"I do mentoring for the Academy sometimes," shares the writer and director Paul Weitz. "I remember I was with one of my mentees and he said to me, 'Hey, is there such a thing as career suicide?' We were talking about one of my films that hadn't done well, and I was like, 'Evidently not!'"
Weitz got his start as an Off-Broadway playwright. "And I was like, 'I'm going to do film to make money, because I'm not going to be able to do that writing plays.'" With his younger brother, the filmmaker Chris Weitz, he co-wrote Dreamworks Animation's Antz in 1998, and the following year, made his directorial debut with the blockbuster teen sex comedy, American Pie. In 2002, the Weitz brothers wrote and directed About a Boy, for which they received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
"It was nice to share that experience with my brother," Weitz says. "We make films on our own nowadays — luckily, we've always supported each other, and luckily also, we've been able to do what each of us individually wants to do — but I'm so glad that we were both nominated for that together."
Venturing out on his own, Weitz had something of an epiphany. "At some point, I was like, 'I'm going to try to do in film what I was trying to do as a playwright.' That was a switch that happened for me," he reflects. "But look, there's some other really insane stuff there. There's a film called Being Flynn, which I really love, and then a film called American Dreamz, which is completely insane. I did it during the Iraq War and it was a send-up of George Bush, and Hugh Grant played a Simon Cowell character. That was a really, 'What the hell am I doing?' There's some weird bridge movies."
Weitz's latest is Moving On, a two-hander starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. It's the sort of tonally ambitious, darkly comedic revenge thriller he would have once envisioned for the stage. "Honestly, the thing is that I'm now able and willing to do movies on a very low budget. I won't not do something because I don't have the money. I'll just do it for less money."
Below, Weitz shares with A.frame five films that have shaped him as a filmmaker. "I'm always wondering when I read people's top five films to what degree they're like, 'Well, you should be my top five films,' whether they actually are or not. For me, I'm very influenced by whatever I saw last, or at least whatever I saw within the last couple of months. I'll start with that..."
Directed by: Daisy von Scherler Mayer | Written by: Harry Birckmayer and Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Just recently, I re-watched Party Girl, which is sort of a love hymn to '90s New York culture. Daisy Mayer is a friend, and I used to go to parties that she threw. She was way ahead of her time, in terms of inherently open politics expressed through partying and having a great time. Watching this movie again — and I watched it with my 11-year-old — I realized I'd missed so much when I saw it the first time. It's a really beautiful movie. It's full of feminism and queer culture. At the time, I was like, 'Wow, someone I know can make a movie!' Now I'm like, 'Wow, this movie was really beautiful and homemade.'
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Written and directed by: Satyajit Ray
I also just watched Pather Panchali with my 11-year-old, and I watched it with my other kids too. It's the first in this series of movies about this character Apu. It's a really realistic but beautiful depiction of childhood, and what poverty does to people's ability to be patient. It's also strikingly beautiful. I've actually seen it both on my iPad numerous times, and at the Academy in the proper fashion.
Directed by: Spike Lee | Written by: Joie Susannah Lee, Spike Lee, and Cinqué Lee
I re-watched Crooklyn again recently, which is such a beautiful act of generosity, in terms of putting forward characters who love each other so much but are also having massive conflict, and how much conflict can arise from people loving each other, as opposed to people hating each other. Conflict being a good thing in this case, in terms of drama. And it's a really intimate film.
Directed by: Billy Wilder | Written by: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
I love The Apartment because, among other things, it folds in a suicide attempt in the middle of a comedy, and it doesn't dumb it down at all. That intersection of corporate culture with personal depression was great. It's definitely something to aspire to, and with About a Boy, we were really thinking about that movie.
Directed by: King Vidor | Written by: Agnes Christine Johnston and Laurence Stallings
The fifth one is a tie between a couple of silent films by King Vidor. The Crowd is a really modern movie about the American dream. It's about this kid who's told that he can be president someday, and just the desire to be successful ruins his life. You see it ruining his life over the course of his adulthood. He's always trying to get the next big score.
This other silent movie that he made, Show People, is about an actor and actress who fall in love. They're working in a troupe of comedy filmmakers making comedies. And the actress, she actually gets chosen to do a drama, and becomes hugely successful and this big star on the lot. There's a question of, is she going to leave her friend behind or do they care about each other? It's a really lovely commentary about the value of comedy and the people underneath success.