For the past decade, Megan Griffiths has been an active member of the independent film community. She received her Master of Fine Arts in Film Production from Ohio University School of Film. While in school, Griffiths wrote, directed, and edited three award-winning short films. Her thesis film, “Not Waving but Drowning,” was a 2001 Student Academy Award nominee. Griffiths made her debut feature, “First Aid for Choking,” after relocating to Seattle, followed by the narrative shorts “Moving,” “Eros,” and the short documentary “KEXP: The B-Side.” She has produced such projects as the acclaimed 2007 Sundance documentary “Zoo,” and the upcoming, Sundance, absurdist, buddy-comedy, “The Catechism Cataclysm.” In 2010, Griffiths completed her second feature, “The Off Hours,” a film she also wrote. Starring Amy Siemetz as a restless small-town diner waitress, the all-star, indie cast of “The Off Hours” also includes Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”), Ross Partridge (“Baghead”) and Scoot McNairy (“Monsters”).
TAM: Greetings and thanks for this interview
Megan Griffiths: No problem.
TAM: So, you’re debuting your second feature film, “The Off Hours,” at the Northwest Film Festival, correct?
It premiered last week at the Seattle International Film Festival.
TAM: You’re originally from Ohio; how would you compare the film industry there compared to Seattle’s?
I was born in Ohio but moved away when I was six and didn’t come back until graduate school. I don’t know much about Ohio’s industry actually, since I was pretty focused on classes and student films during my years there. I can talk about Seattle’s industry though. I moved here right after film school and have been here eleven years. Over that time I’ve found it to be full of the most encouraging, supportive, talented people. I never meant to stay this long when I came originally – it just ended up being really hard to leave because I have always felt so at home here.
TAM: So, you’ve done some documentaries, tell us about them.
I was a co-producer on “ZOO,” which premiered at Sundance in 2007. It’s about the incident in Enumclaw where that man died from a perforated colon after a sexual experience with a horse. I really love that film. It takes a topic that could be salacious and offensive and turns it into a beautiful and non-judgmental look at the human beings involved.
TAM: How did the idea for the “The Off Hours” come about?
I was working the night shift for a couple of months at a local film lab and I was really having problems with the lack of human contact that resulted from working while other people were sleeping. I wondered what that might do to a person over long periods of time. I transferred it to a diner setting and began to create characters through which I could explore these kinds of themes.
TAM: What was it like working with the film star Amy Siemetz (“Wristcutters- A Love Story”), and how did you come to cast her?
Amy’s a really natural and honest performer. I was really fortunate to have her in the film. My friend, Lynn Shelton, introduced her to me over email and I sent the script and we started chatting on the phone about the role. Working with Amy (and the rest of the actors) on set was really an organic process. We would just run the scenes and make small changes whenever anything didn’t feel real. Everyone in this film was a complete and utter pleasure to be around. (By the way, Amy has the tiniest role in “Wristcutters” – I’d credit her with “A Horrible Way to Die” or “Alexander the Last”).
TAM: Is that just a local rumor that Reese Witherspoon was offered the role first?
That’s a rumor – she was never offered the role. Over the many years we spent trying to get the film made, we did have a few other actors attached to the project, but once this cast came together I knew it’s what it was supposed to be all along.
TAM: Let’s talk about location (my old favorite run down diner behind my apartments) How did you find it and decide this is the place!?
We looked for a diner for about five years, but it wasn’t until about three weeks before the shoot that one of our office PA’s mentioned Ed’s #1 in Burien. I drove over to check it out and fell in love. It had the look I was hoping for, and also felt like it was in the middle of nowhere (even though it’s about a ten minute drive from downtown Seattle). The owners let us use it with basically only one rule – don’t leave anything in worse shape than you found it. Because the place had been closed for a while, we actually had to repaint, bring back kitchen appliances and booths and generally stock the place up like a functioning diner. It was mountains of work for our art department, but I think that work shines through and brings a richness and beauty to that location that makes the film what it is.
TAM: Being such a tiny space (the diner) was in hard to get some of the shots you wanted?
We were somewhat limited, but I think we ended up getting a camera pretty much everywhere. The real challenge in that space was reflections, since three of the walls were floor-to-ceiling windows. They would have to light what was inside, light what was visible outside, and then go around and try to take care of all the reflections of our own lights that would appear in the diner’s windows. My DP Ben was pulling his hair out!
TAM: The other actors were amazing; how did you pick each one and decide which character they should play?
