Slamdance cofounder Mirvish connects with ‘Bernard and Huey’ on different levels
Filmmaker Dan Mirvish, cofounder of Slamdance, has been making films more than half his life.
Each of his films, however, has a running theme.
“In all my films the subjects tend to be the same age I am,” Mirvish said, laughing.
Mirvish’s new film, “Bernard and Huey,” will be one of Slamdance’s special screenings this year. The comedy will screen at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23, and Thursday, Jan. 25, at the Treasure Mountain Inn ballroom, 255 Main St.
The film is based on a script written by Pulitzer Prize- and Academy Award-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who is also known for his illustrations for Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth” and the screenplay for Mike Nichol’s 1971 Academy Award-nominated film, “Carnal Knowledge.”
The story is about friends – the larger-than-life Huey and the more timid Bernard – who reconnect after 25 years, only to fall into the same personality patterns of their youths.
“What spoke to me about the script was, even though I’m a happily married guy with kids, that I have a lot of friends who are going through the same issues now that these characters are going through,” Mirvish said. “I definitely have strong memories of college and post-college. If I was Bernard, then there were people who would have been Huey. And, maybe if I was Huey, there are some people who would have been Bernard.”
Mirvish is also the same age Feiffer was when he originally wrote the script.
“So I think that made me get into the material in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” Mirvish said. “I feel like if you’re a director and doing some kind of adaptation with someone else’s script, especially if it’s an independent film and no one is getting paid, you have to find your way emotionally into the material. Otherwise you’ll get so frustrated and may end up walking away.”
So the filmmaker said he made a change to Feiffer’s script for practical purposes.
“The original script set the flashbacks in the 1960s and the contemporary scenes were set in 1986,” Mirvish said. “I first read the script in Scenario Magazine, and when I decided I wanted to make a film, I told Jules that it was hard enough on a low budget to make one period movie, let alone two. So I asked if we could move everything up 30 years, and he was fine with that.”
Mirvish used a lot of his own sets and possessions for the shoot.
“The flashbacks were shot in my garage and all of the stuff that is in the background is mine,” he said. “My wife has been begging me for 30 years to throw all of that stuff away, but I keep telling her they may come in handy, sometime.”
The cast, featuring David Koechner as Huey and Jim Rash — an actor and Academy Award-winning writer — as Bernard, also helped Mirvish find his connection with the story.
“David and Jim were great performers and great guys to work with,” Mirvish said. “They both have amazing improv backgrounds.”
Koechner, who was the first person cast, is known for his appearances in “Frat Pack” comedies like “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” as well as starring in the ongoing sitcom “Superior Donuts.” according to MIrvish.
“In the past couple of years, however, he has done more smaller indie films and some horror films, which stretched his range as an actor,” Mirvish said. “But at the end of the day, the film is still a comedy.”
The filmmaker found Rash, known for his starring role in “Community,” through a “weird accident. “
“I was trying to raise some money and called this production company and the person I talked with said he had read the script and pitched Jim to my casting director, because Jim was one of his clients,” Mirvish said. “So that was great.”
Actors Jake O’Connor and Jay Renshaw respectively portray Koechner’s and Rash’s younger counterparts during the flashback scenes.
“Prior to the shoot we did four days of rehearsals and all four were there and really bonded,” Mirvish said. “It was almost like Jake and Jay were their little brothers, and they all informed each others’ performances.”
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