“My Female Taxi Driver:” Gary Michael Schultz on Vincent N Roxxy

We’re deep into the summer movie season where lots of big movies are competing for your attention. Lots of indie movies are also offering an alternative at the box office. One of those indies is Vincent N Roxxy, starring Emile Hirsch and Zoe Kravitz as Vincent and Roxxy.

Vincent and Roxxy meet when Vincent witnesses an automobile accident involving Roxxy and an abusive ex. After stepping in, Vincent and Roxxy develop a relationship, which gets complicated by some money Vincent stole from criminals who won’t just take it as a tax write-off. I spoke with writer/director Gary Michael Schultz about making Vincent N Roxxy by phone this week. Vincent N Roxxy is now playing.

WLE: You’ve worked with Keith Kjarval and Unified as a producer before. Were you waiting for your turn to write and direct?

GMS: Not necessarily. I’ve known Keith for a while. We’re both from Chicago originally and before we became professional filmmakers, we were friends. He came out here and started his own company. I was making films in Chicago and teaching at Columbia College Chicago for a while. He had been trying to get me out here to work with him for a minute. The right time finally came. I came out here actually to put together Vincent N Roxxy, but along that path I ended up producing movies with his company and got to make a couple really good ones that I’m really proud of, like the film Rudderless. For me, filmmaking is filmmaking. My goal has always been to write and direct. That’s always been what I focused on but if you can produce projects that you care about and you can make films in other ways, why would you not do that?

WLE: How did it come about that Keith cowrote Vincent N Roxxy with you?

GMS: I had an inkling for the story and then Keith and I crafted the story together. It really just came from a lot of talks on the back porch, kind of similar to what the actors are doing in Vincent N Roxxy at times. From there, I took the story and wrote the screenplay based on the initial ideas I had and then our talks that definitely furthered and improved those ideas.

WLE: What was the original inkling for Vincent N Roxxy?

GMS: Vincent N Roxxy originally came from a place where I was born on the far south side of Chicago. I would spend summers down in Southern Illinois. The contrast of those two environments kind of really stuck with me my whole life the way people interacted in those environments. So I wanted to put together a genre film that took place like that. The inkling came from that and then it came also from a car accident that I saw, coincidentally on one of my last days at work in Chicago when I was getting ready to move out here. There was a really bad car accident and there were a lot of people standing around gawking, not really helping this poor person. Me and another individual ran over and called the cops and held their hand until the ambulances arrived. It wasn’t a situation like Vincent N Roxxy where someone’s being attacked, but sometimes a little spark can lead to another idea. From there, it was trying to build a really unique female lead. I wanted to do something that felt really organic and natural but also fit the archetypes and genre tendencies we were creating in the film. I wanted to make someone like Roxxy, someone really special, a really strong woman of color on screen. That’s probably what I’m most proud of of the film, creating a character like Roxxy and Zoe.

WLE: Is Roxxy based on anyone you’ve known in real life?

GMS: Of course. [Laughs]

WLE: Will they know when they see the film?

GMS: Yeah. It’s not just one person that anything is based on. Everyone’s based on multiple experiences you have in your life. The people that you love, the people that you’ve lost, people you’ve encountered for only a moment can inspire you. If you’re a storyteller, you have to be open to those experiences and honest about how they affect you. For me, I always try to do like that. I always try to be open to the experiences that affect me in life. I try to analyze them and be honest about them. If you’re brave enough to put it out there and put it into a character, maybe people will react to it. Maybe they get something out of it and they relate to it too.

WLE: Did you have any back and forth with the MPAA over the violence at the end of Vincent N Roxxy?

GMS: No, no back and forth. They were pretty much like, “Yeah, this is pretty freaking violent.” What do you say to that? It is. The movie is about family and it’s about love, but it’s also unfortunately about how violence affects that. I wasn’t trying to do a grindhouse tribute. The violence wasn’t supposed to be pretty. It’s supposed to be terrifying. It’s supposed to take your heart away and it’s supposed to justify what Roxxy has to do in the third act of the film.

WLE: But it was R, they weren’t saying you had to cut something?

GMS: No, I wasn’t privy to all those conversations, but as far as I know, we pushed it as far as R can go.

WLE: Did you play with the amount of money so that it was enough for them to come looking for it, but not enough that they’re set for life?

GMS: Interesting question. I did as a matter of fact. You’re sitting there and you’re figuring out the screenplay and you’re going, “Well, if it’s $500,000 that’s so much money that they’re going to go after it in two seconds and these people can fly away. If it’s 80 grand, it’s enough money to make somebody look for you, enough money to justify maybe killing you, there’s enough danger associated with it but it’s not enough money to really change your whole life.” That’s why it’s a stupid decision on Vincent’s part, but not judging my character. [Laughs]

WLE: What are your influences and inspirations as a filmmaker?

