I think a lot of people walk around with so much vanity that they forget what it’s like to be in intimate and loving relationships.
In Mark Webber’s second directorial feature The End of Love, Mark (played by Webber) is a struggling actor who’s stuck between the life he once knew and the one that’s waiting for him. When the mother of his two-year-old son suddenly passes away, he’s forced to confront his shortcomings. Their fates, now intertwined, hang in the balance as Mark grapples with his ability to grow up. When he meets Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon), a young mother, he’s no longer able to live in the comfort of denial. Having cast his real life son Isaac opposite himself in this stark, yet intimate film, we can’t help but bear witness to the most private moments between father and son. Endowed with a raw but vibrant truth, The End of Love is a story about the universal pain of loss and the courage it takes to change. The film features cameos by Michael Cera, Jake Johnson and Amanda Seyfried.
We caught up with Webber via phone in a follow-up conversation to the one we had at the Sundance Film Festival last year where the The End of Love made its world premiere.
What has the journey been like having premiered the film at Sundance last year and now getting it up on the big screen?
It has been interesting! You have a lot more control when it comes to independent films. You get to tell the kind of stories you want to tell. But the conundrum with independents is that you try to get people to buy your film and you turn it over to some corporate entity that strips you of all your rights. It’s like, “We’re going to take your baby and we’re not even going to tell you what the poster will look like.” [Laughs] “We’ll let you design the poster, but we’re keeping all the money and we’re going to lie about where that money is going.” It’s sad when stuff like that happens. I’ve been a part of so many indies that have great premieres, but then end up with a company where the filmmakers go through a torturous period. I got really lucky in finding Gravitas Ventures and Variant Films, two companies that really embraced the change of how movies are being seen nowadays. It’s totally transparent. They legitimately love the film. We talked almost on a daily basis to discuss strategy. They were very upfront and clear about what the movie is and how it should be distributed. It’s been a really great process for me.
It sounds like a very honest relationship that you formed with these two companies. They respect you as a filmmaker.
It’s really refreshing. What a lot of these companies usually do is push out the one person who understands what’s best for the film. This person probably has the best idea about how to market the film to get it seen by as many people as possible. Oftentimes, they turn the film over to a team of people, supposed experts in their field or arena, and squeeze a crucial person out of the creative process. On this film, there’s a mutual admiration on all of our parts. It’s been really great in that way. Video on Demand and iTunes alone put the movie into the homes across the country where maybe they don’t have these little art house theaters. That’s really cool to me. Now with this theatrical run we’re getting, it’s like the film is getting another life. If you live in one of these ten select cities, you can go watch it on the big screen. It’s so awesome.
I like your use of the word “transparent”. The End of Love feels very transparent. It’s certainly not an autobiography, but you play an actor in the film and you even cast your real life son. How personal is this film to you, really?
It was incredibly personal although I’m a much happier guy in real life. [Laughs] But I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve been left behind. I’ve had people die. I’ve been loved. I’m a dad. I’ve struggled with maintaining my income while providing for my child. These are real life elements. Writing is an exploratory process of themes and questions that are running through my own life. It’s really therapeutic for me and I get so much out of it. And you’re right, it is a very transparent film. It’s a vulnerable film. I love seeing vulnerability in people in real life. I think a lot of people walk around with so much vanity that they forget what it’s like to be in intimate and loving relationships. To make a film that’s really steeped in incredible amounts of honesty and vulnerability, it allows people to relate to it. When you go to a party and see people not really being themselves, you meet that one person who’s totally themselves and that sort of gives you permission to be yourself. It’s a sigh of relief! Now we can have a conversation instead of pretending to be people that we’re not.
We spoke briefly about this before, but child actors are always so intriguing to watch, especially when they’re performing at such an early age. Did Isaac have any idea as to what was going on while you were shooting the movie?
The biggest thing that I’ve gotten out of making this film is my realization as to how important it is to remain present in your life. It’s something that we all struggle with as human beings, particularly as adults. You start to fixate and dwell on your past, while trying to figure out the future. You spend so much time there and over there that you’re not really where you’re supposed to be. That makes you wonder why you aren’t happy. Children only have the ability to go from moment to moment. It’s very rare to meet a child who’s dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. They’re literally engrossed in what just came before. This film was definitely an exercise in how to be in the moment because my child was just that. It was an entirely improvised film in that respect. It’s a statement about life. You’ll be a better parent if you’re present with your child. You’ll also be much happier and be a better human being if you’re present.
How old is Isaac now?
He’s four and a half. He will turn five in May.
I’m sure you think about this a lot. What do you think it’s going to be like when Isaac is older and you finally sit him down to watch The End of Love?
I think about it all the time! It’s the coolest thing in the world that I get to do that. It’s this big, amazing gift that we get to share with each other. I want to say maybe when he’s ten? I’m going to feel it out. Maybe as early as seven… We’ll see. He really has to have the right presence of mind to be able to watch it, but when he finally does, it’s going to be so cool! I mean, really, I think about this all the time.
