Demetri Martin misses New York. Yes, he misses the actual city, having been a native New Yorker who relocated to Los Angeles in 2009. But the comic, actor, "Daily Show" alum and now — with the indie comedy “Dean,” which just premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival — film director is also beside himself about the places he finds have disappeared every time he returns. He misses Yaffa Cafe, the East Village standby which shuttered in 2014. He misses how what was once the dirty, wonderful Bowery has gone almost entirely upscale.
“It’s a little but shocking how much it changes when you leave New York,” Martin tells us. “It’s like watching a nephew or a son grow. When you’re with them every day you can’t tell how tall they’re getting. Then you don’t see them for six months.”
He has little time for milling about the city, however, because he has to talk about “Dean,” which Martin — who, by the way, is a seriously youthful-looking 42 — wrote, directed and starred in. The film follows an illustrator whose mother has recently died. Partly to clear his head, he heads out to L.A. and winds up in an ambiguous courtship with a local (played by Gillian Jacobs).
Film directing is new to Martin, but at least he’s had some great bosses. Among his acting credits include a bit part in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic saga “Contagion” and the lead in Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock.” On both he would carefully watch how they worked: Lee methodical, Soderbergh lightning fast yet scarily precise. (The crew on “Contagion” told Martin they moved so quickly they’d often bang out each day’s shots before lunch.)
“Even back then I wanted to direct. I wanted to tell stories, to take my sensibility and see if I can put it into a narrative that’s not just one-liners,” Martin explains. He was often worried that he’d get on set unprepared, not sure what he wanted.
“It turned out I had specific ideas — more than I expected,” Martin says. He found himself naturally able to think about how to find visual ways to sell comedy. He knew when he wanted a conversation scene to be filmed so that both people are in the frame, not cutting from close-up to close-up. “I want the viewer’s eye to travel in the conversation. I don’t want to take their head and go, ‘Look at her, look at him.’”