Wednesday, March 14, 2007

'Seinfeld' writers go indie in New Hampshire

There is at least one thing to be learned from “Live Free or Die,” the film shot in Claremont in November 2004, and it may shock locals. Rutland, Vt. police vehicles are used to investigate New Hampshire crime.

Yes, clear as crystal, in the second shot of the movie is a New Hampshire officer operating a Rutland police car. It is a minor detail perhaps, but one that could amuse Granite State residents.

“It became an unfortunate theme choice,” co-writer/co-director Gregg Kavet said of the car seen throughout “Live Free or Die,” which was originally going to be shot in Rutland before Kavet and co-writer/co-director Andy Robin discovered Claremont. “It was really a fictional New Hampshire town we were trying to do.”

Locals will get to see Claremont on the big screen when “Live Free or Die” opens at the Claremont Cinema 6 March 30. The film will also be playing in other cities throughout New Hampshire including Lebanon, Manchester, Portsmouth and Keene as well as in Boston and Providence.

Kavet and Robin, two of the writers of “Seinfeld,” originally developed “Live Free or Die,” which won top awards at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival and the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival, as a sitcom.

“We were working on “Seinfeld” and we came off feeling that these revolutionary comedies like “Seinfeld” got on the air all the time,” Kavet said.

CBS executives told the writing team that their script for the pilot episode was funny, but that it would never get on TV because as Kavet put it, “it was too far out of the realm of what a sitcom is.”

After working on other projects, Kavet and Robin found themselves going back to the material that would become “Live Free or Die,” a film focused on the exploits of a wannabe tough guy (Aaron Stanford, Pyro in the “X-Men” movies).

“With this project we just tried to do something different, something that we didn’t have to pitch to a network and something that we could finance independently,” Kavet said.

Like most independent films, “Live Free or Die” has a tone and style that is more laid back than the average Hollywood movie. Kavet and Robin were working within a well-worn genre and crime movies, even comedic ones, come with audience expectations.

Viewers have been feeding on “CSI,” “Law and Order” and Quentin Tarantino movies for years now. We want our crime fast, hip, detailed and with a dark sense of humor. However, Kavet and Robin’s approach is closer in spirit to Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket,” which Kavet cites as an influence. They have crafted a crime comedy that is quiet, low key and surprisingly melancholy.

“We kind of wanted to make a movie we wanted to see,” Robin said. “There are a lot of comedies out now that just scream comedy at you and part of that is Hollywood has this formula that works pretty well where they spend a shit load of money marketing something that is really easy to grab on to and that they can describe in 10 seconds in a TV commercial.”

The duo wanted to make a film that was more realistic than the typical Hollywood fare. Their main source of inspiration in doing this was the Coen Brother’s “Fargo.”

“I think the original pilot was written as if the two guys from “Fargo” (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) were hanging out,” Robin said.

That basic concept morphed into the odd pairing of Rugged (Stanford) and Lagrand (Paul Schneider, “Elizabethtown.”)

Rugged is a small-time scam artist, who talks a bigger game than the one he actually plays. He thinks he’s latched onto a good thing when he runs into Lagrand, an old friend who has inherited his father’s storage business. Lagrand is a simpleton and Rugged takes advantage of this by trying to convince Lagrand to hire him as security.

“We didn’t want our lead to be super likable,” Robin said. “That was something we liked about “Seinfeld,” that the characters weren’t especially likable, they weren’t doing admirable sorts of things. They were a pretty selfish bunch.”

If Rugged isn’t necessarily likable, it doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with him. Rugged is a nobody, who desperately wants to be someone, but when he feebly attempts to impress Lagrand with his gangster abilities all he manages to do is set off a Murphy’s Law chain of events. Soon a series of misunderstandings has the local police pinning serious crimes on Rugged and Lagrand.

“The character we enjoyed writing the most in “Seinfeld” was George, who was constantly getting dumped on,” Kavet said. “I think we have a natural affinity to characters who have a tough go at things. Our humor sort of lends itself to that sort of situation.”

The dynamic between Rugged and Lagrand is the heart of the film. Their relationship goes deeper than the typical buddy film. They are both hungry for acceptance and respect and can only find it from each other. There’s an underlining sadness to that, which adds weight to the film.

“It is really just a horrible coincidence that each one has found attention and admiration in the other. Rugged’s stuck with the idiot and the idiot’s stuck with Rugged,” Robin said.

At its core, the film is about the importance and meaning of the legends that surround our every day life. Rugged’s tough guy act is merely a façade to hide the fact that he knows he’s going nowhere and yet maybe if he believes enough in his own myth, he can convince others he is everything he claims to be.

“We’ve always liked the idea that if you look too deeply at anything that is cool it really falls apart,” Robin said. “What everyone clings onto is not real or is random or accidental or fake.”

The film does a good job of capturing the anxiety of feeling trapped in a small town. Kavet and Robin deserve credit for sidestepping the redneck stereotype that New England is often slapped with in films.

“Andy had lived in New Hampshire and I spent a ton of time there,” Kavet said. “We certainly used a lot of experiences from growing up in Massachusetts and Connecticut and translated them a little bit to New Hampshire.”

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