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Austin Chick
The Brooklyn Director of XX/YY

Austin Chick has lived in Williamsburg long enough to remember the days when people actually shot each other on Bedford Avenue. Sporting a shaved head, tight cords and a dry wit, Chick epitomizes the disgruntled Bedford artist. He's positively put out that the east village has infected his neighborhood; cheese shop, baby store and all. When I told him I lived on Graham, he responded with a grim pair of eyes and a defeated "Everyone's moving to Williamsburg."

He's a good guy though: he even McGuyvered a makeshift mike stand for me out of a stapler and a roll of masking tape "My entire movie was made like this," he said over his shoulder. His debut film XX/XY, stars Mark Ruffalo, Kathleen Robertson, and Maya Stange as three college friends who have a ménage a trios, and the relationships that ensue from that. Petra Wright also stars as Ruffalo's girlfriend in the second half of the film, which occurs several years later. Chick wrote and directed XX / XY which was released nationally in April. These days find him mired in writing (his next film), attending press junkets and being doggedly interviewed by un-artistic louts like yours truly. We chowed on chicken pesto sandwiches and discussed a plethora of topics-from the proper pronunciation of Mark Ruffalo's last name to his own sordid sexual history. He taught me a new fifty-cent word and I got him to admit that he's never seen one of the greatest television shows in history*. I think he even laughed at one of my jokes. Nice guy, after all.

So, uh… where should we start?

AC: You saw the movie, I guess?

Yeah, I did.

AC: Good…. That's a plus.

That helps.

AC: I've been in these things where it became clear that people hadn't seen the movie
(I try to impersonate an idiotic interviewer) "How Was Mr. Ruffalo to work with…." (It's quite a stretch. He doesn't laugh)

AC: "Ruffalo."

Wait… how do you pronounce his name?

AC: Ruffalo. Everyone says "Roof-a-low," but it's "Ruff-a-low."

God, he must hate the world. Everyone's pronouncing his name wrong.

AC: He told me that-I forget what move it was-but in the opening credits where they say "Staring so and so, so and so, and Mark Ruffalo." And they couldn't get his name right in his own trailer.

That's awful…(I have already forgotten the correct pronunciation and try to avoid using Ruffalo's name from here on out. I also drastically change subjects). What's this whole circus been like for you so far? You took XX / XY to Sundance first, right?


AC: Yeah.

Did you expect it to be received as well as it was?

AC: I didn't really know what to expect. When you make a movie, in the back of your mind you hope that it's gonna do well. But making this kind of movie-a small, relationship movie-I tried not to have any expectations. And you never know what's going happen. When we first got into Sundance that was huge for us. And then we sold it to IFC at Sundance, and that was amazing.

How long was it before you sold it.

AC: The deal started at Sundance.

Just like that?

AC: Yeah they bought it at Sundance. Closing the deal takes a lot longer than, but that was where it started, at the end of Sundance last year. And all along the road there have been these amazing surprises. Initially it was supposed to be a DV movie; and then we were able to get a little more money and a free camera from PanaVision and it turned into this bigger thing. Mark had made You Can Count On Me but it hadn't come out. And when it came out, all of these things kind of added to it. I've been really fortunate.

Did you get to keep the camera? (Smile… but no laugh)


AC: I've got it back at my house.

Nice. So you can make another movie.


AC: Yeah.

On a side note, what are you working on next, do you think

AC: That's supposed to be the last question you ask; are you mixing it up on me here?

Yeah, I had an ordered list of questions for you, but I've already fucked that up so I'm just going with however it comes to me


AC: I'm working on another complicated relationship movie.

Is this independent as well? Is it just you or…


AC: It's me. It looks like Mark Ruffalo is probably gonna be involved in it. And just recently we've sorted out who the producers are going to be. Right now we're just beginning to cast it, but it's not set up anywhere. We're hoping to shoot it in San Francisco later this year. Again-it sort of plays with chronologies. More comedic than XX / XY, but still about fucked up relationships. They're not wildly or sensationally fucked up relationships, they're sort fucked in the way that a lot of people's relationships are.

They're fucked up they way they should be fucked up.

AC: Yeah. You know, sort of complicated relationships. Not this Hollywood stereotype of what love is where it descends on you from above and the music swells and everything works and it doesn't take any work or maintenance to keep your relationship going. Relationships take a lot of work. That's a part of what it means to be in love.

