Sundance Features

January 20, 2008

Carlos Brooks, Quid Pro Quo

"The best detective stories are the ones where the detective ultimately realizes he's been investigating himself."

(This feature is part of an ongoing series of Reeler profiles of New York films and filmmakers at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. Click here for a complete list of this year's interviews.)

THE REELER: In your own words, please take a second to outline Quid Pro Quo.

CARLOS BROOKS: Quid Pro Quo is about an NPR-type reporter who uses a wheelchair and stumbles on a, let's say, subterranean culture of people who wish they used wheelchairs. That seems like kind of an NPR-like story. So he's in the process of pursuing that when he meets a woman who may or may not actually be the grown child who injured him in the first place and killed his parents.

R: What got you started on the idea?

CB: I wrote the script just to write. I didn't write it to direct or anything; I just wanted to write something different. I've always wanted to write a detective story, and what this really is is a detective story in disguise. It's an investigative journalistic piece, and the best detective stories are the ones where the detective ultimately realizes he's been investigating himself. I would never write an actual detective story -- at least I don't think I would -- but that's what this secretly is.

I guess initially I thought, aside from that conceit, what I was passionate about in the story was that I loved the idea of talking about somebody who was impaired in some way who would get something that allowed him to overcome his impairment. And this thing he was given -- this talisman, whatever it would be -- would come with some sort of cost. I thought it would be interesting that if it was an injury that impaired him, then it would be interesting if the cost of having this thing would be that he had to help the person who initially injured him. There's a quid pro quo in that. From there, I kind of hit the wall; where it really caught fire was when I realized that these people really exist.

R: Definitely -- I've heard about this. To what degree did you research or interview anyone from this subculture?

CB: You can imagine these people are incredibly private. There have been a couple of things on 48 Hours about amputee wanna-bes, but never anything about paralysis. I don't even think it's been codified in the psychological journals yet; there is no actual term for the pathology. When I was at the stage where I didn't know about these people, I went online. I realized I wasn't as comfortable with the culture of disability as I thought I was, and I started Googling different terms that would really get me into this culture. And who else is out there doing that at 2 in the morning? It's these people! I kind of vectored in on them. Then I just lurked; I visited all these Web sites where they posted to each other, encouraged each other, and they're not at all crazy-sounding. They aware of what people like you and I think of them, and they’re very concerned that they find acceptance. I couldn't look away.

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I created a Bible of information -- just stuff that I found about people and their testimonies. I developed character ideas from that, and then I gave that Bible to the actor who played the part, Vera Farmiga. We're the only two people who've seen it.

R: I wanted to ask you about casting Vera. How did she come to the project?

CB: She approached us. It was a few years ago; the project was delayed a couple of times, and I met her before The Departed came out and she'd really broken. I don't even think she had won her award at Sundance yet [for Down to the Bone]. Vera's really good at making audition tapes -- she could teach a master class -- and the character was kind of written like this sort of stylized, waking dream. But she made it so real. She really blew me away. She flew down; we did some auditions, and it was a long process casting her and getting the financiers to understand how great she is. They did ultimately, and she got the part. That was it. She's grown in her indie stature since then, but we really didn't know that much about each other before then. She just dialed into it.

R: And now she's in her thousandth Sundance film, but it's your first. What are your thoughts, hopes or concerns headed into Park City?

CB: I'm really thrilled. People use that word way too much, but I really am thrilled to be going to Sundance. For once I can genuinely say that But with the subject matter of the movie, I'm really curious. I think Sundance is a place that’s really good at promoting political and social awareness about things, whereas my film has more of a European theme: I'm interested in the metaphor and the individual.

We treat the subjects in a really enlightened way. People who were disabled were involved in a facets of making it. There's a lot of commonality, but that's as political as it gets. I wonder if people will have a knee-jerk reflex to look at this in a political light. Hollywood is historically horrible at showing people with disabilities, and I think it conditions people to look at that subject mater in a politically correct arena. They want to be sure that they're on the right side of it. This is taking it way beyond that -- I'm just writing about people. So I'm curious to see if people take what I intend from it or if they want to look at it from that other way. I'm interested in finding out.

Comments (1)

I am utterly fascinated to hear about this movie. I am one of those people who need to be paralysed, and can't wait to see how Mr. Brooks has treated "our" topic. FWIW, while it is not in the DSM, the condition does have a name: Body Integrity Identity Disorder. It is also mentionned in several articles and research papers.

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