Last night at The Crest in Westwood a group of cinephiles gathered to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Sideways followed by a Q&A with novelist Rex Pickett, director Alexander Payne and star Virginia Madsen. The audience was privileged to have Rex and Alexander there to talk about how Sideways made it from being an unpublished manuscript to screen and celebrating it ten years later.
Life is full of moments when the glass is less than half full, and sometimes hardly enough for a serving for even a taste. For Rex, he bares all on-screen of his life as at a time where he was at his bottom, rock bottom. Against the odds and unsavory opinions Rex puts his grittiest moments in life on the page and last night, on-screen.
Rex: The book is incredibly personal. When I found out my ex-wife was getting remarried, when I found out she was pregnant and realizing it was over, that’s me, not exactly how it was with Miles, but that’s me. We made two feature films together, she produced my films, we spent ten years together, and we gave our lives to the movies. I had a drinking problem back then. That’s me stumbling out of The Hitching Post II; I’m watching myself on-screen. It wasn’t easy to do it, but the acclamation, the laughter from the audience, that’s validation that I went somewhere deep and I fileted my soul and I joke many times that if I could afford a gun back then…
Alexander: Rex’s ability to have a wide variety of experience from the darkest to the lightest and to share that with an audience that’s the sort of material I need for a film. When I read material which could be adapted to a film I’m looking for is lived in and known experience, not so much a story invented out of someone’s head. I find my observation looking back at the lived emotions felt and actual experience.
Rex: I was in such a state of despair…only way to sell this story was to make it funny. The only way I can sell despair is with humor.
Alexander: I’m sure you’ve skated on the thin ice of depression, many times and your humor saves you. You’re a charming fellow and you’re funny…and talented.
Virginia: Did you really drink that bucket of wine spit?
Rex: At a high-end tasting, I didn’t have any money back in those days. They were pouring wine back in and I sat and I sipped. It was a wine tasting we went to every Saturday and they talked about that for months. I was like ‘well that’s going in the book’; Alexander read every single draft that I wrote. Alexander is unbelievable. What looks so simple on that screen he meticulously to detail. There are also some things he did in post production that truly blew me away. The way he montages through the dinner scene. That’s not even in the novel and it’s not even in the screenplay. It looks effortless, but the directing is truly brilliant.
Alexander goes into detail about his initial attraction to the then unpublished manuscript and how after just a few pages he was hooked and hoped that the main character would make it in the end, and luckily, he does.