‘Sunlight Jr.’ director Laurie Collyer on working with name stars

Filmmaker Laurie Collyer's latest is the working class indie "Sunlight Jr." Credit: Getty Images
Filmmaker Laurie Collyer’s latest is the working class indie “Sunlight Jr.”
Credit: Getty Images

In 2006, filmmaker Laurie Collyer made the indie “Sherrybaby,” starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as an ex-heroin addict trying to re-enter society. Due to a number of factors, it’s taken her seven years to make another indie starring name actors playing the working class. In “Sunlight Jr.,” Naomi Watts plays Melissa, a convenience store clerk who lives in a hotel with her paraplegic boyfriend (Matt Dillon). Their meager lifestyle is upended when she winds up pregnant.

Was this a story you had read or heard about somewhere?

I think I dreamt this story, to tell you the truth. When I made “Sherrybaby,” I was pregnant. After it I took a minute off, which translated into a few years, so I could be a mommy. But then I couldn’t come up with any original stories. I had a moment of extreme disillusionment, and I was thinking I should just be a social worker. The night after I got the application to NYU’s School of Social Work, I woke up and said I have one more story to tell. It was about this woman who works in a convenience store and she lives in a motel with a guy who’s paraplegic, and they get pregnant. I just rattled off the whole thing.

What inspired this subject specifically?

I think it was inspired by different things I had been reading on my own. There was “Nickels and Dimes” by Barbara Ehrenreich. The milieu of this story was very connected to that book. I had traveled in the west to Wyoming and Nevada, and there was one woman working in a convenience store. She became the model for Melissa. I didn’t know her at all. There was just this residue of things I had been reading and concerns I had about what was happening in our country.

It definitely isn’t a rosy portrait of a couple. They might even be bad for each other.

I don’t think that you should walk away thinking they’re doomed, necessarily, but it was never my intention to tell a love story in which love triumphs over everything. Or that their relationship is destined to go on forever. That’s not real life, especially for these characters.

What about the role of alcoholism in the film, where unemployed characters spend their days drinking?

It’s escape. It’s a web. Addiction is part of this web you get trapped in when there’s so much hopelessness. When you’re so out of control, the only control you can get is to make yourself more out of control.

You also worked with Maggie Gyllenhaal on “Sherrybaby.” How do you get pretty big-name actors to get into the working class vibe?

I had less time with Naomi in prep [than with Maggie]. With Maggie I could send her off with all these real life “characters.” I sent Maggie off with someone who had literally just gotten released from prison the day before I met her. Naomi’s a very busy actress. She’s also a mom. I gave her a very extensive character bio. I wrote Melissa’s life from the moment she was born until the minute the story begins. It was six pages, single-spaced. But when she got to set she just melted into the role. With Matt I did have him the way I had Maggie. He came to Florida first. He had worked in New York with a wheelchair consultant. He learned how to get in and out of spaces both in the chair and from the chair into the car or onto the bed. It was very intensive.

Do you get intimidated around actors of their stature?

I think between Matt and Naomi they’ve made over 100 movies. This is my third. I just learn from them.

What is the independent film scene like now, especially compared to when you made “Sherrybaby”?

You have less money now. I know that going from “Sherrybaby” to “Sunlight Jr.” we had a smaller budget. At least for the kinds of stories I want to tell, there’s less financing. There’s also this new microbudget thing that happens. I feel really funny about people working non-union. I appreciate a movie that was made lean and the director had complete creative control, and you can feel it and taste it when you watch it. But at the same time I just worry about the labor part of it, because we all need our benefits. Some of us have kids. It’s a profession. These are craft people. They work really hard. They work long hours. They travel a ton. And they should be making enough money to save a little and have benefits. It’s not a hobby.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

NBA

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.