Do you think it will be very shocking for him?
Totally! [Laughs] He’s going to be like, “Dad! What?! You made a movie with me when I was two?!” I don’t know many people who have that many pictures of themselves from when they were two, let alone an entire film. I couldn’t imagine sitting down and watching a movie that my dad made with me when I was two years old. I have absolutely no idea what I was like when I was two. It’s going to be fun.
It would be fascinating to document the moment when Isaac watches the film for the first time. It could serve as an investigation where you sort of circle back.
For sure! I’m totally going to do that. It will be a nice end bit to this whole process for me. I think that is the last thing left to explore. It’s going to be really interesting when the day finally comes.
Can you recall any special memories from your earlier acting days?
My first day of shooting Todd Solondz’s Storytelling on Conan O’Brien’s old set where I had to be on a talk show. It was so weird to be on Conan O’Brien, but not actually on Conan O’Brien, you know? While I was doing the scene with him, I remember looking out into the audience and feeling so grateful. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people. Working with Woody Allen was amazing where I played his son. You hear these stories about how weird it is to work with him, but he’s the nicest and funniest guy. He was totally emotionally available to me. I did this movie with [Al] Pacino where he was super method and I was like, “I’m going to copy him.” [Laughs] It’s been really cool. I have so many of these kinds of stories. Now it’s great having this budding career as a director/filmmaker because I get to provide opportunities to other people. You can ask your colleagues, “What haven’t you done yet?” and give them new opportunities. “Let’s figure out how we can get the best thing out of you.”
Did you have yours eyes set on doing any one particular thing when you got your start in the industry or were you sort of drawn to the magic of movies in general?
I think I was attracted to it in general. It has been such an eye opening experience for me. My first film was very ambitious stylistically. I shot it on film and had this huge cast. I thought I had everything figured out, but it was a huge wakeup call. In terms of creating my voice as a filmmaker and how I want to continue to make films, I have a profound obsession with naturalism and reality that I want to continue to capitalize on. I want to apply that to all of my future films.
Although The End of Love is very much about a father and son relationship, it feels like an ensemble piece if you look at all the great cameos. Were these acquaintances of yours?
They’re all my friends and they were all so willing to embark on this journey with me. They were people that I worked with before or they were friends of friends. I wrote that part for Michael [Cera]. Once I enlisted Michael, he helped me out a whole lot. It was like, “We’re going to throw a party. Who are some people that you want to invite?” We invited my friends and his friends, and shot it in real time. We agreed, “This is the character that I’m playing and this is what I’m going through—just enjoy yourself.” We created the environment and just inhabited the characters around that. Amanda [Seyfried] was totally down. I’m lucky to have friends in the industry that I respect and admire.
We talked about your collaborative process with Jocelyn [Donahue] when she joined our conversation at Sundance. Could you talk about working with Shannyn Sossaman?
She’s so awesome. What’s funny is that we came together very organically. We had met each other a couple of times throughout the years. Her son’s father was a mutual friend and he expressed to me that she was interested in meeting with me to talk about the movie. I was meeting with some other actors and I got so excited when Shannyn came along. She had been in and out of my world for an x amount of time. I’m very interested in synchronicity and serendipitous kind of moments. We just jived so well. She’s also a single mom. Do you remember that scene where we’re having dinner? We shot that in her real house at the time. It was amazing to be in her space. It adds another level of authenticity to the film. She’s phenomenal and it was such a pleasure working with someone who was willing to go there.
When you split your duties as an actor and director, do you sort of rely on the other crewmembers to become your second pair of eyes?
All the best directors are completely open to everything that’s going on and everyone around them. You need to have a very clear, singular vision, but you have to be really flexible with that vision. You’re making a movie, but the movie is making itself at the same time. It’s a delicate balance of knowing what to bend and move to create that flow. Performing in a movie that you’re directing is a natural extension of embracing that ideology. Patrice [Lucien Cochet], my DP, would call bullshit on one little thing and that was one way of weeding out false moments. It’s all very collaborative. We’re all striving to make it right and want to make it feel good. Not bringing any ego or vanity really helps the situation. I know the story I want to tell and how I want to get there. Part of that is by being open and exploring it with the other people that have been enlisted to work with me. In a way, Shannyn, Patrice and Michael helped direct me because they were there for me.
What are you working on now?
I just finished writing a movie called The Fun in Forever. I wrote it with Teresa Palmer, an incredible actress that was just in that movie Warm Bodies. She’s producing it with me, I’m directing it, and we’re both starring in it. We play a couple and it’s about a breakdown of a marriage surrounding a tragic event. We’re making this the same way that I made The End of Love. We wrote all the dialogue for it, but it’s just to provide a bedrock of narration to launch off of for the improvisation. We’re using real life relationships, non-actors, real life family members and friends to create a love story that has a level of vulnerability that you normally don’t see in movies. We start shooting in Australia in April and then here in L.A. in May and June. We wanted to make a love story that we haven’t seen before.