Breaking Baz @ Cannes: ‘Barbie’s Michael Cera Brings Holiday Cheer To Cannes & Has Two Feature Movies In Development To Direct

EXCLUSIVE: Michael Cera caught Tyler Taormina’s feature directing debut Ham on Rye after a friend suggested he check it out. He was so impressed that he signed himself up as a sort of producing “cheerleader” on the filmmaker’s latest picture Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point, which plays in Directors’ Fortnight on Friday,May 17, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Cera’s quick to point out that Krista Minto, co-writer Eric Berger and others did the heavy-lifting producer duties on the picture that’s almost like a fly-on-the-wall exploration of a sprawling Long Island family’s holiday get-together.

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“They’re the ones who actually made the movies,” he stressed.

The film’s Cannes screening comes at a time when Cera, who has made short films, has two films in development, both of which he will direct. One of them is called Gummy, the other is untitled. The untitled one is likely to go first, and that would mark his feature directorial debut.

More about those later.

Let’s get back to Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point.

The family gathering in ‘Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point’
The family gathering in ‘Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point’

“My role as a producer was to be a cheerleader and sort of help things in the early stage to help Tyler get in touch with people, and just help the movie manifest into existence,” said the actor. He is calling me from Berlin, where he’s in the last two weeks of filming Wes Anderson’s latest movie The Phoenician Scheme, which he describes as “an intrigue story,” alongside Anderson’s rep company regulars Bill Murray and Benicio del Toro and new members Riz Ahmed and Mia Threapleton.

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He reflects for a moment and prefers the term “spiritual producer” rather than cheerleader.

I asked Cera whether his tasks included, like, getting actors and executives to respond to Taormina’s phone calls and emails.

Laughing, he said, “If only I were more helpful with that.”

But then he acknowledged that “we did kind of get a few actors on the phone in the beginning, and I don’t know, when you’re trying to mount a movie, and all you have in the beginning is your own enthusiasm and a script, and the dream of manifesting it, it is sort of just about getting people to start coming on board and talking about it like it’s a real project and not make-believe.

“That’s kind of how things germinate. You start with a grain of sand, and you have to turn it into a snowball, even though that’s a terrible seasonal analogy, but you see what I mean?”

Cera got to know Taormina more after seeing Ham on Rye, which he “just appreciated just for what it was and for and for how beautiful and sort of poetic, and lyrical, and funny funny and strange, and impressive it was for a first feature.”

The two eventually met in person, and Cera was told how they made Ham on Rye for $20,000.

Excuse me, I interrupted, I misheard. You meant $200,000, right?

Repeating the extraordinary $20,000 figure, he admits that “I kind of couldn’t understand that, and I still can’t, to be honest. It basically comes down to Tyler planning everything within an inch of its life. He works on the schedule himself for a year leading up to this few weeks-long shoot and kind of secures locations based on good-will and sort of explaining to people that we don’t have any money.”

They just ask for favors, he says, “and then Tyler has a Plan A, a Plan B, a Plan C, like if on this day, if this falls through, if this actor falls through, if this location falls through, all of these things are going to kick into place so that nothing will ever … the movie will never fall apart. And he just brought this whole feature film together for $20,000, and it doesn’t look like a movie that costs $20,000.”

So, of course, now I want to know how much Christmas Eve In Miller’s Point cost.

“Well, so this film was a microbudget as well.

“Compared to Ham on Rye, it’s enormous. But they brought this movie in for under half a million dollars,” he tells me.However, that price tag does not include post,music etc.

Incredulously, I ask a simple question. How did the film, which is vastly more ambitious than Ham on Rye, come in with a production budget of $500,000?!

“It’s a microbudget, but which is for Tyler a lot more money to play with. But because when you’re working with that money, you have very limited time, obviously, and everybody’s sort of just working with the bare minimum. I mean, there are no frills, there’s no amenities. You just show up,” he says matter of factly.

But everybody wanted to help out on the movie.

