Matthew Wilder is the writer/ director of the Phillip K. Dick-inspired sci-fi comedy YOUR NAME HERE (2008), and the writer of DOG EAT DOG (2016), an adaptation of the Edward Bunker crime novel, directed by Paul Schrader and starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe. Wilder has also worked extensively in the theater and has written so far unproduced screenplays on the lives of Edie Sedgwick and Linda Lovelace. I spoke with Wilder about his experience making YOUR NAME HERE. 

Matthew Wilder on DOG EAT DOG.

What were some of the films that made you fall in love with cinema growing up? 
When you're a kid you see movies and you just kind of think they make themselves. But there were three movies that opened up my eyes to ''Oh, people make this. They craft this and they have a point of view. '' It's an odd trilogy of movies, but somehow they were all really affecting to me - Sidney Lumet's NETWORK (1976), Sam Peckinpah's CROSS OF IRON (1977), and Woody Allen's INTERIORS (1978). They're three pretty dissimilar films but they are all striking for different reasons, and I also think they are all connected by the fact they have elements that take you outside of them. In NETWORK, Lee Richardson has that very dour narration that's very Brechtian and takes you outside the movie. The thing at the end with all the television sets playing at the same time and Howard Beale (Peter Finch) saying ''I'm dying. '' That really struck me. On CROSS OF IRON you have the incredibly ironic montage at the end where you see all the atrocities that have been committed by the Nazis – they have children being hanged by wires and horrible shit – and playing over the images of cruelty is this cackling from Sam Peckinpah that reminds you of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948). With INTERIORS I was struck by the austerity of the movie, the white on black title with no music, the lack of an incidental score during the movie (there's just source music), and the lack of jokes. It's that austerity that really takes you out of the movie. It was unlike anything I had seen up until then. Those three movies made me realise that someone writes and directs movies, and that someone somehow creates these things. They don't just happen. 

At what moment did you decide you wanted to get involved with film? 
I was always interested in film, but when I went to college I went down a different path. The opera director Peter Sellars got to me when I was a young kid of about 20, and when he spoke to the class he said something great: ''You know you guys are trying to get a movie made and you are walking around looking for a rich guy to give you five million dollars. But you can also do a play, and that's something you can do for no money. You can do Hamlet and do it with your friends and put it on in front of your house for nothing. You can do something that is really great, and you don't have to have this huge capital investment. '' That was very appealing to me. We also got to deal with these great texts and great writers. I went to school for theater directing and I directed many plays, even after I got an agent for writing and I got writing jobs. 

Did you make any short films before you made your film directing debut with YOUR NAME HERE? 
No, I didn't. It doesn't really get credited anymore but there were all these great filmmakers that came out of the theater. People like Otto Preminger and Mike Nichols were considered as suitable film directors because they had already directed all these shows. Now it doesn't count for shit. You could have directed on Broadway and I don't think people really care that much. But directing theater was really my apprenticeship, and I have to say that YOUR NAME HERE was very visual and so it wasn't that much of a leap to go from one to the other. I feel that directing for the theater and directing a film is like pouring different liquid into the same glasses, as I told my friend, the screenwriter Matthew Specktor. It's all kind of the same stuff to me. 

What inspired you to write YOUR NAME HERE? 
I read some biography of Philip K. Dick and I found out that his life was a bigger mess than any writer I could think of. He was in hoc to the IRS, he lived in this house with these motorcycle guys who were making methamphetamine, he had six ex-wives and all this other stuff. His life was just chaos. I thought ''Well, what if Philip K. Dick woke up one day and found out that all this mess was just part of a cosmic conspiracy like the ones in his novels?'' It also gave me an opportunity to sample different themes and characters and moments from Philip K. Dick's work, kind of like David Cronenberg did with William S. Burroughs and NAKED LUNCH (1991), and make it into a big Valis (1981), because it's all blending with his life. In YOUR NAME HERE, the lead character (Bill Pullman), keeps waking up into these different realities that are recognisable, but they are sort of cartoonish versions of his own life, turned into Philip K. Dick novels. 

What does the work of Philip K. Dick mean to you personally? 
I think now we are all a little Philip K. Dick-ed out but what was interesting to me about his work was this idea of reality as sort of a drug trip or a hallucination or a fantasy. You had this reality where you could shift and jump from one platform to another and be in different versions of the same narrative. It seemed very appropriate to our world and particularly the world of the Internet where there is this notion that you are existing in different worlds that you can leapfrog across. The thing that I love about Philip K. Dick and that I think a lot of people miss is that he is a philosopher but he is also a satirist. A lot of his work was really satirising LBJ's America as much as he was talking about big philosophical ideas. He was really talking about life at home, and it was presented in this very caricatured way. I think we got a little bit of that. 