GMS: Cinematically, I think the films that I really dug in a lot for this were a lot of films from the ‘70s. I really loved the film Badlands. I really wanted to do my female Taxi Driver which hopefully will interest people. Five Easy Pieces was another film that really inspired me. I loved the way the dialogue and the conversations and it’s a story about a guy who comes back home to see his family and work out everything that’s gone wrong, everything he’s avoided. I think cinematically, those three films. Some more modern influences will be films like Place Beyond the Pines, films that are about family and how violence can affect families. I think you always look at stuff that’s been done before to be careful not to tread in the same footsteps and just be aware of how they did it and what you can do to do it differently, and how you can put your own voice in it. No matter what, you’ve got to put your own voice in it. If you haven’t, then you’re not making something authentic. I do believe that at the very least I did that.

WLE: Was the location dictated by the needs of production?

GMS: Location was dictated by the needs of production. We filmed down in Louisiana which at the time had a great tax credit. With that said, I was very happy with the production that we got down there. I was really happy with the production value. My production designer, Chris Stull, built beautiful sets. My cinematographer, Alex Disenhof, shot beautiful pictures. The film takes place in the midwest. Originally it was going to be Chicago to southern Illinois so we just repurposed it to be anywhere America. Ultimately the actual city didn’t matter because everybody kind of knows a city or a town like that. As long as it was relatable and felt realistic, I was okay with moving it down there.

WLE: Which locations were sets?

GMS: Really, everything we altered as a location. The main location of the farmhouse was there. We did a lot of altering to it. The farmhouse was on a large piece of property. This is a nice tip for indie filmmakers. If you’re going to make an indie film, you need to find that one massive location that you can use as a home base and build around. Our farmhouse had all this property on it. Behind it we built the abandoned drive-in. So that’s on the same property as the farmhouse. Now I’ll really blow your mind. The property next door to the farmhouse, the people who owned that property, their parents owned next door. We rented next door and built the carnival. We actually brought the carnival and dropped it into someone’s front lawn. Movie magic. The diner was an abandoned building that’s been there for 140 years. It wasn’t even a diner at the time. It used to be an old bar. We built that in there so a lot of it was finding really good bones and then restructuring it or repurposing it.

WLE: Was the garage already a garage or something you converted?

GMS: The garage was a garage but it was a different color. It was a really alarming red color. We did paint that which was really funny. Just like an indie film, literally the paint was drying as I was rolling camera on the first shot of the day. You go in there and you do it, man, but my team never let me down. They were always one step ahead. My actors bought into it.

WLE: Did you have to paint it back to red or did they keep it your color?

GMS: They’re actually keeping it that color to my knowledge. They liked it. I think the same thing with the farmhouse. We had done some improvements structurally on the porch and some other things. As far as I know, the abandoned drive-in is still in their backyard. They’re said, “Let’s keep it up.”

WLE: If I go back and watch Devil In My Ride, will I be able to tell it’s from the director of Vincent N Roxxy?

GMS: Probably not. Devil in my Ride I would say was my final step of film school. One of my most close to my heart experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a film I made literally on two nickels with a DSLR camera, driving across the country with my film friends. It taught me I think the final lessons I needed to know to go make a film like Vincent N Roxxy. It’s a hell of a fun movie but in all honesty, it’s a fun B movie. That’s what it’s intention was to be. If you’re making a movie on 20 grand, you’re going to drive across 11 states to make it, you have some challenges. In all honesty, the lessons I learned on that and some of the things we were able to pull off, they teach you things that are invaluable. I think that’s why I was able to do some of the really ambitious stuff with Vincent N Roxxy.

WLE: What do you consider the ambitious things you tried on Vincent N Roxxy?

GMS: I think the twists in the movie and the tone shifts that I think are ingrained throughout the subplot, ingrained throughout the main plot was ambitious. You don’t see a lot of films that will boil and let something simmer for so long and then try to just go all out in the third act. I’m really thankful that my producers let me take that chance. Then from a technical point of view, there’s a shot in the movie I really love that is the first time Vincent comes back home to his farmhouse and discovers J.C. is throwing this massive party. I wanted the audience to experience with him this journey walking through his family home and seeing all these people destroying it. I shot that all in a oner. It’s a two minute, 12 second one shot that worked out really well. I was really proud of it. I spent a lot of time prepping with my DP. We would go out there and I would play Vincent and go through and practice it. Then on the day of, we nailed it in four takes which is kind of insane to nail a steadicam shot like that. Technically I thought that was really freaking cool.

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