Living in Oblivion (1995)

Writer/Director: Tom DiCillo
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James Legros, Danielle Von Zerneck, Rica Maartens, Peter Dinklage.
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:
: “Eating Crow; Notes From a Filmmakers Diary.” (Living In Oblivion)

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.