Writer-director Andrew Bujalski has been one of the leading figures of the micro-budget independent film scene for more than a decade. From his early films "Funny Ha Ha" and "Mutual Appreciation" to the mini-masterpiece of "Beeswax," he has assayed modern lives with quiet empathy and understated precision. Bujalski's fourth film, the 2013 philosophical comedy "Computer Chess," was his first to play at Sundance, appearing as part of the Next section.
Bujalski's new film "Results" sees him now stepping up to the main U.S. Dramatic Competition, the festival's brightest spotlight. His first time working with professional, name actors, the film is a romantic comedy set amid the fitness industry in Austin, Texas, about visualizing goals, being open to new ones and seeing the things that are already right in front of you. "Results" was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures ahead of the festival.
FULL COVERAGE: Sundance Film Festival 2015
The film's screenplay is a sly marvel of structure, as it begins as an off-beat character study, transitions into a thoughtful consideration on the limits of having and/or not having money and then reveals itself to be an unlikely romance in which two opposites at last attract.
"I think they've become this very – what's the word when something's terrible and nobody likes it – it's a much maligned genre now with good reason. They've kind of fallen into a very bad state," said Bujalski regarding rom-coms in an interview earlier this week.
"I like that it's a genre rooted in human foible in a way like nothing else, anything else the mass audience can wrap their head around is about heroes and villains," Bujalski added. "And romantic comedies are always about people … themselves up or making bad choices. And I like that stuff."
It was Bujalski's unusual take on the mechanics of the rom-com that appealed to his cast.
"It was a romantic comedy I'd never seen," said Smulders. "These personalities, these characters that are put together, it's just interesting seeing them try to navigate romance with each other when they are so kind of damaged themselves."
The Austin-based Bujalski playfully joked that the town has become a "yuppie paradise" while noting that for his "ultimate Austin movie" he nevertheless cast an Australian, a Canadian and a New Yorker, respectively, in Pearce, Smulders and Corrigan.
Consciously looking to make a larger-scaled film from his previous work, in pulling together "Results" Bujalski knew that he wanted to work with a cast of well-known professional actors, as opposed to the non-professional actors he used in his earlier work.
"I feel like it would be an equally terrible idea to make this movie with non-pros, that wouldn't work, and to make 'Computer Chess' with pros would be a disaster," he said.
While Pearce and Smulders were each hitting the gym in Austin every day to get in shape to portray fitness trainers, Corrigan had something of the opposite task. As a doughy guy who wanders into the gym one day out of boredom – he says he wants to be able to take a punch – Corrigan had to look very much out-of-shape. To that end he put on an extra 15 pounds and spends a fair amount of time in the film looking flushed and shirtless.
"I trusted Andrew's aesthetics, so I didn't feel as self-conscious as I might have," said Corrigan. "I knew the context."
Though Bujalski again worked with his longtime cinematographer Matthias Grunsky, "Results" is also the first of his movies to be shot with contemporary digital video equipment. His first three films were shot on 16mm and "Computer Chess" was shot on modified outdated video equipment.
In a Q&A following a screening on Wednesday night, Bujalski mentioned that the production received a granted from Los Angeles' Film Independent and the company Arri to use one of the high-end Alexa cameras for free, but he was already thinking that's how the film should look.
"In my mind it's a movie that's very much about contemporary culture," Bujalski said, "so it makes sense to me to make it look contemporary."