No one has it easy becoming an adult. And most people believe that taking up a pursuit like filmmaking is a surefire way to put off the inevitable. But for David Munro and Xandra Castleton, after nearly six years making their first feature film (fittingly titled Full Grown Men), digging deep into their psyches, building a business together and, oh, getting married and having a child along the way, growing up is exactly what's happened.
Their film is about a man, played by Matt McGrath, in his thirties who, in an effort to remain in the warm, soft cocoon of his youth sets out on a road trip with a childhood sidekick (Judah Friedlander) across the fading highways, quaint roadside stands and dilapidated amusement parks that time, but not memory, has forgotten -- only to discover that things are no longer (or perhaps never were) as carefree as he remembers.
Full Grown Men was directed by Munro and co-written by Munro and Castleton from an old script that had been on the back burner. The film spent more than a year and a half on the festival circuit and was on the verge of self-release when it won the audience award in the IndieWIRE and Sundance Channel's Undiscovered Gems screening series in January 2008. The win brought with it a $100,000 distribution deal, including a theatrical release through Emerging Pictures and a run on the Sundance Channel.
On an exceptionally calm and reflective afternoon in the fragile quiet of the couple's living room in industrial Dogpatch, we discussed the film project that has turned their life into a tempest for the past few years -- and the award that has brought it a second life.
Jeff Palfini: What did it mean for your film to win the Audience Award from Undiscovered Gems when it did?
David Munro: Well, when you're on the festival circuit for a year and a half and haven't made a sale, people are lapping you basically. There are a lot of great films we've seen during our time in festivals that have never found a home, and ultimately, we felt like we hit the jackpot, like the white horse just swooped down and got us, because it's a big boat of people saying, "Take me!"
Xandra Castleton: It was great to win the award, and to know we'll be in theaters and on the Sundance Channel, but, really, the best part is that you know we have an audience and also we've built up a lot of people in (the 12 cities that took part in the screening series) that are excited to tell their friends, "I found this movie and now it's coming out."
JP: So this has made a big difference for your film and its release.
DM: Yeah, and the great thing about Gems is that two of the three big pegs of selling a movie are covered -- TV and theaters -- and now DVD companies know that there are two other marketing efforts that are going to add value to what they do, and that it's not just them trying to send flares up in the air. Just recently, we started circling back to people we've been talking to for a long time and said, "Oh, by the way, we won this thing," and we just got two offers.
XC: In the space of a day.
JP: How close were you to giving up when you won the award?
DM: There's Plan A, which is premiere at Sundance and have Harvey Weinstein fist-fighting other distributors for your movie and giving you a $10 million check, then there's Plan B and Plan C, and then you kind of keep going until self-distribution is the last option, which is more and more common. But we weren't ready to pack it in, and that's something we promised our investors.
XC: A lot of people have said when they heard about this, "Wow, you must be so excited!" And now that we're starting to talk about the release, it's starting to get exciting, but really, honestly the biggest feeling for me has been relief. There are just a lot of people, it makes me really happy to be able to tell them their efforts will be on the screen in theaters.
DM: And you will have an actual disc on your shelf, not like where we sent it to you with the title written in sharpie.
JP: So how important is theatrical versus DVD or TV?
DM: Theatrical is almost like a loss leader, it's considered advertising for the more reliable revenue streams that don't cost as much, like DVD or TV, and so home video is kind of the grail now. Because that's where all the upfront selling pays off, because people are just buying and renting, you don't have to do a ton of advertising. So for us now to have those two pieces in place is great, and it's nice to be in a position where we have some leverage. We have proof of concept.
JP: Do you have an idea of what the theatrical release will look like at this point?
DM: We're going to do New York, San Francisco and at least half a dozen Gems cities, possibly more, including South Florida. That's where I'm from, that's where we shot it. So those three places are where we have strong support bases, which is great. As far as which theaters in those cities, that can be tricky. If you go with a bigger theatre, it's more expensive and if your film doesn't do well in a week, you're out, whereas the smaller venues are often more patient.
JP: They say that your first movie is the most autobiographical? Do each of you identify with characters in the movie?
XC: The movie is about dealing with the present by going through the minefields of the past, and looking at this friend relationship and how those dynamics have changed. That's sort of the heart of the story that appealed to me. There's also a theme that deals with how nostalgia can be really crippling, which has been a disease that's been a big part of my life, because I grew up in a lot of different places, so I was always having nostalgia for where I was before and somehow thinking that was better. So that's a theme that definitely comes from my experience.
JP: David, how much does nostalgia for your own youth play into the movie?
DM: In a way it was very personal. I don't think anyone could do the Florida I did in the movie. But a guy wrote me the other day. He had seen the film, and he was so effusive about it because he was from Florida, and he said, "Man, you just nailed that vanishing Florida feel!" I like hearing that from people, because it means I captured something that I had wanted to capture for me, to see if we could create that little snow globe of Florida that I remember.
JP: When you're exploring a part of your life so thoroughly and for so long in the process of writing and making a movie like this, does that provide any resolution?
DM: I think part of what makes the film better than what I could have done is that prior to shooting the movie I had this other person that had to relate to it too. So as a matter of course, the film became more universal, because it had to. We also grew up together in so many ways. Xandra and I, in the process of making a film about a man learning what it means to become responsible for himself and for other people, and the consequences of that responsibility, I think we learned a lot of that too, certainly in having to become business people. Which we'd never done, nor did we think we ever wanted to do, getting married, having a child, all the things that were the markers into adulthood in this bohemian rhapsody of a life.
XC: We found out that I was pregnant on the day that we came back from the premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and it was a bit of a surprise.
JP: Wow. There's definitely a metaphor in there somewhere. What were the other high points in the process?
DM: At the Tribeca premiere, my dad came. Because I was the baby in the family, and because he was part of the Greatest Generation, there were all these things that made me like a Martian to him. His idea about work and what you're supposed to do with your life was very different than the way I was living mine. Most of my short films, which were very weird, my dad would see them and he'd go, "Well that was interesting." (Laughs) But still with this kind of like "dot-dot-dot when are you really going to do something with your life?" So after the movie, at the after-party, my father pulled me aside and said, "That was a wonderful film, I really enjoyed it. I'm so proud of you." Basically, like, "I get it now." And he died a year later. Among all the other things that this movie has represented as such a life project, to have this story of a guy who is trying to have a second try at coming of age, to finally have some affirmation from sort of the keeper of manhood did feel like a resolution, because I knew in my heart that the things he had really pushed me on and rode me about were exactly what I finally locked into when I fell in love with movies -- working really hard toward a goal. So it's ironic that this story would have, in so many ways, come to that.
XC: Or it's just perfect.