Coming-of-age in Pittsburg: A Conversation with Alfonso Gomez-Rejon for the Home Entertainment release of Me And Earl and the Dying Girl
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL is a uniquely funny and moving story about Greg, a high school senior who avoids deep human relationships as a way to safely navigate the social mine field that is teenage life. In fact he describes his best friend Earl, with whom he makes short-film parodies of classic movies, as being ‘more like a co-worker’. But when Greg’s mum insists he spends time with Rachel – a girl in his class who has just been diagnosed with cancer- Greg discovers just how powerful and important true friendship can be.
In our interview, filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon tells us about what attracted him to Me And Earl And The Dying Girl, filming on location in Pittsburg and his favourite coming-of-age films...
What was it about Me And Earl And The Dying Girl that appealed to you as a filmmaker?
The idea that you can learn about people after they die, you just have to pay attention. The second I read that line I thought ‘What a beautiful idea’. I had just lost someone very close to me – namely my father – and I was having difficulty incorporating loss into my life and making something out of it instead of letting it destroy me. It felt like a movie I could personalise. I saw myself in Greg [Thomas Mann] and the way he was dealing with death in the second half of the movie and like Greg I felt I’d be able to make something out of my feelings – to make a film about what I was feeling the way he’s doing in the film.
Why do you feel the film will repay repeated viewings on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download?
It’s the script and the performances and at the bottom of the list would be the directing [laughs]. They say that sometimes the most personal films become the most universal and this is a personal film made by a lot of people working together. There was a lot of love that went into every single frame, not just me but every crew member and maybe that’s palpable and tangible in some way. That’s why there’s so much more to the film than can be digested in just one viewing.
The film parodies are brilliant. Will there be more of those on the Blu-ray and DVD?
There will be, yes. Not too many more – maybe just two more. We tried to show them all in their entirety in the movie and with some of them what you see is all there is. For instance, My Dinner With Andre The Giant is just that shot and that’s it. But a few of them are longer so there’ll be an extended montage of the films that show more of them and some new ones too.
What are the other extras?
There’s a conversation between me and Martin Scorsese and deleted scenes. There’s a lot of great stuff on there.
Do you think having so many platforms to buy and watch films makes them more accessible?
I love the idea of having a shared experience in a dark room, but nowadays there are bigger screens and home theatres and I discovered film on VHS. Scorsese discovered movies on a black and white TV. Home entertainment platforms offer more outlets for filmmakers and for films that might not get a big cinema release.
The author of the book Jesse Andrews wrote the script but how does the film differ?
Jesse did an amazing job and he was quite brave in the fact the screenplay is different to the book and the finished film is different to the screenplay. He was very nimble in that way. Structurally he was able to fearlessly throw out a lot of material, then once I became involved he really helped shape it into what it became. The third act is a real departure.
What about the parodies?
They always made parodies, in both the book and the screenplay, but what films they parody evolved quite a bit and Greg’s final film was the biggest departure. My favourite parody in the film? Probably 2.48pm Cowboy or Don’t Look Now.
ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL IS AVAILABLE ON DVD ON JANUARY 11