LIVING IN OBLIVION

1995

  Living In Oblivion

 

Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James Legros, Danielle Von Zerneck, Rica Maartens, Peter Dinkladge.
Awards: Best Screenplay; Sundance Film Festival. Best Picture;Deauville Film Festival. Best Actress, Catherine Keener; Stockholm Film Festival.
US Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics.
Festivals: Sundance, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, New Directors (NYC), Berlin, Deauville, Gijon, Stockholm. 
Related Blog Posts:
Books
: “Eating Crow; Notes From a Filmmakers Diary.” (Living In Oblivion)

Living In Oblivion  TRAILER

I wrote Living In Oblivion in a state of mind teetering somewhere between homicide and suicide. After the dismissive release of Johnny Suede it was extremely difficult to get my next script, Box of Moonlight financed. And so one night, after getting plastered on martini’s at my wife’s cousin’s wedding, I stumbled into the Idea; a series of events taking place right on the set of a no-budget movie. All the things that could possibly go wrong actually do.

The film is really a love/hate letter about the mechanics of filmmaking. I love this business but at times it really does feel that the entire process of making a film is designed to drive you into an insane asylum. Just when some miraculous moment is blossoming to life in front of you the camera screws up and that fragile, fleeting glimmer of beauty is gone. Of course the opposite is also true. But on a no-budget film the “unhappy accidents” can drop you to your knees.

What was so surprising to me was the joy and pleasure I found in writing scenes that had originally been nightmares to me; absolutely excruciating to experience. I wrote the first half hour in 4 days. I gave it to Catherine Keener who was staying with us for a few days. I will never forget the shrieks of laughter coming from the back bedroom.

As she stood in the front doorway saying goodbye we all looked at each other and said, “We’re going to make this movie!”

Except we had no idea how to. My wife Jane started it off by hitting up everyone she knew (including her now-married cousin Hilary) and somehow raising $37,000 over the weekend. Hilary got a nice part for her support. Catherine showed the script to her husband (at the time) Dermot Mulroney. He wanted to play Nick, the director. I suggested he might have more fun with Wolf, the cameraman. Dermot agreed and instantly suggested Steve Buscemi for Nick. Dermot also invested $5,000.

Suddenly a financing plan had emerged; any actor who put up money got a part. And that is the way the entire film was cast. No one auditioned. I never knew what any actor was going to do until the first moment I called action.

Brad Pitt was going to play actor Chad Palomino in the film. He loved the script and was all set to go when a conflict developed with Legends of the Fall. Catherine Keener called to tell me the bad news. As we were on the phone James Legros walked by her house. I heard her yell out to him, “Hey James! Wanna be in a movie?” That’s how Mr. Legros joined the party.

I could write a book about the whole experience. In fact I did. There are a few copies of “Eating Crow, Notes from A Filmmaker’s Diary,” (also titled Living In Oblivion ) floating around out there.

17 thoughts on “LIVING IN OBLIVION”

  1. Hi, Tom. Not sure if you check these comments but I just wanted to let you know that I really love this film. I always viewed movies as little more than interesting ways to kill time. I loved Star Wars, Willow, all the Batmans and anything by Adam Sandler and was content to watch and forget every other film I ever saw.

    That was before Living in Oblivion. I’d never heard of you or your work prior to seeing it but I’m a very big fan of Steve Buscemi so when I saw this dvd on a shelf in my favourite used record store for $2.50, I grabbed it. This was three months ago and I’ve now watched it at least a dozen times. I can’t describe the effect it has had on me. Everything about it hypnotises me. The performances, the lighting, the sets, the writing, Catherine Keener’s armpit hair, Peter Dinklage’s “NO!” and the very concept itself. It made me want to become a filmmaker. Yes, I am aware that this is probably the exact opposite effect you anticipated it might have on people but still, because of this film, I sold most of my shit, left my friends, family and girlfriend behind and moved away from my hometown to attend film school.

