Demetri Martin Talks About His Directorial Debut, “Dean.”
Most of you may know Demetri Martin as a stand-up comedian, writer, or his roles in such films like Contagion or In a World. However, what you may not know is that Demetri Martin has written, directed and acted in his directorial debut, Dean.
Dean is a comedy about loss, grief and the redemptive power of love; Dean is a NY illustrator who falls hard for an LA woman (Gillian Jacobs) while trying to prevent his father (Kevin Kline) from selling the family home in the wake of his mother’s death.
I had a chance to talk with Martin about the challenges of directing a feature film, while simultaneously being the lead actor, as well as working with acting legend Kevin Kline.
I was very moved by it, and it spoke true to me.
Demetri: “First, I just want to say thank you for that. I put so much into it, as you can imagine, and it is a personal story. I find, when it does connect with someone, it’s really validating in a way I didn’t even expect.
What was that experience like for you, being such a different type of act, such a different kind of character than you’ve typically played before while directing?
Demetri: “It was challenging for sure because I wanted it to be dramatic, it was supposed to be, but I didn’t want to end up telling too heavy of a story. Also, I didn’t know how much I could even execute that because it’s not my experience as a storyteller. I was trying to strike a balance, and then, at the same time, I wanted to get the drawings to work, and I hadn’t directed before. I was like, “Hopefully I get a good cast,” and I got lucky in a lot of ways.”
“My cast was great, and they were nice to work with. Kevin Kline and Mary Steenburgen, who are much more experienced and accomplished than I am, were gracious. They were cool. They were patient. That was amazing. You can get unlucky and then it makes your life even harder. Looking back now I’m like, “Geez, a lot of things did work out,” so it’s great.”
That is great to hear. Speaking of Kevin Kline, your chemistry with him was my personal favorite aspect of the film, because I felt a lot of moments between you two, shared, were like moments between my father similar to what we’ve shared and me. What was that like, working with Kevin? What was the pre-production like? Did you get to know each other or was it just kind of, show up on set, and it just clicked?
Demetri: “Yeah, we got to know each other a little bit. We didn’t have a lot of time, but it was cool. I got to go to his house, and we talked about the characters, and we did a couple of scenes. I felt lucky that he agreed to do the movie. As soon as we started working together, I felt very comfortable, and I guess I could just say gratefully because he was such a gentlemen and also he just seemed up for it. He just seemed like he was into it. With his career, and all that he’s done, there’s no reason he had to do this movie, but he did. It was great. It felt like … it was as he was already giving me such a compliment by doing the film. It made me comfortable. Then when we got into production, it was fun.”
What was the inspiration behind the drawings?
Demetri: “In real life, I like to draw a lot. I spend a lot of time just … because I carry notebooks around for writing jokes, and I usually have a pen and one of my little notebooks. That’s kind of, over the years, naturally led me into drawing. I drew as a kid, but it’s just something I hadn’t done for a while until I started doing standup. Then, suddenly, there I was with notebooks. I drew so much that I ended up doing the book. I had a book of illustrations come out a few years ago. I realized, when I sat down to write a movie, that if I made my character an illustrator I might be able to use some of the drawings I had already done, and then I could do some new drawings. In doing so, I might have a way to show the audience what the character is feeling at certain points, or track his progress emotionally. I thought it could be a cool device, especially in such a visual media. I ended up shooting the film widescreen, anamorphic, specifically so that I could have a little extra space to show the drawings in some of the setups. It was cool. It was one of the things I enjoyed because, with a small budget movie like this, it’s hard to find an original territory and stake out something. But the drawings helped.”
“You find this stuff that speaks to you, and it’s just one of the pleasures of movies.”- Demetri Martin
It sounds like you learned as you went, directing. That’s a great thing to see for the people who have followed you, and people who are aspiring directors, actors, and writers. To see that happen and for the movie to be so good, it is an inspiration, and I don’t say that lightly.
Demetri: “No, not at all. Film is like … I think there’s such magic to movies when they work. I’m a big movie fan and trying to make one, of course, is difficult. It’s challenging. When it works, or parts of it work, it is so validating, because there are so many moving parts and you’re collaborating with people. It’s so different than standup in that way. It’s just a relief when you think, “Hey, it might find an audience, it might find its people,” because there’s so much that can go wrong. Movies aren’t perfect or anything, but to have one that speaks to you, that’s what I always look for as a film fan, movies that I can … You Can Count On Me, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. I like a lot of Hal Ashby movies and Alexander Payne’s work. You find this stuff that speaks to you, and it’s just one of the pleasures of movies.”
You can listen to the full audio interview below.