Director Robert Byington's fourth film, Harmony and Me, possibly the highest rated independent film on Rotten Tomatoes, is now available for download on Netflix along with his film RSO (Registered Sex Offender), which Byington describes as Harmony's bastard cousin.
Byington and I discussed his filmmaking process via video-chat--an exchange that was rendered un-linkable when Byington, an old friend, only agreed to show the bottom half of his face to the camera. Here is what came of my discussion with his chin. Since there are spoilers ahead--and by spoilers I mean that we dissect the entire film--best to download and watch it first.
Robert Byington: I don't see Harmony (Justin Rice) as a loser just because his friend says he is. And don't say "Mumblecore."
Gruben: Ok, that's the thing, I actually agree with you, but we need to address the fact that Jessica (Kristen Tucker), his object of affection, his main purpose for being, is borderline cruel. What motivated that cruelty? He is super cute!
Byington: I don't think she's cruel. I just think she's lost interest in him.
Gruben: OK fine. So you ping-pong from the very real experience of having a broken heart to the fantastical and surreal. Do you see it the way I do, or did you see your choices as consistently one way or the other?
Byington: Tonally I see the film flowing from one source.
Gruben: Is the line "She is still breaking my heart." yours?
Byington: "She is still breaking my heart." is mine, yes.
Gruben: NICE! It is compelling in a totally un-ironic way, but it also speaks to his unraveling. Did you mean for it to be the film's anchor?
Byington: I imagined him saying it to a lot of people --he's venting. Venting can be healthy but then also it can become less healthy.
Gruben: So, there are always two movies that sort of refer to the same thing floating around. There were two volcano movies; two ice skater movies; two Capote movies. Did you get any comparisons to 500 Days of Summer?
Gruben: How did that make you feel?
Gruben: The only thing i really see in common is that I found both women humorless so it's hard for me to see why the guy is so hung up.
Byington: Why do we get hung up on people? Does it ever really make sense? Jessica sees men as interchangeable, Harmony sees her as unique.
Gruben: So you put yourself in the film, playing Harmony's older brother. Your character is droll, dry, sardonic. You are also those things. Why did you appear in the film?
Byington: I decided to play the big brother so i could be mean to Justin as a character, and not a Director, and vice-versa.
Gruben: Why did you need that to happen?
Byington: It was very important to me that I not fight with him.
Gruben: Did your strategy work?
Gruben: Did he notice?
Byington: No, but we talked about it later, and he seemed to agree that it was a good idea.
Gruben: I get that, but also, you can't take your eyes off of him.
Byington: I can take my eyes off of him without too much difficulty.
Byington: But female viewers who like him tend to like the movie. They also seem to feel that way about Bob Schneider. Had you seen him before?
Gruben: No, I had not, but he's fantastic in the wedding scene. We also see Harmony's family dynamics at play at the wedding. What were you hoping to convey about them.
Gruben: YES. Look at you figuring out what that means! Switching gears--music, including diegetic performances, is really naturally intertwined into the film. It feels like some kind of musical sub-genre. This is the first time you've done something like that.
Gruben: Elton John? What does he have to do with this, other than the only time I've ever seen you sing is Goodbye Yellow Brick Road?
Byington: The title is based on his song...
Gruben: ...in karaoke.
Byington: ...it's on that album, which is hugely significant to me.
Gruben: "...where the dogs of society howl..." WHY? Significant why?
Byington: It just is. Listen to it. It's called Harmony. It's the last song on the album.
Gruben: I will. I could have cut this part out, and not made myself seem like an idiot, but since you opted to only show me half of your face during our web-chat, I feel less of a need to seem cool.
Byington: You've always seemed to lack that need.
Gruben: Ok then. Please thank your chin for speaking with me today.