There’s there’s scene where a fire brigade truck goes by with all their Christmas lights. The movie was shot in February and March last year but “the fire department provided all of the decorations. They were like, ‘Okay, well, we’ll do the truck the way we do it at Christmastime.’ So the favors and goodwill, and then of course, the whole creative team doing everything they can to bring every single kind of Christmas light to the set that they can,” Cera told me.

Another case in point involved himself and Gregg Turkington, playing a pair of not-too-bright cops with intimacy issues. “We were completely freezing to death. It was like we were wearing these old polyester police uniforms from the 1970s that had no ability to keep the wind off of your body. It was like the coldest night of the year, at four in the morning.

“But you’re just like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Somehow you’re like, ‘This is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. This is where I belong.’ “

The goodwill extended to craft services, who fed cast and crew “basically a hamburger for dinner, which has nothing on it, that was wrapped in tin foil,” Cera adds.

Michael Cera in ‘Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point’
Michael Cera in ‘Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point’

Their suffering wasn’t in vain because the result is a movie that’s full of “generational battling,” as Cera puts it, and hilarious and heartfelt moments, but they’re observed in a wry way; watching the movie, there were a couple of moments where I sat up straight and the name Frank Capra sprang to mind, perhaps in the sense that, for me anyway, the film has an effortless, timeless quality about it in the way it captures little moments of time that ring true.

The whole relationship began with a simple question from Cera to Taormina. “I asked him, what do you want to do next? And he was like, ‘I want to make a snow globe Christmas film that I’ve been dreaming about.’ And he had the whole movie basically already developed at that point, and that was the thing that he was dreaming of making, and it just was so beautiful, and I love how he’s achieved it. And again, in this film, he’s done amazing work with non-actors. He really sees the charm of people, and he sees something in them. He sees their vulnerabilities, he sees their nervousness. He’s able to get these very pure performances. He makes everyone feel somehow childlike and pure, because I don’t know how he does it. It’s a really very unique talent of his to work with non-actors in that way.”

Now Cera has become “just a huge champion and huge fan of his” and told him that “I want to do something with you, and I love you. I think you’re amazing. I really believe in you.”

And from there, Cera, Taormina and Berger have written a feature film “that we’re trying to make that I’ll be directing, that we’ve been pushing along, and are going to hopefully push over the finish line, but we’re kind of in the middle of that. So we just started this team. I mean, basically I kind of glommed onto their existing team, and we all are just having a really good collaborative feeling.”

The new movie they’ve penned together is called Gummy, the one I mentioned earlier. “It’s a movie that I’ve been excited about for a long time, and well, it’s kind of a family story with a sort of mystery element, too, with a somewhat science-fictional thread throughout it. We’ve been pushing it along, and I’ve been trying to get it going as my first film, but I think I might make a different film before then, actually now, hopefully if everything comes together, which will hopefully just make things easier for the other one, because it’s challenging getting things made.”

The Gummy project is now with “Ari Aster’s company, Square Peg, who are producing it, which was a big boost for us that they really believed in it and want to do it.

“So then the writers strike and the actors strike kind of put a bit of a dent in our momentum, because it was right around the time we were about to go out looking for financing. But then it ended up being kind of a good thing, because in the meantime, I had this other project that I’ve developed, that I think is just kind of easier to get made. So I’m going to try and push that along, and then try and make the other one a huge success off the first one.”

That film, not Gummy, does not have a title. He won’t discuss it in depth except to note that it’s “contemporary.”

Cera’s thrilled for Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point to be at Cannes, though the actor won’t be able to take time away from shooting in Germany to be here himself.

But he’s as pleased as punch for Taormina “because it’s a dream come true for him, and for everyone who worked on the film.”

Tyler Taormina on set
Tyler Taormina on set

Cera observed that cinematographer Carson Lund, Taormina’s frequent collaborator, also has a film in the festival called Eephus.

”It’s a really wonderful moment for all of us who worked on Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point,” he said.

We weren’t ignoring Greta Gerwig’s Barbie on purpose; we simply ran out of time.

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