MINI’S FIRST TIME: An Interview with Director Nick Guthe
By Wilson Morales
For screenwriters all over of the country, especially Hollywood, they are just waiting for that one break that will take them out of obscurity into a world of prominence and visibility and finally having one of their works taken of the shelves to be greenlit for a feature film or TV episode. For writer/ director Nick Guthe, that time has come. Having written many screenplays that went nowhere, his luck turned bright when he took a chance and had Oscar winner Kevin Spacey read one of the screenplays and before you know it, his film, Mini’s First Time, was given the go to be made. Starring a bevy of talent from Alec Balwin, Jeff Goldblum, Nikki Reed, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Luke Wilson, Guthe’s first film to be released in theaters has some names that will attract attention. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Guthe discusses his screenplay to film process and working with Kevin Spacey to get it produced.
How did the film go from script to the Tribeca
Film Festival to getting it out in theaters this year?
Nick Guthe: Well, I wrote the
script six years ago and a bunch of producers tried to get made. It was Kevin Spacey’s company that was able to accomplish that. We shot
the film at the end of 2004 and started cutting it and then we got into Tribeca. The film was done in November last year, but we
waited for Tribeca to premiere and had a very good
response obviously. New Yorkers seemed to really like the film. That week, Gary
Ruben’s company First Independent picked it up and so here we are.
It took six years to write the screenplay…
NG: I didn’t write it in about six weeks, but then it
literally took years to get made.
What kept you going to still follow up with this screenplay?
NG: Well, I got a lot of positive response from everybody
who read it virtually and for a while it was like on this list on
’s top ten unproduced scripts that industry people keep amongst
themselves on internet sites and stuff and I had of people who tried to scare
me off the film. A lot of people who said to me, “You’ll never get to direct
it. Let us attach a director” and they were really kind of aggressive about it
and I just thought that the meaner they were, the more that there’s something
really here. It really hit me that it would break my heart to let someone else
direct it. I would always regret it, so I rather have this never been made than
let someone else direct it.
In the meantime, what did you do in between those six years?
NG: I wrote screenplays and sold them. My wife is also a
screenwriter and her name is Heidi Ferrerra and she’s
a successful screenwriter and we work together a lot and we sold some pitches
and she came up with an idea that we sold to New Line. I sold a script to
, just working in anonymity. There are a lot of
screenwriters who make a decent living at it, but no one who you are because
your movies never get made.
What was the basis for “Mini’s First Time”?
NG: I wanted to write for a long time about somebody who
lived their life by the idea that any new experience in life should be pursued;
that the way you define your life is not by money status but by how unique and
original your life is. I knew that it had to be a female character because a
male would be a total sociopath and I read some articles about girls in the
suburbs who were becoming prostitutes for kicks and they were from affluent
families. It blew my mind. Where had society got to that girls were doing this
willingly and that was just the start of it. I started
reading other articles that contributed to the film. The birthday cake scene
was a real scene about a mom who hired a male stripper for her daughter’s 16th birthday and got arrested; parents called the cops and reported indecency with
minors. The scene where Carrie-Anne Moss is stalked on the cell phone came out
of a L.A Times article about cell phone stalkings.
It’s just a reflection of society.
Who did you have initially for your leads?
NG: Well, I didn’t write any of the characters with any
specific actor in mind. Alec Baldwin was the first actor that we offered the
script six years ago and through his people that he did like it and wanted to
meet me and then the meeting was cancelled and so we went on and after we got
the money to make the film, Kevin Spacey called him and he read the script and
liked it and we sat down and he decided he wanted to do it. I didn’t want to
bring it up. I didn’t want to remind him. I was like, “Oh God, I hope he
doesn’t drop out” and I waited til we finished
filming him and then I asked him if he ever the script initially and he was
like, “No, I never read it” I guess I’d to think that Alec was always meant to
play that role and that we were waiting for Nikki (Reed) to grow up. She was 11
when I wrote the script.
Was “Thirteen” out by then?
NG: When we cast her? Yes, I’d seen her work in the film. We
met with her and I just felt that she was like a 30-year-old in a 16-year-old
body in terms of her maturity. She has a very old soul.
When you look at this film, in some ways, there are some
similarities between her character here and in “Thirteen”.
