'The Spectacular Now' director on 'getting' teens and not preaching
James Ponsoldt, director of "Smashed" and "The Spectacular Now," talks avoiding festival parties, trying to understand teens and drinking in sixth grade.
Director James Ponsoldt follows up last year's acclaimed look at alcoholism, "Smashed," with "The Spectacular Now," based on the young adult novel by Tim Tharp about a live-for-the-moment popular high school senior (Miles Teller) with a burgeoning drinking problem. The film was the toast of Sundance and has kept Ponsoldt on a steady festival tour since then, something he's not necessarily complaining about.
How do you develop new projects while doing this months-long festival tour?
I've been working continuously. I have my laptop with me constantly. I'm too ADD to say, "Hey, here's 45 minutes, I'm going to dive in." I kind of need a three-hour window. But I've gotten better at it. With a lot of these festivals, I don't necessarily go to all the parties. I try to get to bed before midnight. I've been trying to get up earlier and earlier. Say something starts at 10 a.m. — I'll usually be up by 5:30 or 6 and try to get three hours of writing in every day if I can, and if I have a day off I'll just use it as best I can. It is hard. Travel, at least for me, really screws up your internal rhythm.
Did you have any trouble "getting" teenagers today?
I've read every think-piece about "how has the Internet changed things." Emotionally, internally? We're the same. I think the Internet does democratize things and does change things, but just because you can tweet at someone or send a direct message doesn't mean you can't still be romantic and still be proactive.
So what's in the main character's flask?
I think it's whiskey. Growing up in Athens, me and my friends started drinking a lot in sixth grade. We did drink hard booze, but it was by a circumstance where we had a Thermos that on Monday you get the thermos and on that night you would raid your parents' liquor cabinet and just fill it up with a little bit of everything and then just put Kool-Aid in there, and we'd all drink it at lunch. So it's a bunch of hard liquor and fruit punch.
You've got a knack for dealing with alcoholism in film without being preachy.
I mean, do you trust people who say they have a message for you? Probably no. I mean, neither do I. I think social issue movies are the worst. It's such an abstraction. It's not about a character, it's not about a story. I don't think I'm in a position to judge anyone, nor do I want to, and I think it makes for horrifically bad storytelling. It just seems cynical and mean-spirited.