Episode 125: Writer, Director Alex Ross Perry on Her Smell

Joining us this week is Alex Ross Perry, a director and writer who is so steadily himself, it’s refreshing. We spent a good amount of time discussing his latest film, Her Smell and all of its intricacies. This was Alex’s second time on the podcast and we welcomed again his unique perspective as a filmmaker and story teller.

Her Smell Trailer


Full Transcript

Meagan: Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Kodakery. I'm Meagan.

Steve: I'm Steve.

[background music]

Meagan: Joining us this week is Alex Ross Perry. A director and writer, who is so steadily himself, it's refreshing. We spent a good amount of time discussing his latest film, Her Smell, and all of its intricacies. This was Alex's second time on the podcast and we welcomed again his unique perspective as a filmmaker and storyteller. So, let's jump into the Kodakery and talk with Alex.

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Kodakery. We are honored to have on the show again Alex Ross Perry, who is a writer and a director. We're going to be talking to him about his new film Her Smell. Alex, thank you so much for joining us.

Alex Ross Perry: Thank you. Thank you for having me back.

Meagan: Sure. Where are you at right now? You're going to premiere this Friday, the film has wrapped. What is your overall feeling right now? Excitement? Anxiety? Where are you at?

Alex: No. Those things are...

A lot of movies generally at least of a certain level are, all that stuff happens when the festival premieres are, which in this case was seven months ago or something.

Meagan: Right, so you're past that?

Alex: Yeah. Because I've never had anything other than a pretty substantial amount of time in between the festival stuff and when the movie's actually first shown and the release, increasingly now, this time comes around. I don't want to use the word "meaningless," but it's this other thing that exists so far removed from making and debuting the movie.

Steve: Originally, it premiered at TIFF, is that correct?

Alex: Yeah, it premiered at Toronto in September and then played the New York Film Festival a few weeks later.

Steve: Nice. How was the reception? How has that been so far? We've seen a lot of reviews and stuff written about it. How do you feel, being personally connected? [laughs]

Alex: It was interesting premiering it. Toronto is a very different festival than something like Sundance, where all my prior experience is based in what it is and feels like to be premiering a movie. Toronto is very different. I was kind of perplexed by some of the response to it. I feel like this was the one where it tipped the scales for me in terms of I don't think critics should be writing reviews in two hours.

[laughter]

Meagan: Yeah, right.

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: It's appalling, the quality of some of this writing that comes out the night of or the morning after the screening and the factual errors in it and the presumptions. It has rounded a corner where they spend far too little time digesting something.

At the ecosystem of Toronto, your "Star is Born" review has to be out within 45 minutes or else you're late to the game, so everyone's hyper focused on 10 movies, and then everything else exists also.

Meagan: How is Toronto different than Sundance to you?

Alex: In the way I just explained.

[laughter]

Meagan: That is the key part?

Alex: At Sundance, whatever's before your movie or your movie yourself, someone could be walking out of a $50,000 midnight movie or movie in the next section, and then they walk into a $2 million movie, and suddenly it seems like a blockbuster, whereas at Toronto, someone walks out of "First Man," and into my movie, and it looks like peanuts.

Steve: Toronto usually is a lot larger. Blockbuster movies are premiered there, for the listeners, and Sundance oftentimes is a lot more indie and smaller‑budget films.

Meagan: Smaller budget.

Steve: For you, this is your sixth feature film, and so transitioning to premiering it at Toronto, that's a big step.

Alex: That was always kind of the dream. We did what we could to make it happen. I'm not saying one's better or worse. It was very interesting for me to study and feel the differences, because I was used to Sundance.

Meagan: The last time we had you on the show was in 2017. We had asked you about the characters for, the film at the time was Golden Exits, and Josh had asked you how you came up with the characters. You said that they were always with you. Is that the case with Her Smell? Where did these characters come from?

Alex: The Becky character started with me pitching Lizzie Moss on the idea that this character would be the thing she could play in our third movie together. I had been working on some other project at the time that was set in the '90s.

I was listening to a lot of music from that time that had meant a lot to me. Then I was discovering just how much of that music I had missed and how much of it there was for me to experience that felt new.

