Alex Beh's debut film Warren is a sweetly rendered coming of age tale about a twenty-something Chicagoan who may have given up on his dreams a little too soon. An aspiring comic, Warren spends his days catering to obnoxious businessmen behind a cafe counter, but things snap back into focus once an old flame returns to town. In addition to writing, directing and producing the film, Beh also stars as the titular character, and was kind enough to speak to us about his varied roles on set.
Were there any challenges you came up against in both directing and starring in your film?
None at all. Kidding, there are always challenges when making a movie. Just the acts of directing or starring in a motion picture equire an immense amount of focus and energy. I work this way because I've sort of trained myself to do it, it's weirdly how my mind works: I can see a scene from afar, and also (seem to) know what it requires to perform and deliver what the scene needs. For a while now, since 2007, I've been acting and directing in the movies I make, and I love it. You have to surround yourself with a great cinematographer, a great AD, great producers, and a great cast and crew, and you are in good shape. But the most important element to directing a picture is great casting and severe preparation. If you are not prepared, you will run into great trouble on set. Trusting your actors to deliver performances is also huge, you hire them, you bring them on, because you love them, and they love the project, but mostly because they are 'right' for the role. When you work with great actors like the ones we got for Warren, it made the seemingly schizophrenic job slightly easier.
Deferred dreams are a popular topic for lots of young independent filmmakers these days. Why is that? How do you think Warren does things differently?
This is a long conversation. The reality is, I think it's because we are in a time wherein the office job and 'classic' 9-5 career has been 'looked down' upon for so long that people are now being faced with 'what do I really want to do with my life?' vs. 'what am I supposed to do?' I'm supposed to go to college, and get the job, and do this and do that, etc., etc., however, all along inside, there is a thing inside of you or outside of you saying, 'no do this.' (I'm using a lot of italics for some reason). So this has for sure for the last decade (and more) seeped into stories, music and artwork; it has also created a false hope that there is something outside of the mundane, when sometimes perhaps people just need to do the 'normal' job and enjoy life outside of this job however they please. Not all people can write books, or paint paintings, or make films, which is fine. We need players and spectators, artists and buyers! Perhaps these 'deferred dreams' themes are coming from filmmakers who themselves are lost in a generation of people who either have very well defined and clear dreams, or others who think they're supposed to have dreams, yet don't really know how to 'live them out.'
I guess the short answer is that culture is changing from office to out of office, landline, to mobile, people are more free to do whatever they want while still 'working,' and they are finding ways to work while being at the beach or riding a bike, or perhaps making a movie. I don't know. What do I know. I haven't worked at a restaurant since 2006, and have refused to do anything but act, write and make shorts and for the last few years, feature films, not as lucrative as my parents would want, but they are proud. Warren, I'd say, does this differently by exploring the main character in contrast with the life of his ex-girlfriend, his father's failures and watching the people around him in his environment.
What was it like working with Jean Smart and John Heard, two very seasoned actors. Any nerves to speak of?
Loved working with both of them. They both came to set, and were both professionals, and made my job easy because of how brilliant they both are. Jean is lovely and like a mother, but the cool mom whose house everyone wants to be at, who you can hang out with, who tells jokes and great stories. John is brilliant as well, great depth this man has, he is strong and has a lot of stories and can do no wrong in a scene.
The Chicago improv scene has long been an endless source of talent. Do you have any particular inspirations out of the area?
Absolutely, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Belushi, Aykroyd, Chris Farley for sure, I studied at Second City and Improv Olympic, I performed improv around town, and still do when I return, I love it there. I love the improv scene, I loved that his was the root of my training, I'm thankful for it. My mom is a drama teacher, so I grew up constantly doing impressions and feeling like we were in a Saturday Night Live sketch around the house at all times. It's a lot of fun going home. John Hughes is another one, huge inspiration on me, a talented gentleman who tapped the Chicago scene a lot.