Filmmaker Profile: Morgan Krantz
A CONVERSATION ABOUT FILM BETWEEN EXES
Before Morgan Krantz called me about this interview, he prefaced it with a text. It said “Professional question for you.” He had to define it first, because we need that now. We were together for six and a half years, and broke up seven months ago. I get asked all the time if we’re still friends, and I say yes, we are, but the truth is it’s not so seamless. Morgan will text me sometimes, and casually ask for first and last names of people I’ve dated, then follow up by saying, “Asking as a buddy.” Or we’ll not talk for a week and half and then he’ll call me from the grocery store to ask me what kind of coffee he likes. It’s a relationship that’s evolving, and friendship is part of it, but doesn’t define it all.
For the uninitiated, Morgan Krantz is an actor, writer and filmmaker. His directorial debut, Babysitter, released May 3rd, stars Max Burkholder [Parenthood] and Daniele Watts [Django Unchained]. The semi-autobiographical indie drama was named one of the breakout hits at the SXSW Film Festival where it premiered. I remember when he wrote it. He spent three weeks stuck to a black leather lounge chair, his laptop glued to his thighs. It came quickly. He drew from his own childhood, the story of a thirteen year old boy who, caught in the middle of his parents’ custody battle, finds a kindred spirit in the new Wiccan babysitter.
And now we’re here, as journalist and director. We met at Taix Restaurant in a booth in the back. We ordered appetizers and soup and salad. He asked if I wanted fries or calamari. I told him I never liked calamari, and he knows that. Then he looked at the waitress and pointed at me with his thumb. “She’s my ex,” he said. And we started the interview.
Jessica: Why did you want to be interviewed by me?
MK: I think it’s very appropriate. I essentially made a movie about the babysitter I lost my virginity to. You write a lot about the breakup we’ve been going through, and you include me as a character in a lot of things you write. Now you’re writing an article about your ex who made a film about his ex. This is all very good.
Yeah but to be clear, I had to think about writing this article.
MK: What were your concerns?
Well, you asked if I wanted to interview you about the movie, and my concern was like ‘well no thanks I lived through that' and you could literally ask anyone but me, and it would probably be better.
But then I thought about it, the conversation between exes and how art imitates life and how real experiences can kind of inform art. That’s how I’ve been trying to write anyway, and what I’m interested in, like whether it's good or bad, just letting experiences really inform my writing in a way that’s not preconceived but just felt.
MK: I think about this a lot right now. My favorite films last year were Krisha, James White and Heaven Knows What. All of which had a direct link to real life people in some documentarian way. Heaven Knows What was about these real junkies. Krisha was a real family story that happened to Trey. James White was basically the story of this guy’s mother dying. Just really as it was.
I didn’t see that one. I saw the other two.
MK: Well, I know you saw the other two. I took you to see them. You didn’t see the third one because we were broken up by then. You know, you need to keep your movie taste up. You need to keep that going.
Yea I haven’t seen that many movies recently. But I do see everything that you watch on Amazon.
MK: That’s right. Why is that?
Because you use my Amazon Prime.
MK: Yea, so you know when I’m just having lonely nights.
I do. I actually just recently changed the name on Netflix. Because it would pop up when I opened it to like “Who’s watching? Morgan?”
MK: Yeah, I had a girl over one night and it was like “Continue watching for Jessica?” And she was like “Oh, Jessica?” Some people don’t get it...
Yeah, there’s a lot of details that stay attached. That are not significant, but they’re there.
MK: But don’t you find that being single—this is another way of asking if you think your life is better without me—don’t you think that being single does open you up to so many more experiences that can inform your work?
I am more and more feeling...
MK: Totally over it?
No, not over it. I’ll never be over you in a way where I don’t care about you.
MK: Well, we love each other.
Yeah, we love each other. But I feel like it’s so good for both of us individually and as artists.
MK: Absolutely. It’s just happening right now. I feel that.
It’s not the most comfortable. But it’s good to be uncomfortable.
MK: So in a nutshell how I feel about you interviewing me is, I’m the one who asked you to do it. You were there with me, with me and for me, for the entire making of the film. You were a big part of making the film. I could have asked a lot of people. I asked you to do it because it’s really just a ploy for me to take a step in redefining our relationship into a new direction of friendship and love.
