Commentary: 'Charlie' not a usual beer-drinking college film


"Charlie" conversation: First time filmmakers get their shot at directing in a wide range of ways, but what typically drives them is a passion to make movies.

A case in point is Fred Durst, whose impressive directorial debut "The Education of Charlie Banks" opens Friday via Anchor Bay Entertainment. A Strongheart Pictures presentation in association with the Collective and the Machine, "Charlie's" screenplay is by Peter Elkoff, whose credits include episodes for the series "Ugly Betty" and "Dirty Sexy Money." It was produced by Marisa Polvino and executive produced by Ken Guarino and by Sam Maydew and Peter Elkoff. Starring are Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Eva Amurri, Sebastian Stan and Gloria Votsis.

In the film, Charlie (Eisenberg) is ensconced at an Ivy League college in upstate New York when Mick Leary (Ritter) suddenly turns up in his dorm room and moves in for an open-ended visit. The cerebral and low-key Charlie has known Mick since their childhood in New York and is all too aware of his dangerously violent past. Now with Mick inserting himself into Charlie's college life and, in fact, moving in on the girl (Amurri) that he's in love with, Charlie finds himself at a crossroads of his young life.

Durst is best known as the co-founder and vocalist/frontman for the band Limp Bizkit, which has sold over 35 million albums worldwide since 1994. Despite his great success in music, Durst sought for years to move into film directing, a career goal that first necessitated finding a script he really felt passionate about making.

After greatly enjoying an early look at "Charlie," I was delighted to have an opportunity recently to focus with Durst on how it reached the screen and how he transitioned into moviemaking. "The script had been handed to me by Sam Maydew, who manages the writer Peter Elkoff," he recalled. "And when he (gave) it to me to check out he didn't tell me anything about it. It wasn't for a directing assignment or anything. He said, 'I represent this guy who wrote this script and would you be interested in reading it?' I said, 'Yeah.' So I read it and I was really drawn to it because I really like class struggle and certain types of conflict and male relationships and an environment that isn't cliche."

In particular, what Durst loved about the material was "the fact that it was a college film that wasn't just a beer-drinking party-animal environment. There was an intellectual side to it, and I really identified with Charlie Banks' character and Mick Leary's character. I feel like I've lived a little piece of both of their lives. I had some perspective on both characters. I went back to Sam and told him I really liked it, and he said, 'Would you like to meet the writer? Would you be interested in directing it?' "

Needless to say, Durst said he would. "Our chemistry was very good," he told me. "He really liked where I was coming from and my take on the film and the things I had to say about it. And I really liked what he had to say about it and why he wrote it and where he was coming from. And so it was this beautiful dance we did from there on out to get the script to where I felt it was at the place (where) I could really go in and tell the story. We really got it on paper in a great way together."

What enabled Durst to recognize that this was the right project for him was that, he explained, "I'd been reading lots and lots of material for years and I wanted to make sure when I committed to something I could tell the story and had a reason to tell it and had the passion and desire to. And 'Charlie Banks' was it."

Asked about his desire to get into filmmaking, Durst observed, "I think the irony in my life is that I grew up always wanting to be a filmmaker. My parents exposed me to great movies. I was watching 'Lawrence of Arabia' and 'Chinatown' and 'Badlands' and movies like that and just got a taste for classic cinema and (for films by leading directors like) Hal Ashby and Woody Allen. So when I went into my later teenage years and my 20s I really thought I would love to be a filmmaker, but I was an artist at the time. I was doing tattoos and graphic arts. When I had the idea for the band I actually thought that I could put this band together and direct the music videos and maybe that will help me meet a movie exec so I could direct a movie."

