C.O.G.: Writer/Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez

By Meredith Alloway · September 19, 2013

When word got around that David Sedaris was at long last allowing for an adaptation of his work, fans freaked. Who was this exciting, new director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and how did he convince Sedaris to support the film? After C.O.G. premiered at Sundance this year, it was clear the rookie filmmaker delivered an insightful, comedic take on the story.

Starring Jonathan Groff, Corey Stoll and Denis O’Hare, the movie is loaded with complex, memorable characters. Alvarez walks the fine line of comedy and drama while exploring the coming of age journey of a young kid who starts life anew on an apple farm.

After meeting Alvarez at the Outfest Film Festival screening, I knew I needed more time with him. Over blasting dance music and a downtown party, we briefly discussed his use of religion, hypocrisy and those infinitely blurred lines. But luckily I had a little more time to chat with him about how he got the movie made, his advice to aspiring filmmakers and sitting next to Sedaris at Sundance.

ATW: C.O.G. is only your second feature after Easier with Practice. Tell me about how you obtained the rights to David Sedaris’ book?

A: He had a long history of passing on films. Part of the motivation was that he always felt he wanted to protect his family and he never understood why they would work as a movie. What’s the point of adaptation? For me it was that this specific story seemed to lend itself and could come from me. My motivation wasn’t to go and make a David Sedaris movie. I think he was interested in that. It took me a long time to reach him. I went to one of his book readings and handed him a copy of my first film. I didn’t pitch it right then but I tried to approach it cautiously like that. I got a nice email from him.

ATW: Much of his work is dark, but I think you find the humor in it in the film. How did you navigate exploring these darker scenes but still keeping it light?

A: Some people thought we succeeded and some people didn’t. It was a battle in writing, on set and in the editing room. Some more dramatic scenes got lost and some funnier scenes.

ATW: What are some of those scenes we didn’t get to see?

A: There are specific lines. David’s voice is so funny and I tried really hard to get those lines in there and a lot of it really was about staying true to the movie at the end of the day. I can only hope his fans will appreciate that.

ATW: When we spoke at Outfest, we discussed the religious themes. You said you wanted to make a film both your religious friends and non-religious friends could relate to.

A: I grew up around a lot of religious friends. It’s very easy to mock and in some ways the movie is running a really fine line of that. I wanted to make a film I’d not be embarrassed to show those friends of mine. That was the litmus test I used.

ATW: You have an incredible ensemble. What made you cast Jonathan Groff?

A: With Jonathan, he’s incredibly charming and handsome and at the same time he has the depth there. A lot of people hadn’t really seen that from him on screen. I wanted it be someone with an element of surprise.

ATW: I also love Corey Stoll! Tell me about how he brought a new energy to your script?

A: We got so lucky on this film! There were no auditions. It was, in a lot of ways, luck. If you read the story and the original script, the character was written to be a lot goofier. Corey was doing it so well but I remember shooting the scene in the bar and there was one point where a line was humorous and I said, ‘Why don’t you try doing it more personably? Make it internal and mean something to you.’ The scene changed.  The chemistry changed. I started re-writing the scenes to account for his innate soulful quality.  He has presence, something that’s both earned and innate. You almost don’t have to do much. That’s what excited me about him.

ATW: The story walks this fine line of what’s gay, what’s straight, what’s Christian, and what’s not? Why make the film so vague about those subjects?

A: For me, I feel like the movie is almost a profile. You don’t want it to be so clear, this is the lesson learned. There’s something more complex than a lesson. It’s more fascinating to watch a movie that’s taken in many ways. I think it leaves you with a movie where you’re discussing the elements. That’s important to me.

ATW: You guys shot in Portland. How was shooting this film different from your first indie?

A: We had less money this time! We had to make this movie cheaply. We made do with what we could. I think this one was about utilizing that money and making the movie have the scope. Now movies being made well under a million dollars with crews is much more common. Portland has cultivated this independently minded crew. Everyone was prepared.

ATW: The movie premiered at Sundance and that’s where David Sedaris first saw it. What was his reaction and how was it being there with him?

K: It was overwhelming to say the least. It’s someone you admire and who’s trusted you. You want them to feel comfortable but in part of our conversations, we laid against me going and making my own film. When you adapt work who do you owe? I think every project is different. At the end of the day a story is a story and I wasn’t trying to capitalize his name. I think [the film] stays true to what I wanted to do.

ATW: What’s some advice you have for aspiring filmmakers?

A: To me, what seem to be the most successful projects are the ones that have a singular identity to them. Make something that feels like it comes from you as an individual. There are so many filmmakers you wish you could be like. I wish my second movie could be Boogie Nights! I find so many trying to make movies like a certain filmmakers. At some point those guys got where they were cause they stayed close to their instincts.

C.O.G. opens September 20th in select theaters!