That character appeared and then through this year‑long gestation, two other women in her band and three younger girls appeared. I go see The Crucible. There's this chorus of young girls. That idea sticks with me. Then we end up with this chorus of young girls in this movie.

Just one by one, it all got added around Becky.

Meagan: At what point did Becky‑something start as an idea until the movie was made?

Alex: Well, it's not fast. I think I texted Lizzie the idea for the character. It was before "Queen of Earth" came out but after we had finished it. It was summer of 2015 was when I sent her the idea.

I probably didn't know much more about the idea until the summer of 2016 when in the span of a month, I had finally gotten to the point where I was able to both logistically and financially experience a fair amount of theater in New York.

I was seeing a lot of musicals and plays. In the span of a month, I saw Merchant of Venice at Lincoln Center with Jonathan Price, and I saw Kenneth Branagh for our Hamlet movie.

I saw the Guns N' Roses reunion tour, those experiences and reading in that month about five‑act classical strategy structure, and reading a lot about bands reuniting, and the trajectory of decades of music, hatred, and collaboration.

Suddenly, it was all there. I don't remember exactly when I put pen to paper, so to speak. I sent the draft out in March of 2017

Steve: Wow, a few years.

Alex: Then we were making it in April of 2018.

Meagan: Was the budget for this film similar to those in the past, or did you have more to work with?

Alex: Most I ever had.

Meagan: That's good.

Alex:  It was the biggest. It's not so big that it toppled over. We had an offer.

Steve:  Still scrappy.

Alex:  We had something that resembled an offer from a company, the producer of it. It would have been just double of what we ended up making the movie for. This company insisted you could not make the movie for a penny less than this amount that they were suggesting.

I knew that if we did that, then we'd be subject to compromise and all the things that come with making a movie of that size. I didn't want that.

Meagan:  All of your films have been shot on film. Was it a no‑brainer for this one? How did you come to decide on the format?

Alex:  Well, I wanted to shoot on 35, obviously. I'd done two movies on standard 16, three movies on Super 16s. I wanted to graduate to that. Also, there's something that comes with shooting on Super 16 that suits the intimacy, or the art house feel of those other three movies.

I wanted this to just not have a trace of that, and to feel big glossy, poppy, and mainstream where you're still preserving the format, but you're not doing it in a way that it instantly strikes people's eyes.

It's like, "Oh OK, this is this thing." We just wanted it to be bigger. I'd gotten excited about shooting 2‑perf 35 which Sean Williams, the DP of this movie, had done on Good Time. Was becoming a huge advocate for because you can shoot 2‑perf 35 at the same speed as Super 16, like a thousand‑foot mag gets you the same amount that you would get with Super 16.

You're not using twice as much film, but you're getting this twice as rich image. Because you're shooting 2‑perf, you're already automatically locked into this ultra‑wide aspect ratio, which gives you kind of a boost of spectacle.

It was always part of it. The only question was, do we ever want to change formats for any of the concert performance scenes ‑‑ again, just to make those feel as huge as possible.

Meagan:  Bigger.

Alex:  We shot those on 4‑perf anamorphic, which involved swapping out our cameras and basically switching up all of the gear for just a couple of days of concert performance.

It felt very worth it to shoot on that when we got those images back. They were...

Steve:  Yeah, they're great.

Alex:  When you look at that, you're like, "Oh, this looks like a real movie. This is 4‑perf anamorphic. We're talking real movie images now. This is not an independent thing. Now this looks like Showgirls.”

Steve:  With the flashbacks that come up occasionally throughout the film ‑‑ I think, is there four of them?

Alex:  It's five.

Steve:  Five, OK. Close. There's five flashbacks throughout the film. What format did you shoot for those, too?

Alex:  Those are shot on Sony Hi8 Handycam.

Steve:  Yeah, it seemed like it was some VHS ‑‑ that quality.

Alex:  Yeah, we tried VHS cameras. We couldn't get any to work...

[laughter]

Alex:  ...in the right way. This kind announced itself as both most practical. Also, actually it would have been the correct solution at the time. This is what any...

