A few months ago I got a rare chance to pre-screen an independent movie called A Year And Change. This movie really changed me and how I look at my life. A few weeks ago I got the chance to interview the director of this film, Stephen Suettinger. It took me this long to put the interview out because I just haven't had the time. A Year And Change made me reevaluate the things that I was choosing to make important in my life and I started working harder to find a job I wouldn't mind going into the new year with. A major note behind this movie is that what you're doing on New Years is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year. The main character Owen wants nothing more than for that not to be true as he finds himself alone in a hospital waiting room with no one at all worried about where he is. Like Owen I am going to spend the next year trying not to be a "new me" but a better me. Being that this movie did have such an impact on me it was such an honor that I got the chance to question the director. Without further ado here's the interview with Stephen Suettinger.
What was the inspiration behind the movie A Year and Change and what caused the title change from the original name Dear Jen?
‘Dear Jen’ was the original title of the script that Jim Beggarly first sent me in 2006. Back then, every scene contained a ‘Dear Jen’ voiceover, so it was an apropos title for the story. But as the script evolved, the story became less about Owen’s diary-like voiceovers, and more about the change that takes place within Owen over a certain tumultuous period of his life and how he comes to embrace that change.
In the back of my mind, I always felt that ‘Dear Jen’ was a little too close to ‘Dear John,’ and that audience members would probably have preconceived notions about what a ‘Dear John’ letter was…which was not indicative of our story. So as Bryan Greenberg and I discussed changing the name, I believe he suggested “A Year and Some Change” and as soon as he said it, with a little tinkering, we knew we had our title.
As far as inspiration goes, Jim and I both grew up in Maryland and so when he first sent me the script, he thought I would understand its “East coast flavor.” I agreed with him. These characters felt and sounded like people I grew up with. So you could say that a good deal of the inspiration for the characters in AYAC came from real people that Jim or I knew (separately).
In your Kickstarter video, you stated that it took five years to get Dear Jen started, was there any point where you feared it may never happen?
Absolutely. It wouldn’t be indie film if we didn’t feel like the bottom was going to drop out at any second, right? I often put the script down and started working on other projects. But something about this story and these characters would always come creeping back into my mind. I would think about the story at the most random times. It was soon clear to me that I would never be able to fully commit myself to something else until I was able to see AYAC through.
Along the way, we lost key crewmembers and actor commitments; had to slash the budget; and lost some locations…so that all worried me. Hell, we almost lost Bryan Greenberg to a television pilot two weeks before starting principal photography. Thank goodness we didn’t. But once we committed to a start date and the proverbial train left the station, we were making this movie no matter what.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer/director wanting to break into independent films?
Watch movies and TV. Read scripts. Create something different and unique. Bend the rules of screenwriting and filmmaking. Don’t give up. Hire a great casting agent/company. Find a group of people whom you trust, employ them, and then get out of the way. Remember to eat. Familiarize yourself with every job on a film set (and in post) so that you have at least a working knowledge about what it is they do. Understand that filmmaking is a collaborative art form and that the people around you are trying to help you realize your dream, so be nice to people. Hire a post production supervisor. Remember to sleep. Take a chance. Take 100 chances. Learn how to bounce back after you hear ‘No’ for the 1st and the 1000th time. Hire great lawyers. Keep writing and re-writing.
Which would you say is your favorite character in A Year and Change and why?
There is a piece of me in every one of these characters, so I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Some days it’s Cindy and her endless devotion to her child. Some days it’s Todd whose quiet and inspiring wisdom helps him overcome his physical limitations. But on most days, it’s Owen. There’s something admirable in that even on his worst day, he goes out of his way to help other people.
Do you have a favorite line or scene from the film?
I love the palpable tension in cabin scene. It was always a meaty scene on the page, and I think we were able to attract some great talent with it. TR, Bryan, and Marshall took it to a whole new level. It was amazing to be a part of it.
I’ve always liked the scene with Owen and Adam in the van talking about San Diego as well. Bryan and Drew Shugart, the incredible young actor who plays Owen’s son, had fantastic chemistry.
My favorite line though is probably Cindy’s, “It’s not called babysitting when you’re his father.”
If you could direct any movie you wanted based on an already existing property what would you choose?
Some of my favorite books have recently been made into feature films and television shows, including Ender’s Game and Game of Thrones. But there is a Greg Bear book that is seared into my memory that I would love to option and adapt one day. My kids are voracious readers so I’ve tasked them with letting me know of any particularly fun juvenile fiction books that stand out to them. I’m also working on a feature length script based on my graduate thesis film ‘Wentworth.’
What’s next for you now that your first feature film is completed?
The first thing I wrote coming out of grad school was a thriller. So I’ve dusted off that script and now I’m digging back in and hoping to make it my next film. Fingers crossed!
That's all we had time for but I'd like to thank Mr. Suettinger for taking the time out to answer my questions. I definitely look forward to checking out his work in the future.