It’s hard to make a film when you’re depressed – which is what kept writer-director Boaz Yakin away from filmmaking for the past five or six years.
Now he’s back with a movie that reflects the psychological state he was battling – and the reasons he was battling it.
The director of “Fresh” and “Remember the Titans,” Yakin put his own money into “Death in Love,” which opens Friday in limited release. That was the only way, he says, that he would ever get it made.
“This movie came out of a meeting with a studio,” says Yakin, 43, in a telephone interview. “What they wanted to do and what I wanted to do were so far apart, I didn’t feel I could continue. So I wrote this for a low-budget production. I ended up financing it with my life savings. No one else chipped in a cent. It’s not the kind of thing I can afford to do often. But for this one time, I got to express what I wanted to in a way I found interesting. I feel I got to explore and try some things.”
“Death in Love,” which stars Jacqueline Bisset, Josh Lucas and Adam Brody, ostensibly is about the family of a Holocaust survivor (Bisset), who used sex to save her own life in the concentration camp. Her withholding personality has damaged her sons, particularly Lucas, a con man who is disgusted with his scam of luring customers to a fake modeling agency.
The story, Yakin says, is fiction – but the feelings it portrays are real. And that’s about as far as he’ll go.
“It sounds glib but it’s truthful: This movie comes from the last 43 years of my life,” he says. “One hesitates to answer specific questions on the grounds of incrimination. It’s a fantasy based on emotional truth. Pardon me if that sounds evasive.
“For me, the Holocaust part and what it represents is specific. I saw it as a symbol for a certain kind of pain and violence that people keep inside and end up passing on from generation to generation. I saw it as more about love and its destructive power. The Holocaust is a metaphor for this recurring cycle of pain.”
The film also deals with issues that Yakin takes seriously: art vs. commerce, when one’s soul is on the line. The central figure is a grifter who could actually teach acting, if he weren’t doing it to scam people. The character, Yakin admits, could just as easily have been written as a filmmaker.
“But I didn’t want to make this a film about a filmmaker. That’s self-indulgent. This is about the whole idea of somebody who has a talent and uses it in a completely cynical, unproductive way. It’s a metaphor for how I feel about working in the film business. You feel like a con man, selling phony emotions and ideas. It’s sort of corrupt, like advertising.”
The film features Lucas in situations as sexually explicit as an R rating will allow. But Yakin says Lucas was game for anything – more daring, in fact, than the director.
“I’m shy even at kissing scenes. I get nervous with scenes like that,” Yakin says. “Josh pulled me along. I was lucky to catch Josh at a moment in his life when he was open and ready to do something like this. I’ve been in situations that were less raw, with actors who were more nervous, where I had to push and cajole – and I still never got what I wanted. This one demanded a lot from everyone, to be completely, emotionally naked. None of them backed off.”
Yakin burst on the scene 15 years ago with “Fresh,” a drama about a teen drug dealer and chess prodigy that burst out of Sundance. Before that, he had written two films – “The Punisher,” a throwaway comic-book film that starred Dolph Lundgren, and “The Rookie,” which teamed Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen. But “Fresh” emerged as part of the wave of independent films that convinced the studios to buy up independent companies or start arthouse labels of their own.
“There was a brief period when American independents embraced that kind of filmmaking and so did international audiences,” he says. “Back then, a lot of people were taking chances with hedge-fund money. They’d take a shot at financing an independent film. That’s gone.”
Yakin literally has let years go by between his films; the last film he directed, a comedy called “Uptown Girls” that came and went quickly, was released in 2003.
“I did that comedy and was depressed enough by the experience that I walked away for five years,” he says. “The movie that was released wasn’t the movie I shot. The work I do that gets out tends to be the stuff I’m least interested in. But I do it to pay the bills, to keep my hand in.”
His hiatus also included a serious bout with depression: “I wrote this film after a five or six-year depression, including two years where I was practically suicidal. So many people suffer from depression. It’s hard for men in particular to talk about; it’s seen as this get-over-it thing.
“That was one of the big challenges with this film: how to explore what brings a person to absolute depression without making a film that’s boring. I asked myself what could I do to make myself uncomfortable. How can I dig into something that really bothers me?”
Yakin paid for the film himself, recognizing that it’s an artistic venture, not a get-rich-quick scheme: “I’m never going to see a cent from this. You don’t do this unless you’re comfortable with the fact that the money is not going to come back. If you’ll be upset by that, don’t do it.”
Fortunately, for him, one of the ventures he got involved in during his self-enforced lay-off from filmmaking was a production company – whose first release was the smash-hit horror film, “Hostel,” and its sequel, “Hostel II.”
“While we were shooting ‘Death in Love,’ I ran out of money,” Yakin says. “The next morning, I got my first residual check from ‘Hostel.’ I got enough to keep me going.”
To keep him going financially; keeping himself involved emotionally in movie-making is another question.
“I’m ambivalent about the film business,” he admits. “I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with it for a long time. The work I’m most interested in tends to sit on the shelf. I’m always pushing and pulling against the film world. I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I’ve never been comfortable.
“I do find it frustrating to be in a creative medium when the things I’m most interested in expressing are not being expressed. You spend 95 percent of your time trying to get stuff done – and five percent actually doing it. I’m in that 95 percent. Expressing yourself truthfully is important and you get to do it about 1 percent of the time. I find it depressing.”