Steve:  In the time period.

Alex:  Yeah, would have just had in their pack. It's small. You can carry it around. You have 20 tapes in a bag. They're very little. Yeah, it's raw. What's in the movie of Hi8 Handycam, which I've been using more of, and shot a couple music videos on ‑‑ it's...I've been having a lot of fun with. It's un‑color‑corrected. It's un‑sound‑mixed.

Meagan:  Sean Price Williams was your DP and he has been for your other films. I'm curious to find out what his role is in the creation of a scene. In the beginning, there's what seems to be a very long‑take scene when they're in the dressing room and it's all chaos and...

Steve:  Without giving too much away.

Meagan:  Yeah. Do you just let Sean go because you guys have been working together for so long and he has a sense of what you're looking for, or how much direction are you giving him?

Alex:  It was all different on this movie, primarily because all of acts one and five are shot with a Steadicam. Sean and I are both at the monitor, so to speak.

Steadicam operator Aaron Brown, who also worked on Good Time with Sean...Sean was very insistent when I was pitching the necessity and the dream of Steadicam. He was like, "Really, if we want to do this right, this is the guy we need to get. He's got the right attitude. He has ideas of his own. He has the right vision. He has the right perspective."

He said, "You're going to be very surprised at how much precision and planning out using Steadicam requires that you're not used to and I'm only now getting used to."

Each act in the movie, of which there are five, was preceded by a full day where we didn't shoot anything. We just rehearsed the blocking, we rehearsed the lines, we rehearsed all the outfit changes, we rehearsed lighting changes.

We had this day where really Aaron, in collaboration with Sean and myself, would at least for what you're talking about, where things at the beginning start kind of long and get kind of quick, Aaron would really just watch the performances and study, where does each person move? Where do I move? When she goes from the mirror to the couch, how do I go from the couch to the mirror in order to keep her there?

That stuff was, as you kind of need with Steadicam, incredibly planned out, just because it's a huge apparatus. No one can move around it. It's very heavy. You can't do very much for very long because it's physically painful for someone to be doing nine‑minute takes on this thing with a 35mm camera.

The actors just needed to know what was and was not going to work. Some of that stuff, like at the beginning that you're talking about, is hyper‑specifically mapped out.

Then some of it, once we get to the point where there's six or seven characters in a tiny dressing room, at that point, Sean and I were really encouraging Aaron to forget his training and be as spontaneous and loose as possible.

Even within that, he got what he needed, which was "I just need to know where the marks are," because when someone walks from here to there you need to move with them. He said, "I just need to know when that's happening, because it takes me a second to get my balance in a way that I can move that quickly."

Meagan:  That sounds really intense.

Alex:  It was just a lot of rehearsal to get to those things where it just seems like it's chaos. It's actually 10 hours of rehearsal to get to that point where it seems like the camera's just flailing about and catching actors. Actually, Aaron knew exactly where they were going to go and he knew where they were going to land and they knew where he was.

Steve:  That's incredible. Is this a new thing for you, in this movie compared to the other five ‑‑ the amount of rehearsal to do scenes like this? Because you're shooting on film usually, you're not doing many takes.

Alex:  No, but I'm not doing many takes for other reasons. It's just not really the preference, and there's enough of a reason in terms of the spontaneity to not demand a lot of those.

The process of what I'm describing in terms of the rehearsals ‑‑ fairly identical in most ways to the way that Sean would just kind of watch the actors block out a scene on Listen Up Phillip, and then he would know where they were going to be and then he would be able to plan his spontaneity around them.

It's pretty similar. It just now involves not just me and him but a Steadicam op, a focus puller, and other ACs to be...because the Steadicam just kind of leaves a trail behind it. There's wires and cables and stuff. There's people that have to then be in the room as well.

The sequences of this movie that were not shot with Steadicam were done exactly the same way. All of act two is with a dolly. Then all of act three it's just shown at his handheld, most frantic. Act four is completely locked off, with no camera moves at all. Every one was planned and determined identically.

Meagan:  This film is 134 minutes long. I'm curious how you know how long a movie's going to be. I doubt there's any exact formula ‑‑ "five pages, 25 minutes." You know what I mean? At what point do you know how long it's going to be?

