A few words with Rob Perez about 'nobody' in particular

By Tatiana Craine

World film premieres don’t happen every day in Minnesota. However, on Oct. 1, the Twin Cities will shine with glittering pride at the latest film to be shot entirely within the state. The world premiere of the independent film “nobody,” a charming, off-beat comedy about discovery and identity will screen at Hennepin Theatre Trust’s State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. The comedy was co-written and directed by Minneapolis resident Rob Perez.”nobody” follows Lindeman, an artist at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, about to complete his final project. Given a two-ton block of granite and a chisel, Lindeman discovers that the key to inspiration may be harder to find than he originally thought. He sets off on a journey of self-discovery, trying to unearth the secret behind inspiration. Along the way, different groups draw in Lindeman, including Goths, gays, intellectuals and vegan revolutionaries. The expedition to find his muse leads him into both hilarious circumstances and thought-provoking situations. Lindeman’s craving to find inspiration in others ultimately leads him to think: “Maybe you don’t have to be somebody to be someone.”

Behind this film about identity and finding the creative being within are high profile Minnesotans and a few Hollywood stars, and even some who transcend both groups. Perez and Ryan Miller wrote the screenplay for “nobody” together with a creative agreement in mind. Perez, best known for writing 2002’s “40 Days and 40 Nights,” has been a considerable writing talent in Hollywood for over 10 years and now resides in Minnesota. Miller has fronted the band Guster for 18 years, and wrote the film’s score in addition to co-writing the script. The two friends agreed to dabble in each other’s artistic realms (Miller helping Perez with a screenplay and Perez assisting Miller with an album), and thus “nobody” was born. After several attempts to fund the film in California, Perez found a home for the project in Minneapolis with support from Dean Philips of Phillips Distilling and others. With the help of executive producer (and St. Paul native) Josh Hartnett and others, the film got off the ground. Actor Sam Rosen, who plays Lindeman, also has ties to Minnesota.

At its heart, “nobody” is quirky, captivating and delightful. The film playfully toys with ideas about where exactly one finds creative motivation and stimulation. Anyone who has wondered, even for the briefest moment, just who they are will appreciate the painstaking, and often comic, lengths Lindeman goes to, trying to illuminate his purpose as an artist and a human being.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with the director and co-writer of “nobody,” Rob Perez.

Tatiana Craine: How do you feel you’ve grown as a writer since “40 Days and 40 Nights?”

Rob Perez: Well, I mean this is a sort of lifelong thing to be [a writer]. I’m better, but to say that I’m good or even that I’ve arrived. Well “40 Days and 40 Nights” sort of got me to a real movie, and [the studio] spent tens of millions of dollars on it and even more advertising it. And at the same time, like, I was still getting better. I mean, I’m better now. I hope to be better tomorrow. Every idea you have is totally different and requires different skills and muscles. I feel a little bit more like maybe in those early days, I was more or less building the bridge as I was designing it. Now I feel like I know what I’m doing, and I’ve done this long enough. There are not a ton of surprises in it.

TC: Since working with Ridley Scott and feeling your way around in the film business, do you consider yourself more of a writer or a director?

RP: Well, I’ve directed one movie. I’ve written 10 professionally. I’ve written triple that for things that didn’t quite find a home. So I’m first and foremost a writer. I’m a new director and time will tell whether I get put in director jail or they let me do this again. But I hope very much to do both again. I really enjoy both processes.

TC: What were some of the difficulties you found as a first time director? Or successes, too!

RP: Let’s phrase the question a different way. Everything was pretty much the hardest thing I’d ever done. So every day was a question of hours, a question of stamina. The analogy I make is like taking a hill during D-Day. Your best friends are dying all around you, like this joke that you love, this wardrobe that was part of a character. dying, dying, dying. You are shooting at a breakneck pace on a shoestring budget. The challenges were daily, they were financial, they were also creative, though. Let’s not just say, like, “Oh, if I had all the money in the world, I would’ve made a perfect movie.” That’s just not true. This is part of those mistakes up there are first time director mistakes, and I’ve got to own them.

