Marc Meyers arrived at filmmaking by way of playwriting. His award-winning debut-film, “Approaching Union Square (2006)” was adapted from his original stage play, and follows eleven passengers on a New York City bus. Intriguingly, for a few brief moments, the inner lives of the anonymous travelers depicted in these inner-monologue-tales intersect—and the results are deliciously provocative.
Meyers’ second feature, “Harvest,” likewise follows ordinary people going about the business of living and dying. But unlike the characters in “Approaching Union Square,” these characters know each other— or so they think. Spanning several generations, family-members come together at the home of their dying patriarch (outstandingly portrayed by Robert Loggia). True to form, Meyers and company shock and delight us with a “story” that is both unique and universal.
Tell us about your roots in theatre.
That’s really where all my education took place. As a writer, it’s all about learning the form. When I was younger, I liked to go to a theatre group on a weekly basis and present a one-act play that I’d written. It was exciting to watch it take shape before my eyes. Later, I studied with Milan Stitt. I had produced a play and someone suggested I contact Milan. He invited me to join a class that he taught on weekends. Milan taught at Carnegie Mellon and every other weekend would return to New York, and teach playwriting to post-graduates at his home. And even though I never pursued an MFA in writing, I was getting all the information I needed, while working in the entertainment business.
What type of work did you do?
I started working in the entertainment business as a fundraiser at the
IFP Market. Then I got involved with a commercial production company, and a friend introduced me to Variety. I worked for Variety for several years selling advertising and sponsorship for a category of business called production services—so my clients were filmmaker-based.
What did you think of the reporters? They can be a pretty tough crowd.
(Laughs). Actually, I learned a lot about the [film] business from the reporters that I spoke to on a daily basis.
How was “Harvest” conceived?
Harvest began with an idea that I had when I worked in New York. My grandfather had Cancer, and we knew that he had one final Summer. I would go to visit him on weekends.
In those days I kept a journal and would make entries of my observations. Many years later, I turned back to those journal entries and used them as a jumping-off point—inspired by what I knew would be a very meaningful and poignant Summer—and what I thought was a good foundation for a film.
Were you in school at the time?
No, I was not in college, as was the young character/storyteller— but thought that the character’s coming-of-age would be a nice contrast to the principal player. In the film, Josh learns about mortality by witnessing death—and basically, becomes an adult. In that way, I felt like I was making something more about life than about death.
The themes of the film are about all the emotions that come out.
How did you come up with the names Siv and Yetta?
Siv and Yetta were my grandparents’ names. I used those names as an ode to them because they were wonderful people. I also, couldn’t think of any that were better suited to the two characters that played the grandparents in the film.
Did you explain the personal connection to your actors?
When we made the film, never once did I explain to the cast where the story came from. My grandparents were not famous people. They were just everyday people living their lives.
For me, it’s not so much that the actors recapture my grandparents, but about keeping things in the present—in the moment that we’re trying to create, now.
The dialogue seemed so natural. Was the film heavily scripted?
Yes, it was completely scripted. Every word that you hear is how it was written. Being a playwright, dialogue is very important to me. We only had 18 days to shoot, so we didn’t really have time to realize alternatives to the script.
Do any of the actors have theatrical roots?
Yes, most of the actors came from theatre backgrounds.
Really…Was it difficult to hook the great Robert Loggia?
Robert Loggia was on our very shortlist of ideal possibilities—and was the first to get attached, through our casting-director. Within one day of reading the script he said yes. We worked with the casting-director to cast the rest of the roles.
It felt so strange to see Robert Loggia and Barbara Barrie cast like this.
What I really liked was that people have followed the careers of Barbara Barrie and Robert Loggia for the last 50 years— and to see them in roles like these has been a revelation for a lot of people.
The scene with Barbara toward the end of the film was breathtaking.
Thank you so much. I always felt like we were working toward that scene with Barbara and her grandson, in her bedroom. I knew that the film was progressing toward that point— and that everything in the movie would contribute to that scene.
I don’t know what it’s like to see that scene alone, but in an audience there’s always laughs of relief when Josh kisses his grandmother on the cheek, and Yetta looks at him and says, ‘You’re not my man.’
It’s like everything that the audience has been holding its breath on for the last 10 minutes of the movie—because the audience has seen the reality of the situation—all comes out in a big chorus of laughter. It’s really very rewarding.
Jack Carpenter is an amazingly sensitive dramatic-actor, for such a young person.
This role is so far from the comic roles Jack played before. When I heard that he was interested in the part— and was called back with many others— I was really routing for him. I liked what he was about and what I knew about him, and thought it would be a very interesting role for him. Our paths crossed in a wonderful way and we’ve become good friends.
Are there other comedians in “Harvest,” aside from Carpenter and Barbara Barrie?
Now that I’m thinking about it, [almost] everyone in the cast has done comedy at some point. Jack Carpenter was consistently cast in comedies. Barbara Barrie was in ‘Barney Miller,’ and ‘Suddenly Susan’— and Arye Gross was in ‘Soul Man’…
Arye Gross was terrific as the bad brother in ‘Harvest.’ You really believed his character, Benny— and hated him.
I think Arye’s role is an example of someone who cares so much about his father and that time is running out. In making sure that certain things are in place, Benny loses sight of what is important.
He’s actually not a bad guy. Most ‘bad guys’ don’t think they’re bad in the same way others might.
Arye totally understood that there was something completely empathetic about this character, and he didn’t need to do anything more than try to relate to the family in the [only] ways that the character knew. These [motivations] were to find love, to balance the finances. It’s just that his desperation to follow through on how he thought things should happen, rubs up in the wrong way with his sister, nephew, etc. It also doesn’t help that he and his other brother have a longstanding resentment toward each other.
Really, this is just a picture of an [ordinary] family, that’s bound in its layers of complex relationships, which all come out.
Even when the characters are dealing with these complex relationships, you can feel that they are also dealing with their own demons—and you can see this.
Thank you. What I tried to do is layer the relationships but also lead toward a shared conclusion. I’m interested in [characters that] hold down their emotions as long as they can, until the emotions either pour out in some sort of revelation, or explode.
Is the camera hand-held? The scenes have that intimate look.
Yes, the camera is handheld most of the time in the movie. There’s also, an evolution of lenses used in the film, and a camera evolvement, where it becomes more permanent. This can be seen as Robert Loggia’s character becomes bedridden. Everything becomes more grounded, and the camera is (philosophically) placed on a tripod.
Tell us about the budget.
We made the film under the SAG-modified low budget agreement, which allows you to shoot a movie under $625,000. with Sag-actors. You can go a little bit over—which we didn’t—if you use older people. We would have qualified for this, but our budget never ran over what was specified.
I don’t think a huge budget is necessary for a film like this.
I agree. If you’re going to tell a story, I think there are so many resourceful ways you can do this. And actors are so starved to [create] something meaningful in their roles. So there’s no reason to [compromise] this by putting your film in the position where everyone needs to make so much money that the movie itself, makes no money. When you do this, you paralyze a movie before it gets out to the world.
I think making a film like “Harvest” takes guts.
Thanks. I thought we were doing some bold things with this movie that I feared would not be appreciated because they’re subtle. But I knew I just had to make the film because I could never get the script out of my head— and because I knew it had value.