Alex:  I was pretty surprised. The script for this movie wasn't short. The script was also over 130 pages. I guess I thought because the movie is very fast and there's a lot of very fast physical motion and a lot of fast dialogue in it, I guess I thought that it would be a little bit shorter than the script.

What I didn't take into account is the fact that ‑‑ this is something that anyone who's made a music movie before could have or should have known ‑‑ there's like 13 minutes in the movie of just music.

Meagan:  Songs, right.

Alex:  Which in the script takes up like three pages.

Steve:  [laughs] Yeah.

Meagan:  Yeah.

Alex:  That was the thing that I was right. The script, with those taken out, it would move substantially faster than as written. Then when you add in the song at the beginning of the movie, it's three minutes long, but the lyrics printed in the script, it's just one page.

There is kind of a surprise like that. It certainly was clearly going to be very long. There's no way you can make a movie with five scenes that has it written or between 25 and 30 pages and have each one end up being 20 minutes long.

Yeah, I don't know. Act 1, add it in the movie just in order. With Act 1, the first cut of it came in at 28 minutes. There is a moment where we thought, "We might run into some problems here." We finished Act 3, and the movie is now 100 minutes long. We have...

Meagan:  Two to go.

Alex:  ...two whole scenes to go. It just mounted like that. I just felt confident watching these incredibly frantic, very, very quick‑moving sequences. It doesn't feel long to me. That's all I could ever...I could say many things. Some people could disagree, but watching Act 2, which is the longest...It's like 27, 28 minutes. I've watched it a thousand times. It doesn't feel long to me. It just feels like it moves very quickly.

I did a commentary a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't believe how fast the movie passed by. It seems like it moves at the speed that it needs to even though it is long, which is a great thing you can say only about movies that are endlessly what you aspire to, like Goodfellas or Boogie Nights.

Steve:  We see right now on your Instagram, you've been shouting out, I guess, all the different crew and cast members. I think one of the more recent ones talked about the producers on this and their role and making sure that you knew that this movie, it needed to be told over this 134 minutes or 135 minutes and how important the producers were to making sure that happened.

Meagan:  Getting that intro?

Steve:  Yeah, the right story.

Alex:  It was what I was talking about a few minutes ago where we had an offer to finance the movie and maybe double the budget. That would've come with the implicit caveat that these are people that will enforce the fact that the movie...You see a lot of movies.

A lot of movies, for some reason, ended up being 119 minutes and 50 seconds because they have to be by contract. A lot of movies at Sundance end up being 89 minutes and 45 seconds because they have to be under 90. These people with no vision get cold feet about anything that isn't the exact same thing as everything else. Staying away from people like that has always been pretty important.

Listen up Phillip is 108 minutes, which sounds quaint compared to what we're talking about now but maybe the longest movie in our section or in competition at Sundance the year it was there. I don't understand why. I know it's hard to make cheap movies. Maybe you only have 18, 20 days. You can only shoot 95 minutes worth of material.

Every movie that is important, that people love is longer than 90 minutes. A lot of them are longer than 120 minutes. It seems weird that when we're trying to do as much as we can for as little money as you can get, the people also want the movie to be as little as possible.

They don't say, "Oh, if you can make a movie for a million bucks and it's 130 minutes, that's more bang for your buck. This is amazing." I don't know...

[crosstalk]

Meagan:  It seems like an arbitrary timestamp.

Alex:  It's all arbitrary. It has nothing to do with what the movie feels like, but that doesn't mean we weren't nervous. It just meant this one company finance and produce the entire movie. They have high hopes for it. We're sending them a cut that we're sending to festivals. The cut is 147 minutes long.

We're basically saying, as you know, from reading the script and knowing this movie, we can't really talk about cutting minutes. We can only talk about trimming as tight as possible, because the entire movie was just five scenes. It take place, four of them fully, in real time. There is no way to cut around anything. The writing is designed to not support that.

Meagan:  I'm assuming you didn't have something in your contract where they said it can't be over X amount of minutes.

Alex:  I did. They didn't enforce it.