TC: I saw the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Porky’s in the trailer. I thought it was great to see places I know and have been to a million times in this film. It’s nice to see the Twin Cities represented.

RP: Everyone loves to see their own backyard. I set out to make a film, but it’s just set here. It doesn’t only work for people here. One of the reasons I chose to shoot here is because people haven’t shot here. And so it’s been a long time since you’ve seen this stuff on the big screen on 35 [millimeter film], and it just looks gorgeous. And I get to look like a genius. [Smile.] You know, this town is gorgeous.

TC: Both Sam Rosen and Josh Hartnett are from Minnesota and your script was set in Minnesota. Was all of those factors coming together serendipity, chance or otherwise?

RP: Both, all of the above. I became friends with Josh and invited myself over when he first bought a house here, saw the town through his eyes, fell in love. Set my next script here. Ryan and I set our script here and then I found Sam in New York. And with him being from here, there were a lot of things pointing me back here that made sense for us to shoot it here.

TC: How did you meet Ryan Miller and start working with him?

RP: Oh, I went to junior high with Ryan. I hope this gets in print so we can make fun of him. [Laughs.] Ryan was the cheerleader at Liberty Junior High. He was the Liberty Patriot. Oh, maybe he was a mascot. You know, at the football games. But we became friends at one lunch table, and that was freshman year. We both went to school back east. I was at Middlebury, he was at Tufts University. So, whenever I needed a city, I would roll down there to Boston, and whenever he needed to get out, he would come up to Middlebury. My first job after college was working for Guster. I spent the summer traveling and touring with them. I mean, it wasn’t very glamorous. They were just beginning. It really was a guitar case in Harvard Square with three guys. It’s a tough way to earn a living. They’ve since gone on to become sort of studio [musicians] and work at major labels and become successful musicians. But that’s not how it started. That’s not how any of us start.

TC: How did you and Miller collaborate on the ideas you had, and what was the writing process like?

RP: I took him to Portland, Maine, over a winter and sequestered him there. He was really mad at me because there’s nothing to do [laughs], and then after him getting over being mad at me, we started writing. Then [we] wrote for weeks and weeks straight and just really like, “This is funny, this is good, this a character we know.” And then we started to really flesh it out so then after that we kind of had to get back to our lives, and so I jumped on the tour bus with them. At nights, they’d play shows, but during the day, before sound checks, you can do whatever you want. It was sort of fun and a cool way to work.

TC: The film is about finding inspiration.

RP: The film is about artists looking for inspiration. Another way of putting that is like, a person looking for identity.

TC: So, I guess that leads into my question: How do you find your own inspira
tion?

RP: Well, that’s sort of what the movie is about. First of all, every time it’s different. You know, this idea that it’s in flowers, or oh, it’s in a girl. It comes from all over you know, and you just get clocked. You get blindsided and think, “I never thought it would come from there.” But there it is. And that’s sort of where Ryan and I came up with the idea. We’re friends with lots of artists, not just painters and not just musicians and not just writers, but like, all kinds of artists. And it’s the same struggle for each of us. It’s this idea of trying to force [inspiration] and look for it. It just seemed really comical to us. I think we’ve all done that before, if you’re honest with yourself artistically. Like you’ve tried something that just didn’t quite fit. And most people didn’t end up wearing vegetable costumes during that search during that sort of silly moment, but in our movie they do. [Laughs.]

TC: How do you feel your time in schools on the East Coast prepared you for life and working out in Los Angeles?

RP: Oh no. That’s like asking, “How does kindergarten prepare you for working construction?” It doesn’t. You learn a couple fundamentals. But you know, most of the professors would rather be doing it rather than teaching it. So they didn’t figure it out either. They’re there to give you advice. I’ll say this, there are two ways to be a better writer: reading and writing. That’s it. In that sense, going to those schools, I was able to read and write and be better. The funny thing about going to college, you think the bar is your peers. You want to be accepted by your professors. But that’s not where the bar is. You get out there and realize, “Oh crap, I’m so far away from being good enough.” It’s like, imagine being a really good college tennis player and then you go to the pros and you’re just annihilated and you’re like, “Oh shit the levels are over here.” Until you go out there and get your ass kicked, you don’t know. You can sit back and watch and be like, “Okay, I see it.” But jump in. Go in and feel it for yourself.

