"A strange balancing act;" Q&A with writer/director Paul Weitz
Q: When you began preparing Being Flynn in 2004, you had already been
writer/director on one surrogate father/son story, About a Boy; and were
in post-production on a second, In Good Company. So was this actual
father/son story then that much more of a draw for you?
Paul Weitz: Not in a particularly conscious way. I read Nick's book, and the
core story stuck with me. This idea of the disparity between a powerful
father figure and how you see them functioning in the world is, I think,
central to a lot of people's lives.
First off, although my dad [the late John Weitz] was a successful fashion
designer, he also would have preferred to have been known as a writer.
He wrote a couple of a nonfiction biographies and novels which were
published. He was, I think, both driven and haunted by his ideal of being a
writer. I myself have wondered about how much of what drives you
towards work is egotism, and how much of it is something purer than that.
This story's situation is of a young guy with a father who fancies himself a
great writer but who has never actually been able to finish anything. The
idea that Nick had this father with a destructive, egotistical relationship to
writing and that Nick ended up being a successful writer and doing all the
mundane, boring things that it takes to actually write, really spoke to me.
Especially, I think, when one works in Hollywood; even more so than when
writing just pure literature, you're constantly having to question why you're
doing what you're doing. Is it for success? Is it because you want to be
critically lauded? Or is it because there's something simpler and more
important than that, in terms of bringing something into being?
Q: Were there other overlapping points of interest beyond family history
PW: The aspects of both drug abuse and alcoholism in the story spoke to
me as well. My dad was of the generation where one might occasionally
have a Chivas Regal at 11 in the morning, and I - when I was younger -
had to face the thought that I was drawn to obliterating my own
personality with alcohol and drugs. The aspect of self-obliteration tying
into ego and also tying into creativity was a strong element of this; for me,
it wasn't just a father/son story, but a story about the joys and pitfalls of
Nick is a poet, and the book happened to be utterly beautiful; it was one
of the rare books that I read where, the more often I read it the more
patterns I would see in it. That would have been daunting were it not for
the fact that Nick himself is such an encouraging person; he gave me
license to create a version of his story that is extremely personal to me.
Q: What do you feel was the deciding factor of getting Nick Flynn to trust
you, back in 2004 when you first met?
PW: A strange balancing act; I was able to personalize certain things
about the story, although I never put someone else's experiences as
directly akin to mine. But I was able to express why I felt deeply about it.
We became friends during the course of the whole experience, and I was
glad that it turned out I was not bulls-ting Nick about eventually making
the film. I think Nick read almost all of those 30 drafts [laughs], even the
ones that didn't live up to what I hoped the film would be. Like a lot of
intelligent people who have gone through trying things, Nick is a relativist;
he gets the joke on an essential level. He felt that I was always honoring
the core of what he'd done by writing the book. He's a friggin' nice guy,
and I managed to get him to largely put his life on hold and stick around
during shooting, to make sure that Bob De Niro, Paul Dano, and I felt that
there was somebody who could tell us if something was BS or not.
When I was first meeting with Nick, I said, "I need to ask you a favor; I'd
like to be talking about a character named Nick Flynn. So I'm not going to
say, 'You do this' or 'You do that.' It's going to be 'Nick does this' or 'Nick
does that.' Is that OK with you?" And Nick was fine with it, although I think
he is writing a memoir about the experience of having a film madeā¦
He is into detaching from things, and keeping his ego at bay so that he
can see more clearly what is going on in the world. The moment he
bought into the idea that Nick Flynn in the movie was a character, it gave
me license to have the character doing and saying things that Nick never
did or said.
Just by the act of writing a memoir, you're taking a step away from what
one would think of as reality; Nick understands that, even in the act of
writing a memoir, you're creating a character. This distinguishes him from
people he would be on the reading circuit with, people who, it later
turned out, were lying about their personal history.
A common ground for us was a feeling that we were each in our own
way burning inside about how much of oneself is inherited and how much
of oneself one can create. We both aspire to be unpretentious - [laughs] I
aspire to that, but I think Nick achieves it.
You get the feeling, as you grow older, that you don't really make new
friends in life. But this feels like a friendship of value, that Nick is a
have for the distance.
Q: You went a distance with him in terms of working on the script for years.
PW: When you work on so many drafts, for seven years, it occurs to you
that you might go on and on doing endless rewrites - and never make the
movie, which sounds like it might be a bad thing. But it is, in fact, quite
reassuring; because if you never make it, you'll never have to contend
with a particular version of it which might not live up to what you see as
Very luckily, I didn't get to make it four years in, because that would have
been at a studio with more of a mandate to try to make mainstream films
- and that would have been fairly fatal for this. There are filmmakers who
work at their craft in a marvelous vacuum and don't sully themselves with
commercial thoughts; I have not been in that vacuum. [laughs] I've
learned a lot from mistakes that I've made - as well as from things that
I've done properly. As I was making Being Flynn, I felt that I was using
every iota of what I've learned over the last 10 years of making films,
putting it towards making this as much what it needed to be as possible.
By the time it did get made, I was firm in my decision-making process,
aesthetically, which allowed me to film Being Flynn quickly, on a tight
Q: In terms of the adaptation - the final draft that was filmed - what was
the single biggest change, or telescoping, that you had to make?
PW: Admitting that because the budget was low I was not going to be
able to shoot a lot that wouldn't end up in the film; I wasn't going to be
able to experiment with certain things. I had to boil the film down to its
essence, get to the bones of it.
That essence, as I see it, includes - something in the memoir that Nick
would not necessarily refer to - the logic of self-hatred, and how one
deals with it. I don't think Nick was consciously dwelling on that but in a
memoir about self-destructiveness it's going to be part of the discussion.
Q: You have to impose perspective; otherwise, you can't make a movie.
PW: No question, but I also wanted to honor the poetical structure of the
book. There are some metaphors from the book which fell by the wayside
in favor of other ones from the book.
There was a section in the book where Nick finds out that his grandfather
was the inventor of a particular lifeboat, and an
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