Interview: Sundance, Midwest Independent Film Festival Headliner Jordan Vogt-Roberts

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CHICAGO – “Successful Alcoholics,” a new short comedy film by Chicagoan Jordan Vogt-Roberts, has been making the major film festival rounds, including the Sundance Film Festival, and will be the featured film at the Midwest Independent Film Festival in Chicago on their Comedic Shorts Night, Tuesday, June 1st.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts hails from Detroit, and molded his comedy chops in Chicago. His Comedy Collective there was named “Blerds,” and through that he started doing video shorts. “Successful Alcoholics” premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and has went on to play various fests, including Los Angeles, South X Southwest and the Rícon International Film Festival in Puerto Rico, where it won Best Comedy Short.

Vogt-Roberts, now living in Los Angeles, is returning to Chicago next Tuesday, June 1st, for the Midwest Independent Film Festival. “Successful Alcoholics” will be the featured film in the festival’s annual Comedic Shorts Night.

Wasted Days: T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan in ‘Successful Alcoholics’
Wasted Days: T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan in ‘Successful Alcoholics’
Photo Credit: © Successful Alcoholics

HollywoodChicago interviewed Vogt-Roberts recently, and he dished on the differences in drinking styles in Los Angeles vs. Chicago and his style of comedy film. You are the official selection to headline next Tuesday’s Midwest Independent Film Festival Comedic Shorts Night. What other honors have been bestowed on “Successful Alcoholics?”

Jordan Vogt-Roberts: We premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and then we’ve done a whirlwind of festivals. At the South X Southwest festival, they created a program just for us, so it was Successful Alcoholics, Spike Jonez new short and one other. We won a festival in Puerto Rico and been to many others. One of the more interesting ‘honors’ that was bestowed upon us was I got contacted by a rehabilitation and training center in Southern Arizona, which deals with alcoholics and training team members who deal with them. They wanted to get a copy of the film to show the people they were training and the people in the program as a launching point for discussion. That was really bizarre. [laughs]

HC: What inspired this story? Was it outside observation or personal experience?

JVR: [Laughs] It’s both. Everyone in the film met in Chicago and bars are open until 4am there. I hang out with a lot of comedians and they are heavy drinkers. [laughs] We all move to Los Angeles, and the drinking culture is different out there, it’s crazy in different ways. In this drinking realm, we’ve seen great things come of it and we’ve seen terrible things come of it.

HC: Did you think at any point it would be a risk to take on the subject of heavy, anti-social drinking in a comedy short?

JVR: Yes, absolutely, I think there is naturally a point about halfway through the short where people get uncomfortable and wonder if this what they signed up for or ‘is this too heavy’ or ‘will it get saccharine and cheesy.’ I’m really interested in balancing tone with comedy and sort of going back and forth between the concepts, by intertwining them it becomes more poignant. That is what we set out to do with Successful Alcoholics.

HC: What was your reaction after you started to get recognition for the short. Were you confident about the material to understand why it was getting recognition?

JVR: T.J [Miller, the co-writer] and I, when we first started working on this, it was so long ago. It was a long post-production period, and waiting for Sundance drags it out further. It’s not that we had lost touch with it at all, but here in L.A. sometimes people don’t respond to darker material like that. It makes them uncomfortable. I’ve actually been shocked that people have been responding so well. In retrospect, it makes sense, because at the end of the day Lizzy Caplan and T.J.[the lead actors] performances are great. They sell it, you get invested in the story and the way that it’s structure you get in, you start having fun. You’re in a world for ten minutes where it’s fun, exciting and funny. And then it gets dark and kind of disturbing but by that point you’re engaged.

Lizzy said awhile ago ‘it’s like watching a video of a kid, and you’re laughing at the kid because he’s so stupid, look at how stupid this little kid is. And then 10 minutes into it, someone leans over and says, you know that kid’s mentally challenged.’ [laughs]

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts of ‘Successful Alcoholics’
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts of ‘Successful Alcoholics’
Photo Credit: © Successful Alcoholics

HC: Is this film an instance of the thing that makes you great also has the power to destroy you?

JVR: Sure. In the film, T.J. and Lizzy, in my mind, are in a romantic style movie. Watching two people just stumble together, but they’re with each other stumbling and it’s exciting when you watch them succeed and heartbreaking when you watch them fail.

HC: What has made you laugh in your life? What sitcom? What film? What stand-up comedian?

JVR: Humor is just how I relate to everyone. I’ve made friends and lost friends because of my sense of humor. I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes. There is a sitcom from Canada called ‘Trailer Park Boys’ that I find pretty incredible, obviously ‘Seinfeld’ is great. I like comedy films that are infused with genre material, films like ‘Ghostbusters.’ Even the comedic elements of ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Boogie Nights’ I think are amazing, because they are used to balance the reality of things. As far as stand-up comedians, that is a world I got thrust into and I don’t think my life’s path ever intended for me to know so much about stand-up comedy, through the Chicago scene. [laughs]

HC: What was magical to you about making movies when you were a kid?

JVR: Honestly, humor is how I always related to people, and comedy was always big to me when I was a kid. I would play with my action figures, and there were home movies of me setting up these villages and hiding dog treats, then narrating as I had my dog walk through the town, smashing the buildings. It wasn’t much later until I decided I wanted to get into film, but I remember thinking cinematically, like slow motion. I remember thinking I wish life were like that.

HC: Who, is your opinion, is the greatest living film director and why?

JVR: I’ll tell you who I think is the most interesting now. I’m most interested in what Christopher Nolan is doing. He has found this way to take incredibly mainstream movies, yet keep character, theme and story intact. He has a big budget, risky sci-fi movie [’Inception’] coming out this summer, that’s he wrote himself, and after the ‘The Dark Knight’ the studio just said they’d make it. It is getting to the point where you can make an ultra-personal movie, but on a scale that a mass audience can enjoy. I think that’s really interesting.

HC: Which film comedian would you like to work with today, and what type of range would you like to get out of him or her? Or how would you like to use that individual in a way people wouldn’t expect?

JVR: The people who I’m dying to work with are not necessarily comedians, just actors who can handle comedy really well. I would like to work with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has shown that he has the range for whatever you want. There are character actors that blend into things, and that’s who I want to see in a more comedic role.

“Successful Alcoholics,” directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and featuring T.J. Miller and Lizzy Caplan, headlines the Comedic Shorts Night at the Midwest Independent Film Festival, Tuesday, June 1st, at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

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