Sundance 2013: Interview with Andrew Bujalski
Andrew Bujalski is an award-winning writer, editor, film director, and actor. His first feature, Funny Ha Ha, was released in 2002 to critical acclaim, and is widely cited as one of the best and most influential films of its decade. His most recent feature, Computer Chess, is a black-and-white period piece set in the world of American computer engineering chess tournaments. Computer Chess is Mr. Bujalski’s fourth feature, and his first to show at the Sundance Film Festival. It had its world premiere at the festival in January 2013, and was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Screenwriting Prize. Mr. Bujalski spoke on the red carpet with Sean Malin of CineMalin: Film Commentary and Criticism about his career and first experience at Sundance. This interview has been edited, compressed, and transcribed from audio for publication. Transcription follows.
Sean Malin: So why did it take four features to finally get to Sundance? Your films seem like natural fits here.
Andrew Bujalski: That’s actually a question for them! I submitted the last two films, but I don’t know, I don’t have an actual answer for that. But I have in the last few months since getting accepted is that Sundance is such a name to conjure [sic] with. So I’m totally honored and just pleased to be here.
SM: So Have you ever been to the festival before?
AB: Nope, never set foot in Park City before now. But having had three films that didn’t play here, I feel comfortable knowing that a film can have a life outside the festival, which is such a relief. Having said that, I’m so excited for [tonight’s world premiere], and I think it’ll be great, but I hope somebody still cares about the movie a year from now, ten years from now, when it’s not screening at Sundance.
SM: Why do you think your films are suddenly more marketable, or at the very least, more acceptable to current audiences?
AB: Have they? [Laughs] We’ll see, we’ll see.
SM: You were accepted into Sundance – that might be a small indicator of that trend, but it is an indicator.
AB: That’s true, and it’s funny – perversely, I had every intention and we all went out of our way to make the most experimental, uncommercial thing I could possibly conceive. But I guess we hadn’t really thought through the fact that people nowadays like computers. I think I accidentally made something zeitgeisty.
SM: In each of your films, unpredictability and unconventionality are major factors in the
plot, and I wonder if that has had some impact on people seeing the films widely or on finding commercial success.
AB: Sure. That can definitely make the films harder to find sometimes. Even though Computer Chess has a more experimental visual quality, it’s easier to talk about and to boil down to its elements. Unlike for my other movies, I can give a sort of sexier logline for it. This was the major problem with Beeswax , which, as a movie, I could not be happier with. It’s impossible to describe that to anyone in a way that makes people want to see it.
SM: It’s true! I’ve tried myself.
AB: Ha – so did we. But there’s enough goofy stuff in [Computer Chess] that it makes talking about it much easier.
SM: As someone who edits, directs, and writing original scripts for your films, do they start to seem like works under your authorship to you?
AB: Ah, les films c’est moi! No, that’s mispronounced. Besides, you’re standing in a
tent with fifty people – though they all just walked out – that I’ve worked with and will keep working with. The director’s job is mainly to take credit once you’ve gotten the people you work with to produce great work, you know? But I can’t feel like I own my movies with people like these. The work belongs to all of us. I’m just the A-hole [sic] with final cut.