This ride through the life of a twentysomething as he tries to win back a long-ago love, deal with his parents’ divorce, and expand his resume beyond barrista shows off the skills of director-writer-star Alex Beh, a multi-facted rising Hollywood star worth betting on.
Why did you set it in Chicago?
I love Chicago. I set it there because the city is beautiful and I wanted to highlight the city. Also the characters are not only hopefully relatable by anyone outside of Chicago, but they are also very specific to Chicago. Kind of like characters in John Hughes movies, which have been hugely influential to me, these are characters going through struggles that we all go through, whether we are from these suburbs or not, but they are also problems that people from these specific suburbs deal with specifically. So Warren, Jack, Emma, all the characters are dealing with human issues, but some of them are “Chicago issues.” If that makes any sense.
How much of this story was inspired by your real life?
I grew up in the town it takes place, Winnetka, Illinois, and I did work in what we the tradesmen call “The Coffee Business.” When I got out of college, I moved back to Chicago and was living in the house while my parents were divorcing. The story didn’t have that element to it before that — it was mostly about a guy and a girl — and I added that element because it was what I was going through at the time, and it was all very real to me.
So, yes, it’s a bit inspired from real life. I wrote it based on a notion of “what would it be like if the girl you thought you were going to marry moved back into town.” That never happened to me. I also have a large interest in the notion of doing what you really think you should do with your life, whether that is something buried deep down, or if it’s something you are already doing. I’m interested in that about people, mainly because I’m interested in it for myself.
What was it like making a movie in your hometown?
Making a movie in your hometown is a dream come true, I loved every minute of it. It was great to partner again with people I had worked with years ago. Chicago is a film town, and has been very supportive of cinema for a long time, so it was good to feel that first hand. They opened the town up to us. We were able to shoot all over the city, we even closed down Lake Shore Drive with a police escort. I look forward to shooting there again soon.
Is it hard to make a name for yourself in movies if you aren’t from Hollywood or NYC?
I’d say that it can be difficult to “make a name for yourself” anywhere. It takes a long road of hard work, and effort to make any dream a reality. Regarding the film business, being outside of Los Angeles and NYC can make things a bit difficult when you’re starting up. It’s important to meet the right people and partner with the people making the movies you want to make. Mostly, they live in those cities. Plus the energy in these cities is special, a lot of dreamers and people who believe working Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen can actually happen. I like those people.
Can you tell us a little about your career since leaving Chicago?
Since I left Chicago, I have acted in a number of commercials, independent films, and have been directing short films and music videos for a long time. The whole time I have been working to get Warren made, and all of those experiences and endeavors have helped get this picture off the ground.
Do you feel you are strongest as a writer, director, or actor?
That’s a tough question because I feel that they all serve each other. I started off acting. I grew up in a house that was like an SNL sketch all the time. My mother is a drama teacher, so I was exposed to the craft very early on, and grew up analyzing performances and movies in general. I’ve always been very visual, so I guess that is where my directing comes from, and understanding acting well from a first-hand experience only strengthens my ability to work with actors. I love doing all of it. Writing, well, that for me is something I have to do. I don’t pride myself on being the greatest writer, but I love it, and need to do it everyday.
Was it hard to assemble what seems to be a somewhat, at least for an indie film, all-star cast?
We started pre-pro and casting two months before shooting. We didn’t have a long, “proper” pre-pro, so a lot of it was done in Los Angeles before we got to Chicago and set up our actual offices. Because we didn’t have a lot of time, we had to just make offers. I wanted John Heard since I had seen him in my friend Brian Jun’s film Steel City, and I’ve always been a fan of Jean Smart. They both read the script and agreed to do the movie. So we were blessed in that way. Finding Sarah Habel was a little miracle. We couldn’t find the girl in L.A., met a lot of great gals, and none seemed to fit the character of Emma. Our costume designer Lizzie Cook and I were talking and I mentioned that we still hadn’t found the girl, she said, “Have you met Sarah Habel?” I said, “No.” She said, “Well, we’re going to lunch downstairs in 20 minutes, come down.” I did, and we met and she was perfect. The rest of the cast came via help from CAA and friends in town.
There is a good degree of allegory going on, like the fixing-up of the tear-down house. Did those elements come naturally in your writing or were they hard to develop?
I think they just came in the writing, not that they came “naturally,” but they just came with this story, a story about a kid who doesn’t really know how to break free, a dad who is stuck in the past, and a girl who is struggling with taking the safe route or going back with the old love, things we all deal with. I guess some of the best storytellers used allegories and metaphors, maybe because they meant to, and maybe sometimes because it was the only way to communicate the message.
The ending seems to be both a defeat and victory. Was that your intent?
We debated about the ending, that wasn’t always the ending. [Spoiler alert] Warren always drove off, but the movie is about struggles with life decisions, and life-altering paths that we can all take at any moment. Warren is just terrified of following “the fear” if you will, because he knows life will be different after that. We all know this. I guess the way to answer this is that, in any victory there must be defeat along the way, rejections, passes, etc. We must conquer the known road, to enter the unknown, and there we might, hopefully find victory.
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