Peter Stark Program alumnus John August ’94, the man behind the words of such films as Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels, Corpse Bride and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is set for a whole new experience when his directorial debut The Nines opens in Los Angeles and New York on Aug. 31.
“I want audiences to feel a little befuddled,”? August said about his latest work. “People’s opinions of this film will shift in the days after they watch it,” he added, when asked how to explain the movie without giving away the plot. “At its heart is the question of the creator’s responsibilities to his creations, and at what point are you allowed to walk away from what you’ve done?”
Starring Ryan Reynolds (Blade: Trinity, The Amityville Horror), Hope Davis (Infamous, Charlie Bartlett) and Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls), The Nines has the actors playing three different roles in a trio of short films � although all is not as separate as first suspected.
In describing his newfound role as director, August admitted he never sought to use his talent as a stepping-stone to sit behind the camera, adding that he remains a writer first. “This film was a story I really wanted to tell, and I just knew there was no way someone else was going to be able to direct it.”
Using his Los Angeles home as one of the shooting locations, August was more nervous about the disruption to his neighborhood than with the mechanics of making a feature film.
“It’s a marathon and you need endurance,” he said. “I learned the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and had a specialty. If you try too much to be hyphenated, people don’t know what to do with you. Stark gave me the vocabulary I needed to ask the right questions and how to figure out the challenges I’d face along the way. I came out of USC a writer and that was very helpful.”
Although people have offered projects for him to helm in the past, the newly minted writer-director said he never felt any pressure to do it all.
“I can write four movies in a year, but I can direct only one, so it’s a huge sacrifice for me,” he added. Though The Nines was the one film he felt passionate about directing, he now realizes “what a luxury it is to be just a writer.”
No stranger to press junkets, August is relishing the attention that being a director has given him on the publicity circuit.
“Generally the writer takes a backseat, and my role has usually been to provide commentary on the DVD releases,” he said. Now that the coverage and screenings of The Nines is in full swing since its initial Sundance debut, he admitted that he’s fully switched gears from scripting and running his screenwriting informational Web site, and he’s now “in the headspace needed to promote the film.”
With a hectic schedule that has taken him from Austin to Venice and then back to Los Angeles for the film’s premiere, August pointed out that he’s learned to relinquish his tendency to micromanage.
“I recognize where I have to let go,” he said with a laugh.
One of the places he’s most looking forward to appearing this fall is USC, where he serves on the school’s Alumni Development Council.
“I’ll try to be honest about what works and what doesn’t,” he said, referring to his film’s upcoming screening in Leonard Maltin’s 466 course. “But I’ll warn the kids in advance that The Nines is going to be uncomfortable.
“There are a lot of questions that aren’t really answerable, but that’s what’s so great about it. Movies invite dialogue, and a lot of times there are no answers, just a lot of interesting questions.”