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Lilith on: Soter Does Detectives Work in NYC

The Reeler Blog

Soter Does Detectives Work in NYC

The Reeler earlier this week caught up with Broken Lizard vet Paul Soter, who spent a bit of time away from the ribald comedy troupe last year to shoot his solo writing/directing debut, Watching the Detectives. Starring Cillian Murphy as Anytown, USA cinephile (though in this case, Anytown is actually a combination of Brooklyn and Bayonne, N.J.) whose noir-movie daydreams come true when femme fatale Lucy Liu enters his video store and shakes his life up. Detectives premieres May 1 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Fatale attraction: Cillian Murphy and Lucy Liu in writer/director Paul Soter's comedy Watching the Detectives

STV: So: Video clerk. Femme fatale. Where did the idea come from?

PS: I always liked the idea of a guy who grew up watching a lot of movies -- kind of fantasizing and imagining a real femme fatale would sort of show up and take him on crazy adventures. The more I thought about it, it was like if the femme fatale actually showed up at your doorstep, she would probably ruin your life. I like movies about movies and that sort of blurring the line -- movies like The Purple Rose of Cairo, that idea of there being kind of an interaction with a character in a movie. I wanted to do something like that, but not so literal. It's a woman who shows up who almost seems like she's a character in a movie and takes someone on a series of scenes that are like scenes from movies.

STV: The story was originally set in Austin, Texas, but you'd also wanted to make a movie in New York for years. How did you go about kind of overlapping the two, and why?

PS: I'm from Denver, and there's a great area of Denver where it's all kind of mom-and-pop CD stores and movie rental places. And I always liked that atmosphere; it just seemed to me that a guy like this would be in one of those sort of hipster enclaves. In terms of translating it to New York, I wanted something that would still be provincial about the setting, so it was really a matter of, "All right, where can you still shoot very close to the city and try to have a college town somewhere?" It was cool to travel around a lot, some of it ended up taking place in this video store that we shot in Bayonne, N.J. It could be a part of Denver, it could be Pittsburgh.

Cillian Murphy

STV: You've mentioned before that setting a film in the grittier, atmospheric New York City proper was another longtime dream. It would seem that in some ways you still have to make that film.

PS: That's still got to come together somehow. I guess if I did my job right, it's not recognizable at all as New York. It's like watching those Woody Allen movies, and you're always like, "God, the way those movies look is unlike anything else." So hopefully there will be that time where I get to create that story that belongs uniquely in Manhattan.

STV: The cast here is pretty interesting. How did you wind up landing Cillian Murphy and Lucy Liu, and how was it working through this story with them?

PS: I was told that I was going to get the chance to make the movie and that it really was a matter of finding the right people. I think we just got really lucky. Cillian does a big variety of stuff you see in Europe, and yet in the States, he really only has those handful of films that people are aware of; he's a bit pigeonholed. It's like Red Eye and Batman Begins and maybe 28 Days Later, where he's seen as a very dark, intense almost kind of otherworldly figure. The character in my movie, Neil, is as regular a guy as you can get, and I think that he read the script and saw an opportunity to do something that would show an American audience that he is, in fact a regular guy. Because he is; he's one of the most down-to-earth people I've ever worked with. It was a chance for him to do something light and something funny, but at the same time, to show off that he's not this strange, creepy guy with these penetrating eyes. For those of us who've dug a little deeper, we've seen that range.

Cillian was excited about doing something like this, and I think likewise with Lucy. I had written the movie in the hopes that I could attract a really good, big-name actress, and I'd written it specifically so that the female role was very much the driving force for the movie --the generator of the comedy. As much as I resist calling the movie a romantic comedy, I suppose it ultimately is, and in most romantic comedies, I think the roles for the females in even the funniest of movies is that she's the object of a guy running around trying to win her over. It still tends to be sort of this passive role. I really wanted the female role in this movie to be incredibly kinetic. I think it translated, and I think somebody like Lucy, who can really do anything she wants, liked the energy of doing a comedy where she got to really showcase that she can be the source of the humor.

Paul Soter on the set of Watching the Detectives

STV: This style is a total departure from your work with Broken Lizard. That said, what translated creatively and influentially between your Broken Lizard work and Watching the Detectives?

PS: It's incredibly fun and incredibly satisfying to make Broken Lizard movies, and the decision-making is very democratic. But at the same time I thought, "I just want to go from top to bottom once -- to see what it's like to not have everything voted on." There wasn't any displeasure with Broken Lizard as a system, but I thought it would be fun to see if I could do one of these things on my own. We'd made four Broken Lizard movies and we'd done The Dukes of Hazzard, so I knew how everything worked. I knew what everybody did; I knew what every day of a shoot entails form pre-production to post-production, so that was incredibly helpful in terms of hiring people and hiring cast and bringing on crew. It made them feel like they were going to be working with somebody who kind of knew his way around.

I've already had reactions from people who are like, "Oh, wow -- it's really not a Broken Lizard movie at all." It's intended to get a reaction more like a movie like Rushmore, which isn't about belly laughs, but is this incredibly engaging, incredibly amusing and entertaining movie. It's been a weird process to screen it and test it with audiences. I'm so conditioned to judging it on how many laughs there are, but it's not that kind of a movie. It's a comedy, and there should be laughs, but it's really just not the same kind of laughs as a Broken Lizard film. Hopefully people will adjust their expectations.

Posted at April 5, 2007 2:05 PM

Comments (1)

Thanks for a great interview, Stu. I had no idea that this story was originally set in Austin (my hometown). I'm looking forward to this film and to seeing something very new from Paul Soter and these two fine actors.

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