SKILLS LIKE THIS -Q&A with the Director and Lead

March 17, 2009


The Angelika was happy to chat with director Monty Miranda & lead actor Spencer Berger of
SKILLS LIKE THIS – opens this Friday at the Angelika NYC!

Q:â?¨ SKILLS LIKE THIS has been a hit at film festivals around the world – can you tell me about that experience?
â?¨Monty:  The festivals provided an opportunity to see amazing films that deserve a much wider audience. So many people (who submitted films) have â??day jobsâ? and are really struggling â?? itâ??s impressive to see their work when they canâ??t necessarily do it full time. As for SKILLS, we were concerned that our story wouldnâ??t translate across the pond, but the response was extremely positive, even to the subtle bits of Americana.

Spencer:  Neither of us speaks Polish, but apparently the jokes killed. We still have no idea how they translated, but the interpreter assured us they were perceived as intended.

Q: â?¨Monty , this is your directorial debut for a feature film, correct?
monty.jpgMonty: Yes. I went to film school at CU boulder and my work in commercials took off and did pretty well, but at a certain point I thought â??Iâ??ve done some meaningful work, including political ads and itâ??s been successfulâ? but, at the end of the day, I wasnâ??t making movies. It was never completely out of my head that I was originally compelled to make films.

Q: Spencer, as a writer, how much of this film (about a writer) is based on your own experiences?

: Not much of this is based on my life; with this particular story, that would be unfortunate. When I started writing this story, the first thing that popped into my head was a scene with 3 friends eating lunch, talking about robbing a bank. I wanted to find out what would happen if one of those friends actually did it. I would say almost everything about the film is not from my own life â?? Iâ??ve only robbed a couple of banks (laughs).

Q: â?¨Tell me about the hair.
f8656.jpgSpencer: Okâ?¦first of all, that really is my hair. It took me about a year to grow it out. I used to buzz my hair and then just let it grow for months and months. When I met Monty, I was at the end of one of those cycles and it was big.

Monty: In the opening scene, because Spencerâ??s character (Max) just gets up at lunch and spontaneously robs a bank, we had to think of a quick disguise he could fashion in a matter of minutes. Spencerâ??s hair was so big, that simply putting on a tight knit cap became the perfect disguise because he looked so drastically different and so normal. â?¨â?¨Spencer: I like that you think I look more normal robbing a bank with a hat on than I did with the big hair.â?¨â?¨Monty: I know! What kind of asshole would walk outside with that hair?

Spencer: (laughs)The hair also affected how I played the character â?? Max has no idea throughout the film that heâ??s the constant center of attention â?? you have to be a little bit off; itâ??s a huge social impediment to walk around like that. It forced me to make the character totally unaware of how he comes across to people which turned out to be kind of endearing. I really enjoy watching films where, at times, you donâ??t know how to feel about the protagonist. He pushes the audience away a little, but still manages to be likeable.

Q: â?¨SKILLS is a comedy and has even been called a â??slacker comedyâ?, but whatâ??s the serious message?
â?¨Spencer: The entire time we were making the film, we never said â??hey, weâ??re making a comedyâ?. Monty and I just thought: â??whatâ??s a story, we want to tell?â?. I think both of us were really just interested in a story about someone who has no chance of being able to achieve their highest aspiration â?? weâ??ve seen a lot of films where the protagonist conquers his problem (for example: bad writer turns good writer), but weâ??ve never seen a story where someone fails at something because theyâ??re simply not GOOD enough.
It was a challenge to explore that idea without completely alienating the audience; the goal was to get Max to a healthy place where heâ??s ready and excited to wake up each day – he can still be scared – but heâ??s excited about that challenge.

â?¨â?¨Monty: There are so many amazing films that I hesitate to categorize under one specific genre, but yeah, ours is a comedy. However, whatâ??s funny about it is that the main character doesnâ??t actually realize heâ??s in a comedy.

Spencer: Exactly. Max thinks heâ??s in Hamlet, while everyone else clearly knows theyâ??re in a comedy. Shakespeare used to label his plays as comedy or tragedy, but tragedies had some of the most hysterical moments in history â?? it surprises the audience.

Monty: It was during the development stage that we became obsessed with the idea that the Max character has this dream he will never achieve because he sucks at it. This is real life. Itâ??s a bit of existential dilemma to not make a living doing what you most want to do, even if you are proficient or good at this chosen path.  Just because you want or have passion for something doesnâ??t mean you are entitled to make a living at this choice or fulfill a dream. No one is entitled to anything regardless of how hard they work or even how good they are. We didnâ??t want to make a movie where Max sucks; he works hard and then achieves his success as a writer in the end. We have seen this movie before and this is the rare case in life. â??Skills Like Thisâ? is a bit of a fantasy but in these ways the film is actually very much grounded in reality and is one of the themes that most compelled me.

Q: What challenges did you face creating and marketing the film?
Monty: We shot the film in 17 days which is, well, impossible. The cast & crew usually become the walking dead when shooting indie films, but Donna (Dewey , producer) and I made a pact that we would make a good film without brutalizing people.  We raised money by shooting a trailer for a movie that, at the time, didnâ??t exist. We shot for three days, we had a screenplay, and Donna put together an investment pitch; we raised the money in about a month!â?¨As for the marketing, we had done work with a small agency in boulder that responded really well to SKILLS. They created the poster artwork for us which was a challengeâ?? when youâ??re not seeing Pit or Deniro you have to figure out what will stand out and capture the spirit of the film. Look at Jaws, The Godfather, Hitchcockâ??s work â?? it stands out in your mind. The work we had done for SKILLS is somewhat reminiscent of Shepard Fairey.

: When we went to SXSW, our first festival, everyone was walking around wearing our T shirts with the logo on it, except for me. It was so uncomfortable for me to see my silhouette on a legion of peopleâ??s t shirts.

Q: â?¨How did the two of you come to work together?â?¨

Monty: Spencerâ??s manager sent the script to our producer Donna and she sent it to me. I thought Iâ??d just read a couple of pages and call it a night, but I found myself up all night, laughing out loud. Then we went out to meet Spencer and Gabe (Tigerman, co-writer/actor). You know youâ??re on to something when a screenplay makes you laugh out loud like that.

Spencer: Gabe and I were struggling actors at the time, doing a sketch comedy show, but we never gave up hope that we would star in this film and felt there was a great opportunity in working with Monty and Donna.  Itâ??s always been my hope to make movies and this film really is a dream come true â?? Monty and I hope to work together again on our next film.