I did a lot of casting by watching other indie films over the years and just taking notes. I saw Ross Partridge in the Duplass Bros movie “Baghead,” and then I heard rave reviews about him in Steven Schardt and Sean Nelson’s “Treatment,” which shot just before me. So, my DP Ben introduced me to Ross via text message and we were off and running. Scoot McNairy was recommended to me by Lynn Shelton, who was not only an actress in “The Off Hours,” but also a consulting producer. They had met at the Indie Spirit Awards and Lynn had been looking for a way to include Scoot in one of her own movies, so when I was asking her advice she gave me his name and his email and I sent him the script out of the clear blue sky. He read and liked it and then agreed to come to Seattle for the shoot, which at that point was just weeks away. Bret Roberts was a friend of Scoot’s, but also someone I had met years before (in 2007) when we were originally trying to get the film off the ground. My producer Joy Saez recommended him for the role of Ty way back then. It was such a piece of luck that he and Scoot were close friends, because I think their dynamic on screen is really enhanced by that history. As far as local casting, I called Tony Doupe right away after making the decision to move forward. I’d worked with him on a bunch of Seattle movies and thought he would bring a lot of humanity to the Stu role. We held an open call for many of the other roles and I found Walter Dalton (Levi), Madeline Anderson (Jenny) and Gergana Mellin (Jelena) that way, as well as most of the supporting cast. We were amazed at the fabulous level of talent of the people who came through the doors at our auditions. Gergana was probably the most exciting discovery, since we never imagined we’d find someone so right for the difficult role of Jelena right here in the Northwest!
TAM: Have you or will you collaborate with any other Seattle film makers?
I’ve been working in the Seattle film community for over a decade and have collaborated with almost every Seattle filmmaker in one way or another. It’s an amazing community and I hope to continue working to make it even stronger.
TAM: Who are some of your favorite northwestern film makers?
Obviously, I love Lynn Shelton. She’s a close friend of mine but I’m also a genuine fan of her films because I think she is able to capture an emotional honesty that many filmmakers can’t achieve. I think SJ Chiro is also doing great work, and I love the short films of Matt Daniels.
TAM: Also, any favorite films that were specifically either filmed in Seattle or based in the Northwest?
I think “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle” is an awesome film. “Zoo” is a beautiful film as well. I produced a film last year called “The Catechism Cataclysm,” which is hilarious and deeper than most people give it credit for. And “Humpday” of course.
TAM: What do you think of films such as “Twilight” or TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” being filmed in a fictional northwestern setting?
When it comes to production, the bottom line will always be a determining factor. Until we can create an environment in Washington where these production companies can spend less and get the same quality, we won’t get them to come to town. We had an incentive program until recently that was working to attract those larger projects. Unfortunately, it wasn’t renewed in the last legislative session. Unless we can collectively get that incentive program back up and running and improve upon it, we’ll likely see plenty of other projects with a Northwest setting heading to Vancouver or Portland.
TAM: Which film makers, local or otherwise do you find under rated?
I love Nicole Holofcener’s work and wish she made more movies. I thought “Blue Valentine” was amazing and the performances in it were two of the best I’ve seen in ages. That movie got some recognition for Michelle Williams, but the director and Ryan Gosling were horribly overlooked in my opinion.
TAM: What inspired “The Off Hours?” Where do you typically find inspiration for your films?
I usually get inspired by observing people and trying to figure them out. When I started working on “The Off Hours” script, I was noticing a lot of people in my life that were making compromises and giving up on their ambitions in order to pay rent and feel more secure. The jobs they were taking and the lives they were living didn’t inspire them, and they didn’t seem to have anything outside of their day jobs that filled that void. I think this is unfortunately very common throughout the country, and I really wanted to explore what landed people in these unrewarding circumstances.
TAM: Are you a bigger fan of the book or movie when a movie version of a really good book comes out?
I think the problem with translating a book into a film is that good books are all about language and how ideas are conveyed through word choices and descriptive passages. I think, so often when a book is translated all of that is ignored and it becomes all about the story. On rare occasions the style and poetry of the writing is incorporated and the translation feels more complete.
TAM: Your movie is so laid back compared to these new “shock” flicks; what do you think of those sort of films?
I’m not really driven by genre so much as by character. If a film has complex characters and performances that pull me in, it doesn’t matter if it’s a horror, comedy, action or drama – I’m sold. On the other hand, if there’s no honesty or humanity to it, not so much.
TAM: Speaking of the term “Indie,” is it important for you that indie films stay under the radar to keep their reputation or become classics, such as “Trainspotting” did?
I think it’s important to the “indie” business that there are breakout hits. If there wasn’t the promise of breaking out, getting independent films made at all would be much harder. There’s always the hope that they film will find a wide audience, and that kind of drives the whole movement in a way. I don’t know any filmmakers that would say that they don’t want people to watch their films – they aren’t making films so that the finished product becomes a paperweight on their bookshelf. If there were no audience there would be no point.
TAM: How important are soundtracks in a film to you?
I’m very sensitive to music in film and I get easily annoyed if a film uses music that is overly manipulative, but I love it when films use music well and are able to enhance the action or tone without directing the audience how they should be feeling at any given moment.
TAM: How long did it take you to write “The Off Hours?”
I worked on the script for many years on and off. It would be difficult to figure out exactly how many weeks or months I spent all told, but I can say that it definitely went through plenty of revisions over the years.
TAM: What are your plans for the future?
I’m directing a film called EDEN in August of this year which will be shot in Washington. Hopefully you’ll be hearing about that. I think it’ll be a good one.
For more information on Megan Griffiths and her films, check out these links:
Review by Kim Acrylic