by Christopher Null
Exactly two years have passed since principal photography began on the film. Five years have gone by since the first draft of the script was written. And finally, September 27, 1996 marks the theatrical premiere of Ed's Next Move, one of the best comedies I've seen in a long while, and for writer/director John Walsh, it's been a long five years -- a game of waiting -- which he's finally won with one hell of a bang.
"We shot the movie in October of 1994," says Walsh, calling from California on the eve of the Los Angeles premiere. (The film opens plays its first week in three cities: L.A., New York, and Austin.) "The movie was really finished and done in August of last year," he says, after which the auteur took the print to the Independent Feature Film Market in New York. While interest in distributing the film was high, Walsh was reluctant to accept their offers, extending the waiting game even further.
"We got some offers from companies that we didn't want to take, and then we got into Sundance, so we had to wait for another four months. Once we got into Sundance [which is held in January], Orion [picked up the film and] decided they wanted to go to the Toronto Film Festival for a boost, and have the movie come out in September or October. Basically there's been all this time where it's been ready to go... and it's just been sitting." And now the film will sit no more, opening in theaters around the country over the next couple of months.
Ed's Next Move is the wildly funny story of Eddie (Matt Ross), a twentysomething Wisconsin geneticist who finds New York City more than he'd bargained for. It's here that he meets Lee (Callie Thorne), a moody enchantress who Eddie is instantly smitten with, although the feeling isn't altogether mutual. We are treated to an inside look at Eddie's pursuit of Lee, while he deals with the vagaries of the Big Apple, all of which is nothing short of hilarious.
I spoke to Walsh about the making of the picture, a zippy 88-minute film shot on 35mm stock that belies its ultra-low budget heritage. While Ed's Next Move has the look and feel of a million-dollar project, it was completed for a scant $90,000. Walsh speaks about how he saved money on the shoot, saying, "We had a really good director of photography, and we were really careful. I think we maximized our opportunities. We tried to keep the visuals simple and limited the amount of coverage we did; that way we insured that with every shot we did do we could take the time to make it look good."
Of course, that $90,000 is $90,000 more than most aspiring filmmakers have. "I immediately had to go back to work as a video editor to keep the production floating and to cover the interest on the credit cards," relates Walsh. "Everybody was working for free, or deferred payments, and we got a lot of really good deals. I basically used up ten years worth of favors to get something like this done."
And where did this upstart John Walsh come from? He started at NYU film school, where, he says, "I learned a lot about making films but *nothing* about the business." After two years of writing spec screenplays and tending bar, "I'd had no luck getting an agent; no luck selling anything; and then I worked for a friend [Nancy Savoca] for three years who made her first film totally independently called True Love. True Love ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1989, and I was very inspired by her process of going out and doing the movie independently. I said, 'This is what I have to do.' So five years ago I started the first draft of Ed's Next Move.
"I had been in Seattle for six months working with Nancy on Dogfight, and the contrast moving back from a very nice, user-friendly town made me see New York from a different eye and say, 'Hey... life's a little weird here.'
"But I didn't want to do something that was like," he says, mock-boo-hoo-whining, "'Oh! People are mugged and killed and there's car crashes and you go to jail!' I wanted it to be about the more subtle aspects of relationships, and the way that people deal with each other in a big city, where people have their guard up and are more careful -- like Lee."
I asked Walsh about one of the best comedic sequences I've ever seen, where Eddie and Lee have there climactic first date. It is affectionately referred to as "The Mice Scene," (and I'll try not to spoil anything) wherein Eddie and Lee find an unexpected third guest to a dinner at Eddie's apartment -- a mouse, stuck in a glue trap. I asked Walsh if it was totally made up or if there was a bit of truth to it. "Totally made up," he says, "*but*... I had been at a point where this guy told me a story about having caught 22 mice in one glue trap in a horrible New York apartment. So I asked, 'How do you kill them? They're just sitting there and suffering...' And he said, 'You know, you just take a pencil, and you snap it --you pull it back with one finger and you just *snap* 'em right in the head!' And I thought... that's really horrible. For some reason I had one of these traps while I was writing, and I caught a mouse that way, and it was very unpleasant. And I thought, what if the date goes wrong because of one of these? And after that, things just started to connect...." Trust me, that's only the beginning.
Part of the success of Ed's NExt Move has to be attributed to its actors, all new faces who are completely appropriate for their parts because we've never seen them before. Walsh speaks about where the cast came from. "I didn't have a huge pool of people available to me because we were paying no money. The lead [Ross], though, started out as my assistant... doing [audition] readings against the women. And his character was so real and so believable, you really believed he was on a date, and he was incredibly funny. The feeling I want to feel in an audition room is, do they make you care? Do they capture you? If they do that, and they make you laugh, then there's really nothing else you have to ask yourself."
And in an era of bland slapstick, I asked Walsh what the film said to him thematically. "I don't know," he says, quite honestly. "I don't actually feel like I'm trying to say something specific, but that I'm trying to explore characters and behavior in a funny way. But I guess the movie, to me, is about two people who are trying to take steps away from where they've been toward something new in a relationship."
And does Walsh think, a year after the credits roll, that opposites can stay together, that Ed's NExt Move has a truly happy ending? "I have no idea. I don't know. And I don't think it matters. I think the important thing is that they were at least going to try."
In closing, I asked what was next for Walsh. He's been working on a new script during the dead time in the two years of Ed's NExt Move post-production. "It's a modern screwball comedy," he says. "It's about a plumber who sets up a casting session for a movie that doesn't exist so he can meet women. It leads to unexpected places in an "Emperor's New Clothes" fashion as all sorts of people get interested in this project because they have this mistaken notion that it's something hot."
I'm hooked already.
Christopher Null is a long-established writer and media critic based in Austin, Texas.