Local hero: David Gordon Green brings The Sitter home to UNCSA

by Mark Burger

David Gordon Green (courtesy photo)

They say you can’t go home again, but David Gordon Green may be the exception to the rule.

The awardwinning filmmaker, a 1998 graduate of the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA, brought his latest film The Sitter (see review, Page 33) to the school for a special screening last week, prior to its national opening.

Jordan Kerner, the dean of the filmmaking school, introduced Green as “our host for the evening. Whenever he’s here, it’s a really great thing for all of us.”

The film stars Jonah Hill in the title role, Noah Griffith, one of the most unlikely babysitters in recent memory. In order to give his divorced, harried mother (Jessica Hecht) a well-deserved night on the town, Noah agrees to babysit three neighborhood children (Max Records, Landry Bender and Kevin Hernandez).

What ought to be a quiet night with the kids instead turns into a slapstick free for all, with Noah and his charges up barreling through New York City, getting into all sorts of trouble and encountering all sorts of nutty characters including a zany drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell).

The screenplay, the first witten by Brian Gatewood and Alessando Tanaka, reminded Green of such popular ’80s comedies as Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) and, of course, Chris Columbus’ Adventures in Babysitting (1987). “It has to hit those ’80s genre beats,” he noted.

After graduating UNCSA in 1998, Green immediately embarked on his filmmaking career with the award-winning comedy/drama George Washington (2000), followed by such acclaimed independent films as All the Real Girls (2003), Undertow (2004) and Snow Angels (2007), which marked his first collaboration with Sitter co-star Sam Rockwell (“A great actor and an underappreciated actor,” said Green).

The knockabout comedy Pineapple Express (2008), which showcased Seth Rogen and James Franco as an endearingly stoned comedy duo, was a surprise blockbuster, and Green’s biggest hit to date. Shortly thereafter, the HBO series “Eastbound & Down” premiered, a popular comedic collaboration between UNCSA talents Green, Danny McBride, Jody Hill and Ben Best. They also collaborated on Green’s last directorial outing, Your Highness, released earlier this year, which he admitted didn’t live up to studio expectations.

“It cost about $50 million and grossed about $23 million,” he said wryly, “and that was frowned upon.”

After Your Highness, “I definitely didn’t want to do a comedy,” Green said, “I wanted to do something really low-key and really simple.”

Then Twentieth Century Fox came calling.

“This is the first movie anyone wanted me to make,” he said with smile. “It’s interesting to be wanted; it’s cool.”

Although the film came together quickly, Green was able to bring cinematographer Tim Orr and production designer Richard Wright, both fellow UNCSA graduates, on board. The story was set in Boston, but Green wanted to make it in New York City. The studio acquiesced, and they were off and running — and shooting.

Green’s visit to UNCSA was very much a homecoming, as he was accompanied by Wright and by cast members from his first film George Washington, along with a packed house of students and faculty members. Following the screening, Green sat down with faculty member and former School of Filmmaking dean Dale Pollock. Regarding the film, Green kidded the audience: “Anything you liked, I was responsible for!” On its opening weekend, The Sitter grossed $10 million (according to imdb, the internet movie database), but according to Green the budget was about $30 million, which is a comparatively small budget for a major studio film. “I got $23 million to make it,” he joked, “and $7 million is on the screen.”

Even if the film doesn’t recoup its budget back in box-office grosses, “this movie’ll make its money back on video, so — whew! — the pressure’s off,” Green quipped.

Although a self-professed workaholic, with a variety of projects on tap (including the MTV animated comedy series “Good Vibes,” the upcoming TV film “Black Jack” starring Ving Rhames, and of course “Eastbound & Down”), “I don’t live in a competitive environment,” Green said. “I hang out with a lot of people who don’t work in movies, which is exciting.”

It keeps him grounded, he said with a laugh. “Buddies call BS on you.”