On Friday, June 19th, Joe Dante‘s latest film, Burying the Ex, hit select theaters, VOD, and iTunes. Last week, I was privileged enough to be among the people watching the premiere screening of the film at L.A.’s historic Egyptian Theatre, which, it turned out, was the perfect place to see it. That venue represents everything the movie, and Dante himself, bring out: a love of classic cinema and a love of Los Angeles. It seems pretty impossible to remove the City of Angels from the fabric of Burying the Ex, and that’s something that’s far too uncommon in movies nowadays.
For those of you not familiar with the cinema of Joe Dante, after a childhood going to see B-sci-fi and horror movies, he began working as an editor for Roger Corman, cutting trailers and the like, before finally getting to direct films like Hollywood Boulevard, which he co-directed with Allan Arkush, and his first solo-directed film, 1978’s Piranha. From there, he went on to direct movies like The Howling, Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The ‘Burbs, Matinee, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action. His movies always have nods toward the classic films he grew up loving and will often showcase the city of Los Angeles, or the artifice of Hollywood backlots. (Dante founded Trailers from Hell if you want to hear his takes on old movies.)
Burying the Ex is the result of years of attempting to get Alan Trezza’s script made, which ended up happening on a very small budget and had to be shot in 20 days in and around the Echo Park area. This proved to be one of the film’s best and most defining features. A whole sequence takes place at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and they actually shot there. At the Q&A following the film, Dante and actors Anton Yelchin and Alexandra Daddario all gushed about how great it was, and rare, to be able to shoot in the city they live.
“There should be more pictures shot in L.A., don’t ya think?” said Dante following Yelchin’s assertion that it’s great to shoot at home and see your dog every day. “I saw San Andreas,” he said, “and the whole picture’s about California falling apart, and it shot in Vancouver,” to which Daddario (who costarred) corrected “Australia.” A shocked Dante asked her “Did you shoot anything here?” “We shot a little hit in San Francisco,” she replied. Dante shook his head, pretty much flabbergasted.
“The L.A. film industry,” Dante explained, “when I came out here, that’s where you made movies. Everything was in L.A. And now, of course, chasing the almighty dollar, it’s become useful to go other places.” Dante clearly misses those days when every movie and TV show shot in L.A., and thinks it has had an effect on a dying group of day-players and character actors. “A lot of supporting actors used to become pretty well-known by making movie after movie and TV show after TV show in L.A. and being recognized by people. And now so many movies are made in so many different places that very few actors actually have a chance to make the kind of impression that actors like Dick Miller were able to make by having a career of being in so many different things. I just wonder if we’re ever going to see the like of that type of supporting actor again.”
The Dick Miller to whom Dante referred is the veteran character actor who has appeared in 175 films and TV shows in his long career and who has appeared in just about every Joe Dante film. Dante even coaxed Miller out of retirement to appear briefly in Burying the Ex. And it’s true; if you watch old TV shows and movies enough, you’ll be able to start recognizing “That Guy” or “That Lady” who were in dozens of things, which is something production in Los Angeles offers.
There was also much talk, in a positive way, about how the lower budget and short schedule helped things happen. “No matter what the budget is,” Daddario said, “there’s always going to be challenges. We always seem to be behind no matter what. If you have $100 million, you stretch that $100 million to the last possible second, and same on a smaller movie. On a smaller movie, it helps the crew and the actors get a lot more inventive. Sometimes not moving the camera makes shots look better than if they’d had time to move it.”
Yelchin echoed Daddario’s sentiments. “We didn’t have a full roof,” he explained. “We had to move the roof depending on where the shot was. Which was awesome, in a way, because the film is an homage to so many B-films. It’s great to not have to spend $300 million dollars to make a B-film, you know?”
Joe Dante is one of the last filmmakers to be sticking to this appreciation of what Hollywood, and B-movies, used to represent. He still calls movies “pictures” and still talks about movies as something to be admired and revered for pieces of art and not just as franchise entries that make money. Dante thanked Brad Pitt and World War Z for his movie getting made, because it showed zombie movies could make a lot of money. If it takes these big, rather-soulless blockbusters to allow someone like Dante to keep making movies, then there’s certainly no harm in it.
Burying the Ex is on VOD, iTunes, and in select theaters now. Go see it in a theater if you can. For the love of cinema.