Director Scott Coffey is now stranger to the entertainment. He got his start as an actor years before making a successful transition into a directorial role. His first feature, ‘Ellie Parker’ (2005), made it’s tremendous debut at the Sundance Film Festival selection, earned him a spot on Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” and established him as a force to be reckoned with in the world of cinema. His sophomore outing, ‘Adult World’ is no less impressive and is a film not to be missed.
‘Adult World’ is a satirical comedy about an eccentric young woman, Amy Anderson, (Emma Roberts) who has just come out of university, convinced she’s going to be a famous poet. Saddled with debt and unemployed she moves back in with her parents who force her to get a job. Desperate and armed with a poetry degree and not much else she takes the only job she can find, working in an adult book store called Adult World.
Meanwhile, desperate to get her poems published, Amy stalks an aging punk poet figure named Rat Billings (John Cusack), “one of the greatest poets of the early 90s.” Rat reluctantly agrees to mentor her. As Amy makes new friends, including a drag queen named Rubia, the elderly couple who own Adult World, and Alex, the charming and quirky young manager, she learns that she might not be the voice of her generation after all.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Scott Coffey to discuss his transition from actor to director, the challenges of bringing ‘Adult World’ from script to screen and where his next project will lead him.
Going all the way back to the beginning, what intrigued you early on about the world of filmmaking?
As a kid, I loved movies more than anything. I grew up in Hawaii and I wasn’t a surfer and didn’t like the beach. I loved being in the dark and I loved stories, which was really fun for me. I think that is where it all started.
Was there something in particular about filmmaking that made you want to pursue it professionally?
I was an actor for a long time and that was great. I liked being an actor but I didn’t love it as much as I loved being on a set. I love directing and it was something I took to very quickly. I really adore it. That is kind of how that happened.
Did you find the transition from actor to director a difficult one to make?
Yeah, I did. It was a fun one though. It definitely took a lot of work and it is challenging but I really love doing. I am much more happy being a director than I am being an actor. I worked with so many good people that it was easy. It was a challenge to make the transition but it was something that was relatively easy as I had been on so many movie sets and I had some connections. I was lucky to know a lot of good actors and I was able to pull people into my work, especially with my first movie.
As an actor and a director, who would you cite as your biggest personal influences?
David Lynch has been a huge influence and kind of a mentor to me. Woody Allen is another director whose movies I love and adore. Robert Altman is another terrific director. As far as actors, I have always loved Al Pacino. Diane Keaton is another person whose work has always inspired me. Her jazzy, interesting eccentricity is something I have always found fascinating. Those were all really huge influences on me.
Your latest film is ‘Adult World’. How did you get involved with the project and what made you was it that you saw in the script that made you want to pursue it as a feature?
I thought the lead role was really interesting. I really liked the girl and thought she was very complicated. She was slightly unlikable but slightly endearing. I thought it was a very, very interesting challenge to find and actress who could pull that off and that would be interested in doing that. That is what I was wrapping my head around. I like the dilemma she is in. She is kind of bold and thought she could do anything she wants to and that she can live the American Dream and that American Dream might not be there anymore. I think that was a really fun way to approach the movie with thinking about those ideas. That is something that really appealed to me when I read the script.
When the project was in its early stages, how did you prepare yourself to tackle the film stylistically? Was there something you hoped to achieve with this film that you might not have had a chance to attempt with your previous work?
This was bigger movie and I had a really great cinematographer I was working with. We had a lot of discussions about how the warmth of the movie to look and how we wanted everyone to look very natural and have the cold and how cold it was outside to be a big part of the movie. We were really interested in the intimacy of the inside spaces compared to the cold of the outside. That was something I was really interested in looking at and thinking about.
You have a terrific cast along for the rise on this picture. Can you tell us what the actors might have brought to the project that you might not have been expecting?
Oh gosh, the actors brought so much and were really hugely influential. We improvised and played and they really brought themselves to the movie in so many ways. It was great and really, really fun to work with them. I don’t think I would have been able to make the movie I did without the casting. I was really lucky to have such an amazing cast, so that was great.
Can you tell us a little bit about how the script evolved along the way? Was there a lot of change there?
Yeah, there were a lot of changes that Andy [Cochran] and I made while we were working on it. Then the script kept changing on set as well. We would work a lot on it and a lot of the John Cusack scenes, especially, we would spend a lot of time of time at night going over the different scenes and how we were going to perfect them, how we wanted them and what would be fun to do. We were very involved in that.
Obviously, you have been involved with the film since day one. Now that you have had time to live with it for a bit, looking back on the process, what do you consider the biggest challenges you faced while putting this film together?
Getting the cast that I wanted to work for the smaller amount of money was a challenge. It was a low budget movie and it was difficult to get everybody to come to Syracuse to work the way we worked. That was a little bit of a challenge. There are always different kinds of challenges but I think that was the hardest thing. Once we were on set, it was really, really fun and really great.
From a directorial standpoint, is there a scene that stands out in your mind as the most difficult to shoot?
Shooting some of the outside stuff was difficult because we were shooting during the winter when it was so cold and snowy. The camera was getting wet or frozen, so that was the hardest thing. Otherwise, everything else flowed really well.
They say you learn something from each project of which you are a part. What did you learn from your time on this film?
More than anything, I learned to trust my instincts and to go with what I think is right as opposed to what other voices think. I think that is what I learned more than anything. If I start with something I really love and really want to make, I should trust that instinct more and follow that as opposed to what the audience is going to think or what the other people think. I think by making my most personal work, that is what audiences most respond to. I think if you make something really personal, which really resonates to people because they can feel the moving parts in it. I think trusting your instinct is the most important thing.
Which character in “Adult World” do you most relate to on a personal level? Is there something that resonates with you about one of them in particular?
I really relate to all of these characters and that was really fun. That is why it is really fun for me to make movies because I try to figure out who I am and what part of me is alive in each character. I can relate to each one of them in different ways. I am very much like Emma’s character Amy and Rat Billings in many ways as well.
Is there are particular part of the filmmaking process that you find yourself more drawn to?
I love being on set and directing. I don’t like being in the editing room or writing as much as I love being on set. I love working with actors and I have to say that is my favorite part of the entire process.
What do you consider your biggest personal milestone as a director at this point in your career?
Today, I got a good review in The Village Voice. That is something I had always hoped for and today they gave me a rave review, so that has been a huge thing for me.
Awesome! It is well deserved!
How do you feel you have evolved as a director since first starting out?
Like I said, I am really learning to trust my instincts. That is the thing — a sense of confidence. It is about knowing what I want but not being rigid; “bending and not snapping” to paraphrase an old proverb.
What is up next for you as a filmmaker? Is there an area you are anxious to explore in the short term?
I am going to direct an adaptation of a novel called “Chemical Pink” that the author Katie Arnoldi wrote. It takes place in the world of women’s bodybuilding in the early 1990s in Venice, CA. That is probably my next project. It is a thriller and I am really excited about it. We have already started to cast and hopefully we will shoot this summer. I am meeting women body builders and going to tournaments. It is pretty incredible! It is a really amazing world and I find it fascinating.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to young filmmakers who might look to you for inspiration?
Don’t take advice from anybody! [laughs] Trust yourself! Listen to you inner voice and trust it!
Where can people catch up with you online?
I am on Twitter at twitter.com/skotcof and that is something I post thing on pretty often.
Awesome. Thanks so much for your time today, Scott. I really enjoy your work and can’t wait to see what you have in store for us!
Thanks for talking to me, Jason. I appreciate it!
‘Adult World’ premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 will open February 14th in theaters and on VOD.