Interview (Part 2): Writer-Director Laura Colella (“Breakfast With Curtis”)

December 12th, 2013 by

Recently I had the pleasure of screening a wonderful indie feature called Breakfast With Curtis, written and directed by Laura Colella. Some background on Laura:

Laura studied filmmaking at Harvard University. She has been awarded numerous fellowships and grants and was one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film. She freelances as a screenwriter, cinematographer, camera assistant and editor and has been teaching part-time at Rhode Island School of Design since 1996. Her other feature films are Tax Day and Stay Until Tomorrow.

I had the opportunity to talk with Laura about her approach to filmmaking and Breakfast With Curtis, a movie about which Paul Thomas Anderson has said,”I absolutely love it. You’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a smile from beginning to end.”

Today in Part 2, we dig more deeply into Breakfast With Curtis and Laura’s creative process:

Scott:  One of the charming things about the movie is the way it flies in the face of Hollywood conventional wisdom. You just mentioned conflict. The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that a movie has got to have lots and lots of conflict. In Breakfast with Curtis, after the opening incident, there’s very little of it. Basically, these happy people living in this sort of idyllic charmed life. Yet, it works as a story.

Laura:  That’s nice to hear. What I think is funny… I feel like because the audience is sort of trained to have those expectations for things to go wrong. People have told me this, “Oh, I thought the old woman was going to die” or “I thought something inappropriate was going to happen with Syd  here.” They’re really glad these things didn’t happen.

It’s like the viewers imagination becomes part of that, their mind goes towards bad things that could happen. Then, when they don’t, most people tell me that they’re happy that those kinds of events didn’t happen. They’re actually relieved.

It’s interesting, too, that seems to actually be part of the viewing experience, which is everybody else’s previous viewing experience. The things that we’re used to seeing. Did that make sense? [laughs]

Scott:  I get it. Like when I saw the old lady, I immediately thought, “Oh, she’s going to die.” It’s like you tapped into a way of telling a story that takes the conventional wisdom and common expectations, and subverts them, and the fact that they don’t happen that makes the story more surprising.

Laura:  That’s good. [laughs]

Scott:  Again conventional wisdom of Hollywood, you have to build to a big Act Three ending, some sort of final struggle. In Breakfast with Curtis, there’s really only this tiny, little moment where Curtis has found out about his father’s “medicinal activities” next door and he says, it’s all OK. That’s about it.

Then you go on this wonderful extended denouement where you get to see how everybody’s lives are continuing on, and Curtis is now going to school. The movie’s a total delight. And I’d like to believe it says something about, look, there’s no one right way to make a movie, that stories are organic and they can exist in a multitude of ways. Would you agree with that?

Laura:  That’s music to my ears. [laughs] Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. I’m really happy to hear that. Again, I didn’t consciously try to intend this…In retrospect, I feel like the ending focuses on the changing of the seasons.

Like you said, time continues on. This can make it apply to everybody and not just Curtis. It’s the opposite of the idea that there was this great moment in time, and now it’s gone. Time just is always passing and part of our challenge and our human condition.

Paul Thomas Anderson (left), Laura Colella (right)

Scott:  Breakfast with Curtis won the 2013 Indie Spirit Find Your Audience Award. Also this praise from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, who’s quoted as saying about your movie, “I absolutely love it. You’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a smile from beginning to end.” What’s your reaction when you heard that comment from such a talented filmmaker as Paul Thomas Anderson?

Laura:  Of course, I really love his work and respect him a great deal. That’s kind of the best thing. Anytime anyone comes up to me and tells me how much they like it, that’s the great reward. It hasn’t been financial, I’ll tell you that. [laughs] Making a movie that people will really respond to is nice. It’s been my reward so far.

Scott:  Well, speaking of that, what’s next for Breakfast with Curtis? What’s the release pattern for you?

Laura:  We are doing a small theatrical release. Providence, where the film was shot, New York at the IFC center, L.A. at Downtown Independence, and the Six Foot Center in Chicago. Those are happening starting next weekend in Providence. Then, on the fourth, New York. On the 20th, L.A. On January 3rd, Chicago. Then we have a digital release, that happens on January 14th.

Scott:  What’s next for you?

Laura:   First, I have to do a play as part of my writing program, that I’m writing and directing. Then right after that, I have to turn my attention to the film project. One of them is scripted and ready to go. The other one is something that could either go in a micro‑budget direction, or get a budget with cash and such.

Scott:  Do you think you’ll always stay in that indie film world or do you have any aspirations to go to something any bigger or more mainstream?

Laura:  I just want to keep making films that I’m really passionate about. That usually means things that aren’t formulaic. I try to do things that feel authentic. If that becomes mainstream or Hollywood, great. I don’t think I could go Hollywood! [laughs]

Scott:  Finally, you’ve been a student, a teacher, and a filmmaker. I would be curious what advice you would have for aspiring filmmakers, writers, or writer-directors. Any advice you would have being on the front lines now, doing this for several years?

Laura:  My hope is that we would revolutionize the film business and figure out a way to make it a viable, exciting industry that caters to the audience in terms of content. I feel like there is so much regurgitation and recycling in movie making nowadays. I hope for more support for people who are breaking new ground.

For Part 1, go here.

You can visit the Breakfast With Curtis website here.

Facebook page here.

The movie will be screening at the Downtown Independent in L.A. on December 20th.

One thought on “Interview (Part 2): Writer-Director Laura Colella (“Breakfast With Curtis”)

  1. […] Scott: One of the charming things about the movie is the way it flies in the face of Hollywood conventional wisdom. You just mentioned conflict. The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that a movie has got to have lots and lots of conflict. In Breakfast with Curtis, after the opening incident, there’s very little of it. …read more […]

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