Brick helmer grilled

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s murky slow-burner Brick follows a high school kid (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who looks too closely into the disappearance of his girlfriend. Sounds simple enough. Maybe not. It took nine years for the 32-year-old lenser to get his noirish teen detective flick to screen, so TF asks him…

…what took so long?
Well I wrote this thing right out of film school and when I graduated I didn’t really have any connections in the industry and I wasn’t really an industry player. I couldn’t get out and really push myself. So it was kind of just a really slow process of getting the script to anyone that would take a look at it.

The final budget wasn’t huge was it?
It was just under half a million US and we shot in 20 days which was a pretty tight time frame but the planning proved to be vital. It was really important visually that we had planned out the shots. We didn’t have the luxury of discovering anything on the day. Also I wrote the script around locations in my home town of San Clemente, so the fact that we were eventually able to shoot there was a godsend.

It’s an organic movie but it’s also very stylised. How much of this is down to Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
During one of the first conversations I had with Joseph I could just immediately tell he had so much talent and was so dedicated to getting it right. We talked about how the film could be very bad if we got the tone of it wrong. For me, the essence of making sure that that didn’t happen was about keeping ourselves honest and not thinking of it in terms of imitating film noir, or in terms of all the other detective movies that had been made.

How do you feel about the relentless Donnie Darko comparisons?
It’s come up quite a bit and that’s weird because I went to school with Richard Kelly. Actually, we were in film school together and we’ve kept up with each other since then. So I have no problem at all with the comparison.

Do you think they’re actually comparable?
I think they’re very different movies. Aside from them both being obscure films, I think that the common threads between them are the element of having a teen movie where the teen world is presented as something very serious and also injecting another genre into teen life. In the case of Donnie Darko it’s the fantasy sci-fi thing; with Brick it’s the detective thing. They communicate the mindset that you’re in when you’re a teenager - of everything being bigger than life and everything being much more serious than it actually is. That’s my crackpot theory.

What was the moment during shooting where you thought, ‘this really works’?
I’m not entirely sure that there was! Not that I was thinking, god this isn’t working – but to a certain extent it was riding on faith the whole time. At the very end of the cutting process right before Sundance, it was like ‘I think this works’. I was petrified showing it at Sundance. I had no idea whether people were going to respond to it at all.

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.