Back in 2012, about a month before The Newest Pledge was released, I wrote an entry about the films I studied while making that movie. It reads pretty much how you’d expect it to; I cited Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds like anyone making a frat comedy should. I cited low-budget success stories such as Clerks and Swingers, I cited Legally Blonde as a heavy influence on look and design, and of course I cited Biodome as a reference to style in humor. No surprises.
When I moved back to New York in 2011 I stopped watching kind of stuff. Not in a snobby way, but with what would go on to become Bridge and Tunnel on my mind, I wasn’t interested in watching beer-chugging. From the genesis of the project, I always wanted to tell a story over the course of a year, that was disjointed but linear. As a result I gravitate towards works of art about time, sleep, and nature.
At the forefront of my inspirations were Richard Linklater’s Before… movies. At the time there were only two, …Sunrise and …Sunset. I loved how real the dialogue was. As a young screenwriter it was inspiring to see movies so dialogue driven. That said, I’m always aware that Richard Linklater is an influence on me, and I never really try to imitate what he does or how he does it. Instead, he simply serves as sort of a confirmation that it’s OK to write the way I speak, and that if the situations, characters, and subject matter are compelling enough people will listen.
In the Spring and Summer of 2011 I began listening to a lot of Pet Sounds and Smile by the Beach Boys. Like any American, and an American who spent the last five years of his life in Southern California nonetheless, I was familiar with all of the Beach Boys hits, and I was aware of the stories behind these records, but I never took the time to listen to them. I thought it was cool how they were simultaneous disjointed and linear. I thought it was cool how elemental they were.
I listened to this stuff for the bulk of that year, until the seasons changed and it all became too happy for me and my Beach Boys love naturally shifted to the more melancholy Big Star records. As opposed to Brian Wilson’s hands-on over-producing, these records were so raw. Big Star had been one of my “favorite bands” for a few years at this point, but it wasn’t until late 2011 early 2012 that I really started to dissect their work. It was youthful and yearning and at times trapped. I wanted to visualize this. More of the style of Bridge and Tunnel is taken from trying to sound like a Big Star record than it is from any movie.
It was during my Big Star phase that I revisited Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage. Anyone who has taken the time to watch the entire series understands how powerful it is, but what it really did for me is preach the gospel of subtext. You learn in Screenwriting I, Drama I, Directing I, etc. that characters don’t always need to say what they mean and that silence, when used properly, is the most powerful dramatic tool.
I also loved how Scenes From a Marriage was in love with it’s Scandinavian backdrop, while also showing the monotony of the lifestyle that comes with living there. Notes were taken, obviously.
In early 2012 Peter Troy, a high school teacher of mine, published his first novel, May The Road Rise Up To Meet You which was the story of an ensemble of 19th Century American underdogs. The narrative is disjointed, shifting between characters, and sprawling over time. The natural aspects of it are articulated well, and there’s a fair amount of grit in the detail. The book is broken down by dates, as though they’re journal entries. At the time I was doing this with my early drafts of Bridge and Tunnel and this novel laid credence that this style, when used properly, can be powerful.
In the Spring of 2012 I really started to get into Whit Stillman’s movies. The first time I saw them I was in college and I wasn’t ready for them. I was still in the process of formulating ideas like The Newest Pledge and Spring Break: Ancient Egypt so Stillman’s style really had no immediate appeal to me. I was drawn back to his film’s Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco because of how they dealt with a similar age of character and similar geographical location to what I was dealing with in Bridge and Tunnel. Like Linklater, Stillman’s films are driven by dialogue. He also plays with ensembles and that Summer his latest ensemble, Damsels in Distress hit theaters. The first time I saw the film I cracked up laughing at the character “Frank.” Perhaps it was because I was fresh off my own fraternity movie and Frank was a frat guy, but I was pumped to find out that the actor who played him, Ryan Metcalf, was local to NY and a few months later I cast him to play “Sal” on of the leads in Bridge and Tunnel.
As 2012 transitioned to 2013 I found myself entrenched in production of Bridge and Tunnel. In dire need of a muse while making my last minute revisions and re-writes I turned to a handful of Edward Burns’ movies about New Yorkers. While his characters were often playing from a different deck than mine were, it was still interesting to see another persons perspective on the same story I was telling. Sometimes at film festivals people draw the comparison of Bridge and Tunnel to something like The Brother’s McMullen, I guess because they’re both about Long Island, the way we might lump Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen together because they’re both from New Jersey. That said, and speaking on Bon Jovi, Bridge and Tunnel probably has more in common with Burns’ No Looking Back.
Anyway, that’s the list. May The Road Rise Up To Meet You, Smile and Pet Sounds, Whit Stillman’s four feature films, Linklater’s first two Before… movies, Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, Edward Burns’ indies about NY, and Big Star’s first and third records are what really inspired and motivated me while making Bridge and Tunnel.