitty job. Looking back, I recognise a kind of childish self-pity. I also have fond memories of the romantic ideals of young people.’

You mentioned Woody Allen as a hero. What other directors are you fond of?
‘The list is corny, but I’m not ashamed. I worship Fellini, I love Kurosawa, I love Truffaut. I tend towards filmmakers who make personal films. I love ensemble movies – I’m a big fan of Robert Altman. Outside cinema I read a lot of Chekhov. I like stories about ordinary people but not sentimental ones. I hate films that are cynical about suburbia. So many filmmakers insist that it has this seething underbelly, and while “Blue Velvet” is amazing, I feel it has spawned films that weren’t so brilliant.’

Author: Interview: David Jenkins



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