If last year’s The Edge of Seventeen felt like the kids of today as portrayed by a (smart, sensitive) grown-up, this year’s Get Big is very much the kids of today as portrayed by the kids themselves (small surprise, since writer/director/star Dylan Moran is all of 24 years old). The feel is looser, the dialogue less studied, the drama less high-stakes. But the earnestness remains, along with the anxiety about how and who to be, and the persistent awkwardness of youthful sexcapades.
Newbie college kid Nate (Moran) heads home for the weekend to attend the wedding of a high-school acquaintance who’s been saving his first kiss for marriage and decides to spend the hours leading up to the nuptials with his old pal Alec (a winning, grinning Tanner Stine), a good-time guy uneager to leave his carefree youth behind. The film’s great virtue is its versimilitude, followed by its gently crude humor, its affectionate heart, and its pleasantly surprising degree of polish.
Matthew Lickona: You graduated from San Pasqual High School?
Dylan Moran: Yes, and then I went to USC’s film school.
ML: That’s a pretty prestigious program. How did you get in?
DM: I sort of snuck my way into USC. I went for one year to Palomar College, did the community-college thing. And USC has a really great transfer program. Once I got into USC, I met with the dean of the film school and said, “You gotta let me in. I’m ready to go.” And they let me in.
ML: Just like that?
DM: I wrote a really good essay. And I told them about my life. I’ve wanted to do this my whole life, and I’ve been making short films like every weekend since I was nine or ten years old. I think that helped me.
ML: Was there one film you made that made you think, “I could really do this as a career”?
DM: My grandpa grew up in Scotland, and he had all these crazy stories of his childhood. My cousins and I took all these stories and made them into one cohesive movie, where I played my grandpa. We showed it to the family, and everyone was on the floor laughing. My dad was laughing really hard, and it’s hard to make him laugh. His sense of humor is very strict. I thought, Oh, man. If I can make all these people laugh, I can make anyone laugh. That was sort of the movie that made me want to keep going.
ML: So, was Get Big like a senior thesis?
DM: I wrote it when I was 19, the same age as the main character in the film. It was after my first year at USC, and I made all these new friends at college. That summer, I went home to San Diego, and it was interesting, the difference between my new friends and the ones I grew up with. We had days where we would just ride around with nothing to do, and we would entertain each other by talking. I wanted to make a movie about that, so I started writing down conversations. All the things I had been writing were Pulp Fiction-wannabe films with car chases and gun fights. I wanted to show what my day-to-day life looked like, sort of like Clerks or Swingers. For me, that was just hanging out with my high school friends.
ML: How did you keep enough distance from yourself as a 19-year-old to write a narrative about yourself?
DM: It happened in pieces. I had about 160 pages of material — conversations, basically. And my producer said, “You’ve got to cut this down to 90 pages.” So I looked through and said, “Where’s the story here?” Eventually, that became the script. But it did take a long time.
ML: So, how did you find that producer?
DM: Originally, I was going to make it guerilla-style: just get a bunch of my friends together, hire a bunch of USC kids, and make it with no money. But I was making a lot of short films at the time, and I realized that no matter how good your script or how good a director you are, if you don’t have a talented, professional crew and talented, professional actors bringing it to life, it’s not going to work. That was the biggest thing I learned from film school. I would write these scripts that I thought were really funny, and I would hire my friends and do the lighting myself, that sort of thing. And because I didn’t really know what I was doing, it wouldn’t look good. The only way to make it look good was to do it professionally.
I saw a movie called Straight Outta Tompkins, and it was written and directed by a guy who was 22 at the time, Zephyr Benson. And it was really good. I thought, Okay, if that guy can make a movie professionally, then I can, too. So I reached out to the producer, David Rudd, and said, “I loved your movie. I’ve got a script; would you read it? I’d love to sit down and talk.”
ML: And then you made your movie, and then you managed to get it carried by the AMC theater chain.
DM: Once we got everything together, the movie took only 14 days to shoot. But post-production takes a long time — getting all the music, the color correction, the editing… It’s funny how long it takes. I was 19 when I wrote it, so it took four years to get it totally done. With AMC, it was just persistence, using all my connections from USC and working really hard to get it in front of as many people as I could.
ML: There are some pretty clear similarities to Swingers here.
DM: That was absolutely my biggest influence.
ML: So, how is it different? What has changed since 1996?
DM: When I set out to write this, I was just sort of writing about me and my high school friends, the stuff I’d seen in my own life. But people have told me, “Oh wow, this is so the Millennials,” whatever that means. I think a lot of it has to do with our relationships with our friends in terms of social media. The whole time, you have one character trying to talk to another guy, and he’s filming for his Snapstory or taking a picture of his beer for Instagram. His friend just wants him to be present. That’s something that annoys me in my life; I think our generation has a lot of unnecessary anxiety about how many “likes” a post is getting, or about whether or not they’re going to be able to film a situation, or about whether they’re getting a good picture — instead of just sort of living.
And another thing I noticed in going to USC was that the kids who come from successful parents feel like they have big shoes to fill. Even though they’re doing well compared to the rest of the world, they don’t think they are, because of how their parents did.
ML: Weed seems a little more ubiquitous. It’s almost like some people might drink, but everyone smokes.
DM: I’m not a stoner now, but when you’re 19, it’s just what you do when you get together. It’s almost like this thing: “Okay, where are we going to get weed?”
ML: So, you decided to do a slo-mo “Dudes walking in suits and sunglasses” shot.
DM: It’s a blatant riff; I know that. The joke is that they walk into the wedding thinking, We are the coolest fucking cats in town. We are just, like, the badass guys in the movies. And by the time they walk out, they’re thinking, We are the biggest losers in town.
ML: And at that point, you had the challenge of filming a deep, personal conversation between two people sitting in a car.
DM: That was the challenge of the whole movie: to entertain by filming two people talking. That’s all we had. But in that scene, they cut the shit. In the beginning, they’re having all these bullshit conversations — “Oh, I want to fuck that guy’s mom” — but at the end of the day, they get back to talking real with each other. Because they don’t have anyone else to talk to about things.
ML: Which brings us to the film’s ending, which undergoes a pretty big shift in tone.
DM: Yeah, I don’t want to spoil it, but most of the movie is funny, and then near the end, it gets more realistic and dramatic. I wanted to make it funny again at the end because I wanted people to walk out of the theater laughing, to remember how much they laughed during the movie. Plus, it sort of makes fun of our generation’s fear of commitment.