Did the project take a long time to come together? 
Not really. I had the script and I also had another script about Edie Sedgwick called Dizzy Up the Girl. Then this terrible film called FACTORY GIRL (2006) got made about Edie Sedgwick, and I went to my manager and said ''I've spent so long on this Edie thing. I'm going to crack up if I don't get something on. Please take the Philip K. Dick script and find someone somewhere who will amke this movie. '' He said ''Well, I've got these people that will make the movie but I don't think you are going to be happy about it. '' I said ''Let's do it. Let's absolutely do it. '' So we did the movie and we did it for way too little money. It should have been a 3 or 4 million dollar movie and we made it for a few hundred thousand dollars. I'm glad I did it because in Los Angeles it's very easy for people to just sit around and talk about stuff all the time and not really do anything. The movie had a lot of problems in its afterlife. The Philip K. Dick estate came after us, for example. But I was able to make this great film with great actors. Bill Pullman won the only award he's ever won for his performance in the movie – the Special Jury prize at the Cinevegas International Film Festival. We got to go around the world and show the movie. It was hard, as I guess most first movies are. 

Apart from the budget restrictions, what was the biggest challenge of making it? 
When we wrapped, the producer said ''We have no money for post-production. '' I don't know how it works but producers sometimes take money from the next movie and then put the money from that movie into the next movie and so on. Somehow on our movie they hit a wall. There were three months when I didn't know if the film was ever going to be finished at all. My friend Ed Solomon, who wrote X-MEN (2000) and CHARLIE'S ANGELS (2000), told me that Steven Soderbergh was editing OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004) on a MacBook. So I went to one of the producers and said ''If Soderbergh can edit OCEAN'S TWELVE on a MacBook we can certainly edit our movie on a MacBook. '' So the next day a bunch of goons dragged all the tapes of the movie to my house, we digitised all the tapes and cut the movie. This was a few years ago so it was harder to do this than it is now. Everything apart from the sound editing was done at my house – cutting the movie, doing the score, laying in the visual effects and so on. It was very do-it-yourself. We pulled it off. My manager at the time said ''Just leave it unfinished. '' I said ''Fuck that. We're going to finish this movie. '' 

What was the biggest joy of making the film? 
On the first day we had this big conference table like THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994) and here's all these incredible actors – Bill Pullman, Taryn Manning, M. Emmet Walsh, Charles Napier, Traci Lords and Harold Perrineaux – who are working for nothing basically and reading these lines. It's the biggest kick in the world when you've written a script to hear incredible people doing your stuff. 

What did you learn from working with Bill Pullman? 
I know he'd done a lot of it before, but he had grace under pressure. These were really hard circumstances. We shot the film in what was essentially a crack motel. He had to creep along the outside of this crack motel and then open a door that led into a room of what were actual crackheads who were living there. We had to ask them for permission. He would keep going into this room. I was thinking ''I can't believe this. This guy was in INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), and he's walking around a crackhouse!'' It was amazing what he would do for the movie. He's a prince. 

Did you cast him because of LOST HIGHWAY (1997)? 
No, but we talked about that movie a lot. There was another movie that he did with Bill Paxton called BRAIN DEAD (2000) that actually has a lot of similarities to YOUR NAME HERE. The casting director brought his name up and we were like ''Yes, great!'' and then he was on. 

How was working with M. Emmet Walsh? 
I didn't take it personally but he was a very crotchety guy. He gave everyone a wheat penny when he wrapped, which was his signature. He's an incredible actor. It was one of those first time things. I'm in a sweaty motel room, and this guy is in a leisure suit squatting in a chair, and I start the camera up, and then he starts talking. And it's M. Emmet Walsh. At 4 in the afternoon in this crappy motel, I'm getting M. Emmet Walsh for real. 

How about Charles Napier? 
He was fantastic. He would tell all these stories about Hitchcock, Jonathan Demme, and Russ Meyer at the drop of a hat. At the wrap party I have never been so drunk in my life. I had like 26 Jagermeister shots in a row with someone on the crew. I remember grabbing the microphone and grabbing Charles Napier, who is like the size of a Buick, and shouting to everybody ''Do you know who this is? This is Charles Napier. He is a great artist. '' I don't remember what happened after that. I must have blacked out or something, but I do remember giving him his honor. Sadly he passed a few years ago. But what a giant. And he plays Charlton Heston in the movie, which is incredible. There's nobody else in the world who had that lantern jaw that Heston had. 

