"What interests me is the idea of self-repair," Chuck & Buck director Miguel Arteta confides during a San Francisco stopover. "I like movies about damaged goods, about people who don't have the skills to deal with life but are somehow able to get them as they go along. I also like movies that play with tone, that have more ambivalence."
Chuck & Buck is an atypical buddy movie in that one of the buddies decided long ago that he didn't want to play anymore. That would be Chuck, a "grown-up" with a glamorous girlfriend, chic house, and power job in the L.A. music biz. "It's totally a cover-up for what we're making fun of, which is the film industry," Arteta admits. "The entertainment industry is a ridiculous culture. It's such a status-mongering culture; people always want to one-up each other. There's so much jealousy around." Arteta grins ruefully. "The film industry always feels kind of honored when people satirize it. They feel important."
Even though Arteta's first feature, Star Maps, was an indie success story, it was hard to get Chuck & Buck going. "I got people telling me, 'If you get Ethan Hawke in this movie, we'll make it.' Probably I could have gotten some names involved, but we wanted to make it in an uncompromised way. We wanted the story to be the star." Arteta decided to shoot in digital video, which not only slashed the budget but made life easier for his nonprofessional actors. "You have less equipment, less people taking care of stuff, the cameras are 5-pound plastic objects that nobody is too intimidated by," Arteta explains. "There's not that hurry-up-and-wait, start-stop feeling that you have when you're working in film. It puts the emphasis in the right place, which is performances. I think it's a great tool for indie filmmaking for that reason." In this case, it got the viewer up close and personal with Chuck & Buck's odd couple. "We wanted to feel like it was so intimate it almost felt intrusive, like you're-reading-your-best-friend's-diary kind of a feeling."
Born in Puerto Rico and educated in the States, Arteta was around 22 when he heard the call. "Something Wild is the movie that got me off my butt," he recalls. "I had done short films and stuff, but that movie made me fall in love with the process of making movies. My car mechanic hooked me up with Jonathan Demme right after college, and I worked on one of his movies, Cousin Bobby. And then Jonathan recommended me to the American Film Institute. He came to see Chuck & Buck at Sundance, and I've never been as nervous in a screening ever. He ran up to me and gave me a hug after the movie. I cried, I was so touched. He was like, 'Your movie's wonderful. This is proof that the system works, the mentoring system works.'"
Perhaps it's San Francisco's enthusiasm for all things digital, or maybe the presence here of a disproportionate number of (straight and gay) Peter Pans who can identify with Buck, but our burg has been picked to join N.Y. and L.A. in opening Chuck & Buck this Friday. Already setting up his next film, Arteta says, "I feel like I'm on the edge of my Boogie Nights."
Michael Fox is host ofIndependent View, which airs Fridays at 10:30 p.m., Saturdays around midnight, and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. on KQED (Channel 9).