Marvin Wexler tries coffee for the first time and desperately tries to talk about it with anyone who will listen. We spoke with filmmaker Andrew Carter where MARVIN’S NEVER HAD COFFEE will be premiering as part of the Narrative Shorts Competition.
You are back! Tell me about your previous experience here at SxSW and what you showed.
My creative partner Kahlil Maskati & I were here in 2019 with our short film REVENGE TOUR, which won a Special Jury Recognition in the Indie Episodic Pilot Competition. The experience is
still a highlight of our careers. And I still have dreams about the barbecue. I bought a smoker recently, but it’s not the same.
How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?
We first heard about it through reading about the big premieres they did for studio films over the years. We remember hearing it was a great buzz builder for KNOCKED UP, BRIDESMAIDS NEIGHBORS, SPY, TRAINWRECK. When we learned that they were also a film festival for the little guy, it motivated us to submit when we felt we had something we loved.
Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!
I had my first cup of coffee at age 30. True story. Since then, I have only had it a handful of times. One of those times was a random day in August 2020. I was all caffeinated up, got in my car to run an errand, and called about six people on my phone. No one answered. I found this funny and also a little sad. All I wanted to do was connect with someone, and nobody cared. So I thought, ‘what does that look like as a short film? Kahlil and I had been dying to shoot something during quarantine, so I called him with this idea. After about five minutes of talking, we agreed this was an idea we could both get behind. A character study of a weirdo who is lonely during this very lonely time. We could both easily relate. We wrote the script in a week, sent it to our amazing cinematographer Pat and our exceptional lead actor Charles in mid-September, and we shot in on October 3rd & 4th. Kahlil and I financed it ourselves on less than a $2,000 budget and we shot it in my home. My wife was very supportive the entire time, god bless her.
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for the short?
Honestly, the biggest inspiration we got was from doing camera tests with our DP Patrick. He’s brilliant, and a few weeks before we shot, he came over with his viewfinder and we walked through my home setting up shots that were both interesting while also reflecting our story thematically. That said, in terms of known entities, I had two random sparks that helped ignite the fire here: the aspect ratio of JOKER and the opening shots of CRAZY STUPID LOVE. As for the former, I was at a JOKER Q&A and asked Todd Phillips about why he chose to shoot JOKER in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio as opposed to his usual 2.40:1 aspect ratio. His answer was simple: “those movies followed groups of guys, and this film follows one character.” I remembered that when thinking about how to shoot Marvin. He also mentioned how he wanted it to feel like Gotham City was bearing down on Arthur throughout the film. I am very lucky in that I live in a house with high ceilings, so we tried our best to utilize the high-walled rooms to make Marvin look very alone. As for the opening of CRAZY STUPID LOVE, I was struggling with how to best visually introduce a character who has never had coffee before, and once I watched that opening (the juxtaposition of several pairs of feet at a fancy restaurant with Steve Carell and Julianne Moore’s distanced, more casual footwear at a nearby table) it was clear to me how to open our film. My partner Kahlil said it best when he summed up our opening with the words: “We see coffee, coffee, coffee, water, who’s drinking the water? Here is his story.”
Aside from the aspect ratio, how did you put this together from a technical viewpoint?
The most important thing to us was to make sure we showed Marvin’s isolation in an aesthetically pleasing way while also being tonally and narratively consistent throughout. We utilized the space in my home to reflect that. I live with my wife and our dog, but we thought to ourselves, ‘What would it look like if one person lived here?’ We shot on a Sony PMW-F55 with a bunch of different Rokinon Cine DS lenses. We used focal lengths from the whole range; 16mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm for the opening shots of the coffee mugs. Patrick set up the lights himself and we helped as needed. It was a three-person crew, not including our lead actor. We all got COVID tests before we shot, and once we got negative results, we were off to the races. I am used to shooting with small crews and having all hands on deck, so the only challenge here was remembering to keep our distances from each other. But other than that it was a surprisingly smooth shoot.
Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is it going next?
I hope that our film reaches a wide audience considering that the festival is available worldwide. And I hope it resonates with people and that they like it. Where the project is going next is anybody’s guess!
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
I think, once film festivals return to in person gatherings, making certain short films available online for a week or so after the festival ends would be a great way of increasing their reach nationally and globally.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
1) Always listen to your gut, and the gut of a few VERY trusted allies like friends, family, partner, professionals and so forth. If something doesn’t feel right, do not pursue it. If something does feel right, but it seems like nobody cares, still pursue it. At the end of the day, there is a lot you cannot control, but you CAN control what you do and who you have in your circle.
2) Be honest with yourself. Know your limitations as a creator and know that it is okay to not be amazing at everything. It is not an admission of a lack of skill to say “hey, I am not the best at this thing, but I know I am good at this other thing.”
3) Make sure you LOVE whatever it is you are doing creatively. Regardless of what other people think, if you really love something deep in your gut, you will be okay.
4) Cover your butt. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket. Have a lot of ideas, always be working on them, hustling to get them out there and get yourself employed. Managers and agents can help on your behalf, but having the mindset of ‘No one is going to care about this as much as me’ will only help you work harder and stand out more.
5) Watch a lot of movies and TV. Learn from as much as you can, both the good and the bad.
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
Madeleine Gottlieb’s SNARE. It spoke to me on a very personal level. But I also really love: the original Lights Out short film by David F. Sandberg; Kyle Laursen’s Josiah; Jim Cummings’ Thunder Road; Parker Seaman & Evan Scott’s Dancer Boy; and Mimi Cave & Parker Seaman’s I’m Happy, I Promise. There are of course still tons of short films I need to see as well!
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!