Catching Up With… Beeswax‘s Andrew Bujalski

Movies Features Andrew Bujalski

People like to make easy sense of Andrew Bujalski, but his work resists it. The 32-year-old writer-director’s first feature, Funny Ha Ha, is often described as the debut film of the so-called “mumblecore” movement, an increasingly untenable label for a loose collective of dirt-cheap movies where people interact clumsily and struggle to move beyond post-adolescence. But Bujalski’s films resist self-conscious cuteness and instead summon a stark, almost ominous sense of stunted connections, real or imagined. 

His third film, Beeswax;, is his most ambivalent yet. The movie, which opens tomorrow (Aug. 7), follows Jeannie (Tilly Hatcher), who co-owns a vintage shop and is on the verge of a lawsuit from her business partner. Her twin sister, Lauren (Maggie Hatcher), seems to be perpetually between jobs. From there, the Bujalski we’ve come to expect takes over.Paste: You met the headlining twin sisters and wrote the movie with them in mind, right? 

Bujalski: I’m as fascinated by twins as anyone who doesn’t have a twin…I met Maggie first, who plays Lauren in the film. I met her—we went to college together, and she actually acted in a student film I made there. And I met her sister shortly thereafter, and I just find them both to be immensely charismatic people. I fantasized for years about making a movie with them. I didn’t know what that was, of course, and certainly what we ended up with is not what I could have expected.

Paste: Is that something that you do often? Meet people and write movies about them?

Bujalski: Well, I don’t know about “often.” [laughs] I’ve done three features now and each time I’ve written roles for people who played them.  

Paste: One thing that always surprises people about your movies is that they come with an almost complete script.

Bujalski: Yeah. I mean, certainly it’s not a completely complete script—that doesn’t mean every word spoken by an actor in the movie is what’s on the page. We certainly leave room to play around a little bit.

Paste: Right, but do you specifically go for an effect where it seems like it might be not true? 

Bujalski: It’s just that I like material that feels like that. When I’m in the editing room, I like to be—it’s kind of the prime directive of these films that they have to feel fresh and they feel like people are feeling their way through the scenes, just as they would through life. That’s kind of what the movies are about. Sometimes it comes through an ad-lib moment, or sometimes it’s a well-rehearsed moment and it just has that feel.

Paste: Was there a significant change in the budget with this movie compared to the first two? 

Bujalski: Yes. It’s still very cheap for feature filmmaking…but I felt like the budget balloon had to do with everyone being over 30. You have to find a comfortable bed for everyone to sleep in now, and, occasionally, you need to eat something other than pizza. 

Paste: There also seemed to be a thematic evolution going on; it seemed like they were getting older, and this movie is maybe your first about actual adult lives.

Bujalski: I don’t like to do too much looking back and critical assessment of my own films, but certainly, if there’s any theme running through the three films, it would be fear of encroaching adulthood, and each film represents some stage of that.

Paste: There is an almost ominous element to some of the things the sisters say and do. 

Bujalski: That’s another challenge to this kind of filmmaking that infuriates many people, that I tend to portray them in a way that encourages interpretation from a number of different angles. I certainly don’t present any answers. 

Paste: For someone who is known for making movies as inexpensive as yours (some people would even say that’s your conceit), why has shooting on film remained so important to you?

Bujalski: The question is why does film feel the way it does and why does video feel the way it does, and it’s hard to talk about video because it’s evolving so constantly and the film-video divide is becoming murkier, certainly more than it was when we were shooting Funny Ha Ha. But it has to do with the way the movie feels and what it’s about: The way it feels is ultimately what it’s about. I think these movies would feel much different on video. 

Paste: Are you able to shut out all the breathless media attention your films have received, which has obviously changed a lot since the first movie? 

Bujalski: Certainly shutting off is something I would like to do. When we made Funny Ha Ha, we made it literally in a vacuum. We had no sense of who was ever going to see that movie or how. There was a vague sense that I wanted people to see it, but I had no idea who those people were. Of course, that innocence—if innocence is the right word for it—is not something I can maintain. I have read reviews and I do have a sense of what the public perception of the work is, and I think it can be useful, and it can be instructive, but it’s ultimately dangerous.

Paste: How long can you continue to work like this, then?

Bujalski: After you’ve made one film that’s gotten some kind of attention, what everyone in the world will advise you to do is “take it to the next level.” There’s a part of me that always likes the idea of, “What a minute, I like the level we were at, and I think we were doing valuable things at that level.” So there’s part of me that kind of wants to respect what we’ve done by trying to explore that level more before we go and make ourselves millionaires. [laughs] Which I don’t know how to do. 

Paste: Well, you could. I don’t think anyone expects you to direct Iron Man 3 or anything, but do you think you’ll end up with studio work?

Bujalski: If there’s a project that I care about and I can make a profit off of, if we can find that project, then I’ll be thrilled to do it. [pauses] In fact, even if it’s just more grossly—basically, if someone shows up at my house with a great big check, I probably won’t turn it down.

Paste: Really?

Bujalski: It’s not as easy as it sometimes looks. That’s where it’s always broken down. It’s just so much work to do something I care about, so that’s already big enough. I certainly don’t rule anything out. 

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