With a tagline that reads, “But what about me?” one can’t help but think that Christopher Jaymes’ “In Memory of My Father” has a little less to do with pained mourning than your average tear-jerker about a dying parent. In actuality, “In Memory” is a comically poignant look at the weak ties and narcissistic bonds that unite the family in question during the passing of dear, old, wealthy movie producer dad. With a cast roster that includes Jeremy Sisto (“Six Feet Under”), Judy Greer (“Elizabethtown”) and writer/director Christopher Jaymes – among many others – “In Memory of My Father” promises a disturbingly honest look at Hollywood “reality” in all its dysfunctional glory. Smack dab in the middle of a whirlwind festival tour, Christopher Jaymes took some time out of his post-Sundance haze to chat a bit with Artsweek about making movies, keeping friends and sneaking into his own premieres.
Hi. How are you?
I’m good, just still recovering from excessive damage to my body – self imposed during Sundance – and a late night last night that was really fun, but… Whoa. (Laughs.)
I’m watching the movie tonight, so until then, can you give us a brief synopsis from the writer/actor/director point of view?
It’s basically a look into second-generation Hollywood royalty, where the father figure is sort of based on a not-so-much Robert Evans, but a hypothetical someone like Bob Evans. Basically he bribes his youngest son to document his death, thinking it’s going to be historically important and he kind of forgets that his children are as self-absorbed as he is. So, that sort of goes wrong after the first minute of the film and then we just follow the three children through the wake as it evolves into a masochistic Hollywood party where everybody forgets to mourn because they’ve got more important things going on with their relationships. [So it’s] sort of like that. It’s a lot of chaos, it’s a lot of fun and it’s very honest, but it exposes more of the absurdities that our narcissism sort of clings to when we’re in moments that are incomprehensible as humans.
What is your take on the “disaffected Hollywood youth” of this generation? How did you think to portray these characters?
I’ve sort of been around it…. I’ve lived in L.A. since I was about 17. It’s a bunch of people that are all sort of running around and we base our value and our self-worth on the external imposition that people place upon us, and that tends to be based on what we’re doing right now to give us the stamp of approval to say, “You’re kind of worth something as a human.” Living in an environment like that stimulates hypersensitivity and insecurity that force you to desperately seek out a way to prove that you’re sort of OK. Yes, it’s our own fault for allowing ourselves to fall victim to a judgmental arena. But, at the same time, when you’re inside of it, you only know what you’re given. You can’t totally blame the individual for trying to survive. We’re just a product of our surroundings to a degree.
How do you think that growing up in the shadow of a parent’s wealth/fame/talent affects a kid? Does it change family ties?
The expectations that are scarred onto you from birth, growing up in the shadow of someone that is successful and whatnot. It doesn’t allow you the freedom to actually evolve into what you might be. Everybody has already made you into what you are going to be. It just [becomes a question of] can you live into what they’re imposing upon you? Amongst the siblings, I think it’s always like most siblings, regardless of where. With your siblings, you’re always in a love/hate relationship, especially when you’re young. Yeah, you need ’em and you have them to fall back on, but you hate everything about them because they remind you of everything you don’t like about yourself.
Do you think there are drawbacks to employing your close friends to work on your films? Are there benefits?
Yes. That’s a loaded question and one that I have to answer delicately. It’s the best of both worlds. [When you work with your friends,] you have the access to the resource of everything that you know is beautiful about them, both strong and weak. And they tend to want to do something good, so they entrust you with that sense of honest knowing that you have of their fallacies and insecurities [and think], “Here you go, I’m gonna give it to you and you’re gonna take care of me.” And no matter what, no matter how sensitively you deal with them, because they’re actors and because they’re exposing something that is basically stuck up on a platter under a microscope waiting for judgment, when they present it to you – no matter how nurturing you are – there’s still moments when you’re not on their “I-want-to-love-you-well-and-make-you-happy list.” When it’s strangers you’re working with, there are always egos and insecurities, but there is more of [an understanding that], “Ooh, you’re a stranger who I need to get validation from.” When it’s your friends, it’s more like, “Man, you’re being mean. You’ve been nice our whole relationship, but all of a sudden you changed and you’re different.” Well, sorry, I’ve got thousands of dollars behind me right now and I have to get this done and I need you to do a certain thing. Please understand that I love ya anyway. It’s tough in those ways.
So, is it easier to direct your friends or direct yourself?
Oh God. The directing yourself part? I would rather eat ass. I’m sure there are other people out there, like Mel Gibson, who walk around all like, “Oh, I did that really good.” But with people like me, I kinda go, “Oh my God, nothing I’m doing is interesting. I’m gonna change the lines every take because it’s just no good.” And somehow I’m going to find something good because everything I’m doing just sucks. It’s like leaving an answering machine [message] on your voicemail. You hear it back and it sounds awful, so you do it again and you do it again for four days. And you never get it good; you just sort of settle and say, “Fuck it. I can’t do this anymore because I’m hungry.” It’s an awful time, but eventually you wind up with something in the middle. I’ll take the banter of beating from my friends any day over that.
I know you’ve been hitting a number of the big festivals with “In Memory of My Father.” Are there any advantages for a filmmaker to hit the festival circuit? Any disadvantages?
The bad thing is that I’m so used to having been in isolation while finishing the project that you come out and you’re like, “Oh wow. People are nice to me and want to talk to me. Oh wow. Do they like the film? Oh wow. Maybe they’re attracted to me.” You’re around all these people and getting so much stimulus all the time that every time you come home for like a week and it’s quiet, you’re thinking, “Oh my God. My life is over. I’m going to die….” You have to learn to sort of Prozac yourself to a point.
Are there any films that you have seen recently that have been especially great or awe-inspiring?
(Laughs.) I think over the past four months or five months I’ve watched like three films. By the time you’re done with press and you try to spend some time with [the people who put on the festival] and you finish, you’re like, “Oh shit. I can either get a little bit of sleep in or I can go watch a movie that I’m probably going to pass out in.” I’ve seen “Brokeback Mountain,” “Walk the Line” and “Casanova.” I think one of them was really good, I think one of them was really good for a biopic and I thought one was a cute fluffy movie. And the cute fluffy one was in no reference to the gay cowboy one.
Are you at all surprised by the critical acclaim and audience praise that the film has been getting? How does it make you feel when people start responding this way to your work?
It’s a sense of overwhelming joy. The screening at the Arclight [in Hollywood] had like 500 people there and I don’t watch the movies because I just can’t do it, but about an hour into the movie, there’s a bunch of laugh-out-loud funny parts, so I kinda stuck my head in. And there was this uproar of laughter, I mean so big I couldn’t believe it, and I just sat ther
e and took a deep breath and felt this sheer amount of joy that somehow I could make people feel like that.
Christopher Jaymes’ “In Memory of My Father” makes its Santa Barbara premiere on Friday, Feb. 3, as part of the 21st Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. The screening takes place at the Lobero Theatre at 9 p.m.