“PAINT” is a new movie by writer and director Michael Walker that takes viewers inside the comedic and often surreal world of young aspiring artists and/or art school students who are struggling to get by in Brooklyn. Darkly funny, the movie chronicles the difficulties in selling work and getting discovered. It is also a tale of tumultuous friendships and intergenerational romances.
The stellar cast includes Josh Caras of “The Glass Castle,” Olivia Luccardi of “The Deuce,” Paul Cooper of “Westworld” and Amy Hargreaves of “13 Reasons Why”. Director Michael Walker recently discussed this film and his career via a exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in movies and did you start writing or directing first?
Michael Walker (MW): As long as I can remember. I wanted to be an actor until around 9 or 10 years old when I started to realize that there were people who actually made these things. I was always writing stories. I went to film school, but that was what I had always wanted to do.
MM: What sorts of stories most interest you and how do you pick your themes?
MW: I like a lot of different types of movies, and I’m pretty open as to what types of stories interest me. It’s hard to say how these things come together in your mind. It starts with a general idea, like I want to do something about artists, and then characters or a story start to stick in my head, and then, gradually the themes build up around them, coming from the story or from what I see in the world around me. And eventually I start writing.
MM: How did you break into the entertainment industry?
MW: I don’t think I’ve ever broken into the entertainment industry. I don’t have an agent or manager. After I finish a script, I have to figure out how to get it made. It’s like opening a new restaurant every time.
MM: Why do you prefer to stay in New York instead of LA? What does New York offer to filmmakers?
MW: I didn’t like living in LA. All people talked about there were movies and the business. After a while, it gets tiring talking about the same thing in the same way. It was always about how much money a film made, or who was hot at the time. I like meeting people who do different things, and have different opinions. I wasn’t getting that out there. Maybe it was me but
New York has everything. It has all walks of life, every business, rich, poor. You’re out on the street or in the subway with people. New York has the best actors anywhere, the best theater, the best of most things. It’s more fun. LA is prickly and people can’t laugh at themselves there.
MM: How did you come up with the idea for “Paint”? For instance, you involved with the art world?
MW: I was never involved with the art world, although I know people in the art world, and I know a lot of artists. And I’m a filmmaker, so I’m an artist. The main impetus was the idea that success in life isn’t just about how well you do something. I assume that all of the artists in the movie are talented artists, but being able to paint well isn’t going to get them success. There are all these other talents, like being able to sell yourself, that you either have or have to pick up along the way. Some of these talents you are born with, some you learn by paying your dues, and some just aren’t who you are as a person.
MM: How long did it take to write the script and shoot the movie?
MW: “Paint” was a TV pilot before it was a film. The pilot played at Sundance in 2018. When it didn’t get picked up, I rewrote the script as a feature, using what we had shot already. I had written four episodes of the TV show and had an outline for where I wanted the story to go. The feature used some of that, but it had to be made into more of a film. So, it’s hard to say how long it took me to write. But I’ve been working on and off on “Paint” for a few years at least.
We shot the pilot in 4 days and the film in 14, so 18 days.
MM: The characters are really distinctive, fleshed out, and multidimensional. Are any of the characters or situations based on truth?
MW: The characters are based on me and people I know or have known. Dan wants to be darker. No one ever said I should be darker, but I have a healthy dose of middle-class guilt. Kelsey knows her art is good, but has no idea how to present herself or how to sell it. I can identify with that. I’m sure a lot of people can. Quinn is probably the best artist among them, but he has no idea how to get his life together or pay the rent. Austin is that guy who made it right out of school who we all measure our success against. None of them are autobiographical, but I’ve had the same feelings and situations in my life and I’m sure most people have too.
MM: How did you secure this stellar cast and how did you find all the filming locations?
MW: Mostly, they all came in and auditioned. There were a few, like Austin Pendleton and Amy Hargreaves, that I had to approach. I went around with my Associate Producer, Susan Gomes, to tons of bars and restaurants and asked if we could shoot there. We had a location manager help us with the apartments, which were the hardest to find. And there were a few artist spaces that were very generous, like the Art Students League of New York, where we shot the opening scene. You just have to keep looking and calling and asking. One of the great things about New York is all the great places to shoot.
MM: What’s your favorite part of the movie and why?
MW: I don’t know if I have a favorite part, but I love the scene when Conner tells Kelsey the story about his dad. It has this old glamorous Hollywood feel to it, with one long shot and two great performances, telling this really weird story. I love that.
MM: What have your other films been about and why do you so easily switch between genres?
MW: I like most genres of movies, so I don’t discriminate in the films I make. Sometimes in my films the genres get mixed up a bit. My first film, “Chasing Sleep,” was a psychological thriller with Jeff Daniels about a guy whose wife doesn’t come home and he starts to come apart in his house, as his house does too. I did an office comedy called “Price Check” with Parker Posey.
MM: How do you envision this company — and the New York film scene in general — evolving over the next five years?
MW: I just try to make my films. I think it will take a year or two for everyone to figure out where we are after this pandemic is over.
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
MW: I would love to get my budgets up.
For more information about the film visit https://www.pangofilms.com.