Indie filmmaker Rian Johnson takes film noir to high school in Brick, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an amateur gumshoe on the trail of his missing ex-girlfriend. It’s the "sincere acting and crisp direction" that elevates this above mere parody and helped to generate plenty of buzz on the festival circuit. In fact it won the Special Jury prize at Sundance in 2005.
Laying The Foundations
A half-hour interview with Johnson on disc two retraces the challenges of getting the film from script to screen. Studio execs wouldn’t dare fund a film that straddled two very different genres (teen and noir) so the wannabe director funded the production "Blood Simple style" asking friends and family to fork out. He goes on to talk about casting and shooting the film (in 20 days) and then editing it on his home computer. It’s a truly inspiring story for budding filmmakers.
Over 22 minutes of extended scenes are stylishly cut together with behind-the-scenes footage and voiceover intros by Johnson. He explains that after seeing the first cut at Sundance he decided to "trim the fat" on some dialogue-heavy scenes to be in keeping with the curt, muscular style of old school film noir. So here you’ll see the extra banter exchanged between the characters, including delightfully scathing one-liners like, "You’re on the bright side of dim, Dode." (Dode, played by Noah Segan). There’s also an extended version of the final confrontation between Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) and Laura (Nora Zehetner).
Segan and Zehetner’s audition tapes are thrown in too, capturing the steely intensity of the latter and the laissez faire just-rolled-out-of-bed demeanour of the former. Unfortunately we don’t get to see Gordon-Levitt trying out.
Off The Wall
Composing a soundtrack on a low budget is a matter tackled in the Junkyard Score featurette. Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) explains that they wanted to "stay away from bubblegum pop" in favour of a fractured, jangley ‘junkyard’ feel achieved using instruments as simple as half-empty bottles and wine glasses. He goes on to say that every character has a musical signature and profiles each of them with the director’s notes and his final compositions. A scene where Brendan first enters The Pin's den is presented separately with a music only track.
Of course costume was another integral part of defining each character and that is dealt with in another featurette. It’s interesting to see how the initial sketches compare with final scenes, eg Johnson shows us how The Pin (Lukas Haas) went "from Clint Eastwood to Barnabas Collins" - that is to say from cowboy to Goth. It’s a good thing the director didn’t have to do his own concept drawings because as we see in the "Chicken Scratch" storyboard-to-final-cut comparisons he has very little talent as a sketch artist. (He even used lined paper!) But as he says, the storyboard is just a rough blueprint and it’s easy to see his thought process in putting key scenes together (like the discovery of the body).
Rounding off the extras on disc two is Johnson’s video diary, originally filmed for BBC Film Network in which he provides an "impressionistic" glimpse into the dreaded press junket.
Disc one includes commentary for the film where Johnson elaborates on points discussed in the interview. A few of the cast members also pop up from time to time to offer their insights, but the real interest is in the battle Johnson fought to get this film made. He also talks about the "cool and cathartic" experience of shooting in his hometown of San Clemente, California, even though he was regularly "kicked out" of places for not having permission to film. Guerrilla filmmakers should have their notepads handy; this two-disc package offers plenty of handy hints on scaling the brick wall of showbiz.