Well when I was writing these questions, I was thinking a lot about the premiere in Austin. Because SXSW was sort of a special premiere for this movie in particular, and Austin is a special city for you. I was thinking about that because this film is not just about your ex and your past love. It’s about your family too. And you have family in Austin, how was it to show them the film?
MK: The premiere for me was— I wish I drank more. I remember my manager urging me to have a drink but I was so wound up that I couldn’t even believe he was suggesting it. I was like, “I’m drinking coffee, you fucking asshole.” But in retrospect, I wish I just had a fucking drink and enjoyed that shit, you know what I mean? Because can you imagine--you spend two years on this fucking thing and all of a sudden you're showing it to 200 people and also, as you know, we didn’t finish the film until a week before it was premiering. Nobody had really seen it and then suddenly there were 200 people, and I was a nervous wreck.
Well, yeah, I know. And taking family and everyone out of it, just as an artist that’s nerve wracking.
MK: Yea, my grandmother was there. My mother was there. My mother was like kind of —she's not really portrayed in the film, but she is, and she was aware of that and it was a lot.
Yeah, but your mother’s character turned from one thing to another...
MK: It’s true. The script was much more focused on the mother character. She was given a lot more real estate, but after we shot the film I realized that the heart of the story was in the relationship between the boy and the babysitter so we focused much more on that.
Yeah and didn’t the mother character kind of change after that switch?
MK:The mother became shown a little more just from the boy’s point of view, and the boy’s point of view—you know, he’s thirteen—is that she’s a fucking bitch. Because that’s what thirteen year old boys think about their moms sometimes. But the movie is very aware of the fact that he’s thirteen. The movie’s not asking you to feel what he’s feeling. The movie’s saying, “look at this thirteen year old — isn’t he kind of an idiot, but don’t you relate?”
Right, and did your mom relate?
MK: So, no. My mom was very upset by the way this mother was portrayed and didn’t fully come out with it until several months later. I remember being at a car wash and she just called me and was like “I can’t hold it in anymore Morgan,” and just let it rip on me. She was quoting lines from the movie, and so mad. I really had to try to explain to her everything I just explained to you. It’s very hard to tell somebody that the movie is based on real life in these ways, but not in that way. You know what I mean?
But your mom understood after that. She’s also an actress.
MK: Yea, my mother’s an actress, and she does understand. I think she just had to rage out on me and vent a little bit. She had to tell me that she didn’t appreciate it, which I understand. But ultimately though I do believe it is always flattering to be written about. I’ve been written about.
MK: Well, you’ve written about me a lot and ultimately I find it very flattering. Oh, actually one time I got mad at you.
Yeah you did. That was a terrible moment.
MK: Well, the thing is - we hung out. This was like three to four months after our breakup. We had a special moment together, at night under the street lamps, and I found it to be very significant and beautiful. I even took a picture of it as it was happening. It was a very nice picture of you with the streetlight in your hair. We listened to a song that was really special. It was like a nice moment, just person to person you know?
Yeah I remember.
MK: I know, and then you wrote about it the next day and I frankly don’t think you captured the authenticity of the moment. You didn’t capture my reality of it and I don’t think you nailed it.
Okay, that could be true. I think I write better when a little bit of time has passed, and it was only the next day and maybe it hadn’t totally processed yet, because it was a really beautiful moment for me too. But what you did was just rip straight into my ability as a writer.
MK: I’m sorry. You know it had nothing to do with that. But I was offended. Like my mother was probably offended.
Yeah, I didn’t do as good as I could do. Which I understand, and yea I think it will hurt the most feelings if you’re not writing well.
MK: Yea. Ultimately my mother was just saying hey-
MK: Well we can't put this in the interview.
No, not really. But you didn’t do as well as you could with her character and I think that’s true. I mean, you ended up with an interesting mother. It just wasn’t your mother.
MK: It’s true. I captured a lot in the film, but how can anyone capture their mother. I think you have to be like a master, like in your middle age, you have to be at your fucking peak as a filmmaker to capture your mother.
