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Interview


To make my job easier Answer Man writer/director John Hindman offered to do an e-mail interview concerning his film (well, technically I was contacted by a PR company rep, but that’s beside the point). Here’s a little plot synopsis to get you started, followed by my interview. Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) is the world famous author of the best-selling spiritual book ‘Me and God’, and unbeknownst to his adoring public, he doesn’t actually speak to the almighty. What’s worse, he’s a sad hermit that hates his adoring public. Kris Lucas (Lou Taylor Pucci) is a small bookstore owner straight out of rehab. He and Faber connect when Faber tries to pawn off his collection of spiritual books, which Kris cannot afford to buy. During this power struggle Faber injures his back, and is forced to venture out of his house to a start-up chiropractor named Elizabeth (Lauren Graham). Elizabeth, a single mother and widow, has neuroses all her own. Through his connections with Kris and Elizabeth Faber begins a slow and difficult journey back to humanity.

Answer Man, The
Tell us about the inspiration behind the film, and more specifically plot elements like unwanted celebrity, self-help books, theological indecision, and beautiful chiropractors?

I wanted to tell a story about fathers and sons. Fathers who have died or left, surrogate fathers, what it is to be a son. What it means to need a dad in your life. If there’s a Heavenly Father what’s that relationship like?

I also liked the idea of someone being famous for something he could not do for himself. The studio version I suppose would be to have the character have written a book on relationships but can’t find love himself. I wondered what the biggest thing was that you could be famous for and decided it would be the answers to all of the questions that have plagued mankind forever. We all want to know ‘what’s going on here?’ It’s something I wrestle with and so I decided my characters should have the same dilemma. This was also a good comedic topic for me as I wanted to point out what I find funny about the self-help movement.
 
As far as chiropractors go, I needed to find a way for two strangers to meet in a way that made sense. I was talking to my dad and he was complaining about his back. And, I thought ‘She’s a chiropractor!’.

What filmmakers and story writers inspired The Answer Man?

I set out to make what I guess you could call an old-fashioned movie. I love Frank Capra, Preston Sturgess, Woody Allen, and Billy Wilder. One of the things I miss most about their films is they didn’t rely on sex. They weren’t crass or cynical. They didn’t make fun of their characters feelings or desires. There was a kind of sweetness to them. When something happens to you it’s a big deal. Precisely, because it’s happening to you! It doesn’t matter what year it is or how we have changed as a society. The problems that people go through fundamentally haven’t changed. So, in a sense, I was attempting to tell a story that was a bit more timeless than something that could only happen in 2009. It’s why some of those older films still hold up.

Answer Man, The
Did you write the character arcs separate and then interweave them, or was the script written as a whole story?

I wrote it as one story all the way through. They need each other to ‘get better’. If you take out any part of the other character’s stories the whole thing falls apart.
 
Two of the three main characters are immediately set up as hypocrites. What inspired this, and is hypocrisy a theme you intend to explore in future films?
 
We are all hypocrites. There are so many things that we say are important to us and yet we act in direct contradiction to that all the time. Every day. We go to the gym but we smoke. We want to be more loving but we hold grudges. We are all a war of opposites and I wanted my characters to reflect that. It doesn’t make you wrong. It just makes you human.

As a horror fan I notice that Arlen is a horror fan (or at least a monster fan). Can I assume you’re a horror fan too, and could there a horror film in your future?
 
I love monster movies. Arlen (Jeff Daniels’ character) needed something to humanize him a bit and so I put in his love of monsters that he got from watching those kinds of movies with his dad. Something I did a lot of.

I would love to make a monster movie.

This is probably a common question (sorry), but I’ll ask anyway—what was it like being a first time writer/director? How long did it take to get producers on board? Was casting more difficult?

The trick isn’t getting what you want. The trick is, still wanting it after you get it. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

We cast the movie first and then went to see if someone wanted to pay for it. The whole thing took less then a year. Five minutes in Hollywood time.

Answer Man, The
Was there a temptation to make the film thematically darker, and was it difficult to not fully embrace the schmaltzy route?

Not really. I like jokes. I want to keep things moving. Without that the movie could get bogged down and all of the sudden it feels like you’re trying to say something ‘important’. What is going on in the movie is important but only to the people it is happening to. It’s hard to walk the line between sentiment and sentimentality. Drama and melodrama. I leave it to others to determine how successful we were but I am happy with the result.
 
