Patrick Brice has to give away his couch. It’s an old brown leather couch that his dog had slowly been destroying for five years, and it’s currently sitting in a U-Haul somewhere in the east side of Los Angeles. It’s the most mundane of domestic tasks, the kind of obligation that’s barely worth an anecdote. In that way, it’s almost like an indie movie: May we suggest The Puffy Chair?
But Brice has more to worry about right now than furniture. He and Jason Schwartzman are about to head off to Seattle for the city’s film festival. Then he’ll spend the ensuing week promoting his surprisingly touching sex-comedy The Overnight, doing the morning-show rounds and kissing all the necessary babies before the movie opens. At the same time, his found-footage horror movie, Creep, will be released on VOD.
The contrasting distribution of his first two feature films, released within 24 hours of each other, puts Brice at the forefront of the film industry’s future-now: How can filmmakers get folks to watch their movies when there are more and bigger film products than ever before? (Not to mention so many other screens to look at.) But Brice’s professional transformation is a little more straightforward.
“Never in my mind did I think that both my first and second feature would be coming out the same weekend,” Brice says. “I keep asking people, like, when has this happened before? All I could think of is I think War Horse and Indiana Jones, for Steven Spielberg,1 were both in theaters at the same time. This wasn’t the plan, but it’s great: It’s basically the last five years of my life. I’m just wiping my desk clean.”
Movie stars, dual releases, film festivals: It all seems very glamorous. But in the contemporary entertainment industry, glamour — and getting people to see your work — is a lot more complicated than that. Case in point: That couch won’t move itself.
Brice is 32 years old, and he spent nearly two years making Creep with indie film macher Mark Duplass — and only Mark Duplass. It will be released exclusively on iTunes, then added to Netflix in July. Meanwhile, The Overnight, which Duplass produced with Naomi and Adam Scott, was shot in an amphetamine-fast 12 days, exclusively between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Befitting the quality of its cast — Scott, Schwartzman, Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling, and French actress Judith Godrèche — it’s receiving a traditional theatrical release from The Orchard, a distributor that snatched it up at Sundance out of the hands of heavy hitters like A24 and Lionsgate after what Variety called “a fierce bidding war that went into the wee hours of Monday morning.”
“I have no illusions about whether or not my stuff is going to play in movie theaters,” Brice says.
We’re having lunch at India Sweets & Spices on Los Feliz Boulevard, where he wrote nearly all of The Overnight. Brice, who is 6-foot-6, seems to envelop the table as he talks. He’s wearing a beige flannel shirt and jeans, and has the kind of friendly beard that you might see on an indie-rock drummer or a guy who knows his way around home brewing.
“Maybe this is a generational thing, too: growing up thinking about making movies,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily dreaming of a bunch of people in a theater watching my movie — it was much more about the process and making it. I’m just happy that both of these films are getting the releases that they’re getting in the way that they’re getting.”
Brice didn’t think he’d be this kind of director at all. His introduction to film came through his father. From the time he was 5 until he left home at 17, they’d rent a movie every Thursday when his therapist mother was running group nights for her patients. His dad’s taste tended toward The Naked Gun, The Blues Brothers, and The Jerk. But Brice became a convert to cinema when, barely a teenager, he saw Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire.
“That was me, by myself, just watching that movie on VHS and being completely transported and really feeling the spiritual aspects of that movie in a deep way, a connected way,” Brice says. “Then it was David Lynch. David Lynch is my man. I adore him.”2
As he has for many people, Lynch proved a gateway drug into a deeper world, and, coupled with exposure to the auteur infiltration of the mainstream in the ’90s through movies like Pulp Fiction and Fargo, Brice developed his personal moviegoing language.
“I’ve always been drawn toward sex, I’ve always wanted to read about sex, I’ve always wanted to read about violence, I’ve always been drawn toward the macabre,” Brice says. “And I’ve always had daydreams, and nightmares, and weird dreams. So it was nice to see that kind of art being reflected.”
