I first saw Laura Colella’s delightful Breakfast with Curtis at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival and was blown away by its simple but winning premise. Syd (Theo Green) is an eccentric bookseller with delusions of grandeur. After Syd gets into an argument with Curtis (Gideon Parker), the young boy who lives next door, a huge rift develops between the two families. Five years later, with tensions still in the air, Syd asks Curtis (Jonah Parker), now a shy, introverted teen, to help him with a video project. The reluctant boy agrees and soon shows remarkable creativity and skill. Gradually, as Curtis emerges from his shell, old wounds begin to heal, past connections between the different characters are revealed, new ones are sparked and the power of community brings welcome changes for everyone. The film also stars David Parker and Virginia Laffey (Jonah and Gideon’s real-life parents), Adele Parker (David’s sister), Yvonne Parker (David and Adele’s mother), Aaron Jungels and Colella herself.
The homegrown nature of Breakfast with Curtis was borne out of frustration. Unable to get funding for a another script she had written, Colella started thinking about how she could make a movie with virtually no budget. For the past 15 years, the filmmaker/film professor has lived in an eclectic three-story house in Providence, Rhode Island, dubbed the “Purple Citadel.” She approached the three families who lived in the house along with a related family next door and proposed the idea of having them appear in a fictional film loosely based on their lives. They decided to give it a go. The fact that most of these folks weren’t actors and had never stepped foot in front of a camera didn’t faze Colella or her cast a bit.
The resulting film has been enchanting audiences at film festivals and screenings all over the country. Colella won the Jameson FIND Your Audience Award at the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards. Director Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) so fell in love with the film that he hosted a special screening of it in Los Angeles earlier this year. Following a successful New York run, the film opens tonight in Los Angeles and will be moving to a few other cities before becoming available on VOD and digital platforms in early 2014. I sat down with Laura Colella on the eve of the film’s L.A. release.
Danny Miller: Everyone I’ve ever talked to who’s seen the film wants to hang out at the Purple Citadel with you guys and have a few cocktails! What do you think there is about this community we see in the film that strikes such an emotional chord with audiences?
Laura Colella: It’s really amazing to me. I saw an article the other day by someone who had just seen the film. He said that he didn’t want to leave the theater after it was over. I’ve noticed that when I’ve gone to meet people at different places where the movie is playing. I’d be waiting outside the theater and I’d suddenly realize people were staying in their seats even after the credits were over which is pretty strange! I’m very excited about strangers having that kind of reaction to the film.
Why do you think audience members find life in the Purple Citadel so appealing? Were you surprised by that reaction?
I was never objective enough when we were making the film to think, “Oh, this is going to look like a really cool place to be!” It was just where I lived. But I did want to capture the feeling of what it’s like living there and I’m glad that people are so attracted to it. We’re constantly bombarded with this idea that we need to buy things to be happy — that happiness is found through wealth and consuming. I think this film is a kind of antidote to that! You really don’t need money to be happy. But it’s funny that people often talk about the “communal living” that’s represented in the film. It’s not communal living — we all have our separate spaces and we have lots of privacy when we want it. Believe me, I’m a very private person and I need my personal space and despite how much we like to hang out with each other, I’ve never felt any boundary issues there.
I couldn’t be more impressed by your cast of mostly non-actors. Did making this film give any of them the acting bug? What has been their overall experience with the film?
They’re all really happy with it. Every once in a while Theo (Syd) jokes that he needs to reshoot a scene. And Yvonne (Sadie) said she’d like to do it again because she’s lost 20 lbs. since we made the film! We always joke about making a sequel but it’s certainly not something I’m pursuing right now. But who knows? One idea I had was to make the next one a horror movie! (Laughs.) That would definitely change the vibe! Of course I don’t even watch horror movies so I’d have to do a lot of research!
How did Paul Thomas Anderson end up becoming such a champion of the film?
I went through the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Labs back in 2000 with my second feature, Stay Until Tomorrow. Paul was one of the advisors there at that time and he was very helpful to me with that project. We stayed in touch over the years and he came to see the film when it premiered at the L.A. Film Festival. He liked it so much that he offered to host a screening. I was like, “Wow, that would be great!” Time passed and then this year I finally followed up and said, “Hey, did you really want to do that?” So he did and it was a really magical night for me. We had a full house and a very responsive audience. It was a blast!
What film projects are you working on now?
Before I made Breakfast with Curtis I was working on a film that I’d like to go back to now. And I have another project that’s based on a play I wrote last year that I’d like to turn into a screenplay.
I know part of your impetus for making Breakfast with Curtis was the frustration you were having trying to fund that larger-budget project. Do you think you’re in a better position now to deal with those obstacles?
I think everybody has to face those obstacles. While Breakfast with Curtis may help, it’s certainly no guarantee that it will be easier for me to get my next film made. But the other project I mentioned is something I could do on a micro-budget. One of the best things that came from making this film is that I now feel like I’ll always have in my back pocket the idea that I can make something on my own. I didn’t have that before and it’s a great feeling. Thanks to Breakfast with Curtis, I feel like I’ll always be able to make a film if I really want to.
Breakfast with Curtis opens today in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent, 251 S. Main Street. Laura Colella will be introduce the film and participate in a Q&A following the 7:30 screening on Friday, December 20, 2013 and the 7:00 screening on Saturday, December 21. Click here to purchase tickets. The film will be available on VOD and digital platforms in early 2014.