CliqueClack Flicks

An exclusive with Paul Weitz, director of Being Flynn

CliqueClack sits down with the director and writer of 'Being Flynn,' Paul Weitz, to talk about adaptation, identity, and the connection with your parents.

I recently had a chance to sit down with the director and of the upcoming movie Being Flynn (read our review Friday), Paul Weitz, while he was in DC doing press. The movie is based on the non-fiction book Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City: A Memoir by Nick Flynn. During our brief interview, Paul Weitz shared his insights on adapting difficult material and how the film spoke to him on a personal level:

Any time you adapt a book to a film like you have in the past (About A Boy) there’s always a concern about losing something in the translation.


Do you think that’s more of a concern for non-fictional books like this or something fictional?

Well, for me it’s very personal in that I’m hoping that the writer is not gonna want to strangle me at any point in the process. (laughs) Luckily, when I first sat down with Nick [Flynn, the author of the book that inspired the movie] and got involved, I said if I’m going to do this, can we please do this strange thing which is I’m going to talk about a character named Nick Flynn with you, so I’m not going to say you, I’m going to say Nick. And would you please say “Nick” as opposed to “I” and it was at first really awkward, but then I think he was a really generous person with a wicked sense of humor, and I wrote thirty drafts, and he probably read twenty five of them. And he was really kind but also I think he was amused at the degree I was torturing myself over the years to try to make the film.

I think there’s a catch-22 in adapting any book in that you literally can’t fit all the things you like about the book into the movie. So you have to cut stuff and in doing so I think in order to be true to the spirit of the book, you have to bring new things for the movie. And in the case of About A Boy, Nick Hornby [the author of the book] wasn’t involved at all in the shooting. I think if we were going to screw it up, he didn’t want to experience the pain of it, and then luckily he ended up really liking the movie. In this case, Nick was there every day. I kind of asked him to please put his life on hold; for me and for [Robert] De Niro having someone there who could tell us if something seemed fake was really reassuring.

The film has a very, I would say almost brutal, view of homelessness. So did you ever feel like there was a temptation to sanitize or filter it at all?

It’s interesting, I don’t feel personally particularly qualified to talk about the issue of homelessness, and certainly I think Flynn is way more qualified, as there are all sorts of theories and politics are in flux. For me, I had met some people over the years who either were homeless or had been homeless, and I definitely had this feeling that each person had their own story that was leading them to that extreme situation. And that was borne out when I would go to the shelter where Nick worked, you would see people who would look like what you’d traditionally think of as a homeless person, and then you would see people who looked like they worked a tech job during the day and just came there to sack out at night.

Also in terms of the people that worked there, there was really wide variety of people — I tried to display that in the movie. Including with Olivia Thirlby’s character — you get some people who were religious, some people who had been homeless who were now on their feet and helping out, some punks and then I would also see young women in their 20’s who looked like they ought to have been intimidated by working in this all-male environment where there’s a degree of danger, but through the force of their self-confidence they could handle themselves. So I only feel qualified to talk about the individual people being in particular situations.

There was something to me that spoke almost like a meta-fictional narration that came down even as it addressed these notions of identity, because you had these twin narrative forces.


I don’t know if this was just like how I thought or not, but it seemed like there’s something to this aspect “Is he really in his right mind or not”?

Well, no question. But I think that’s an essential question of everybody’s life. We all have a story we tell about ourselves and where we come from and where we’re going. And it might be utterly inaccurate but still it gets us through the day, and I was really into the aspect of this where it’s about two writers and each of them is trying to own the story and pluck it back and forth. I think that’s what really drew me to the material, is the place where what I felt about life and what I felt about trying to be a writer overlapped. And the weird element of it where this guy considers himself a great writer but never gets anything published — and yet, he’s being portrayed by Robert De Niro in a movie. That expressed some central irony that I was interested in.

Do you think it’s a good thing for people to have a desire for their kids to be like them?

No, I don’t. I think that I wonder about it on my own part, because luckily I’ve got into a situation where I have a job I really enjoy. I think behavior is really important — what I’m really hoping is that I impress upon my kids a respectfulness, not towards me, but in general.

And that can certainly be challenging, not in the least because of the stuff they see. But I really hope that I don’t give them any sense that no matter what they choose to do, I’m going to judge them in any way. I really hope that. My wife did something really weird, which is neither she nor I speak French, but put the kids in a French school in Los Angeles because she felt the culture of Hollywood was so pervasive that she wanted something that was immediately implying to them that there was a world outside what they were seeing on a daily basis. It’s scary because I can’t help them with their homework, but it’s cool for them because they’re already better at something than I am.

It’s not quite just like “Can you help me with these fractions?” instead of “Can you help me with this French grammar?”

Exactly, they do math in French too.

I just have one more quick question. After doing this dramatic piece, do you think you’ll be going back to any of the sorts of wide appeal comedies you’ve done in the past?

Well, I hope if I do, I’ll be better at doing it. Yeah, sure, I really like it, with American Pie, I really beat the experience into the ground of going to movie theaters. If I saw a fourteen year old unable to get into the theater, I’d buy them tickets and pretend to be their uncle. I really like that aspect of sitting in a theater and having them laugh at something.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you.

Photo Credit: David Lee

Categories: Features, General, News

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