    At 28 with previously little or no ambition beyond a strong desire to earn enough money to pay rent, get regularly drunk and put petrol in my car, I now have a Purpose. I will make films. They will be funny, beautiful, human and largely misunderstood. They will not make much money (if any at all) and they will consume my life. I cannot wait to get started.

    Thanks for this film, Tom, and all your others. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

    1. Hey Liam,
      I’m glad Oblivion inspired you to take the plunge. It’s funny you mention Keener’s armpit hair. It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of cool sexy women let the fuzz flow free. At the time the film was released no one even commented on it. I happen to like it, on some women–but to each their own. I made a choice to have her not shave it and she was cool with it. I think it adds something very human.

      Now listen, Liam. I hope you don’t think I make “funny, beautiful, human films that make no money and are largely misunderstood.” I mean, I think that–but I don’t want you, or anyone else to. You should just think about making films that truly move you. I can guarantee you this; if they truly excite you they will excite others. There’s nothing wrong with making a little cash while you’re at it. Maybe you’re not getting regularly drunk anymore but it’s nice to have a few dollars the keep the irregular inebriation going.

      I sincerely thank you for writing; and with equal sincerity wish you the best.
      Tom

      1. Hahaha I don’t think that about your films, Tom. For all I know, you’re rich as Scrooge McDuck. And I’d say your awards cabinet would be nice and full; a testament to the fact your films are NOT largely misunderstood (though I have to say, Box of Moon Light gets not even half the credit it deserves) .

        I said mine’ll “probably” make “not much money” money, Tom, not “no” money. I’ve recently had my first taste of cognac. I can’t go back to moonshine. And in no way would I compare what I believe I’m capable of to what you create. Appreciate the encouragement, brother. Can’t wait for your new shit!

  2. Tom,
    I just watched Living in Oblivion for the first time last night. Wow, a totally unexpected, out-of-left-field experience. I’d heard of your movie but, somehow, never got around to seeing it. It’s so good I don’t even have the words to describe it.
    I’m working on getting my own film off the ground and this was just the inspiration I needed to soldier on.

    1. Hey Marcus,
      Sorry about the lateness of this reply. I’ve been a little pre-occupied the last few weeks. I appreciate your kind words about Living In Oblivion and I’m glad it might have influenced you to keep going.

      Soldiering on is a good term. That’s what it is like; marching for weeks, getting shot at from behind trees, running for your life, digging foxholes, filling them in and then digging new ones two feet away–

      But just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even if it only gets you one inch further. Just keep doing it. And if you suffer a crushing disappointment dust yourself off, check for bleeding and if you’re still alive, well…pick up the phone and start making your calls again.

      I sincerely wish you the best.

      Tom

  3. Hi Tom,

    When I was 11, I was shown an extract of Living in Oblivion. I remember being amazed at the patience and meticulousness involved in the making of a movie. For years, I tried to find the film, remembering only the word “oblivion” and the image of a beret-wearing guy throwing up, and it wasn’t until last week that I was able to watch the film in its entirety.

    Now, as an 18-year-old film student, I can appreciate and relate to the frustration and occasional elation of low-budget filmmaking. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to verbally abuse an entire crew like Nick did at the end of the first part.) But rather than discourage me from the art, Living in Oblivion motivates me to pursue cinema, for I can only hope to make a film as funny, touching, sincere and relatable.

    Films like these are rare gems.

    1. Hey Naomi,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m impressed that you found something interesting in Oblivion when you were only 11. This might be because the film started out as a kind of existential nightmare but as it developed it took on some of the lunatic absurdity of The Marx Bros and even The Three Stooges.

      I’m glad you found some inspiration from it. For me, satisfaction still comes from what ended up on screen. But, just as meaningful is the sense of victory and accomplishment at just getting the film made.

