Tuesday, September 25

Filmmaker finds unexpected ‘Sleep’


By Colburn Tseng

Writer-director Rory Kelly slouches in a chair at the Westwood
Marquis Hotel munching on cookies when he makes a surprising
disclosure. The topic of conversation is the UCLA film school
graduate’s employment history before directing his debut feature
"Sleep With Me," which recently opened in New York and Los
Angeles.

After working as a camera assistant and in special effects on
several films, Kelly decided that if he wanted to make his own
films, he needed to get out of production. "So I thought, ‘What
stupid job can I get that I don’t have to define myself by?’" says
Kelly. "So I went to the archive at UCLA and got a job as the film
traffic manager.

"It was actually a cool job," Kelly quickly adds with a broad
smile. Dressed casually in a green denim shirt, jeans and Nikes,
the 33-year-old’s friendly enthusiasm is almost contagious. "I had
my own office and a computer, and I used to shut the door to the
office all the time and smoke cigarettes and write screenplays. Oh,
I was bad! I was the Archive’s worst employee of all time, there’s
no doubt about it. ‘Cause I got the job down to a science. I could
literally do it two hours a day."

If Kelly’s most recent career advancement is any indication,
then his days at the archive were well spent. With an ensemble cast
including Eric Stoltz, Meg Tilly, Craig Sheffer and a hilarious
cameo by "Pulp Fiction" writer-director Quentin Tarantino, "Sleep
With Me" is a smart, wickedly funny comedy about love, sex and
commitment in the ’90s.

Structured around a group of friends at several different social
gatherings, the film was written by Kelly and five other writers.
Kelly’s original conception of "Sleep With Me" was a low-budget, 16
mm. film he would show on the film festival circuit. Kelly and
Roger Hedden, writer of "Bodies, Rest, & Motion," would write
the screenplay and ask their friends to be in it.

"Roger and I structured the thing out and came up with this
party structure, which we were actually stealing from "The Great
Gatsby," of all places," Kelly explains. "Parties and cars, that’s
what that book is. So is "Sleep With Me."

"After we came up with that idea, we were more intrigued with
what kind of parties we could have. So we made a list of parties.
And then Neal Jimenez, who’s like a rabid poker player, found out
there was a poker scene, and asked if he could write it. So then we
thought, ‘Oh jeez. What scene could we best match with a friend
who’s a writer?’"

Jimenez, whose numerous credits include "River’s Edge" and "The
Waterdance," which he also co-directed, was a friend of Kelly’s
from their student days at UCLA. Another writer, Michael Steinberg,
was also a friend from UCLA. Steinberg, who also produced Sleep
With Me, directed "Bodies, Rest & Motion," and co-directed "The
Waterdance" with Jimenez. The rest of the writing chores were
handled by screenwriter Duane Dell’Amico and novelist Joe
Keenan.

The script was written almost simultaneously, with each of the
six working with little or no knowledge of the others’ scenes. "For
the most part, we had no plot for the movie," Kelly reveals. "Roger
Hedden and I sketched out this thing where a guy falls in love with
the best friend’s wife a day before the wedding. Then what happens?
And what we really came up with was that they go to a barbecue,
they play poker, there’s a dinner party and a tea party, and then
we came up with two key plot points."

To reveal these two points would spoil the movie. But as long as
those two things happened, each writer was free to do anything he
wanted. "So we just kind of threw it together that way, but that
made it fun," Kelly recalls. "I’m making it sound like it was so
arbitrary when in fact it wasn’t, because, you know, we’re all
serious writers … It was like a jazz improv. You just had to come
back to the theme eventually."

Eric Stoltz was the first actor to sign on. But even with Stoltz
aboard, Kelly still intended to shoot the film on 16 mm. "I’ve
known Eric for four or five years, so even having him in the movie
just seemed normal to me because he comes to my house for
basketball games and stuff … but once we got Meg Tilly, we said
‘Ah! Let’s get some money.’"

While some might suspect a film written by six people to suffer
from disjointedness, "Sleep With Me" flows very naturally. The
performances are superb, and the scenes, distinctly separated in
the film by title cards, blend perfectly. Kelly attributes this to
the unique friendships between the writers and the actors.

"You take these six writers who have known each other for years
and have them get together and write a script essentially about
themselves. We’re all characters in the film. So you’re taking
these guys who all know each other intimately, who have this odd
intimate knowledge of all the characters.

"And then you take this group of actors who’ve essentially known
each other for as long as the writers have. So they take this
script about a group of friends, written by a group of friends,
played by a group of friends, and it suddenly becomes this really
intimate unforced thing …

"It has the feel of a Little Rascals episode. Let’s make a
movie, and you all go to Darla’s house, and I’m Spanky, and I’m in
charge of the camera. You know what I mean? And we just made this
movie."

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