[laughter]

[crosstalk]

Alex:  The editor of the movie has a picture he took of me the day we sent in the cut where I'm sitting on the couch in the edit room where all of the files were, reading my contract.

[laughter]

Alex:  I didn't remember if it was 120 or 130 that we had agreed to. We did have that. They chose not to care about it at all.

Meagan:  That's great.

Alex:  Some industry people saw it. They said, "Really, it could stand to be 5 or 10‑minute shorter." I said, "OK. Well, for the sake of argument, could you suggest a single thing..."

[laughter]

Alex:  "...5 or 10 minutes of dead space in here?" They were like, "No, not really. In fact, I think everything is uniquely necessary. I just think the run time is going to scare people." I was like, "Right, but if there's not this scene, it feels like it doesn't belong. Then the run time is irrelevant."

Meagan:  Yeah, I know.

Alex:  People would be more annoyed when a movie seems like it's written and performed in real time. Then there's just these weird arbitrary cuts in the middle of it. Then they will be to say...

Meagan:  "That was a little longer."

[laughter]

Alex:  "The movie I bought a ticket for seems to be quite long."

Meagan:  Yeah. "Why would I not want more?"

Alex:  This is also, as far as I can tell, one of the first real tests of this thing you hear people say. People always, in interviews, say, "People don't want to go to the theater and watch a two‑and‑a‑half‑hour movie, but they'll sit at home and binge‑watch seven hours of..."

Meagan:  Right.

Steve:  Right.

[laughter]

Alex:  It's like, "Here's a movie that has these five sequences in it that we play episodically." If we make a movie that feels you're just watching five 25‑minute episodes of this music drama, can people just sit in the theater and watch it? Because their brain trains them with one thing, and they just want the next one rather than 130‑minute movie that is a continuous, normally‑structured movie with 130 scenes. Some of them were a third of a page. Some of them were three minutes, but none of them were longer than that. Then you'd get exhausted because so much is stopping and starting. We only start and stop five times.

Meagan:  Right. [laughs] How about the title? When does that emerge?

Alex:  That was there right away. Its one of those things. A lot of people talk about this. Certainly, Paul Schrader mentioned this a couple of times. Titles always kind of pick you. And then that's just the movie. That's the title. There is no one without the other.

In that year, in between texting Lizzy, "Here's an idea for this character," then getting to a point where I saw Shakespeare and Guns N' Roses and then started writing. Someone in there, the title had to appear. But yeah, I mean, it was just there.

Going back to color correct I think of Queen of Earth maybe, Sean had gone to see the Larry Clarke movie, The Smell of Us. He came in. We're talking about the title and what an amazing title that was. Then we started trying to figure out how many movies in film history have ever had the word "smell" in the title.

[laughter]

Meagan:  How many is it?

Alex:  Like three.

[laughter]

Alex:  There was that Larry Clarke movie. Sweet Smell of Success is, of course, the big one. Then there's this sexploitation movie called The Smell of Honey, a Swallow of Brine." That was about all we could come up with. We started wondering why this is and what is it about this particular word that seems to resist being the figurehead title of something. Then we started joking, replace anything, Smell of a Woman, Smell of Green Papayas, anyone with the word "scent," which seems to have replaced it.

[crosstalk]

Alex:  ...title becomes much more different. Smell of A Woman, we were really excited by.

Meagan:  [laughs]

Alex:  A year later, two years later, I was writing the movie. That was still with me. Also, with me now were these very forcefully feminine, gross L7 records like "Smell the Magic" and "Hungry for Stink" and the Veruca Salt album "American Thighs," these women who named their records like something that's kind of forceful, feminine and also a little bit raw. That full on just is and was the movie.

Meagan:  That's great.

Steve:  You're a screenwriter as well as a director. For the first time, it seems like, last year, you wrote Christopher Robin, the screenplay for that. You didn't direct that. It wasn't your own.

Meagan:  That's right.

Steve:  Can you talk just briefly about how that came to be and your role in that?

Alex:  Yeah. My role in it was...I got the job when I was kind of in the midst of finishing Queen of Earth. Then when the movie was coming out, which is a normal thing where you try hard to get jobs and you get a job...