While his dreams of film began to crystallize, the rest of his life was less lucid. With his parents’ negotiated blessing, Brice dropped out of high school, got his GED, and moved from his tiny hometown of Grass Valley, California, to San Francisco, where he lived with a 40-year-old woman and her dog in the hinterlands of the Sunset, a district on the western side of the city. The idea was that Brice would put himself through community college, taking classes and working while trying to penetrate San Francisco’s documentary filmmaking scene. Like the best-laid plans of so many 17-year-olds, it didn’t quite play out like that. Brice got a job as a valet at the Marriott downtown, then rose through the ranks. Ultimately, he was managing 30 employees, wearing a suit and tie every day, and earning $50,000 a year, all at the tender age of 19.
“It was great, because that’s tempting as a 19-year-old to get that kind of money and have that kind of responsibility,” Brice says. “But it was good to do that and realize, I’m not fulfilled right now, I’m not happy, the creative part of me is not content. It was good to have that experience, and it was a confidence-builder for sure, but it was also like, I’ve got to get the fuck out of here.”
“Getting the fuck out of here” came by way of a personal-assistant gig at the Rosenberg Foundation in San Francisco, which led to a personal-assistant gig with Robert Mailer Anderson, a San Francisco novelist, screenwriter, philanthropist, and self-aware eccentric. Brice signed on to work with the multi-hyphenate just as Anderson began production on Pig Hunt, a film that he wrote and independently financed. By nature of his proximity, Brice served as a de facto producer. For three years, the production became a sort of film school as he helped shepherd the $6 million killer-hog flick to completion.
“It was great because I was thrust into having all these conversations I was not qualified to have,” Brice says. “I just had to be socially nimble in a way that I hadn’t really dealt with before, and be learning but also trying hard as I can not to fuck up. And I fucked up a lot. I was not a good personal assistant.”
De facto film school led to actual film school: After Pig Hunt, Brice decamped south to CalArts with the woman who would become his wife. In CalArts’s experimentally minded program, he focused on installation art and documentary, which culminated with a project that he worked on during a stint at France’s La Femis: a short called Maurice, about the “owner-projectionist of what may be the last porno movie house in Europe still playing 35-mm films.” (The first scene features the protagonist of the title unboxing 40-year-old reels of porno and reading off names like Anal Delight, Pleasure and Cumming, and Delirious Sodomy.)
But perhaps even more important than his experience at CalArts would be his girlfriend’s first job after they moved to Los Angeles: babysitting.
“I met Patrick when he was the boyfriend to the nanny of my children,” Mark Duplass says. “He and I used to just hang out casually, and we discovered that we’re both tremendous people-watchers and fans of odd people. But there’s this specific thing where you meet people who are students of the human condition, and 95 percent of them have a mean spirit toward it. Patrick just has this huge capacity to see quirky, strange people and love them, and I have a little bit of that too.”
The mumblecore king turned HBO showrunner, a man whose name is attached to so many products of the movie industry that he can seem like a Pynchonian joke, Duplass had been toying with the idea of making a movie by himself. After talking with Brice, that morphed into a project called Peachfuzz: a young filmmaker, played by Brice, would answer the Craigslist ad of a man, played by Duplass, offering $1,000 for a day’s videography. Duplass’s character, Josef, would turn out to be a weirdo loner, and Brice’s character, Aaron, would be the loving guy who could finally help him out.
They shot it found-footage style in and around Duplass’s vacation home so that they could do the entire movie just between the two of them. But it didn’t totally work — something was missing. Then Brice and Duplass showed the rough cut to Jason Blum, proprietor of Blumhouse Productions, which has become a major player in Hollywood with the success of Paranormal Activity and a coterie of cheaply made horror films.
“He said, ‘You guys made a horror movie. Let’s make this more of a horror movie,’” Brice says. “We knew we wanted to make something that was awkward, and we knew it was going to be in the found-footage genre, but I think we found an interesting tension — it’s a horror movie about uncomfortable silences.”
And that’s what stands out about Creep: the silences. Aaron is constantly waiting to respond to Josef and all of his strange requests, which grow stranger by the minute; in the hollow space of his trepidation, all of the viewer’s fears and anxieties grow unbridled. It’s the horror of unfamiliarity.
Blum’s redirection meant renovation, and Brice says he and Duplass did five or six reshoots. Creep took the better part of two years to complete, and during that time they’d periodically hold screenings of their latest cut for other filmmakers and friends. As a release valve, Brice began writing another script. He and Duplass agreed that if he could write something largely contained to one location — in the model of 2014’s The One I Love, a film Duplass had just made with Elisabeth Moss and director Charlie McDowell — then Duplass would help produce it.
