(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: I saw Aquarium last year at Woodstock, but I'd like you to take a second to describe it for readers in your own words
ROB MEYER: It's based largely on my life -- with a few important exceptions -- as a nerdy, kind of off-beat teenager growing up in the Boston suburbs. I used to be a member of the Boston Aquarium Society and would enjoy going to the fish meetings and enjoy talking about breeding fish and going on fish collecting trips; I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was in high school. I always thought it would be a great world and ripe for film in terms of the visual and elemental metaphors of water and aquatic exploration. So the kernel of the film started with the idea of aquarium fish breeding, and also there's sort of inherent comedy in that world. The rest of the story came as I developed it as a graduate student at NYU, and it dealt with more serious themes I'm always interested in exploring: coming to realize our own mortality, losing pets and kind of a coming-of-age film that deals with serious issues. But hopefully it's also light-hearted and heartwarming as well.
R: What was some of your filmmaking background at NYU and beyond before making Aquarium?
RM: This is the fourth short film I've made, and they were basically all done within the context of NYU's graduate film program. This is by far the most ambitious short I'd done. Prior to NYU I worked in documentary film; I produced films for WGBH in Boston -- for Nova -- so I have a lot of experience putting together shoots and working with crews, traveling the world with these documentary films. But I always wanted to do more of the writing and directing and working with actors, which is why I went to NYU. I really arrived there with very little experience; I sort of started from scratch in terms of learning how to write a screenplay or cast. I learned by doing.
R: You've mentioned you want to expand Aquarium as a feature, or at least direct something inspired by it.
RM: I've written a feature called Labrador Duck with a classmate of mine named Luke Metheny. It's not an expansion of Aquarium, but it's the same characters, the same tone -- a lot of the same themes, but it's a bigger story. It's a road-trip movie, kind of like Stand By Me in terms of it being a quest that these kids go on. So I thought there was more to explore with these characters and the comedy of these subcultures I enjoy. In this case it's bird watching instead of aquarium fish breeding: It's about these teen birdwatchers who think they've discovered an extinct duck and go on a road trip to find it and prove to the world it exists. It's the Labrador duck -- the first bird to go extinct in North America. These things occasionally do happen, and I'm interested in science and discovery and the little guy making a big discovery.
R: Are Sundance and Labrador Duck the end of Aquarium's festival run?
RM: It is the tail end of the festival circuit for me. The plan is to keep showing it to industry people who may not make it to festivals and might not see it there -- people who could fund the feature or hire me to write or direct something get a chance to see it.
R: What kind of apprehensions or expectations do have for Aquarium at Sundance?
RM: I'm really curious to see how it plays. The film is a strange mix of melancholy and humor; it depends on the crowd. I've been at screenings where I wasn't sure if people were getting the sense of humor and wanted to sneak out the back; I've been to other screenings where people responded to stuff much more strongly and positively than I expected them to. Hopefully the latter will be the case. I have a bunch of friends coming, so at least I know I'll have a few fans in the audience.
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