When last we spoke with Michael Blieden, writer and star of Melvin Goes to Dinner, he was enjoying the film’s premiere at Slamdance and it was his hope that more people would get a chance to see it in the near future. Now, over a year later, Melvin has gone on to screen and win awards at countless festivals and has recently received a DVD release. We recently caught up with Michael to find out how his dining adventure went.
What can you tell people about the entertainment industry?
Well, entertainment is a very difficult business only insofar as there is no prescribed path. There is really no degree program that can help you. There is really no sort of hierarchy that you can climb… There is just solitude and perseverance.
Beyond that, it is just up to everyone else to trust that you’re doing the right thing, and it is also the trend in entertainment that there is really no sign that you’re on the right track until all of a sudden there is some sort of huge success.
Tell me about the characters you wrote for Melvin. Who are they? What are they?
These are characters who are deeply flawed people. On the other hand, these are also people who I would love to be friends with. I was really writing a fantasy: Who would my ideal friends be? What would they say? How would they talk? What would they think? And I didn’t put any limits on where that would go.
As it turned out, the movie is really how my fantasy went: I created some very complicated people, who had made a lot of mistakes, and who were reasonably successful–but they were struggling in a lot of areas in their lives.
The thing that makes them really great people is that they have a good sense of humor about what they’re going through, and they’re able to discuss it with a lot of honesty. That seemed to be the most graceful set of qualities I could give a group of people, and that’s why I care about them so much.
How has the audience reacted to Melvin?
I feel like the people have been taking the movie very personally… The movie has gotten me into so many deep discussions with people, and people come up to me, and tell me their stories: how they differ from what’s in the movie, but essentially how their stories are similar to what happens in the movie.
People on a very basic level have been totally getting the movie in a really satisfying way, and they feel like it’s something made to reflect their lives, to make them feel OK on some level.
You had quite a bit of brand name talent involved for an independent, low-budget movie. You were working with people who could have been off somewhere making a good deal of money. Was it the material that brought them on board?
You’re absolutely right. I’ve learned in the last year that if people respond to the material, they’ll get involved, and that’s as complicated as the equation gets. People want to do good stuff. They want to get paid, too, but… With the stage play, all the actors volunteered their time. I didn’t pay anyone a dime for the play. In fact, I couldn’t have paid them.
For the movie, everyone knew what we were up against, and they just wanted to be a part of it. It was really gratifying, really encouraging, and you know the thing that I’ve learned is that it’s all about the writing. That’s what everyone looks at. That’s what everyone will respond to. That’s what gets the actors involved. It’s what gets the money involved. You know, just to focus on the writing: If you have something to say, and you care about what you say, then everything can fall into place after that.
How do you write dialogue, whether it’s for a script you’re writing, or a screenplay?
Generally, I’m like one of those guys who writes constantly, carrying around a notepad–that kind of corny, writer stereotype. A woman who was actually at one of the screenings in Hawaii put it best, Jana Wolf. She wrote a book called Secret Thoughts of Adoptive Mothers, and she didn’t write it to get published. She said, “I just write so I don’t explode.” And I said, I’m gonna start saying that, and I’m gonna quote you on it. That’s just the best way to put it. . . . I have trouble keeping things together sometimes, and writing things down helps me to deal . . ..
That’s kind of where all the writing comes from to begin with. When I’m afraid of something that someone will say, or having an argument with someone, I usually actually write it out as a script. So over the course of a year, or so, I will have a lot of stuff written, and it will generally revolve around a theme, because it came from me, my life, and what I was going through. It is generally a body of writing that’s coherent.
I’ll generally open a new document when I have a new idea, and I’ll just write a character named “man” or a character named “woman”, or “person 1” and “person 2” and I’ll just write down the central core of the idea or scene, or the one line of dialog. Sometimes I’ll think of the line or one thing that someone says, and that’ll end up being the entire character. Like Sarah, for example… that line of hers: “It’s not admirable. Look, I’m just being honest. And if his wife got hit by a car tomorrow, I’d probably start sleeping with him again.” That was one of the first lines I wrote for the play. And I pretty much created the Sarah character to justify that line. I wrote that line in 1998, and I didn’t finish the play until 2001.
The interview continues in part two of CATCHING UP WITH MICHAEL BLIEDEN>>>