You just mentioned the music swelling in the Hollywood movies. And I noticed that you had a very decided absence of music in XX / XY. I know there's an actual term for it.

AC: There is. Diagetic vs. Non-Diagetic. Source vs. Score. When I was in film school they said that it was Diagetic vs. Non-Diagetic, but since I've been out of film school, I've said that to people who worked on the movie. And no one knows what the hell I'm talking about. So I think it's just source vs. score. We have a lot of music that's playing in the scene that's a part of the location and in some cases especially in the second half of the movie, the composers actually wrote that music. So it's score but it's mixed to sound like its source. So it sounds like there's a song playing the background of the restaurant and because the composer wrote it, they wrote it so that it sounds like a song, but it also works with what's going on dramatically in the scene. That was something that I wanted to play around with

Why did you opt for source over score?

AC: I'm not opposed to score on principal but in this movie it just didn't feel right. Score can be very manipulative and sometimes that's fine, but in this kind of movie I didn't want that sense of manipulation. I thing audiences are really mart about that stuff. Movie-going audiences are really sophisticated these days, and they know when they're being manipulated.

Especially when it comes to romances.

AC: Yeah. And I think the people are really aware of music. As soon as you hear the music swelling, I find myself, and think a lot of people do… I think it pushes them away. It makes me start to think 'O.K. now I'm being told this.'

'I'm supposed to feel triumphant' (Triumphant!? What the….)

AC: Yeah. So I wanted to try and avoid that. This next movie I'm working on, I think there's going to be a lot of score in it.

You hooked up with … Um…Ruffalo? (I Still can't pronounce his name)


AC: (almost chuckling) 'Ruffalo'…like 'buffalo.'

Ah, buffalo. You met him in New York?

AC: I met Mark; I'd seen him in a play, This Is Our Youth.

I saw him in that. He was fucking great.


AC: He was great in that. So I'd seen him in that, and we had some mutual friends, and then those same friends were in a writing group that I was working with at the time. And so when I was writing the script, I decided that I was going to do a reading of it and somebody in the group talked to Mark and I'd met him a couple of times since then at parties and birthday parties and stuff, and he got involved early on, to do this reading - just a read through of the script and right away it seemed obvious that he was great for it

He seems kind of perfect for it


AC: Yeah, it's a really challenging character and I think in order for the movie to work I knew that you had to be able to-if not love the guy-understand him, and see that he's struggling and I think that Mark is able to bring this sort of innocence to the character.

You really find yourself hating the character in the second half but then he would just sort of smile, you know? And he physically counterbalanced what he was doing emotionally. I thought that worked really well, especially in the second half.


AC: When I was writing it I had in my mind a young Jack Nicholson, and there's really nobody that's a young Jack Nicholson.

There's Christian Slater (now he laughs!)

AC: (keeps on chuckling) Yeah. Even thought Mark and Jack are really different; I think there's something similar in the way they approach that kind of character - the kid who never grew up, you know? He just can't help himself, there's a lack of sophistication in his lack of deception; emotional sophistication that I think is endearing. Even though it's fucked up, it's endearing.

It is, isn't it? Where did you find Petra?

AC: I'd heard about Petra from a couple of people. She was in a movie called Seven and a Match that had been made a year before that was shot by the same person who shot my movie, and it was also cast by the same person who cast my movie-so I'd heard about her but she was in LA. It wasn't until I'd gone out there to do casting that I finally got to meet her.

I had never heard of her before I saw her in this, and I thought she did an amazing job.

AC: She was great. There's something I find really refreshing about new faces. Somebody who you don't bring any kind of baggage to. Or they don't bring any kind of baggage to the movie. You don't have any associations with them.

It was kind of hard to look at Kathleen and not think of 90210


AC: Which I've never seen but I know that a lot of people must have watched that show. Kathleen was incredible to work with. And she's great in the movie. And there was something in another way that was attractive to me about taking someone like that and giving them the opportunity to do something totally different. Which is what attracted her to the role, I think. But the character of Clair (Petra Wright)-because she sort of ends up being the surprise, if it had been somebody that was well known it would have kind of given away the surprise, I think. Because when you first meet the character of Clair in the second half it's like 'Oh, I know that girl. She's the one he settled for. She's accommodating and overly understanding and kind of pretty, but she doesn't hold a candle to the love of his youth.' But then eventually she ends up being the emotional backbone of the second half of the movie. She's sort of the answer to questions that the first part of the movie really opens up. You're left with all of these questions and doubts about the characters and she-not in a logical way, sort of in an emotional way-answers these questions, I think. If she'd been somebody that was recognizable, you'd be thinking 'Oh she's obviously going to play a big role. She's obviously going to have a big monologue.' But because people don't know her, she's able to surprise you.