Steve:  This is something you were pursuing?

Alex:  Not really. There is this one children's property that my agent had known I was very interested in. We weren't getting anywhere with it, but then he sent me...He represented, and still does, David Lowery who has made Pete's Dragon for Disney. He had this channel.

He asked if there was anything like that I'd ever want to talk about. I said, "Yeah, any ideas you think of, let me know." I love those movies. I'm a big Disney history buff. I love Disney parks.

Then he called me and said they're looking for a writer on a live action Winnie The Pooh movie. Do you want to get on the phone about this? It's kind of similar to this thing you were trying to find." I said yes. Then one thing led to another, pitching and impressing one person, and then two people, and then four people. Of course, it all comes together.

The writing of that was such a crash course in actual writing technique and style, and diligence, and repetition, and not being afraid to throw out 20 pages and start from scratch in the middle. That was the big lesson that I took from those producers.

All in all, it was deeply educational, and really fun, and quite rewarding to see it come together. Hundreds of movies, of course, in studios in development, but how many of them get made, much less made at that level and then released with fanfare? It kind of allcame together really nicely.

I was working on it concurrently with Her Smell for a lot of the time. Then Christopher Robin came out in August and Her Smell premiered four weeks later at Toronto, so keeping that split alive within my own brain, because that's how I work during the day. I work on one thing, and I work on another. It seems strange that those things would all come from the same desk.

[laughter]

Alex:  Having them come out in one form or another festival or release so close together was very fine for me.

Meagan:  Is there anything that you're learning that you've taken away from doing the Christopher Robin that you think maybe you'll use moving forward?

Alex:  It's like I said. It's just a complete...First of all, it raised my standards of the industry professionals I'd like to work with. Everyone on that movie was absolutely somewhere between just a friend and a mentor. It was very positive.

As I said, the lessons I learned about writing impacted everything I took back on writing this movie, which Christopher Robin is traditional as they come, and this is, in many ways, as untraditional as they come. I needed to take those lessons of how to make something work perfectly like clockwork and pay off, everything. I had to take those lessons and apply them to this.

From there on out, all the writing work has changed for the better. When I was on set of Christopher Robin, I stole many little cheats and things that I brought back to a movie that had, I don't know, 1/20th the budget.

[laughter]

Alex:  Little lighting tricks and little simple things that are so obvious, but you need a big budget for someone to have the time to figure out this stupid solution to something.

You realize, "I could've been doing this all along," use simple little cheats and tricks that are probably decades‑old industry standbys. We don't know them because they're too obvious. I can take all these lighting tricks and bring them back.

It was a lot of things. Working in a sound stage, which that movie largely was, and Her Smell largely was. It's the deliberate nature of how you can work that way, not being afraid of scrapping things and starting...It was many lessons.

Steve:  You were on set for Christopher Robin the whole time?

Alex:  I visited twice. No, not the whole time. That would've been a nightmare.

[laughter]

Alex:  No, I went twice for a week each time. It would've been a very tedious use of three months of my life, to sit around.

[laughter]

Alex:  I enjoy being around and asking questions, and being available to learn things, but for 12 weeks, I would've gone insane.

[laughter]

Meagan:  I want to jump back to Her Smell a little bit, in regard to the soundtrack, not necessarily the songs that were written for the movie. I mean the...

Steve:  Score.

Meagan:  The score. Right where it seemed to be building the intensity of a moment with the music that was playing along in a scene. I'm wondering, when that found its way into the film? I'm assuming during the editing process.

Alex:  There's so many people on this movie that ‑‑ this is our third or fourth movie together ‑‑ so there was more hand‑in‑hand on this movie than I think most other things have, at every level. It's a hyper‑colorfully lit movie. But that’s all, A, written into the script, and then B, gaffer Danny April is collaborating with the set design to build‑in where he wants lights, so that everything can be the way it's written. The sound designer has already been told, the hallways are going to have this florescent hum, and then the dressing rooms are going to have this. So every area of the movie was all started at the same time, instead of the worst way to do things, which is, have someone build the set and have the gaffer come in and be told, "Light this place that was built without your involvement."