TC: The shoot for “nobody” was a little over 20 days long. Do you feel like you accomplished everything you wanted to?

RP: The film makes sense. My biggest fear with first time direction was not, “Will it be funny, will it move people?” It’s like, “Does it make sense? I hope it makes any kind of sense.” And, I’m happy to say it transcends that now. Yes, it does makes sense. Yes, there are some great jokes in there. Yes, there are some real characters that have real arcs and real journeys and real breakthroughs. And yet, it’s an imperfect film. But I think people are pretty forgiving. They’re rooting for the film. I think that’s one thing about my storytelling. I don’t stop for jokes. I’m just telling stories, and there are jokes in there. If you don’t like them, the story’s still going. If you like the story, you’re still engaged. The cast did a great job. I’m really excited.

TC: You waited a long time for an actor like Sam Rosen to come along. How do you feel he fit in the lead role of Lindeman, the frustrated artist? And was it important to you to have a relatively unknown actor for the part?

RP: I like the idea of a celebrity playing nobody, but we never found the right guy. To me, a name actor is only as good as the right part is for him. But for me, when I saw Sam, I saw someone I thought I would hang out with. He’s a cool dude, he’s a funny dude and he’s an honest dude. Sam’s really fucking funny. You have it or you don’t. He had that. He had his own comic chops. And secondly, he had his own dramatic chops. And he also had something that was maybe more important than both of those things, or just as important for sure: he had to carry a movie. No amount of great direction would keep you interested if he was flat. He ultimately carries this film and I’m proud to say he did a killer job. That was my most important decision I made as a director. That first decision of hiring Sam, I’m incredibly proud of, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

TC: Are you going to stick to the indie film circuit? Or do you want to try for another blockbuster like “40 Days and 40 Nights?”

RP: Never say never. I’m excited to do it again. I’m excited to make something better. I’m open to either way, and I’m just as curious as you guys as to sort of what comes next. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one or the other. I’m not afraid of the studio system. That’s where I come from. I know those guys and they know me. I’d be surprised if I never worked there again.

TC: Do you have any more advice for college writers, directors and filmmakers?

RP: Reading and writing. Doing. The one thing for filmmakers that’s pretty fantastic and new is commentaries. In general, commentaries are an amazing new film school that didn’t exist before to be able to talk about the movie scene by scene from the filmmaker or producer. So I would just sort of say, make stuff, put it out there, get the feedback. Just do it and put it out there and listen. So many people are excited to do, but they don’t want to learn. They say, “I did it. I wrote it.” And it’s like, “And what’d people say?” “Oh, they said they didn’t like it.” And you just get further into it: “Well they liked this, but they didn’t like this.” And the answer is why? Why, why, why. And all those whys are answers to how you do this better.

TC: I hear there was an album recording deal between you and Ryan Miller that revolved around the completion of “nobody.”

RP: There should be! There absolutely should be! I’m prepared to live up to my half of the deal. Where is Ryan Miller? I want that question in print. [Laughs.] I want to know where he stands on this, how he can walk away from a deal. [Joking]

TC: So you’re hoping it’ll come to fruition.?

RP: Yeah, I hope so! I hope so! He keeps pushing the bar back: “No, it’s not when you finish the script, it’s when you make the movie.” Then it’s like, “It’s not when you make the movie, it’s when it comes out.” It’s like, at some point, that finish point is going to be here, and he’s going to owe me a record. And I’m gonna come a knockin.

“nobody” premieres at the State Theatre in Minneapolis on Oct. 1 and will be released at Kerasotes Block E Theatre on Oct. 2. Rob Perez will speak at Macalester campus on Sept.25 at 12 p.m. in Humanities 401.

Visit the film’s site for the trailer and for more information: www.nobodythecomedy.com