Was it difficult deciding on how broad to play the comedy?

As long as it’s real it works. And, when you have people like Jeff and Lauren you can really go farther than you could with actors who aren’t as skilled in comedy. They keep it grounded and immediate.
 
The musical choices are interesting. Am I correct in assuming these are incredibly personal choices?

Nothing makes me want to make movies more than music. I love standards. I love Ella Fitzgerald. But more than that I love the feeling you get when a movie is married to beautiful music. I was lucky to get Teddy Castellucci as our composer. He has a real ear for a lovely melody and knows how to use it to hook the audience. I still walk around humming the score. Which is what I want from a score.
 
Were there any substantial deleted scenes? It seems that Anne was missing a bit from the last act, and there seems to be a protester seen outside the bookstore as Arlen enters to make his climactic speech.

Nothing was deleted. Since Kat Dennings and Olivia Thirlby are bright, up and coming stars I think people expected to see more of them than they did. I was surprised that they wanted to take such small roles but they were fans of the script and just wanted to do it.

As for the protestor, just an extra that got out of control.

Answer Man, The

Video


The Answer Man takes a naturalistic approach to its imagery. Lighting is soft and natural, and the colours follow suit. There’s no obvious theme colour, or overlying stylistic shade, and there aren’t many poppy highlights. Some of the warmer browns (like wood) are slightly noisy, but overall the colours are warm and solid. The print is grainier than expected for the vintage (not to mention Magnolia’s pedigree), but the naturalistic look is probably to blame, as a certain amount of grain is to be expected. The grain is most noticeable in the whites, and there are occasional minor white artefacts on the darker spots. The transfer’s bigger issue is the middling detail levels. The details are even considering focus, and consistent despite placement, but they’re never particularly impressive. With a handful of night time exceptions the transfer aim for super-sharpness, so edge-enhancement is only an occasional issue. If the SD extras are an indication the Blu-ray stands pretty far ahead of the DVD, but it’s far from a standout 1080p transfer on its own.

Audio


The naturalistic approach extends to the film’s sound design, which features some subtle incidental rear and stereo channel noise, but is most concerned with clear and centred dialogue. This disc’s uncompressed DTS-HD 5.1 track doesn’t give the sound system a workout, and is definitely lacking in LFE support, but most everything checks out according to the needs of the track. Eagle-eared (?) listeners might catch a couple of ever-so-slight bleeds on some of the centric dialogue, but there aren’t any other notable errors or shortcomings on the track, at least based on the unassuming sound production. The film’s music is a little on the predictable side (it actually reminds me a lot of an animated film score), but it’s pretty effective, so long as it isn’t getting too schmaltzy. As mentioned in the interview, there are plenty of pointed additional music choices, all of which add some bass and warmth to the track.

Answer Man, The

Extras


The disc’s special features begin with ‘The Characters of The Answer Man’ (10:00, SD), an average EPK featuring writer/director John Hindman and the actors chatting about their characters and each other with a somewhat painful slant towards affection, intercut with select scenes from the film. ‘The Answer Man: From Concept to Creation’(10:00, SD) is a continuation, or companion piece, with a more direct focus on the script and production development. It’s short and a bit fluffy, but it’s more informative than the first featurette, and is a close as we get to an in depth behind the scenes look. ‘HDNet: A Look at The Answer Man’ (04:30, HD) is more of the same, but clearly made for TV, and in HD. Magnolia Blu-ray trailers finish out the disc.

Answer Man, The

Overall


Big thanks to Answer Man writer/director John Hindman for taking the time to answer my questions. I recommend the film to fans of the lead actors, and fans of slightly skewed, Capra-esque love stories, though viewers expecting something like Wes Anderson-esque mega-quirk, or deep dark shades might be a bit disappointed. Comparing the film to a sit-com will probably come off as an insult, but it isn’t meant as one. I’d watch a weekly [i]Answer Man[i] series, and imagine there’d be a susceptible audience out there. This Blu-ray release isn’t an incredible A/V feast, but that’s really not the point. I could do with a few more extras, at least a director’s commentary, but perhaps this interview will answer a few fan questions.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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