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SXSW Q&A: 'Things People Do' director Saar Klein

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Two-time Academy Award nominee Saar Klein (editor for Terrence Malick’s "The Thin Red Line" and Cameron Crowe’s "Almost Famous") will screen his first feature film "Things People Do" as a Narrative Spotlight North American Premiere during SWSW on March 7.

Klein recently answered a few questions about his project.

Tell us about your film "Things People Do"

It’s the story of Bill Scanlin, a middle class American, who finds himself out of a job after years of being a company man. Bill falls into desperation and descends into a life of crime. The crimes change his relationship to his family, his effectiveness in the world around him, and lead him to question his own moral code.

What inspired you to tell this story?

I have been fascinated with morality ever since I read "Crime and Punishment" in high school. During the economic crisis I started reading about ordinary people committing crimes; a grandmother arrested for robbing banks, law-abiding people pushed into a life previously unimaginable. Not everyone picks up a gun in time of desperation. I am fascinated by what it is about these people that allows them to cross that line.

I am also intrigued by the challenge of living morally in a complex world where there are no clear choices. A decision to help your own may hurt others. Doing what you think is right may mean sacrifices and great pain for your loved ones.

There is so much conflict in the world if one believes in the notion of good and bad, virtue and sin.

Tell us about your cast.

I was lucky to work with Wes Bentley, an unbelievably talented and generous actor. He infused the character of Bill with complexity and truth. There is a dangerous repression in his performance. It’s like observing a truck full of explosives on a bumpy road. You know that eventually there will be an explosion, but you don't know when. Wes is an actor that can go dark while maintaining his humanity, which was crucial to the film.

Jason Isaacs, who plays Frank, is equally brilliant. On the surface Frank is affable and friendly, but inside there is suffering and regret. At a dinner scene with Bill’s family, he is the life of the party, but with one quick private glance he exposes complete vulnerability.

The women in "Things People Do" were played by Vinessa Shaw and Haley Bennett – both extremely talented actresses. Vinessa plays Bill’s wife who senses that her husband is changing, but fights what she knows to be true with such nobility. Haley bringing vulnerable humanity to the role of bored convenience store girl.

The kids in the film are newcomers. I feel so lucky to have found such natural young performers.

How has working with directors such as Terrence Malick and Cameron Crowe affected your growth as a filmmaker?

Each director I have worked with has affected me in different ways and I’m not sure that I’m qualified to dissect and parse what I’ve learned from each one of them. I know that I’ve been lucky to enough to work with the best; there is no better school that one could wish for.

What are some important lessons you learned from working with them?

I have worked more recently with Malick; from him I learned not to try to control everything, but to allow things to unfold. The magic in cinema often happens when you make the room for unknowns, recognize when something beautiful or honest emerges and capture it.

What new projects do you have coming up that you can mention?

I am working on a script about a documentary filmmaker who is trying to capture love on film in order to try to dissect it and analyze his own failures. It’s a fiction/documentary mash up, and it’s called “The Nature of Love.”

And I’m always reading and looking for new scripts, and for writers to collaborate with.

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