      I wish you the best.
      Tom

    1. Hey Mike,
      The film you are referring too was included as an extra on the dvd release of Living In Oblivion. It was put together by Zhenya Kiperman. He also conducts the interview which was filmed in front of his film class. You might find Zhenya on the web, he’s got a few pages listed. You could ask him if he’s uploaded it anywhere. Glad you liked it. Steve and I had a great time.
      best,
      Tom

  4. Hi Tom,

    my name is Nicolò, I’m an italian student from the University of Turin. Sorry for my bad english I’ll try to be as clear as I can.
    The thesis for my accademic degree is about the cinema of Steve Buscemi, as an actor and a director. For this reason I watched for the first time your “Living in the Oblivion”. I think that it is amazing…!! one of the most beautiful american picture that I ever saw. Your film has an atmosphere that reminds me something of Federico Fellini, but at the same time it has something so original and pure that, I swear, is so rare to find… especially here in Italy. For me “Living in the Oblivion” is a sort of “8 e mezzo” of the indepdent american cinema, and it deserves to be even more known in my country, were is so hard to get your and other independent movies. But I hope to find it as soon as possible!
    If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you only three questions about your own work and your opinion about Steve as an actor and director… I see that would be a dream, but I had to try!
    Thanks anyway for your time and your patience… the most important thing is that I found another great director in you wich I didn’t known… it’s a pleasure and a fortune for me.
    Grazie mille!

    Nic

    1. Hello Nic,
      Thank you for your kind words. I would be happy to answer your three questions. Why don’t you write them here and I’ll post the answers.
      best,
      Tom

      1. Of course!
        In your opinion in which way a film can be considered independent today?
        The second question is… how your italian roots had influenced your work, if they did?
        What do you think of Steve as an actor, and also what do you think about him as a director? (did you appreciated “Trees Lounge” for example?)
        At last, only for my curiosity because I’m a musician, how important is the music in your movies?
        Sorry in the end I’ve asked you four questions… because today I’ve watched “When you’re strange” and it deeply touched me and let me think about the fourth question!
        Thank you so much for your kindness
        Nic

  5. Hi there!
    I’ve just finished watching your film Living in oblivion. It’s a gem. It’s a movie to watch and re-watch and re-watch. It reminds me of the film The nines (2007) by J. August, very similar, although yours it’s more difficult to digest, but I think I like it better. Are the 3 acts happening at the same time but from different perspectives? Like in the first act the director is the Cat’s character, in the second, he is Palomino and in the third one, the guy with the eyepatch. You play all the characters and there’s no difference between real life and the dreamlife.

  6. Hi Tom,

    My name is Alê, and I’m an animation producer and director here in Brazil.

    I just re-watched Living in Oblivion yesterday for the milionth time, and let me tell you: it’s one of my all-time favorite films. I love pretty much everything on it including – but not limited to – the clever screenplay, the amazing cast, and the overall dream-like quality it has. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, and it has a great heart – this film amazes me and moves me everytime I watch it.

    Before working with animation, years ago I worked as a production assistant in a live action commercials company. And I would like you to know that life on set here in my country was basically like you related on Oblivion – the only difference being everything was so painfully slower to do in real life… and certainly not so fun.

    Thanks for Living in Olivion – what a great ride it is.

    Best regards,
    Alê

    1. Hello Ale,
      Thanks very much for this wonderful comment. I am so pleased the film found it’s way into your heart. It remains one of my favorites. Unfortunately, I cannot go onto the set of any film production without seeing all the behind-the-scenes action and thinking of Oblivion. From the very beginning it always amazed me that this activity and drama just off camera was most of the time more interesting than the subject being filmed.

      There is a book I wrote about the making of the film you might enjoy. It is called “Eating Crow, A Filmmaker’s Diary.” I think you might find a copy somewhere on line. But, you might get a kick out of some of the things that happened during the making of the film and afterwards.

      Once again, thanks for writing. I most sincerely appreciate it.
      best,
      Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>