The year 2000 closed out for Boston-based actor/director D.R. Farquharson in a place he least expected: the hospital emergency room. It seemed that a few miscreants decided to ring out the old year by assaulting him, leaving the 29-year-old Farquharson with a broken nose, cheekbone, and three broken fingers as well 30 stitches in his chin and 10 over his eye. ^ The assault brought a strange end to what had been a remarkable year. Farquharson’s first feature film, the romantic comedy Gavin’s Way, had won the Break Through Film Award at the New York International Film & Video Festival and began to catch the interest of other festival organizers and even distributors. Gavin’s Way also scored a place on Film Threat’s list of the Ten Best Unseen Films of 2000. Another Farquharson work, the screenplay for a comedy called “F’d in the Head,” also won an award at the same festival where Gavin’s Way was honored and is now in pre-production. ^ Farquharson’s success is quite some distance from his first foray into show business: as a 15 year old sneaking on to the Boston location of the TV show “Spencer for Hire” and blending in with a field of extras. Always a film fan, he experienced a cinephiliac epiphany one night in 1989 at two in the morning watching Hal Hartley’s “The Unbelievable Truth” on cable TV. Determined to make a career in entertainment, he moved to Los Angeles with high hopes. Unfortunately, only some extra work came his way and he returned to Boston, taking classes in TV and radio at Emerson College and supporting himself with a dull office job in the proverbial cubicle-cell. ^ All the while, Farquharson worked on creating a screenplay, and after completing his first work he began sending out query letters. When he actually received a positive response, however, he had a sudden change of heart and shelved the screenplay to work on another, which turned into Gavin’s Way. ^ Gavin’s Way is a warm and frequently hilarious story of three Irish-American cousins with parallel romantic problems: a heating oil salesman who finds himself cautiously falling in love with the home aid worker for his invalid grandmother, a wise-a*s mechanic who insists he is breaking up with his girlfriend even though they are still sleeping together, and a mortician school graduate who returns home with announcing he is gay and showing off his African-American boyfriend. For anyone who gets tired by the puerility and contrivances which pockmark the romantic comedy genre, Gavin’s Way is a blast of real air: intelligent, sincere characters facing genuine crises and concerns with maturity and (believe it or not) decency. The film is moist with sarcastic patter, but the spirit is never cruel or mean-spirited. As an actor, Farquharson cast himself as the heating oil salesman and rolls through the film with a stoneface expression which rivals Buster Keaton for peerless inscrutability. As a director, the film is shot like a straightforward drama and not a nudge-in-the-ribs comedy, which makes the situations all the more funnier as the unroll in unexpected ways.
Film Threat caught up with Farquharson, who is using his period of recuperation from the New Year’s bashing to plan for his next film work.
Where did Gavin’s Way come from? Was there an initial genesis or was it the sum of many experiences? ^ I believe anyone exposed to excessive amounts of organized religion is bound to learn to spin a yarn and develop a sense of humor. (Or start a militia, one of the two.) I grew up in a hard working Irish Catholic family, spent my childhood as the fat kid in parochial school, and my best friend was my cousin. When people told me to write what I knew, I took my background and mixed with the background of some of the other actors I’ve known over the years. Basically I wrote a scenario that would probably have my great grandmother roll over in her grave.
You began shooting with only $6,000 in your budget. Where did that tidy amount of cash come from, and what was the film’s final budget (and the means of raising funds)? ^ Budget? What budget? When Denton Hunter came on as a producer he knew quite a few folks that had done well in the dot-com stock boom. He pitched the film to them as a novelty investment and a few jumped aboard. (Almost all of the investors made it to at least one day of shooting and can be seen as extra’s.) Unfortunately when it came time to actually collect it, quite a few of those folks disappeared. So we were stuck with the decision to stop until we raised it or shoot and raise money along the way. We both agreed, we were willing to eat dirt and sell blood to keep going. Somehow in those 13 days of principle photography Denton got it done. Denton is a natural born salesman. If we didn’t have the money, we didn’t have the money. But after a conversation with him you’d be convinced that you didn’t need the money. And of course I rewrote scenes the night before to adapt to what we had the next shooting day (actors, locations, weather, etc.). Directing a no-budget feature is like being a quarterback in sudden death overtime: you have to run the option and be prepared to keep the ball on every play.
“Gavin’s Way” is directed in a very unusual manner: it’s a comedy, but the tone is so dramatically deadpan that it is even funnier than a wink-wink-nudge-nudge comedy. Why did you opt to shoot the film in this manner versus the broadbrush approach that most filmmakers take to comedy films? ^ It’s hard to miss a joke when someone’s waving a rubber chicken over their head screaming “Listen to me I’m funny”. My target audience is intelligent enough that I don’t have to say ” LAUGH HERE.” I wanted to tell a simple story about everyday people in an intelligent manner. My favorite films are the ones that not only can you watch a second time and laugh because you missed something, but watch again and laugh because you’re at a different point in your life. ^ The first time we showed the rough cut to a group, two people complained that there were so many little things that they missed a few under the room’s laughter. I didn’t see that as a problem, in fact I went back and cut three minutes of pause space out to make it tighter. ^ “Gavin’s Way” is funny, but the story also has a point. It says something about who we are. This is the 21st Century- when are we going to get past prejudice? How many generations have to boil in the melting pot until there’s only one stew? People like to laugh. There are so many jokes aimed at hurting people, why not tell one that brings people closer together?
