Laura Linney, “P.S.” director Dylan Kidd play full house at IFP Filmmakers Conference

Headlining the Oct. 21-24 IFP/Chicago Filmmakers Conference were Academy Award nominated actress Laura Linney (“You Can Count on Me”) and writer-director Dylan Kidd.

For a nearly-full house at the School of the Art Institute Auditorium Oct. 22, Kidd and Linney screened their $2.25 million film “P.S.”, a Hart-Sharp production just out in theaters from Newmarket.

Like Kidd’s acerbic debut “Roger Dodger,” “P.S.” is a fresh and bracing look at relationships, from a decidedly more feminine perspective. And like “You Can Count on Me,” Linney gives a stunningly intimate and vulnerable star performance.

The actress and filmmaker spoke before the film, and Kidd took questions from the audience afterwards, in a discussion moderated by Tribune critic Mark Caro. Below are selections from the discussion.

On Acting and Directing:

Laura Linney:
There’s a saying in the theater, and it’s very true on a project like this: ?We don’t have a lot of time so we have to work very slowly.’ You have to protect yourselves from those pressures. You can’t let them dictate your choices.

I’m looking at what’s actable. The choices of pitch, where you place emphasis. Every department has their own perspective. He has to weave together all those elements so they’re harmonious.

Dylan Kidd:
Audiences link on Laura emotionally very quickly. You need that in this movie, where early on she starts doing things that might not be that sympathetic. You have to be right there with her. Everyone sees the movie through her eyes.

This shoot was very difficult. Laura was sick. The most important thing for me to do was to show up every day freshly shaved in clean clothes, looking like I was happy to be there. You have to keep people motivated. You have to make it fun for them. Make it so people feel empowered, so actors feel that they can take a risk, that it’s an atmosphere that encourages experimentation.

On Breaking into the Industry:

Dylan Kidd:
[After graduating from NYU film school in 1991] I did every stupid New York job you can possibly have. I started carrying the script [for ?Roger Dodger’] around with me, just to make myself feel like I was making a movie. Three weeks after I started doing that, I was in a coffee shop and Campbell Scott [who would star in ?Roger Dodger’] walked in. Campbell has an agent, but he’s a rare actor who conducts his own affairs. He took the script and said he’d get back to me. Four months later we were shooting. Everyone in this business has someone who took a chance on them when they were starting out. Campbell was the person who took a chance on me.

Laura Linney:
I went to Julliard. The day after I graduated I was the understudy for ?Six Degrees of Separation’ on Broadway. I haven’t stopped working since. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had it really easy.

On Picking Projects:

Laura Linney:
There’s a myth that you get to the point where you have total control. People say ?you make good choices.’ But sometimes projects pick you. Sometimes you pick the best project, sometimes you take what’s offered. Sometimes you just pick what makes you happy. There are times when you have a lot of choices. Sometimes you have no choices. That’s part of the contract of being an actor. Right now is a very good time for me.

For me it’s story first. Always. Is the material actable? A lot of material isn’t. You get to a point where you read a script and you can see what moves can be made within the script, acting-wise. Then you ask yourself, ?Am I going to learn anything?’ Hopefully you don’t fully understand the material or else there’s no room for anything to happen.

On Writing:

Dylan Kidd:
I hate writing. I’m slow as hell. I like collaboration. I like being on set. Writing is the most existentially terrifying thing to me. Writing is eating my vegetables so I can go to set and have dessert. As a writer all you have is your discipline, which I have none, and the stamina to sit down every day and know you will have three bad days for every good one. It’s a very competitive industry. You have to be smarter. You have to keep asking yourself, how can I make a better movie? How can I write a smarter script?

Dylan Kidd (from left), Laura Linney and the Tribune’s Mark Caro

On Rehearsal:

Laura Linney:

Dylan, [co-star] Topher [Grace] and I spent one day together before the shoot. I used to hate not having rehearsal. Rehearsal can be profoundly helpful, but it’s not always necessary. In film you don’t have the layering of rehearsal that you have in theater. You can’t go to the locations, you don’t have the clothes you’re going to wear.

Dylan Kidd:
I love rehearsing. You have to fight for rehearsal time. There’s a myth in the industry right now that rehearsal isn’t valuable. That comes from people not knowing how to rehearse, or being afraid to rehearse. I don’t know how to rehearse, and I’m afraid of it, but I felt I was hurting without it. Actors have certain things that shut them down, and it’s good to learn what those things are before you get on set.

On Watching One’s Own Work:

Laura Linney:
I watch the first couple days’ dailies just to see what the DP and the director are doing, so I can try to give them more. But after that, I don’t watch anymore. If God wanted me to look at myself for that long a period of time, I’d have another eye coming out of my forehead. It’s the making of the movie that I enjoy. The problem solving that happens. The sense of gratification when it’s done.

On Shooting Sex Scenes:

Dylan Kidd:
Usually a sex scene in a movie is about one thing. It’s the romantic sex scene, or the hot forbidden sex scene, or the awkward sex scene. But sex tends to be all those things at once, funny, passionate, tender and disturbing. We wanted the scene to go through all those things. Whenever I wanted to look away from the monitor because what I was looking at was too personal, I knew that what we had was good.

On Critical Response:

Dylan Kidd:
We’re taking a pounding on this movie. The New York Times review said that the movie is hateful toward women. People expect certain things from a female lead. It’s still a very political act to center a movie around a woman. We wanted to do a romantic comedy where you weren’t asked to like the character every second. Laura is very brave that she’s not worried about being likable every moment she’s onscreen. [Times reviewer Manahola Dargis] felt we were sadistically putting Laura through all this stuff. The Friday the review ran I was sitting at home in this impotent rage, chain-smoking, thinking about writing a letter to the editor. But the movie is the argument. You have to sit there and take it.