Claudia Leisinger

June 16-22nd 2008


Forget multi-million dollar, A-list-starring lame comedies, this year’s bittersweet treat comes from a no-budget Texan filmmaking collective who took on Hollywood on its own turf. Pucker up as the filmmaker and cast behind the year’s best romance take Leigh Singer In Search of a Midnight Kiss.

Shooting the breeze with three of the stars and the writer-director of cult US romantic-comedy In Search of a Midnight Kiss feels eerily like you’ve somehow entered the movie itself. The same quickfire banter pings around the group, each in turn almost democratically becoming the butt of the joke; the humour flips between lavatorial gags and drawing room sophistication, much like the film; and there’s the wired yet poignant undercurrent born of a group of filmmakers who gambled on their own talent and came up trumps.

You may not yet know the names Alex Holdridge, Sara Simmonds, Brian McGuire or Scoot McNairy (though you’re unlikely to forget the last one in a hurry); but take a chance on them, as they did on themselves, and you’re in for one of the freshest, frankest and funniest onscreen dissection of modern relationships in many a year, as a New Year’s Eve date set up online between lovelorn, disaffected writer Wilson (McNairy) and flighty, feisty Vivian (Simmonds) leads to a year-end odyssey for intimacy as the clock strikes twelve.

Kicking off with a cracking scene of Photoshopped sexual embarrassment, writer-director Alex Holdridge, aided by his thoroughly engaging leads, steadily draws you into the emotionally fraught world of Wilson, Vivian and their friends. It’s all the more impressive given the plethora of earnest, would-be amusing indie twenty-something relationship dramas clogging up the festival circuit like deadwood every year.

“In the indie-world dialogue-heavy movies about relationships are typically incredibly boring but they’re common because they’re cheap to make,” acknowledges Holdridge. “At the same time, romantic comedies that are done well are amazing and speak so honestly about things. I always wanted this to be funny and charming and a little bit bawdy, be a bit of a sneak attack, with the comedy being a bit of a device to get at the drama.”

You could view the entire film as a surprise assault on Hollywood. Shot on-the-fly in downtown Los Angeles, Holdridge and his team pulled off the near-impossible: a feature film for $12,000, funded chiefly on credit cards, shot in just over two weeks (with a few days additional shooting months later). Apparently their friend and cinematographer Robert Murphy turned up to test a High Definition camera, presuming he might shoot a short film with his pals. In the week or so between agreeing to come and arriving, Holdridge had actually written a 130-page script and meant to film it all.

“From the minute we were shooting it felt like this was going to be good,” remembers McGuire, who plays Wilson’s laidback joker roommate Jacob. “Watching dailies it really felt like we’d got something here,” agrees McNairy. “It made it so much more exciting to stay up late and work hard.” Their initial reactions have been validated around the world at festivals from New York’s Tribeca to Edinburgh.

McNairy, McGuire and Simmonds have all appeared in Holdridge’s earlier features and the group are all part of an ad-hoc collective of filmmakers originally based in Austin, Texas, who moved out West to make it in Hollywood. As such, there’s a large element of autobiography in their tale. McGuire did actually live with Holdridge in the very apartment where the film was shot. Holdridge did date a girl who photographed abandoned shoes on the streets, as Vivian does in the film. Which only begs more comparisons to other fictional parallels – what about, for example, their own use of the website ‘craigslist’ , where Wilson places his personal ad?

“I’ve never done any online dating,” says the pretty blonde Simmonds adamantly. “I’m on MySpace and stuff – “ “It’s the same thing,” the roguish McNairy kids his onscreen partner, “to connect with “friends”…” Before she can fire back, McGuire pipes up, “I have dated online - lots of people, actually. I kind of got obsessed with it for a while.” Anything serious? Deadpans McNairy instantaneously, “There was a marriage…”

And how about New Year’s Eve? Is it the big forced emotional pressure point the film suggests? “I hate New Year’s Eve,” says Simmonds straight out, “the idea that if tonight sucks, then my entire year is going to suck.” “I feel that everybody at whatever event I’m at on New Year’s Eve is having so much more fun than I am,” admits McGuire ruefully, “and I’m beating myself up inside thinking about why I’m not laughing like everybody else.”

Many reviewers have noted that the film’s artful, classically-composed black-and-white shots of downtown LA – many locations discovered on local walkabouts by Simmonds and Holdridge - give the city an elegance rarely bestowed on its city centre. “It’s such a paradox, these glorious locations and great establishments but they’re gutted and turned into cheap electronic stores and skid row,” Holdridge observes. “It’s such a beautiful dichotomy that represents LA in general.”

Regardless of the upkeep of the neighbourhoods where they filmed, shooting without anything even vaguely resembling a permit kept everybody on their toes, dodging grocery store security guards and subway conductors. Here low-budget, small-scale filmmaking was actually a boon, particularly the ever-diminishing size of technology. “All the gear was lining my jacket so we just had a tiny little camera,” smiles Holdridge. “And if anyone asked, we would say we were shooting a wedding video.”

Now that the results have been so successful, it’s easy to forget just what a chance Holdridge and company were taking. ““I left my manager and my agent cos they totally advised me not to make this film,” points out McNairy. “[Alex] left his manager as well.” “It wasn’t like we sold a script to Sony,” adds Holdridge. “Everybody’s chipping in; you’re holding a boom [mic] and then you’re acting. Having that sense of camaraderie is just invaluable.”

So visiting LA now, would we see the Midnight Kiss posse cruising around together in their convertibles much like the characters in Swingers, an earlier indie breakout hit to which they’ve been compared? “Yeah,” counters McNairy, with that ace comic timing, “but in one car.”

In Search of a Midnight Kiss is out on June 13th

'© The Big Isue 2008. No material may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.'