“He was such a CalArts filmmaker when I met him, and I think he thought he was going to be making really well-crafted Eastern European cinema,” Duplass says. “And then I thrust him into this world of shitty-looking mock-doc filmmaking, and it was great for him, it threw him for a loop — all you have are the performances in a movie like Creep, and I feel like his personality was really well suited for that.
“When he and I built the story of The Overnight, it was the natural next step for him: maintaining his love of weird people but handling it in a more natural cinematic way.”
Having realized his macabre Lynchian dream with Creep, Brice used The Overnight to address his other cinematic fascination: sex. But he wanted to write about carnality in a mature, sympathetic manner. He wanted to create characters that seemed to care for one another as human beings — a quality, he says, that is absent from most modern American comedies. Brice explains it like this: “I love making fun of people, but you’ve got to make fun of people that you love.”
The sex in Brice’s movie is out in the open. In The Overnight, there are two instances in which sex is interrupted by children, and both Schwartzman and Scott wear prosthetic penises for long stretches at a time. There are no closed doors in this film.
Naomi Scott had seen an early cut of Creep. When Duplass contacted her and her husband, Adam, about producing a new script from the Creep guy, Naomi was intrigued. The Scotts’ company, Gettin’ Rad Productions, was looking to follow up on the success of its Adult Swim series The Greatest Event in Television History with a feature. Duplass suggested Brice’s script.
“Mark, Patrick, Adam, and I met up at Trails Café in Griffith Park. We had read the script, and it was a perfect setting where we were outside, there was daylight, it was sunny, and here was this very affable, sweet, super-mild-mannered guy talking about this really twisted sex comedy, kids all around us,” Naomi says. “I think, truthfully, I was confused — isn’t Patrick too young to have written this script? He doesn’t have the kind of brooding insincerity of someone who truly gets this world. I think the characters and premise of The Overnight is told in such a sweet way, and I think that I just had to wrap my head around the fact that this young kid could write something that was so mature.”
Brice and Naomi refer to each other as younger brother and older sister, and it speaks to the intimacy with which they worked on The Overnight. Because it was such a lean operation — reportedly made for as little as $150,000 — Naomi, as the on-set producer, served as a sort of fixer, helping to make the show run smoothly. They shot at a house up the street from the Scotts’ Lake Hollywood home, and the night shoot meant that the cast and crew were dialed in to a degree that would otherwise be impossible. At 3 a.m., who can distract you?
Making The Overnight couldn’t have been more different from making Creep. The story concerns a couple, new to Los Angeles, who join another couple for a night of pizza and drinks that devolves into drug-fueled sexual exploration. Brice had an experienced crew at his disposal, including a director of photography, John Guleserian, who had worked with filmmakers like Drake Doremus and Richard Curtis. He had a seasoned cast that had been working since they were children. And he had a screenplay that he’d spent months on, including a full rewrite after he accidentally deleted the first 70 pages. Now all that he had to do was direct the thing.
“I imagine Patrick on set, and I think of him lying on the ground with his feet up on the wall. I think 40 percent of his conversations were conducted like that,” Naomi says. “As the kind of leader on set, he was just incredibly relaxed, and I think that’s why he got so much out of the cast and crew.”
Schwartzman signed on to play the part of Kurt only weeks before shooting began.
“He called me after he’d read the first 30 pages to say yes, and I was like, ‘You need to finish the script. I really need you to finish the script!’” Brice says.
When they met, Brice took Schwartzman to try on shirts in search of the perfect garment for his character: loose, sensual, and fashionably ridiculous. Schwartzman was dazzled by Brice’s stability on set, which he attributes first to the director’s tendency to laugh; Schwartzman doesn’t trust people who don’t laugh. And Brice does have a great laugh: It sounds like an old wooden roller coaster. Also, he’s tall.
“Patrick is very self-assured, and he’s unflappable,” Schwartzman says. “I would say if I was 6-6, I would feel that way too. If I could knowingly slam dunk, if I wanted to, I might feel a little less worried about stuff.”
Brice is exactly one foot taller than Schwartzman.