Meagan:  [laughs]

Alex:  The score, again, it's the same thing. It's my fourth movie with Keegan. He's reading the script and we're having conversations six months before the shoot. It's all designed to be a part of it. He's looking at dailies immediately, and we're hearing his demos immediately.

The edit, from day one, is just taking shape around his work. Not necessarily the work that becomes the final piece, but it should work. We always knew that, because of the duration of these things and the intricacy of them and the motion of them all, that he would want to score to picture. Whereas previously, he would just deliver stuff. Use it as we need it and edit it accordingly. Which we did, but then once we locked, he would then take a 25‑minute act, and then listening to how we had done the work with his demos, he would then re‑score the whole thing. Each track of the score is 20‑25 minutes long. It is this one full thing that's timed precisely to the picture, but the picture is timed precisely to his demos. Everything on the movie is a Möbius strip of things happening at the same time.

Steve:  A lot of interconnection all the way through. Very intricate.

Meagan:  What does the success of a film feel like for you? Obviously, a film festival release. At what point are you feeling like -is it just that you've done it? Where are you taking success from?

Alex:  I don't know. This is a summation of everything creative we have up unto this point. It leaves me not really interested in anything that cheapens or lessens this experience.

In the same way that working with the producers of Christopher Robin raised my standards for how I expect Hollywood producers to act, and how I expect them to work, this has raised my standards of what I think is possible, and simple and achievable on an independent budget, and fruitful and fun for everybody, and challenging.

It leaves me in a weird place, because I don't have another Golden Exits sized movie, I don't have another Her Smell‑sized movie, either. Nor do I need one at the moment. I described what it's like to be at Sundance, I described what it's like to be at Toronto. Two years from now, three years, I could be describing what it's like to be at some other place, some other festival I haven't been to. I feel like they're all shades of the same experience now. I don't know. I don't know how interesting that is. I also don't have that burning desire, at the moment, to see what else there is. Not to be self‑defeating, but no one seems to have that burning desire to see what it is from me, either. So, I don't really know. This movie was done in a way that I can only describe as correctly. The whole movie was done correctly.

Steve:  There has got to be satisfaction in that.

Alex:  Immense satisfaction. That's why I'm using social media to showcase the dozens of people. The whole thing was done correctly. The logistics, the schedule, the workflow, it was all done correctly.

Now it makes me very sensitive to the fact that some projects seem like they're not going to be done correctly. I feel like I've learned too much and come too far, to embark on something that feels like it's not going to done correctly.

Steve:  With that said, are you working on multiple scripts at the same time right now?

Alex:  No, I'm not. I am, because that's the job, that's the work, but not like this kind of a movie, like my kind of a thing. That's OK. I used to not think that was OK, but now it is. For the sake of your particular interest and audience: I got pretty far down the line on this "For hire" thing, that I was then involved with for a while and for many reasons. I've said from the very beginning, I shoot on film. I just made a movie for not a lot of money, that was shot on 35mm. This is a hill I'm willing to die on. I won't make a movie if I'm not making it correctly.Part of that means that we work in the medium that I work in. Now I'm not making that movie, because shooting on 35mm and many other things were...

Steve:  Compromised.

Alex:  ...all these disagreements that people couldn't come to terms on. I said, "If we're not going to do this correctly, I'm not going to do it."

Steve: With a prospective movie like that, is that something that you would try to take Sean Price Williams with you on that? At the same time, do they have a say on, "Well, no, we want..."?

Alex:  Yes, and yes. That's why that's not happening. It's not just Sean, it's many people. It's whatever my definition of doing something correctly is.

Steve:  That's good.

Alex:  My perspective is, if you look at Her Smell and you think it reflects a quality that you would like to hire to do something, then you hire the director of that movie. But then you don't want everyone else who makes the movie what it is, and you don't want the visual impact and the quality of the images that made that movie what it is, then don't hire the person who made it.

Steve:  [laughs]

Meagan:  Right, what do they want, then? [laughs]

Steve:  Their name?

