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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Director Mills brings ‘Thumbsucker’ to DVD

    “”Thumbsucker”” first screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005. One year later, the comedy that can count Vince Vaughn and Keanu Reeves among its great ensemble cast is out on DVD.

    For writer and director Mike Mills, it’s a relief to almost be done with his first feature.

    “”I started it in 1999, just trying to figure out what to do with this book. I’ve never done anything with this big of an audience,”” Mills said. “”I learned how to write, learned to do so much.””

    “”Thumbsucker”” tells the story of Justin Cobb, a high school student who still sucks his thumb. While this is a great setup, the movie concentrates on Justin’s complicated relationships with family, friends, teachers and his orthodontist; at turns it’s either heartbreaking or hilarious.

    Mills previously made documentaries, shorts, and, because of a graphic design background, had created a niche for himself in music video for his ability to blend live action and animation. He has made videos for Pulp, Moby and Frank Black and earned great acclaim for his “”Sexy Boy”” spot for Air.

    Mills credits his experience with videos for helping him make “”Thumbsucker”” – from dealing with the content to finding the right people to help him make it.

    “”My music videos all have the same kind of issues – loneliness, not really feeling like you have a place in the world, just messed up,”” Mills said. “”The whole crew that worked on ‘Thumbsucker’ met during my videos. So many of the shots or angles are stuff we did on videos. Everything about ‘Thumbsucker’ I learned from the videos.””

    With other music video directors moving to features, Mills sees it as a natural place to begin for an artist.

    “”It’s like a film school for auteurs. There’s this Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry world where ideas are the things we all get jealous about. The music video directors are not just visual shenanigans guys, but actually coming up with stories and ideas,”” Mills said.

    Mills also already understood some the complicated process of putting image to sound.

    For “”Thumbsucker,”” Mills wanted to simplify the soundtrack with one artist, but it ended up being quite complicated.

    “”I’d done some graphics for (Elliott Smith), … and I really loved ‘Harold and Maude’ and the way that Cat Stevens was the one voice you hear throughout. I thought Elliott was the one voice you would hear (in ‘Thumbsucker’),”” Mills said. “”I was driving to editing one day and they were playing all these Elliott songs on the radio, and I was like ‘What’s going on?'””

    Before his death, Smith had already completed a few songs for the film, including a beautiful cover of Cat Stevens’ “”Trouble,”” but Mills had to find some more music that would fit the tone he wanted. During a time when he was having trouble editing the film, he found his answer at a Polyphonic Spree show.

    “”I left the theater feeling very not depressed. I thought, ‘Man, this is what I want people to feel like during the movie.’ We contacted (Spree songwriter) Tim (DeLaughter) and it was his first score. I think the Elliott songs and Tim songs sound right together,”” Mills said.

    Although music is a great strength of the film, there is no greater force at work than an ensemble cast featuring Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vaughn, Reeves and newcomer Lou Taylor Pucci.

    The great performances can be attributed to Mills’ extensive rehearsal demands with the characters who play the immediate family.

    It might seem that with big stars behind it, “”Thumbsucker”” was a breeze to get made, but it was quite hard for producers to come up with the $3.5 million budget.

    “”I got told no by just about everyone that exists. That’s the real problem. I never planned to make my first film with all these big stars, but it became apparent I would have to do it to get the financing,”” Mills explained.

    The “”filmmaking as a business”” problem is one of many that Mills is going to try to change with his next film.

    “”There are so many things I wince at when I see the film. With that said, I’m working on a new film now that’s kind of similar territory,”” Mills said. “”I would try to do it for cheaper to be more outside of the biz. The film industry is a big machine and if you enter, it is not very personalized for you.””

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