What happened, he added, is that unexpectedly "the band sort of took off and (became) bigger than we ever thought it would. We were just some kids in a garage. Then I started directing the music videos (but wasn't) feeling completely fulfilled from those experiences. I wanted to do a long form narrative and it (was a matter of) just meeting the right people. Eventually, Michael London (producer of 'Sideways' and a producer of 'Milk') introduced me to David Fincher. It was right after 'Fight Club' came out (in October 1999) and before he was going in to do 'Panic Room.' "

Fincher had a major impact on Durst: "We started to become close, and he started mentoring me and really let me hone in on why I wanted to be a filmmaker and if I do am I serious about it. Do I want to be the singer of Limp Bizkit right now or do I want to focus and really learn how to be a filmmaker? I chose to learn how to be a filmmaker and that's why my hiatus was for so many years from Limp Bizkit -- from 2002 until now. So I really just started to line up things to pull away from Limp Bizkit without making any big statement (but) just to sort of mysteriously disappear."

It's only recently, he added, that "knowing we can all sort of do everything we want to do, that we're now getting back together as the original band to go do a tour this summer. All these years I've just been focusing on film and 'Charlie Banks.' I remember when I got the script and knew I wanted to make this movie, Fincher said, 'I feel like you're ready. You seem passionate about it and you seem to really want to tell this story.' I felt confident having someone that I really believed in and looked up to and admired as a filmmaker giving me advice like that. It really helped my confidence and I went into 'Charlie Banks' with extreme focus and preparation."

The movie Durst wanted to make wasn't entirely what the producers first had in mind in terms of casting, he explained: "I said, 'I want Jesse Eisenberg to play Charlie Banks.' You know, he means nothing for the financing and to some people there wasn't a huge draw or appeal for Jesse Eisenberg at that time to lead a movie and (for) Jason Ritter to play the villain. These choices were (mine) as a director passionate about the material and the (actors) being true to who I feel the characters are in the script instead of being motivated by financial decisions. I was very fortunate that everyone backed me and let me cast the movie the way I felt it should be cast."

Everything came together quickly. "The movie was financed and ready to go within a year," Durst said. "We were starting preproduction, and the financier was from Rhode Island so he wanted to make the movie in Rhode Island. Vassar College is what this is really based on. I went to (Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to see) Vassar. We checked it out and I was like, 'Oh, I want to make the movie here. The look, the feel's going to be amazing.' And they said, 'We want you to make it in Rhode Island.' Looking around in Rhode Island, I really felt like it had the character and the feel that I could do something with, but college-wise (posed problems until) I saw Brown University. I was like, 'This is where I want to shoot,' but Brown (in Providence, R.I.) was not having it. They'd never had anybody film there before. It's such a beautiful campus and quad and they didn't want a film crew to come and mess up anything.

"So I had to become very close with the mayor. The mayor helped us get into the school and we had great closed meetings with the school and then they trusted us and let us come in and make the movie there for the first time. We were very respectful. The crews were great. And it just really gave a backdrop to this collegiate life. I just think it's so beautiful and I'm so glad that no one's really seen that school in a film. It just all fell together. We shot in Providence, Barrington and Newport, all around Rhode Island. And we did two days in New York City for the book-ending of the film, the opening and closing. It was a 28-day shoot."

Having such a tight shooting schedule, he added, "was tough. One thing that I'm always going to fight for in the future is not the bells and whistles (but) the days and the time. I really came to appreciate time, the more time you can get. One extra day just means the world. I would rather not make a movie (that quickly again)."

Not having enough time was the biggest challenge he faced in production: "We were shooting six or seven pages in a day. The challenges were the time. It was being in the crunch. It was just working on a scene and going, 'How am I going to do this scene? I don't have time to cover everybody and get a wide, a medium and close-ups on everybody.' I really had to commit to a particular style. One of the styles of a film I was inspired by was (Todd Hayne's 1995 thriller) 'Safe' with Julianne Moore. I really enjoyed the cinematography in that film and how they covered things. That's how I found my cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy because he shot that movie. That's what was the most difficult -- the time being crunched and having your AD (reminding), 'Okay, we've got to get out of here. We've got to move.' "

Looking ahead, Durst already has another directing project. "I'm going to direct 'Psycho Killer,' written by Andrew Kevin Walker," he said. "He wrote 'Seven,' (which) David Fincher directed. I'm very excited about it. It's not a throwaway slasher genre film. It's a very smart, really compelling story about a serial killer on a mission for Satan. It's really interesting and the way it's written -- it's so unique. Andy is an incredible writer. It looks like we're going to go into preproduction around August."

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