Beginners  

by writer/director Mike Mills

Whenever I do Q&As in a theatre—after the film is over and the room has that funny density that seems to happen when a bunch of people watch a film together—that's really the only time I get to meet the people that just spent 100 minutes in an intimate conversation with all of us that made the film. When I'm there I try to express to them how crazy it is that the film made it here. It's kind of layers upon layers of good fortune and effort. It's incredibly fortunate that actors like Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent (among others) signed on to ride in this little boat, and to put their hearts and souls into this story. That the film got financed, that we found our crew and locations, made it through filming and editing, got to premiere at Toronto, got an amazing distributor—all the filmmakers I know understand these are big blessings, things you never take for granted. There are so many wildly moving parts in the process of filmmaking, not the least being how alive one's intuition and instincts and ability to deal with the constantly shape-shifting battles are.

So it's just strange to be here. "Here"—a real theatre—is where the most odd and magical part of the process occurs. A film is very un-alive without an audience. Years of many people's efforts go into it (for Beginners, a five-year process) but when it's done the film actually just sits inanimate and inert in a can or on a computer drive in a room somewhere. All that human energy, all those hopes and plans and luck are sort of frozen in there. It's not until people are willing to go into that dark room with a bunch of strangers and watch it that it comes back to life; what a strange and magical ritual. Not until the images are projected on the screen, and Mélanie's surprising organic performance plays out, and Ewan's willingness to be present with vulnerability and humor can be seen, and Christopher's amazing ability to sink into all the nooks and crannies of that character begins again; not until the flickering images on the screen go into the audience's psyche does the film actually "happen."

Of course it will come to life more for some than others, and for some not at all! But even that is a strange privilege, as people go home talking about how they liked it or didn't like it; how they could relate; how it seemed true or not to their experience of fathers and sons and lovers, of what happens at the end of life and of how people can change when you least expect it. Some may be confused, some intrigued, maybe they laughed or cried, maybe they're just not sure what they saw—whatever happens, this work of ours has joined the long line of conversations people have had after seeing a film, after having watched a story in the dark with a bunch of strangers, and that's an amazing place to be. So, as I always say when I'm there in person: A film is nothing without an audience, and thank you for bringing it back to life!

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