NG: In some ways, but I would actually say that I didn’t
cast her because of ‘Thirteen”. I would have cast her if I hadn’t seen that
movie. She’s the only person who came to the meeting who really understood the
character perfectly. She’s lived by herself since she was 14, and to me, Mini
is a lot more vulnerable because she’s never experience love. Her mother never
wanted her and her father dies when she’s a year old and never knew him. Her
step-father is not interested in her. I actually see Mini as a more vulnerable
character. There are definitely some similarities there.
How influential was Kevin Spacey, not only producing the
film, but assembling the cast?
NG: Well, he’s Kevin Spacey. Here’s what happened. My wife
and I would often collaborate and she came up with an idea for a movie that we
needed a star to attached themselves to, and I heard Kevin being interviewed on
National Public Radio talking about how his company was set up and find and
nurture undiscovered talent and I was like, “Year, whatever” and I called my
agent to send him “Mini’s First Time” as a writing sample for this other
project. They really like the script. His producing partner, Dana Brunetti, read it first and met with me and I pitch him
this other movie, and he said, “Great. I’ll get you in touch with Kevin in
three weeks.” Sure enough, three weeks later, I’m in front of Kevin pitching
this idea and he’s like, “Great. Love it. Let’s start working on it; and in the
process of it, I got this script back from an option and I said to Dana, “Do
you remember that script, well, I own it again. I control it and would you guys
be interested in doing it?” He said, “Let me talk to Kevin and Kevin said,
“Yeah, Absolutely, but I don’t want to be in it. It’s a little too close to
“American Beauty”, but we should make a movie that my company produces that I’m
not in.” Dana then went and sort of banged the drum at their talent agency and
got us the financing. Kevin often says that what he learned from Jack Lemmon
was that you should try to send the elevator back down and that’s what his company
is based on and he really did that for me. He sent the elevator back down. I
wouldn’t be here without Kevin.
How much did you learn as a director, especially when
working along with veteran actors such as Alec Baldwin and Jeff Goldblum?
NG: You know what found is that with any actor, your job as
the director is to get different flavors. You don’t want to shoot the same
scene the same way. You want five different takes that are identical because
when you get in the editing room, you want choices. Maybe you change a scene
earlier and then that changes the tone of a later scene, so you want choices,
so I would have the actors do it five or six different ways sometimes. At that
point it’s about pulling them aside and saying, “Let’s try it this way because
I might or may not be using it”. I learned a lot on how different actors work
differently. Alec likes an electric set. He likes bustle. He likes chaos. He
likes noise. Luke is very calm and very chill and likes it quiet. When they are
both in a scene together, how do you provide both with the atmosphere that they
like. Nikki is a total professional and she was always prepared. Carrie-Anne
was just dialed in from the start. With her, her first take was awesome and I
would say, “Do whatever you want and have fun”. With Jeff, he’s such a good
improviser that you give him the freedom to improvise and you try to create two
and three shots where he can do that. Obviously you need your close-ups but you
want to give him chances where he can go off-book and if the people he’s
working with are comfortable doing that too, you get a lot of little gems.
Were there any challenges while making this film?
NG: Yeah. We had $5.5 million dollars and 28 days to shoot.
We had to shoot 4-5 pages a day, which is fast for a
films rarely shoot 2 ½ to 3
pages. We had to be really smart about scheduling and picking locations where
you can shoot 5-6 scenes so you don’t have to move your entire crew across town
and picking locations that were affordable and deciding what time of day you
wanted to shoot a certain scene based on how important the scene was, so that
the actors were fresh. There are a million decisions that have to be made when
there’s little money. You just don’t have the time.
In the midst of big summer blockbusters like “Superman
Returns” and “Pirates of the
Man’s Chest”, why should anyone see “Mini’s First Time”?
NG: There’s nothing else like it right now in the summertime
when it’s most standard studio fare. It will be a character that will hopefully
be remembered. It’s a fun ride but it’s also a movie that has deeper issues so
you can actually kind of have your cake and eat it too. While it has its twists
and turns, it will also make you wonder about what’s happening to American kids
and why they feel so disaffected and so marginalized.
What’s next for you?
NG: Well, I have two projects. There’s a script that my wife
wrote, that we just got back from New Line from turnaround called “Connecting
with Jack Gabriel” and that’s a lighter film, a romantic comedy and there’s
another project called “Ten Minutes of Sunlight”, which is a movie I wrote that
is about a celebrity impersonator and the movie star that he impersonates. It’s
like “The King of Comedy” meets “Being John Malkovich”.
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