For Brice, it was a question of perspective. On Creep, he and Duplass carried the burden of the film entirely on their shoulders. All of a sudden, making The Overnight, he was surrounded by experts, and thank god: They were moving through seven to 10 pages a day, shooting until they got the scene and not much beyond that; Brice says the ratio of footage to film is only about 2-to-1.
“For me, as a first-time director going into it, putting my confidence in each individual person, it was like, ‘You guys have been doing this for much longer than I have — this is what I want to do, help me get to this point,’” Brice says.
Schwartzman compares directors to quarterbacks who keep their players calm during two-minute drills. That’s Brice, he says, plus all that laughing.
“I can’t imagine Eli Manning laughing all the time.”
Despite the surface incongruity of Creep and The Overnight, they’re lousy with similarities. Both feature characters subjected to dire circumstances born of curiosity. Both can be tense and pleasurably excruciating to watch — Brice says he can’t believe how masochistic audiences are. And both exist as proof of a world in which original, albeit small, movies are still being made with enthusiasm and ingenuity.
The changing face of distribution hugely affects a young filmmaker like Brice. Creep’s deal with Netflix came about thanks to Duplass’s relationship with the streaming service: He and his brother Jay have a deal in place to make four movies that will live on Netflix after short theatrical releases. Duplass and Netflix go way back — many of his films have gotten extended lifespans thanks to exposure through streaming availability. When he and Brice were determining how to release Creep, he thought Netflix could be a good home.
“When we signed the four-picture deal, that was understood as a starting point — we might do 30 movies together,” Duplass says. “I’ve been tracking the way that some of my other movies have been playing on Netflix [overseas], and it’s a great way for those folks to see the movie. I can’t get anybody in Latin America to pay 12 dollars to go to theaters and see Creep, but they will click on it on Netflix, and I’m all about getting as many eyeballs on these movies as I can.”
For its part, Netflix sees this as an opportunity to make the service less and less distinguishable from old-fashioned forms of distribution.
“Netflix has a history of supporting clever genre films and a global audience who look for and enjoy these titles,” Erik Barmack, Netflix VP of global content, wrote in an email. “As with Creep, we are now buying directly and globally to satisfy this demand.”
And though The Overnight’s distribution is different, the priorities were the same: getting the movie done as efficiently and affordably as possible, then partnering with a company best suited to the film’s needs and strengths.
“We connected with The Overnight from the moment we saw it — we loved its ability to be an intelligent yet raucous comedy with genuine performances from the whole cast,” Paul Davidson, head of The Orchard’s film and TV division, said via email. “We felt from the outset that this deserved a traditional theatrical release because we truly believed this was a film that would resonate with a broad audience.”
It’s artists like Brice who most stand to benefit from the new landscape of releasing movies. It doesn’t always matter if the movies work — but Creep and The Overnight do work. And this kind of roll-out means that they will likely be seen by more people than any other means of distribution would provide.
After The Overnight’s positive reception at Sundance, Brice received a number of scripts, mostly comedies that were iterated versions of the cruel movies he’d been reacting to. Right now, he has an outline for an original story ready. But part of the virtue of his career so far has been that when you haven’t established a precedent for yourself, you can’t be held to it, either.
“I just want to keep making work, and I love the process of making stuff, solving each problem as it comes,” Brice says. “I’m not a genre-specific person. I look at someone like Jonathan Demme — that’s someone whose career I’d like to have. I don’t love all his movies, but at the same time, he’s not afraid to be nimble and work in any genre that’s being thrown at him.”
Creep’s existence offers another comfort. Brice has proved that he can make a movie in the most basic and fundamental of ways: with one other person and a camera, finding their form as they go. If, in the future, Brice makes a studio movie and it fails, or his momentum otherwise gets derailed, there’s always that refuge.
“Maybe that’s life, too, the stripping away of fear, especially with your career, with each new thing you get presented with,” Brice says. “It’s all scary. I was scared the whole fucking time I was making both these films. I was scared because I had to act — I wasn’t used to acting. I was scared because I had to navigate the studio world and still please Mark as my producer, Jason Blum as my producer, Adam and Naomi as my producers.
“Acknowledging that fear, and isolating it, and letting it be something that propels you to go forward — that’s how I’ve been able to do this.”
And what’s the worst thing that could happen when you can just point and start shooting? Who knows: Maybe that couch has more to offer than an afternoon chore.
Kevin Lincoln (@KTLincoln) is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.