In 2010, writer and director, Kyle Patrick Alvarez, was given the “Someone to Watch” Award at the Independent Spirit Awards for his debut film, “Easier with Practice.” His award was predicted correctly, because three years later the 29-year-old’s second film, “C.O.G.” – based on the short story by David Sedaris of the same name — is screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic category. The story is based on Sedaris’ real-life experience spending a summer working on an apple farm in Oregon. Feeling out of his element, he starts to examine his beliefs as he gets to know the people he encounters there.
Alvarez is flying today from his home in Los Angeles to Park City, Utah, for the premiere of his film on Sunday, January 20.
“It means everything to me,” says the Cuban-American director about going to the prestigious film festival. “My first film didn’t get into Sundance. It only makes me appreciate it so much more…It’s really humbling and exciting. It gives my movie the chance to get seen…and for people to take it seriously.”
Since day one, since Alvarez has been taking his film seriously. He started working on it two and a half years ago, and he says he never took “no” for an answer. His persistence paid off, because he succeeded in making the first film adaptation of a David Sedaris work.
“He has a history – he’s never said ‘yes’ to a movie before,” says Alvarez about one of his biggest heroes. “I went to one of his book readings and handed him a copy of my first film. I said, ‘I would love if you watched it — I have some ideas.’ He liked the film, and I was very specific about what the tone would be like, the cast, and where we would shoot it, and what my intentions were, and he said, ‘Yes.’ It’s been surreal for me.”
Alvarez says Sedaris’ “C.O.G.” always stuck out to him as a piece that had a darker truth.
“The first 20 minutes is about when David Sedaris gets to this apple orchard, and he thinks he’s going to have fun,” says Alvarez about the character changing experience, explaining that’s also when he meets the migrant workers working there. “The humor in the film is that he speaks no Spanish and is living in a co-op situation, and he can’t understand their lifestyle or language.”
One of Alvarez’ personal touches to the story was expanding this part and inventing a character named Pedro. Alvarez says he had them become friends, even though they can’t understand each other.
“He’s very vulnerable in it,” says Alvarez about Sedaris’ character, played by Jonathan Groff. “It was very cinematic, with a lot of characters. It was really rich with stuff to turn around and make into a film.”
He says casting is one of the most important elements for him to make a good film.
“I didn’t want [Jonathan] to be David Sedaris,” says Alvarez. “He has a very specific quality, and I didn’t want to mimic him…I hope it feels like David Sedaris, but I hope it also feels like it’s own film at the same time.”
He says after going through 400 names on the original list of actors he considered for Sedaris’ role, he’s very happy with the result.
“I really ended up with a dream cast,” he says. “The way it turned out was exactly how I wanted it.”
Before Alvarez graduated cum laude from the University of Miami, with degrees in motion picture production and English literature, his says his first teachers were directors like Alfred Hitchcock.
“I watched a lot of movies,” he says. “I would come home from Blockbuster with six movies, and that’s what motivated me.”
When he graduated from college, Alvarez moved to Los Angeles and got a job as an office assistant at a production company, which led to working for Warren Beaty for a year.
“He’s been one of my heros for a long time — so for me that was a surreal experience to have had,” says Alvarez about the experience which gave him a crash course on how the film industry works. “As much as you want to be an artist, you have to be responsible for the business side, too. I really respect [Beatty] for wearing so many hats – producer, writer, director. You have to be involved in every aspect of your production.”
He says every step was crucial in producing “C.O.G.,” which was filmed in Portland, Oregon.
“I knew what I wanted to do with it, and I wanted to shoot during apple picking season,” says the director who talks as fast as he likes working fast. “I love working a lot.”
He says he’d love to work on something “wackier” in the future.
“I’m dreaming to make a suspense film one day…” says perhaps the next Hitchcock. “My goal is that in 10 years, I can have another two or three movies under my belt.”
For now, he’s just excited to watch his final product on the big screen with the man who inspired him.
“He’s been really gracious and supportive, and he’ll be there for the premiere,” says Alvarez about Sedaris. “I’m really looking forward to it.”