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Falling Back: An interview with Tom Gilroy, writer/director of “Spring Forward”

‘I’m not a technical genius,’ Gilroy admits as the conversation shifts into his no-coaxing tactic of working with actors. Yet Gilroy’s own admonition of a lack of technical proficiency, his general humility, and his frank discussion of actors’ terminology do no justice to how smart the man actually is. One of the few people smart enough to talk about R.E.M. and Faulkner in a fifteen-minute period, Tom Gilroy proves wrong the image of actors as idiots.

In the almost half-hour long conversation, Gilroy’s topics ranged from correct direction of actors, ambiguity as a narrative style, nonlinear plot, and why ‘the Independent revolution’ is a complete misnomer. Spring Forward is a film that grew out of ten days when Tom Gilroy and his father where holed up in a Holiday Inn while his mother was in a hospital across the street. As visiting hours were only five minutes out of every hour, Gilroy got an opportunity to talk at great length to his father… something many of us never do. Spring Forward is the result.

Gilroy describes Spring Forward as an ‘elliptical story. Early on, when I decided I wanted to tell this story,’ Gilroy says, ‘I decided I didn’t want to do it in a linear narrative… it was the only way to tell this story. There’s absolutely no way you can do this with a linear narrative, because a linear narrative is about hurrying up. This is about taking time and how long it takes to build a relationship between two people, and that’s very difficult to do in a linear narrative.’

Indeed, Spring Forward is a movie that is, by Gilroy’s own admonition, ‘more like a novel.’ And, while this may be normally a cardinal sin in filmmaking, Gilroy pulls it off. Perhaps this is because Gilroy consciously goes against the standard method of direction by living in the completely ambiguous realm. When I asked Gilroy whether he thought that the ambiguity was letting go of some control, he gave the following interesting response:

‘You don’t really relinquish anything. In fact, what you’re doing is you’re taking on more control. Because it’s a fallacy to assume that by being anal and really controlling of what you want them to feel that they are actually feeling what you want them to feel.’

Since the discussion had at this point led itself to being anal and controlling, it was a minor hop-skip-and-jump into talk of the Independent revolution, where I was given yet another interesting response concerning the recent films of Michael Stipe (who executive produced Spring Forward):

‘These films, should they have been made in the late 60s or early 70s, would have been mainstream films. Like Five Easy Pieces. Being John Malkovich is a movie like Catch-22 or a great Vonnegut. All of these films are like films from the hey day of American cinema, which is the late 60s and early 70s. But because we’ve become such a market-oriented run industry that it takes people who come from outside the industry to carry to continuum of American cinema.’

Like most directors, he admits that if he or any Indie filmmaker could make their movie for $10M-$15M of studio money, they would jump at the chance… provided that they could have the artistic control. He lauded the efforts of Good Machine and Single Cell to bring back intelligent cinema, and, very nervously, put his own film in the list of movies trying to restore intelligent cinema’s place in America’s heart.

It belongs there.

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