This is the second part of our interview with indie film auteur, Nic Bettauer, writer, but also producer and director of the recent film, DUCK, starring Philip Baker Hall, a laconic and dignified gaze into the crystal ball of Los Angeles' not so distant future. (Read Part 1 Here). Nic's previous directorial outings include Zack and Reba an 'undeniably cute romantic comedy with a weird sense of humor' (IMDB - comment) starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Brittany Murphy and Debbie Reynolds(!). Wow. If you love romantic comedy like I do, you'll this one was v.good.
Taking up from where we left off, I wondered how Nic had managed to cast, Philip Baker Hall, the star of Duck, He has had a long and colorful career. He was recently seen in the Annette Benning's Oscar winning turn, Mrs. Harris and two versions of the Zodiac killer story. Zodiac, (2007 the 'Dark. Moody. Atmospheric' version) and The Zodiac, 2005 (the 'dull and pointless' version)(comment from IMDB.com). Those three alone make a killer trilogy. So how does an indie film maker go from teaching poetry to the homeless people downtown, to reaching PBH...
Nic Begins, "For me, scripting and casting are everything, the rest is just fun. I love Philip cause he's a fighter, smart, funny, surprising, no wanker." There is nothing whiny or pathetic or pitiable or maudlin about him, she says. "He can not be denied, nor written-off, in the film, which is what makes it work."
"Quite frankly, the man is sublime. And for as good as he is in the movie - - and he's great - - the fact that he did it in the first place is even cooler and frankly more astonishing. Looking back now, so much could have gone horribly wrong... but you can't think that way at the time, or you'd just be paralyzed."
Although Nic is wary of writing a character with a specific actor in mind, she says that when she is done writing, she will, glom onto an actor in her head. "And if it kills me I'll get the script to them."
With Philip however, Nic had to play by the rules, with no good scam or connection, or 'in'. "So, by protocol, I submitted my script to his agent, who gave it to him and advised that he would probably never again see anything like it..." Nic pauses before acknowledging, perhaps grudgingly, I don't know, "So every now and then the system works."
Philip Baker Hall's face is surely more famous than his name. The Duck on the other hand, is familiar to millions, starring until recently ('til he got his start in movies) in many TV commercials for the supplemental insurance company AFLAC. "I also tried not to censor myself while writing vis-a-vis how I was going to work with a duck." Nic says, "So, when it came to it and I was committed to being 'all live all the time', I needed PBh-caliber Duck! That's when I found Paul Calabria @ Studio Animal Services, my animal trainer on DUCK (who, in one of my proudest moments of last year - - whilst watching end credits on the stunning 'Letters from IwoJima' I realized I share with Clint Eastwood). Paul is the man behind the Aflac Duck (or, at least, the live duck in those commercials - - now a mix of Stan Winston puppetry, CGI, and our Duck...) Paul took me on in the same spirit that Philip did, and I owe them everything."
Nic has developed the screenplay from Duck into a novella which she hopes to publish soon, "To-my-mind reads a bit like "The Little Prince", but I've yet to shop it to publishers. Once the movie opens, I'll try and give the 'slight book that packs a punch' a real chance, as it stands on its own and is special in its own right... (and I'm proud of it)."
Meanwhile she has her movie career to think about. Nic is enamoured by Errol Morris' ability to make cool and quite lucrative commercials films to support his documentary habit... She's also a big fan of character driven TV, because she likes developing characters, 'Six Feet Under', 'Sopranos', 'Big Love', 'Dexter', 'The Shield', that ilk springs to mind. "I'd love to spin off my next script 'Canary' - - the raucous and harrowing tale of an anti-hero cop solving a social ill, perhaps at his own expense!" She smiles, "Into a one-hour series post-feature, because I like writing the lead character and his world (perhaps because he says everything I'd like to in mine, but shouldn't in polite company...)."
Meanwhile secretly, secretly secretly, she says, "I'm obsessing over Chris Cooper..."
If only he knew.