Was it fun working with Traci Lords? 
I had known Traci for a long time. She's wonderful. She was a sweetheart and baked cakes for the crew. She would bring a van with a wet bar on Friday afternoons so we could all have a drink. She's a hero and someone you want to have around. A really beautiful person. 

I guess it was like a film school working with all these greats. 
One of the things that Pullman and I talked about early on was that we wanted to make a movie that would have such a strange mix of actors in it that if you watched it on Showtime at 4 in the morning you'd wake up in the morning thinking it was all a dream! ''Did I really see a film where the guy from INDEPENDENCE DAY and the guy from BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) was standing next to Traci Lords?'' You never really see all these actors in the same frame. It was a weird swirl of different filmographies. It felt very dreamlike, very Philip K. Dick. The funny thing was that they all liked each other too. 

What was the thinking behind the original title, Panasonic? 
It was a rip-off of the original title of Don DeLillo's novel White Noise (1985). Panasonic means 'all noises at once' which is sort of what a scizophrenic experience is like. There is no filter. DeLillo was right in that it has a sort of cold, Warhol sikscreen, mythological quality when you see the word alone. It's also obviously a brand, and the day after we faxed out the breakdowns of the film to agents with the Panasonic title on them, we got a cease and desist letter from Panasonic. So we had to change the title, which was unfortunate. I changed the title to YOUR NAME HERE because if you're doing a biopic of someone the title is always the person's name, and in our movie it's all about identities morphing, and a lack of identity. You could put any name in there. 

Were you inspired by any particular films or filmmakers? 
I don't think you'd sense it too much while you were watching the film but definitely Cronenberg, and that thing in NAKED LUNCH where you have a mix of an artist's life and work. One of the ways I thought we could make the movie look good was by having some still, austere compositions. The movie is kind of sloppy and messy at the beginning when Bill's life is sloppy and messy but once you start getting into the alternate reality it gets very composed and detached, like a lot of Cronenberg. I realised that a very slighty further back, wider composition gave you a really good look. It worked better than trying to do a Scorsese whip-pan tracking around the room or something like that. And anyway a lot of fancy footwork is difficult to do on a budget like we had. 

Did you surprise yourself at all with some of the things you were able to achieve? 
The most surprising thing was just being able to pull things off when we were so under the gun, and being able to get yourself out of incredible jams. We had 15 days on the movie and I got the feeling that if we had gone over by even a day I would have gotten fired. We were on edge every day. There was never time to kick back a little. The opening of the movie is a long tracking shot of a guy walking through a party full of stoned n'er do-wells. We had a lot of stuff going on – a lot of cues and extras falling down and stuff like that. We got it pretty much on the first few takes and nothing fell on our heads. 

Do you believe like Cassavetes did that you can never allow yourself to feel overhelmed when directing because it can be fatal? 
I completely agree. In the low-budget, short-schedule theater that I did, sometimes we would lose the space or an actor would quit and we would have to repalce him with a puppet or something. We would pull off amazing things because we had no choice. We would always solve the problems and the show would always go on. I have a friend who has done millions of videos and reality TV stuff and he met with the line producers on YOUR NAME HERE and was saying ''You guys are crazy. You guys can't make the movie on this schedule and budget. It'll never work. You've got to tell Wilder not to do it. It's going to be a train wreck and ruin his life. '' I heard this and I thought ''This guy is an idiot. What does he think I've been doing all these years? I've done stuff like this a million times. You've got to be kidding me. '' But we did it. Does that mean that some things are a bit more slapdash than they should be? Yes, but we have a movie. In the days of Brian De Palma's HI, MOM! (1970) and the early 90s, people were more forgiving of films that were rawer and where the locations had rough edges. And sometimes, as in the case of HI, MOM!, the movie is great. Nowadays people wanna see JJ Abrams even when they're seeing a first feature. 

Why is the film difficult to see now? 
It's a tangled rights situation. Every time a small distributor wants to take it on, the Philip K. Dick estate bombs them and tells them they will sue them if they try to release it. I don't think they have a leg to stand on saying the film defames Philip K. Dick because in the film he interacts with androids and robots and talking trees. It's clearly not real! It's no more a real version of him than an SNL sketch. I spoke to the estate's attorneys and I decided to change all the names of the characters. Bill Pullman became William K. Frick, which I actually like more because you're in the Mad magazine parody of your life. But they said it was still recognisably Philip K. Dick, and still came after us. The picture played in festivals in Monreal and in Sitges and in Poland and all over the place. Now it's just hanging out there in the ether. I would love to get it out there. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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