If the end of the year is a time to reflect on mistakes made and relationships lost (and of course, the good stuff, too), there may not be a better way to start the new year than with a screening of “The Snake,” a wicked little low-budget comedy about a scoundrel whose transgressions in the dating scene and life in general will instantly improve one’s outlook for themselves in ’10. Not to mention that it’s very, very funny.
“The Snake” is the feature debut of Eric Kutner and Adam Goldstein, the latter of whom also stars as Ken, the mustachioed scoundrel in question, who infiltrates a support group for females with body image issues after becoming fixated on bedding a bulimic and proceeds to alienate every member with his boorish behavior. Shot on nights and weekends over the course of six months in San Francisco, “The Snake” caught the attention of Patton Oswalt, who presented it in a one-off screening at SXSW last spring before it laid low and was bandied about in conversations about the film festival discoveries of ’09. Now, the film is available online and on demand and I caught up with Kutner and Goldstein to talk about the film’s evolution, the etiquette of second-act vomiting and being considered part of mumblecore.
Did you guys actually develop the character before starting on a screenplay or did the screenplay came first?
EK: What kind of came first was the title of the film. I remember when the title first occurred to me, I was in New York and I was talking with this girl and a friend of mine was actually at the bar as well with his girlfriend at the time and while the girlfriend was outside having a smoke, he pulled the number of this girl I had met. I told this story later to my uncle, and my uncle said, “he’s the snake.” And I thought — that’s a really interesting title for a film, that would be an interesting character.
AG: Yes, the character evolved first — that was the thing we focused on. How we could put all our sexually oriented neuroses and libido issues into one vessel. [laughs]
EK: In writing the character of Ken, we always knew that Adam would be playing him. Adam is not Clive Owen. The movie was not going to be “Alfie.”
AG: Yes, we weren’t about to cast me as a sexy lothario who makes all women weak in the knees and all men admire him every time he struts past. It was going to be a guy who tried really hard, and it was potentially a little sad.
If you were shooting for over a year, did you go all Daniel Day-Lewis for the part, Adam?
AG: No, but there are aspects of the character that seep into your life. And then bear in mind that I had to wear that hairstyle and mustache for like six, eight months and if you think people didn’t look at me like I was a total fucking creep, you’d be wrong. [laughs]
EK: That was a difficult moment, when we were going to take a little time to work on the edit and scenes we need to reshoot, and I was like, “Adam, you’ve got to keep that mustache. Don’t shave the mustache!” And Adam was like, “please let me cut this off! Pleeeease.”
You also famously made a set of rules for things you didn’t want to have in your film. Why was that important?
EK: We were working in a genre that doesn’t exactly exist, but [would best be described as] the reforming of a cad. He’s going to grow a bit, he’s going to learn a bit. In looking at a lot of [similar] movies, we could see all kinds of things we wanted to avoid because they felt false.
AG: We had a rule for “no vomiting,” and what we meant by that was oftentimes we found in independent films about a tortured personality, somewhere towards the end of the second act, they’re going to have a really rough night and throw up. That’ll somehow be indicative of the fact that they’re going to purge. It’s also going to show that they’re bottom of the barrel. How pathetic and bestial can they be? Oh, they’re lying in a pool of their own wretch. So we’re like — let’s not do that scene.