Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca, talks Ariel Winter, and advice for breaking into the business
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Kara Croke, Tinseltown, Feature Flash Photo Agency, Shutterstock.com
- Los Angeles, California
Director Adam Rifkin premieres Dog Years at Tribeca Film Festival, discusses casting Ariel Winter outside her bookworm role on Modern Family, Legend Burt Reynolds, and advice for breaking into the film business.
Dog Years is the story of Vic Edwards, an aging former movie star, who is forced to realize his glory days are behind him. Can you tell us how you came to write this film?
I've always been a huge Burt Reynolds fan. In fact, he was my hero growing up. Not only was he cool and funny and self deprecating, but he always struck me as being such a down to earth, great guy. I also always felt like he rarely got his proper due as an actor. He's so natural and at ease in front of the camera that people didn't even think he's acting. Which is a tremendous compliment but it's also tragic because I feel he's been under appreciated for all the fabulous work he's done throughout his career. Burt is a brilliant actor and I wanted to give something back to Burt for all of the years of enjoyment he's given me and so many other people. So I wrote DOG YEARS specifically for Burt and Burt alone.
Vic Edwards is an interesting character that's different from Burt's past roles. How did you go about casting Burt Reynolds?
I had never met Burt prior to writing DOG YEARS but I rolled the dice and wrote it anyway, hoping he would spark to the material. It was a warts and all kind of charter so I was nervous approaching him. We called Burt's manager and I said to him that I wrote DOG YEARS for Burt and nobody else. I said to please tell Burt that if he didn't want to play the part I wasn't going to make the movie. I know it was a gamble but I just couldn't conceive of anybody else playing Vic Edwards other than Burt.
Imagine my elation when Burt called me the next day. Burt Reynolds called me and told me he loved the script and he wanted to play the part! I was over the moon! And man, did he deliver. He gave such a brave and heartfelt performance, stripped of all vanity. For a guy famous for his swagger he had no problem digging deep and exposing his most vulnerable self. He blew us all away.
The feature also stars the talented Ariel Winter from Modern Family, who plays Lil. Can you tell us how you cast Ariel Winter?
The role of Lil required someone young enough to be believable but experienced enough as an actress to be able to pull off such a fragile and emotionally unstable person. Ariel is literally a veteran of the craft at the tender age of 18. She's been acting her entire life, so I knew Lil would be in good hands. She's also known for playing the bookish Alex Dunphy and I though it would be exciting to see her play completely against type.
This is a very adult role for Ariel and she played it brilliantly. Lil is a troubled girl who's been making a series of questionable choices in life up to now. She meets Vic while teetering on the precipice of complete self destruction and the adventure they find themselves on together forces her to reassess her direction. People who are only familiar with Ariel from Modern Family are going to be shocked when they see her here.
An interesting part of Dog Years is the use of archival footage from Burt Reynolds real life filmography. How did you go about achieving this effect in the movie?
At its core, DOG YEARS is a story about growing old and how fast the years fly by. I thought an effective way to explore this visually was to see footage of young, virile Burt juxtaposed against current day Burt. As a result I included some fantasy sequences where Vic confronts his younger self and tries to convince him not to live so recklessly. The way we achieved it was merely through standard movie magic but the end result had a very emotional effect. Once we saw the visuals coming together we were moved in ways we didn't anticipate.
When casting a film, what qualities do you look for with actors?
That always depends on so many variables. What the character should look like and sound like based on the description in the script. How the character would react in a crisis or would respond to a challenge. I can honestly say I look for something wholly unique for each and every role, each and every time. That said, I suppose an overarching quality I'm always keenly aware of is an actor who never feels like their acting.
Burt told me the the best advice he'd ever gotten as an actor was from his old friend Spencer Tracy. Tracy once said to him, "Kid, never let them catch you acting". Remarkably simple yet amazing advice. And I can definitely relate. When I'm casting, if someone feels like their acting, no matter how good they may look for the role, they'll never get the part.
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give them?
My advice is two fold: Firstly, for anyone who's pursuing a career in film, or any of the arts for that matter, you're undoubtably going to experience a lot of rejection. Don't let it slow you down. It's easy to take rejection personally and start to second guess yourself but do everything you can to fight that urge. Don't let rejection even be a blip on your radar. Everyone who's ever achieved success in this insane business has experienced tons of rejection so you're not alone. Just ignore it and keep trudging forward. Secondly, don't wait for permission to make a movie. Technology has finally caught up to people's ambition.
You can now make a movie for next to nothing. Talent is the cheapest production value in the world. Make a movie for whatever amount you can. If you only have a few hundred bucks, figure out a way to make the best movie ever made for a few hundred bucks. Shoot it on your phone. Edit it on an app. Do whatever you need to do get your story told and your voice heard. Take inspiration from maverick filmmakers like Giuseppe Andrews and go out there and just make a movie that nobody has seen before. If it's good, really good, and bold and unique and original, it will change your life.
Dog Years will be screening at the Tribeca Film Festival from 4/22 - 4/30. Check out the official Tribeca website for the complete list of showtimes.
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