Q & A with director Fred Durst on “The Education of Charlie Banks”
As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with independent filmmakers Martin Grove talks to first time director Fred Durst about the making of “The Education of Charlie Banks”, a college set comedy that’s not your usual on-campus film about beer drinking party animals.
“Charlie”, opening Mar. 27 via Anchor Bay Entertainment, is a Strongheart Pictures presentation in association with The Collective and The Machine. Its screenplay is by Peter Elkoff, who’s written episodes for such hit TV series as “Ugly Betty” and “Dirty Sexy Money”. Produced by Marisa Polvino, it was executive produced by Ken Guarino and by Sam Maydew & Peter Elkoff. Starring are Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Chris Marquette, Eva Amurri, Sebastian Stan and Gloria Votsis.
David Eisenberg plays Charlie Banks, who’s enrolled at an Ivy League college in upstate New York and returns to his dorm room one day to find an unexpected and unwelcome visitor from his past. The visitor, Mick Leary (played by Jason Ritter), knows Charlie’s roommate and has dropped in to spend some time on campus seeing what this very foreign world to him is all about. Charlie and Mick go back to their childhood days in New York City and Charlie hasn’t forgotten how uncontrollably violent Mick’s been all his life. Before long Mick’s hanging out with Charlie’s closest college pals, including Mary (Eva Amurri) with whom Charlie’s in love.
Fred Durst co-founded the hit recording group Limp Bizkit in 1994 and was its vocalist/front. Although Limp Bizkit has sold over 35 million albums worldwide, Durst’s real passion has always been for making movies. As he explained when we spoke recently, it took years for him to find a project that he really wanted to make, but when he did he committed himself 100 percent to it.
- Q: How did you come to direct “Charlie Banks”?
- A: The script had been handed to me by Sam Maydew, who manages the writer Peter Elkoff. 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 cliché.
- Q: What attracted you to the material?
- A: 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?”
- Q: How did you and Peter Elkoff get along?
- A: Our chemistry was very good. 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.
- Q: How did you know this was the right project for you?
- A: 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.
- Q: When did you decide you wanted to direct movies?
- A: I think the irony in my life is that I grew up always wanting to be a filmmaker (but wound up doing other things). 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 (Limp Bizkit) I actually thought 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.
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”.
- Q: How did David Fincher influence you?
- A: 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 was only recently 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.
I knew the kind of style of film I wanted to make. I knew how I wanted to shoot it. I knew that it was a lower budget and I wanted to shoot it a certain way thematically and pictorially to utilize my time (in production) really well and not run out of time getting so many shots. So I was really focused on choreographing a lot of very still shots and having that be a part of the aesthetic of the film without taking you out of the film. I really felt prepared and I just loved that “Charlie Banks” came to life because some people sit around for years and years and never get their films made and this one kind of went very quickly.
- Q: What happened next?
- A: Well, after I met the writer he had some producers he was already involved with on the script and I had to meet (them). After they saw my passion and they all agreed they wanted me to direct the movie, (the next thing) was to start working on the script. Something I’ve learned is that before you dive all the way in and feel like you can start to prep and make a movie it has to be right on the page first. So once the script started getting better it started getting a little more real with the financing. Still, that’s a shot in the dark. A lot of people are getting real about financing and it never comes to fruition. So I just went forward like it was going to happen. I always believed it would so I started to come up with casting ideas.
- Q: I understand that the movie you had in mind wasn’t entirely what the producers were thinking about in terms of casting.
- A: 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.
- Q: How did you work on the script with Peter Elkoff?
- A: Peter is the writer and I collaborated very closely. He did all the writing and I just had my notes when we got together. He’s very talented. He can take my ideas and my themes and go disappear for a week or two and come back and it’s just right on the money and then maybe we want to tweak this or trim that. There were a few sub-plots that were in the original script that I really wanted to remove. I wanted this movie to be about Charlie Banks and Mick. Peter is just so good. I’d say the process took about six months maybe from the time we met to the time we got the script (finished).
The movie was financed and ready to go within a year. We were starting pre-production 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, New York to see) Vassar and 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.” So 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 (there were problems until) I saw Brown University (in Providence) and I was like, “This is where I want to shoot.” But Brown 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.
- Q: Having such a tight shooting schedule had to have been difficult, especially for a first-time director.
- A: One thing 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). 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.”
- Q: That had to have been tough on your actors, as well.
- A: I really am glad we had actors with the caliber that they are because at times it was one take, sometimes two, never more than three or four. It just was one of those experiences where it was the time (that was the challenge). It was all about the time. It was difficult for me, but it was exciting. It was like real time sports. On the day when you show up you think you're prepared, but there’s nothing you can be that prepared for on the day because things happen. The weather in Rhode Island (was challenging). It’s the East Coast. We’d need sun and it would rain in an hour and then disappear and we’d have sun again. That was kind of difficult, as well. But for the most part it went very smooth because we were very prepared going in.
- Q: Looking ahead, I understand you’ve already got another project you’re going to direct.
- A: I’m going to direct “Psycho Killer” written by Andrew Kevin Walker. He wrote “Se7en” (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 pre-production around August.