Well that was another one of my questions. I find when I write about something and I sort of end the story, so to speak, I can forget about it almost, like that moment or that feeling. Do you feel like in making this movie, you can now put your thirteen year old self to rest? Or is there still more?
MK: You made me think of a great quote about whether or not art can be therapeutic. It’s by Gary Oldman. He says that in the earlier part of his acting career, he thought acting could do that for him, but after awhile he realized that it’s just a snow globe. All these feelings and things, you can shake them up, but they just settle down, and they’re still there. And I guess that’s true. The themes of the film are themes that I was dealing with at the time that I wrote the movie. I was dealing with the idea of love. You know, we were together. We were in a serious relationship, we had just moved into a big house together, and it was the most committed relationship I ever had, and the most serious one. And I think I was learning to love and trust you still.
MK: Yea, I was thinking a lot about love and selfishness at the time. I’m also very interested in economics. How economics influences individuals and nations. It’s a really fascinating subject and the movie is kind of dealing with that in a way. Like where the money is coming from, who’s providing for who. These things really change the nature of relationships.
So do you think that the love that you had with the babysitter when you were thirteen was really love or an economics and power struggle?
MK: No, it wasn’t an economics and power struggle. And it wasn’t love. I don’t actually consider her my first love. That came later in life. But we were two deeply lonely people who kind of felt like orphans. We weren't orphans, but we both felt like orphans. We both felt like we didn’t have a family, even though we did. My family was going through a lot of shit at that time. Her family was going through even worse shit. And it was like being in a deserted place and seeing somebody else out there. It was a survival thing. What’s cool about the film is that it really debunks and demystifies the sort of porny-ness of the ‘bangin the babysitter’ narrative and makes it really real—because the reality of it was the mundanity of like “where are we gonna fuck.’ ‘How do we lie about where we’re going to fuck.’ And I was ashamed of it.
MK: She just wasn't the thirteen year old me’s idea of what a woman was supposed to be, but Ihad this other connection with her. And I just wanted to have sex and I wanted to have experiences and stuff so I went for it. And I did love her. But it was never that capital L kind of thing.
Yeah. It’s funny now that were single again. You're 29 and I’m 31 and I feel almost the same, like just chasing experiences, as opposed to love.
MK: Yea. Same here. It’s like we go through these cycles. And now we’re back at it again, drinking from the rivers. Just going out with our beggars cups into the experience of life.
Yeah, like “Excuse me sir, can you spare an experience please?”
MK: Yea like please give me weird shit please. It’s funny it’s true. I have thought that. Our relationship was a sanctuary. When we found each other I was done with experiences, I was like, I’ve had enough. I need a safe haven. I need a person. I need some stability in my life, and in that time that we were together we built this little hut for ourselves. I was able to write this film, and we both did a lot of great things, that are now allowing us to re-enter the river so to speak, but with more of a head on our shoulders. I think we really formed our identities in that time together artistically.
It’s interesting. It really is.
MK: It is. When I went out to Texas to visit my family there— all my Texas family live on ranches—they live the simple life. They’re beautiful, deep people, but they live simply. The simplicity is probably an advancement from the way most people live. But I went out there and they're like “Oh, where’s Jessica?” And I was like, “Oh we broke up,” and they just so plainly ask you “Why? What happened?” Just very plain. They look you square in the eye and I don’t know how to answer because in LA, you can get away with this bullshit. You can say “Oh you know I had feelings, I’m a Scorpio, and Saturn returned,” and literally people buy this shit here. But you're out there in the middle of a pasture and your uncle asks you that and what do you say? I literally didn’t have an answer for him. I was faced with the ugly reality of it, which was that we just didn’t want to do it anymore. That’s it. That’s the only answer I felt I could honestly tell him. Because that’s the truth of it.
MK: Actually that’s why I asked you to do this interview, because you’re somebody that I can spill my heart out to. And I want to spill my heart out to you, and to the people that read this. And I feel like you can get that out of me because you can see through all my bullshit. You’re not going to let me recycle any of the things I’ve said before and you know when I’m being truthful and when I’m not. And I can’t lie to you. I’ve never been able to lie to you. So that’s why I asked you to do this interview. That’s my answer.
That’s a good answer.
MK: Thank you.