With his fifth film “Results,” Andrew Bujalski moves from tiny budgets to slightly bigger ones. It’s a rom-com with production values and name actors, including Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce as personal trainers and Kevin Corrigan as one of their clients. But it’s anything but normal. In a way, it’s as much an experiment for Bujalski as his rich and strange “Computer Chess,” even if it sometimes, though not always, gives off the nice indie film vibes.
What came first: the idea or the budget?
I didn’t have money in hand till the day before we shot, but with anything I’ve done, I guess that’s part of the conception. Any filmmaker has to think a little pragmatically. Anything I conceive of — and I might be wrong — but I’m always thinking a little bit in terms of what kinds of resources we’re talking about, how much money, or whatever it is. Certainly the idea was to go do something around this approximate budget range.
With independent film, it seems, you have to think if what you write is affordable. The budget often dictates what you put in the script.
It can or it can’t. You don’t want to get too trapped by that. You don’t want to let that stifle you. Something like “Computer Chess” was such a flight of fancy, and something that was conceived of without any practical idea of how it would ever get made. When it came time to actually do it, it was like, “F—, this is a period piece with 30 speaking roles and I’m going to shoot it on an experimental technology we haven’t figured out yet?” Nothing about that was practical. This was one where I thought we’ll shoot in Austin, we’ll keep it contained. But everything ends up being more difficult than you think it’s going to be. There’s a ton of locations in this movie. That was one of the harder things from a practical standpoint. Our schedule was really tough because we had to go to four places a day, because that’s how I wrote it, because I thought that would be fun. You have to keep an eye on those practical things, but if you get too focused on them you’re going to shut down creative avenues.
You’ve previously mostly cast your films with friends and filmmakers. What was the motivation to move into the world of professional actors?
It was something I had planned on getting around to at some point in this lifetime. It was a challenge, and I’m still wrapping my head around it. Everything I’ve done, one way or another, is this idea of let me kick out the crutches. Whatever allowed me to get away with the last one artistically, what if I get rid of that? What’s left? This one I got rid of a lot of what I thought I had learned in the last 15 years. Let’s see if I still have a voice? That’s part of it. Part of it’s that experimentation. The other part is: maybe I could get paid five figures? I have two kids and I have a mortgage. It’s a tough thing to talk about, because I hate saying I need to earn some money, because the last thing I want to do is diminish the inspiration I was drawing from everyone and the work they did. I was so thrilled to work with these “professional Hollywood people.” They were such committed performers, and it’s everything you want, whether they’re professional actors or not. I just want someone who wants to be there and wants to put their head together with mine and make something. On the other hand, I hate it when I see people in this situation who don’t admit they have to make money [laughs]. So I have to say it. I’m trying to compensate for everyone who doesn’t say it.
It’s strange to talk about money, especially with low budget films, because you don’t want to put a price tag on art.
Part of the reason you [make films] is you’re interested in adapting to challenges. It’s not an art form for perfectionists. Maybe David Fincher aside. You have to love grappling with s— that is outside your control. And that’s the fun of it. The financial part is another lament. At worst it can be anti-creative, because when you get into the money world the answers all tend to be the same. It gets very f—ing boring, which is why a lot of movies are very f—ing boring. With this we kept the financial stakes low enough that I still had as much room as I could hope for to maneuver. I was very happy; the financiers we had weren’t stepping on my toes. We could make our movie the way we wanted to make it.
How much history did you have with the fitness world before deciding to make a film about it?
Not much! It’s full of characters, like any subculture. In a weird way there is some overlap with the subculture we had in “Computer Chess.” The programmer obsession with optimization in their programs has seeped into the culture at large. There’s something very human about this idea of wanting to optimize everything in your life and thinking that’s possible. In some ways it’s quite nice. People gain a lot from dedication, whether it’s eating right or whatever. But it’s human nature to think that’s going to solve all your problems. It doesn’t, and there’s a lot of foibles there we can exploit for drama and comedy.
The script has this habit of going in unexpected directions. How worried were you that it’s not always so easy to predict?
It’s got an eccentric structure. I worried about it. I worried if I would be able to sell this, or if the audience would accept taking this digression or that. They’re not even digressions; it just goes down strange routes. It’s built very unlike conventional romantic comedies, although I am borrowing a lot of the energy, I hope, from those movies. I don’t know, it made sense to me. With anything I’ve ever written I encounter things where I wonder if I’m going to get away with this or that. You always have a moment of doubt and think, “Should I just scrap that and do it the normal way?” I can’t because that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m doing this. There’s something about this weird way of doing it that’s at the core of why I’m sitting here in the first place. I need to see this through. And then you go and release the movie, and people think it’s weird. And you go, “OK. But I had to do it. I had no choice.”