Interview by Greg Carlson
Writer-director Patrick Coyle’s Minneapolis-based “Into Temptation” will open at the Fargo Theatre on Friday, October 23, 2009. The 7pm screening on Friday evening will include a special appearance by Coyle, along with critic and writer James Lileks.
HPR: You mentioned that a significant inspiration for “Into Temptation” came from your own family. Your father considered going to seminary and you wondered what kind of priest he might have been. How much of your dad ended up in the character of John Buerlein?
Patrick Coyle: My dad informed the creation of the character of Fr. John during the writing phase. Jeremy Sisto then put his own spin on the character after picking my brain about growing up Catholic. He also did a lot of his own personal research. Although not Catholic, he began attending Sunday mass every week and struck up a fast friendship with Fr. Monaghan, 40 years his senior, the longtime pastor of Incarnation Church in South Minneapolis where we shot most of our church scenes.
They sat together at lunch everyday, off in a corner by themselves, talking, laughing, arguing… I stayed away because whatever it was they were discussing, it was working on camera. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a director is nothing.
HPR: John Buerlein (Jeremy Sisto) and Ralph O’Brien (Brian Baumgartner) take unexpected approaches to their vocation as Catholic priests. Both men can be funny, brutally frank, and even caustic. How have your Catholic friends responded to your spin on the contemporary clergy?
PC: The response has been overwhelmingly positive and has caught me completely by surprise. My Catholic friends, the practicing and the disaffected, have embraced the film for its authenticity. Much of what has been said cinematically about Catholicism lately has been pretty sensational and negative. Many tell me they haven’t seen a film about Catholicism that resonates truthfully like “Into Temptation.”
Most gratifying, though, is the response I am getting from Catholic priests, who tell me they love that I have shown priests in a human way, capable of good and bad, like all of us. My favorite e-mail was from a former priest who told me the film made him really miss what he loved most about the profession: working with others.
HPR: Buerlein’s search for Linda takes him to the heart of the sex industry. How did you balance the sensational aspects of the story – peep shows, porn shops – with the priest’s spiritual commitments and vows?
PC: Going back to the question about my dad, I was most drawn to his ability to talk in the exact same, forthright way to everyone: a CEO or a homeless person. Fr. John is the same way. His mission to help a troubled woman who crosses his path, although a little obsessive, takes him to some bad, dangerous, uncomfortable places. He handles it by treating everyone he encounters with dignity, and they respond to him in kind. His non-judging tone was what was most important to me. I think it quietly dominates the tone of the film, which is what I intended.
HPR: “Into Temptation” is your second feature as writer/director and the second to be made in the Twin Cities. Would it be easier to make your movies somewhere else? What draws you to production in Minnesota?
PC: I made both of my films on tiny budgets. When you do not have a lot of money to throw at problems you need to be creative and think on your feet. I can do that best in Minneapolis, where I am very connected and I know the city intimately, all its secrets. I have lived here 22 years.
Choosing locations becomes very important on a small budget. I was able to get nearly everything I wanted. Also, great actors and crew live here and I was able to get the best of the best. I have made a living as an actor and a writer in the Midwest and I am proud of that as I do not want to raise my little family in L.A., a place I love to visit.
HPR: How much local casting took place?
PC: Except for my leads, Jeremy Sisto, Kristin Chenoweth, and Brian Baumgartner, all of it.
HPR: Minneapolis emerges as a real character in the movie. Which of the locations and landmarks were “must use” places for you?
PC: Not trying to shock, but getting Sex World, a garish, lurid, perfectly art-directed adult bookstore and video arcade in a bad corner of downtown Minneapolis was a coup. I was told they never allow filmmakers in there so I asked my talented, first-time location manager to get me a place as close to it as she could find and we’d have to make do.
She came back and said “I got you Sex World, don’t ask how.” That being said, I never wanted to spend ten hours in the joint, but you do what you have to do on a guerilla indie shoot. Also, Minneapolis’s stunning Stone Arch Bridge. I had to have that as well.
HPR: You play a small but significant role in the movie, and have worked as an actor for years. How does your understanding of performance inform the way you direct actors?
PC: I love actors. Without good actors a filmmaker is nothing. But over the years I have come to understand that some need a friend, some need a parent, some need a shrink, and some just need you to get out of the way and stay out. So I think the psychological wisdom I have gained over the years has served me more than anything. As for the very unsympathetic character I played, my wife made me do it to keep my SAG insurance alive.
HPR: As an independent filmmaker, can you talk a little bit about the challenges of putting together a feature without the support of a major studio?
PC: You need to be a little crazy and it is not for everybody. It’s a three to five year commitment, at least. The chances of your film seeing the light of distribution are about 1 in 500. One person has to be the passionate force that will see the film through pre-production, the shoot, post-production, then into the hardest phase of all, marketing and distribution, and that person has to be you. You cannot take no for an answer because you will get it early and often.
You will want to quit and you can’t because others have backed you financially and you need to take that trust they have placed in you very seriously. It is not just about you. You have to be willing to wear a dozen different hats; I drove the grip truck on my first film and parked it in my alley every night. It is decidedly not glamorous. On the other hand, you have complete control and your vision actually has a shot of making it to the screen. If you succeed, this makes it all worthwhile.
HPR: “Detective Fiction” was shot on 35mm and “Into Temptation” originated on the digital Red Camera system. As a director, what kind of adjustments did you make to deal with a different technology? Did you prefer one format over the other?
PC: I have a bias for film and wanted to shoot “Into Temptation” on film in the worst way. Money drove our decision to use the Red Camera, the best alternative out there, or at least that is how my DP pitched it to me. Both of us have a fear of under-covering a film and that possibility existed if we used film.
The Red proved to be really versatile and suited David Doyle’s voyeuristic style of cinematography beautifully. The Red is a new, emerging system and workflow issues arose often. We did more troubleshooting than I would have liked, but I would recommend the Red. The proof is in the pudding and I am very proud of the way my film looks.
HPR: The DVD release for “Into Temptation” is coming up. What else is on tap for the film?
PC: First Look Studios has a deal with Warner Brothers so video on demand will be extensive. It continues to roll out theatrically which makes me happy. I love the way it plays on the big screen. And we have a foreign sales company making deals around the world. It will also land on cable some day but I am not sure when or where.
HPR: You can learn more about “Into Temptation” at www.intotemptationthemovie.com