There's nothing worse than having a younger sibling who's more successful than you are. Imagine being the older brother of the world's greatest character actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Instead of becoming a petulant jerk, Gordy Hoffman instead wrote a script called Love Liza that won the prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The Fairport native brings Liza, which stars little brother Phil, to Rochester to close out the High Falls Film Festival on November 2. In our interview, Gordy describes why Liza is exactly the kind of movie he doesn't like.
City:Let's talk about "Love Liza." Where did you come up with the story, you sick bastard you?
Hoffman: I had this idea of a normal guy abruptly starting to huff gas. Getting whacked by something in life, we all know what that's about. That's why I think Love Liza is resonating with people, because everybody knows you do all sorts of terrible stuff when bad things happen to you.
City:Did you have to do any research into huffing?
Hoffman: No, I never huffed gas. Detailed research? No. I just made everything up. I talked to a guy who used to huff paint and asked him, "What happens if you don't stop huffing paint?" And he was, like, "Well, you usually kill yourself." I guess it causes incredible psychosis. The director (Todd Louiso) did some research; I think he actually did try to get high. He took a few whacks off of a rag. It made everything kind of hazy and groggy.
City:Explain what happens between you writing the script and the script becoming a movie.
Hoffman: I wrote the first draft in August 1996 in 18 days and thought I had come up with something interesting. My brother and I both happened to be in Rochester and he read it over Labor Day weekend. I let him read it because he had seen so many scripts and has a great eye for material. I just wanted to know what he thought, to give me some feedback. He turned around and said, "I want to play the guy."
He showed it to Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love), who showed it to the people at Sundance --- they run a Screenwriters' Lab in January after the festival is over, to develop material. It was placed as a finalist there but didn't go. About a year after that, Phil talked to his friend Todd Louiso and said, "This is the guy I think should do it." I met Todd, who is very passionate and focused and cared a lot for the material, and signed off on him being the director. It was more of a leap of faith --- just trusting my brother. I didn't even see the short Todd made until months later.
City:Were you involved when they shot the film?
Hoffman: No, I wasn't on the set. It was the director's first feature, so there was trepidation on all of our parts. We didn't really know what it would be like if I was there and how I would react if they had to make creative decisions. About five days into it, I felt like I had made a mistake. It was really alienating; a very uncomfortable thing. It was like they've got a piece of your heart and just ran off with it.
City:So did you not see the film until it was done, or were you seeing dailies while they were shooting?
Hoffman: We all looked at different versions; the first was in April 2001. Just like the script, it went through five or six revisions. The director submitted it to everybody, and everybody told him, "This works," and "This doesn't work." He listened, and that process went through the summer, when he submitted a version to Sundance.
City:Was winning the screenwriting award at Sundance totally unexpected?
Hoffman: The film was enjoying a really great ride there, and there was a lot of talk about how the crop at Sundance wasn't that strong. You could just hear the buzz on the movie. And I had some Sundance employees say, "There might be some awards in that movie on Saturday night." Just kind of off-the-record things --- those people weren't on the jury or anything. We didn't know what the hell was going to happen. I thought maybe an acting award, but I was pretty sure we wouldn't win the Audience Award. It's still very surreal, but a wonderful honor. It's a real validation for everyone who worked on the movie.
City:The last two people (Christopher Nolan and Kenneth Lonergan) who won that award have gone on to Oscar nominations for their films.
Hoffman: Yes, I know that. It's very frightening. I like to not think about that.
City:It seems like audiences have reacted pretty favorably toward the film.
Hoffman: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of people liked the movie. And I think a lot of people aren't going to like the movie. I'm a lowbrow guy --- I went and saw The Tuxedo when it opened. I don't necessarily feel comfortable going to artistic stuff that's going to make me feel. Love Liza is the kind of film I'm not running out to see.
Want to see Love Liza, both of the Hoffman brothers, and the announcement and presentation of the festival's awards on Saturday, November 2, at the Dryden Theatre, at 8 p.m.? Take $15 down to Ticket Express (100 East Avenue) and buy a ticket. This event is likely to sell out, so don't say we didn't warn you.