Alex:  Yeah. This movie is cheaper than any of these other things. We could do anything. It makes it feel like there was a sensitivity now. Again, with Christopher Robin, people were like, "If I'm going to be writing a script for studio producers, the producers of that movie raise the bar for what it feels like to collaborate and learn."

I know the correct way to be treated as a writer now. I know the correct way to mount something. There are things...but no, nothing that's...

[crosstalk]

Meagan:  It sounds like you're honing in on what it is you want, and you want out of a film, which to me...If you're going to take some time off to find something that you feel good about doing, then that's what you do. Also, I'd be excited to see what it is you choose to be like, "OK, this is it now," if you were to do something next.

Alex:  Everything takes a lot of time and a lot of energy. It seems like some things are not worth it. Life's too short.

Steve:  [laughs]

Alex:  When all things line‑up and you know what you're doing, and everyone does it correctly, then you've got something. This movie felt like a great experience with that.

Meagan:  I was going to ask you about what the producers for this film, for Her Smell, what their initial reaction was to film. Sounds like they were obviously supportive. [laughs]

Alex:  We're at the point now where...also, they were producers on Golden Exits. With the people that I want to be working with and will to be working with, that's not even a conversation.

Meagan:  Awesome. That's great.

Alex:  The only conversation was me pitching 2‑perf 35, and having Sean explain what that was and how they did it on Good time and so on and so forth. That's the end of the conversation.

[laughter]

Alex:  We know it's going to work with the budget. We know that for the first time in the last couple of years, we can be dropping film off in Long Island City, seeing our dailies truly the next morning...

Meagan:  That's exciting.

Alex:  ...and they don't care at all. If they were going to raise an eyebrow at that, then I wouldn't be working with them.

Steve:  This is the fourth film that you've shot? Well, I guess it's not clear that it's New York City, but three of your films were pretty clear that it was New York City.

Alex:  This is all shot...It's four of the five boroughs. All of them except for The Bronx.

[laughter]

Alex:  Except for one shot, it's all set inside, so you don't know that.

Meagan:  Yeah, that's what I was going to say. We were trying to guess, but I don't know if you're supposed to know where it is, necessarily.

Alex:  It's backstage.

[laughter]

Meagan:  That's awesome.

Alex:  There was a part where someone says that they don't like Becky in the state she was in, and she says, "What state? The State of New York?"

[laughter]

Steve: And so Her Smell, it premieres this week?

Alex:  It'll open on Friday, the 12th, in New York and some other places ‑‑ perhaps Toronto ‑‑ and then the 19th and 26th in other places.

Meagan:  A wider release.

Alex:  Yes.

Steve:  Any at the Metrograph at any time?

Alex:  No.

Steve:  I know we've had them on the podcast in the past. I think one of the founders was in...

Meagan:  Jake Perlin?

Steve:  Yeah.

Alex:  He was in Golden Exits. He should've been in this. We didn't have any background roles like that.

Steve: [laughs]

Alex:  Not a big cast in this movie.

Meagan:  You had some big names in there.

Alex:  I'm going to say, it's a impressive cast, but it's not a lot of them.

Meagan:  Sure, but man, did they kick some ass!

Steve:  It was great.

Meagan: [laughs]

Alex:  Thank you.

Meagan:  I haven't said it yet, but I enjoyed the film. [laughs] I should open with that.

[laughter]

Steve:  We'll have that at the end.

[laughter]

Meagan:  I'll edit that so it sounded like I was nice person.

It's been interesting to learn about Her Smell. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

Alex:  Thank you so much for doing this.

Meagan:  Good luck with everything this weekend and the future.

Steve:  We'll try to have you on for a third time at some point. [laughs]

[background music]

Meagan:  That's right, for your next one.

Steve:  You're the only person that's been on The Kodakery twice now.

Alex:  Is that true?

Steve:  Yeah.

Meagan:  Yeah.

Alex:  Thank you for having me a second time.

Meagan:  Absolutely.

[pre‑recorded content starts]

George Eastman:  There's a great satisfaction to be able to speak to you through the medium of this wonderful invention.

[pre‑recorded content stops]

Transcription by CastingWords