SXSW Interview: Actors Josh Barrett and Marc Menchaca Talk About Their Feature Film Debut as Co-Directors of ‘This Is Where We Live’
Josh Barrett and Marc Menchaca are two actors who are doing things right. They’re not waiting for someone – their agents, managers, whoever – to call them. They took their careers into their own hands and made a really nice film called, This Is Where We Live.
Josh and Marc met and became friends while they were filming HBO’s Generation Kill in Africa. When that ended, they kept in touch, helping each and with auditions. But, with acting not the most secure business in the world, they both separately branched out and started writing and directing. Marc eventually wrote the script for This Is Where We Live, contacted Josh and the two decided to go all in and make the film. They would end up co-directing and Marc would be the star.
The film, which screened at SXSW, is set in Texas and has Marc playing Noah, a local handyman. He’s hired by a family to build a wheelchair ramp for the families son, August (Tobias Segal), who has cerebral palsy. Noah and August form a bond and from that, lives are changed. The writing is great, the actors are pretty damn perfect and as directors, Marc and Josh definitely have a bright future. Check it out if you get a chance.
I talked to both Marc and Josh after SXSW ended about why they decided to grab the reigns of their careers as they put it and make the film. We also talked about how co-directing worked, directing the actors and their advice to others who want more out of their careers.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
How’s the reception to the film been?
Josh Barrett: Really good. I mean, people have had a great response to it. I think that it can sort of be framed in a way that people may think that it’s a heavy topic but it’s actually, you know, quite an uplifting story and light. And I think people sort of leave enthused by it. So we’ve been very happy with the response. Everybody seems to like it a lot.
You guys are both actors?
Josh Barrett: Yeah, we met… Alexa Fogel cast us in Generation Kill and we met in Africa and we hadn’t worked together since as actors, but we used to help each other with auditions and coach each other when things were coming up. And then both of us sort of wanting to take our careers by the reigns a little bit… it’s tough as an actor waiting around for work and when you get work you might not even like it that much. So we just sort of both started independently writing and directing stuff and then, you know, Marc wrote this script and brought me on so it was just a great opportunity for us to sort of try something new.
Marc, how’d you get the idea for the script?
Marc Menchaca: Originally, I mean, it all kind of sprung from this relationship that I had with a friend of mine who has cerebral palsy. And I just… that relationship is, I’ve known him for 12 or 13 years now, and it just became a very important relationship in my life. I always just thought how neat it was that my friend with cerebral palsy, his name’s Thomas, how much he spoke through not really even speaking at all.
When did you guys decide to actually work together on this project?
Josh Barrett: Well, we have another buddy of ours named Ben Fuqua who’s the producer on the film and he went to film school and he’s real hungry to get something done and so he just started sort of putting the things in place for us so that we could get into production. So he really did a fantastic job. I mean, the guy doesn’t sleep seems like. And he sort of gave us this opportunity.
Was the script already in the works when the opportunity came or is it the other way around?
Josh Barrett: It was. I mean, the script had begun and Ben decided that he was gonna make this happen, but I would say that we… Marc kept writing, we were writing on the script up until and during shooting. So it was still being developed that whole time.
Marc Menchaca: I started writing back in, I guess, 2010 and then by the middle of 2011, Ben was already getting the wheels rolling on it. He started going after investors and then we were raising money, getting money, as the script was being finished. So it was definitely a learning experience for all of us, but great.
How did co-directing come about?
Josh Barrett: Well, it originally started because when Marc was writing the script he was going to direct it himself and as it was going on he was bouncing drafts off of me and I was giving him notes and sort of helping him shape his ideas. And Ben, the producer, took me aside one night when we were at the bar and just said, “Look, I really appreciate the work you put into this. Would you mind coming down to help out?” And, you know, obviously neither one of us had done it before. When we got down there we really worked in tandem just to make sure that we sort of covered all the bases that directors are supposed to be doing.
Marc Menchaca: And Josh, I mean, Josh knew the story well just from the drafts that I was sending him. So he knew the story and so it was just, I don’t know, just kind of ended up being a perfect fit to bring him on. I personally have issues with directing other actors while I’m working with them, and I just knew that Josh would have a good eye and be able to get the story done while we were working.
Josh Barrett: And then I think another aspect of that as well that Marc’s script… one of the things I love about the script is that he doesn’t feel the necessity to sort of mail home exposition every single second, that you have this sort of fly on the wall where you sort of are just thrown into a situation, you have to figure out what’s going on. And I think the fact that I had sort of been by his side a little bit while he was writing it, I had a much better perspective of sort of back story and sub story so that when we got there we hit the ground running, it wasn’t like a director that came in out of nowhere and now he’s gonna have to get used to the way that the story was written.
Marc, when you were acting and, Josh, you were behind the camera, how did the dynamic work between you guys? Who set up the shots and who sort of talked and took the actors aside?
Josh Barrett: I mean, probably… Noah, the character Noah, Marc’s character, is in a lot of the film. And so a lot of times when it came to setting up shots and stuff, it was me and a wonderful cinematographer, Ryan Booth, that we had with us. So I sort of would take the helm there, but there was definitely a lot of moments… I mean, it was interesting because a lot of times I would have to talk to Marc about what was going on and I would take him aside and I’d say, “Alright, right now I’m talking to you as a director because we need to figure out how we’re doing the scene.” Or, “Right now I’m talking to you as a writer because there’s an issue in this scene that we need to address.” Or, “Right now I’m talking to you as an actor because we just did this take and we might want to adjust this here and here and here.” And that was really fun for me and that was one of the most exciting parts of it.
But Marc and I sort of worked on auditions together and talked about our careers and we’ve sort of seen each other come up, so we, you know, I felt very familiar with Marc as an actor and that helped a lot.
For actors, do you recommend for them to take the reigns and do what you guys did?
Josh Barrett: I mean, I think it’s different by actor, definitely. But I think the type of artist that Marc and I are, it’s tough to sort of wait around for things to happen and I think that both of us, and Marc can say I’m wrong if you want to, but I think that both of us have these experiences and creating your own work is an entirely fulfilling experience in a way that just being a cog in somebody else’s is not.
I don’t think both of us are gonna… we’ll both continue to pursue acting, but I think while we’re doing that I don’t think there’s a chance that either one of us are gonna stop trying to create our own work now because it just gives you something you can’t get anywhere else.
Marc Menchaca: Yeah, I think it’s artistically fulfilling and I think Josh would say this, I’m assuming that he would agree with me, that when you… writing is such a good tool for opening up the imagination. I think it’s critical for me now that I’ve started doing it. I feel like it just opens up so many doors to the, you know, to your creativity and what you wanna do.
What is your advice to actors?
Josh Barrett: I mean, I think that I would say that, first of all, I know how difficult it is and I think that it’s just finding the way to sort of put your head down, have your own thing going, your own projects that you’re trying to create, and really just push forward with that. You’ll gain so much from it when you even do go back to being hired for somebody else’s gig. That sort of act of self creation is only very positive for the creative experience for an artist in general.
Marc Menchaca: I guess that the old saying, “Work begets work.” What I’ve learned from this is that it’s hard, I think, it’s hard to be happy as an actor a lot of times because you’re constantly looking for work. And I think that if you can, you know, if you can find a way that you can be fulfilled artistically when you’re not working all the time, whether it’s through writing or directing or just working on anything that you can, that’s kind of what I’ve come away with it. If I’m able to do this kind of stuff, whether it’s… whatever budget we have, I feel like this has fulfilled me artistically more than anything that I’ve done so far. So, yes, make your own work. I guess.