What is the state if indie filmmaking in the Boston area? Is this an area which encourages up and coming filmmakers? ^ The Boston area is really a funny climate. Folks get together a reel and flee to New York and LA the first chance they get. There’s quite a bit of talent here, but no one to really cultivate it. Hopefully it will change, but there’s going to have to be a catalyst. The film community is scattered and the funding sources just aren’t set up here. ^ Boston’s a great city and I plan to shoot what I can here. But it doesn’t matter what you are, an actor, writer, director–unless you’re independently wealthy or willing to scrape pennies together for every feature you’ve got to go where the funding is until you’ve got the power to lure the money home. I think Providence and the Farrelly Brothers exemplify that. In the Development stage of “Gavin’s Way” I was fortunate enough to stumble across Frank Ciota who made his directoring debut with “The North End,” and he gave me some tips to push things forward. And Frank was passing off what he learned from Michæl Corrente “(Federal Hill,” “Outside Providence”).
You’ve stated that your inspiration to direct came from a late- night viewing of Hal Hartley’s 1989 “The Unbelievable Truth”. What was it about that film which got you hooked? ^ It was dry. Funny. Real. I thought the shoving match between Audrey’s boyfriend and her father in the street was about the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. I still see that film and crack up. But above just being funny it made a point. Don’t get me wrong; “slipping on a banana peel” physical comedies are great, and when you watch them they make an immediate impact. But films like “The Unbelievable Truth” leave an effect. In the world we live in, things don’t always wrap up nicely.
You made inquiries regarding your first screenplay, but you declined to send it out when one production company requested to see the work. Why did you pass the opportunity to share the screenplay? And do you regret not following through on the invitation to send it for consideration? ^ It was my first screenplay. My first completed screenplay. And like all first screenplays, it sucked. And like all first time screenwriters I didn’t know it. I thought it was the best screenplay ever. I was sitting at my cube, where I was supposed to be working, thanking the Academy and wondering what it was going to be like to have Tim Burton as a neighbor. I skimmed some how to books and sent out query letters. In the meantime a friend of a friend of mine went to college with some “named” actor who had just made it big’s- personal assistant. So I sent it to him. And he flat out wrote me an e-mail telling me that it sucked (with an itemized list of reasons why it sucked). Unfortunately my query letter writing skills proved to be better then my script writing skills and a reputable indie producer wrote me back. I never sent it. ^ I highly recommend writing a second script before you ever send out your first. And let people read them. People you don’t know, but know how to read a script. And prepare yourself, it’s like your first sexual performance–it’s going to suck. And when you finally see that it really does, then you’ll be ready to write a good script, or at least a better one.
You are also a member of the Harvard Square Scriptwriters. In your work with that group, how have you encouraged aspiring auteurs to hone their craft? ^ Laura Bernieri was one of the folks involved with Brad Anderson’s “Next Stop Wonderland,” one of Boston’s true indie stories, but another of her big contributions to the Boston film community was founding the Harvard Square Scriptwriters. Hss is a semi-exclusive script-writing group that meets weekly to break down and review new scripts by its members. It’s a grueling process and your script is put under a microscope. In any given review approximately 20 scriptwriters will spend 15 minutes telling you what they liked about your work, and an hour about what they didn’t. As vicious as it sounds, I’ve put 2 of my scripts through the group and I’ve won awards for the first as a film, “Gavin’s Way,” and a screenwriting award for the second “F’d in the Head” which we’re shooting this year. ^ As a writer it allows you to build confidence in what you believe is vital to your script. If your script is strong then you should have no problem defending it. If it’s not, then it’s a good time to make some changes. As far as honing the craft? Well I think its import to just write the first draft. Write when things come to you. My spelling and grammar are atrocious, and frankly I could care less in the first draft. Just write the story, you can edit later. And if there’s a not a group like Hss is your area, start one. Nothing keeps the momentum going then watching the others finish.
You are beginning work this summer on a new film called “F’d in the Head”. What’s is this one all about? ^ Well “Gavin’s Way” is about the f****d up every day people you see and interact with. “F’d in the Head” is about the f****d up people you see everyday but avoid. You know the folks on the subway or at the bus station. They all have lives. How different are we from them, I mean we all have our little eccentricities. Me – I brush my teeth 5-6 times a day. ^ But since I’ve never had a cavity it’s acceptable. But if you’re the guy who has to pull your pants down around your ankles every time you break wind because you don’t want the odor to touch the material of your underwear–well then you’re F’d in the Head. It’s a love story. A romantic comedy that follows a different path of perception.
Where do you see your career heading in the near future? And what will it take to achieve your goals? ^ Well my immediate plans are to heal from being attacked on New Year’s Eve, so the rest of the year should be a breeze.) After “F’d in the Head” I’ve been offered a lead in a film being shot in England. The script looks good and it’d be nice to work on a project and just concentrate on one piece, acting. I’ve also finished two new scripts that I’m polishing, and of course we’ve just started to talk to distributors about “Gavin’s Way”. ^ My goal is to shoot two low budget features in the next year and a half. I’m just cutting my teeth here. I learned so much about what to expect during a shoot and how to prepare during “Gavin’s Way” that I can’t wait to use it to learn and continue to grow.
Based on your experiences to date, what advice can you share with other hopeful filmmakers? ^ Don’t rely on hope. Filmmaking is just like anything else in life. If you want it you have to take it. A film is a result of persistence and perseverance, not luck. You have to put together a plan with the film being the goal, not a dream. And part of that plan is building a good supportive team. Stay open minded and flexible. There’s no way you’re going to do everything by yourself and why would you want to? Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and it’s fun to be part of the right team. ^ One more thing. There’s a huge difference between being confident and cocky. You need to be prepared to deal with criticism. This industry is full of rejection. You have to learn what you can and shrug off the rest.
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s INTERVIEW ARCHIVES and read hundreds of fascinating in-depth interviews with directors, filmmakers, actors and celebrities from the world of film!