And she does too… The movie looks like it was fun to make.


AC: It was. It was fun to make, but it was a brutal shoot.

How long did you shoot for


AC: We shot it in four weeks

That's pretty damn good.

AC: We had fifty-eight locations. I still don't know exactly how we did it. We cheated a lot of stuff. We would shoot like, four different restaurant scenes all in different corners of the same restaurant. To sort of make it look different. So we could shoot four or five scenes in one day, all in the same location but like treating it like different locations. Mark in that "café" is the same restaurant he's in with Thea when he says "there's no room for honesty in a healthy relationship." It's also the same restaurant he's in when he and Sam have lunch together. And there was another scene that ended up getting cut from the movie, which we also shot at that same restaurant. We tried to use different parts to make you think it's a different restaurant, but in my mind I justified as "Well, that's the restaurant he goes to. It's his neighborhood restaurant, and that's where he goes for coffee, and that's where he meets them." It was defiantly a tough shoot. I think everyone was there for the right reasons. The actors were all very enthusiastic despite the fact that it was, at times, a nightmare logistically. And the food was terrible and the accommodations were terrible and everyone was a pretty good sport.

I don't think I've ever heard of a movie that isn't Hell to make.


AC: I think the ones that go smoothly you never hear from again.

There were some major differences that I noticed between the first half and the second half. Did you find one section easier than the other section?

AC: No. As I was writing it, I didn't really think of them as so different. I don't think. I had ideas for these character's lives in the present. And then I had a bunch of ideas about what those characters might have done earlier. I didn't necessarily think that much about the difference so much as like, it's like 'Here's a film about these people that are this age.' So that I have a sense of the characters. And then the second half is throwing those characters into a situation and figuring out how they might react to it.

How much of it is autobiographical, if any?

AC: It's not autobiographical in any direct way. None of those characters are based on any people I know… I'm not Coles. But there are two things. There are a couple of scenes that are close to things that may have happened to me. Like the ménage a trios? Years ago when I was in college, I went to bed with two girls and it was the most miserable experience of my life. And that was sort of a starting point for writing the movie. I wanted to take this situation that's typically thought of as a male fantasy and kind of explore the other side of it. Which is really awkward, or at least it was for me, in my experience. And the outcome of my ménage a trios was very different. The two women ended up getting together and being together a long time, like seven years or something. So nothing about that situation developed into a story in this movie. But that situation just kind of interested me. And then there's a conversation later in the movie that's similar to a conversation that I once had with a girlfriend. Other than that it's all fictional. I was at Sarah Laurence briefly in the early nineties so it's a world that I feel familiar with and now I'm in a place where everyone I know is settling down and getting married and sort of facing these kinds of questions that the characters face in the second half of the movie. But I think that's also what makes it kind of universal. Hopefully

So my last question. In the opening scene Mark is decked out as a hipster. I mean there's no other way you can describe it except to say he's a hipster. Did you actually write that in the script that he was supposed to be a hipster or was that the costumer? (After saying 'hipster' so many times, you start to realize that it's a pretty ridiculous sounding word)

AC: I wish I could remember. Cause what it said in the script was really funny. I've herd mark mention it in interviews before. I can't remember what it was; something about his moustache was mentioned in the script. Like a big goofy handle bar moustache. Um that's sort of the way I saw him. The swish to milk. He's wearing a T-shirt that says swish to milk and it's got a cow's ass, I think that was a find. That was the costume designer. But I always saw the Coles character as a hipster in the kind of too-tight clothes sort of way. There's something a little but off about his style. Everything's too tight. But … yeah…. all that stuff changes so much. But I think he fits the type that I had in mind from the beginning.

--B.C. Edwards
[email protected]

check out the review of XX/XY here

*The editors and everyone else on staff do not agree that Beverly Hills 90210 is the greatest television show in history. Edwards is all alone on this one.





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