A Chat With Scott Coffey...
In person, actor and director Scott Coffey looks rather like a character from one of the many David Lynch pictures he's appeared in - slim, angular, stylish, and bubbling with nervous energy as he picks at grapes over his conversation about his film ELLIE PARKER with FilmExposed’s Jimmy Razor...
'David Lynch, he's the best,' he explains. 'He's really an artist, an original. One of the most inspiring things about him is that he gets out of the way of his own inspiration. It's not about being a control freak, it's about letting moments and the films happen of their own.' A long time collaborator with Lynch, Coffey has appeared in Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001), Rabbits (2002), and has recently finished working on Inland Empire. 'Inland Empire is going to be amazing, but that's all I can really say at the moment,' he offers. 'Though I can tell you that David and I had a lot of discussions about using dv and new media.'
Ah. Digital video. Coffey brings it up because his first film as director, Ellie Parker, is a low budget dv-filmed comedy about a struggling actress going to auditions in Los Angeles. 'I lived in LA until just a year ago, and I always thought that LA looked like bad dv. Something about the light and all the square buildings and parking lots. So I bought a Sony DCR PC100, and when I started playing around with it I found it captured the feel and the quality of the city really well. It's a single-chip, tiny little camera. A terrible camera. I wouldn't shoot a wedding on that camera. It was good because you could get anywhere with it, but it shakes all over the place.' He laughs. 'In retrospect, it's not the best camera to shoot a movie on!
'I already thought I'd like to make a film about an actress changing from one character to another in the course of ten minutes. I'd written that a long time ago, and when I was working on Mulholland Drive I gave a copy of the script to Naomi (Watts) and she really loved it. So we shot the first sequence of scenes six years ago, and took that to Sundance and it had a really good reception, so we kept shooting bits over the course of the next five years. It was a real evolution, going from the first couple of scenes to what we ended up with.'
He's happy to point out what's based on his own experience. 'I've been to those auditions, yeah,' he admits. 'I thought it's more fun to tell the story from a woman's point of view, 'cos as crazy as it is for me, the insane contortions that actors have to go through, for actresses it's even more exaggerated. There's the make up and the hair and they're presented with way more... But, yeah, I used to have a whole collection of stuff in my car. Like a cop's hat and a bag of props, it was totally ridiculous. You'd turn up and there would be twelve guys all dressed as cowboys talking to plants rehearsing their lines. It was really crazy.'
Coffey himself plays a role in the film as a reckless driver, but he explains it was never his original intention to appear at all. 'My friend was in an accident and she wasn't hurt but her car was pretty fucked up. The guy who hit her was a lawyer and a swinger, clearly. She was wearing a little skirt and the guy was trying to get a look, and then he saw her bikini in the back of the car and he was asking, "So... do you want to party?" and she was like, "Are you kidding me?!" I thought that was so great and so "LA" that I wanted to do something like that. So I had written a scene with a car crash and designed how to shoot it when Naomi got into a real accident. Someone literally smashed into the back of her car. She called me up and said "I can't come and shoot today, someone crashed into my car," and I said "Oh my God, stay there, we're going to use that!" But there was no-one to be in the scene - I was going to use Ben Chaplin but he wasn't around, and I ended up putting myself in that scene.'
Although the dialogue feels loose and naturalistic, there wasn't a lot of improvisation involved. 'I would say 80 percent was scripted, 20 percent was improv,' Coffey explains. 'Some things were very specific, but then sometimes Naomi would come up with something that was far better than what I'd written.'
But despite the success of Ellie Parker, Coffey doesn't want to shoot his next movie in the same handheld Dogme fashion. 'For some of the car scenes in Ellie Parker, I was literally between the passenger seat and the dashboard in a little hole. I was in between Naomi's legs shooting. It was pretty intense, and really tough - I was really sore, so bent over and contorted. For my next movie, I'll get a crew to shoot it!'