Not having a large amount of money, and continuously learning how to cope with limited resources is a universal theme in the new comedy-drama ‘Price Check,’ which is now playing in select theaters. Not only does the movie’s main character, Pete Cozy, have to contend with not being able to provide for his family as much as he’d like, but the film’s writer-director, Michael Walker, also had to cope with a limited budget while shooting. But Walker took whatever measures necessary to ensure his film would get made, and infused that determination into Pete.
‘Price Check‘ follows Pete (played by Eric Mabius), who has found himself a house in the suburbs of New York and a job in the pricing department of a middling supermarket chain. Pete’s job allows him to spend quality time with his wife, Sara (portrayed by Annie Parisse) and young son, Henry (played by Finn Donoghue) and they appear happy, despite the fact they’re drowning in debt.
Everything changes for Pete when he gets a new boss, the beautiful, high-powered Susan Felders (portrayed by Parker Posey). With Susan’s influence, Pete finds himself on the executive track, which surprises and excites him. While his salary increases, he also has to spend more time with Susan at work, however. His personal relationship with his new boss subsequently crosses the line of professional etiquette. Their growing relationship creates tension in the store and his personal home life.
Walker, who penned and helmed ‘Price Check,’ after his 2000 directorial and writing debut, the horror mystery thriller ‘Chasing Sleep,’ took the time to speak with us over the phone recently about his new comedy-drama. Among other things, Walker discussed how he came up with the idea for the film’s story; the process of casting Mabius and Posey in their respective roles; and how having a small budget and limited shooting schedule influenced the making and aesthetic of ‘Price Check.’
ShockYa (SY): You both wrote the screenplay for the new comedy-drama ‘Price Check,’ which explores Pete Cozy, played by Eric Mabius, as he is torn between his family and his job after the arrival of his new boss, Susan Felders, portrayed by Parker Posey. Where did you come up with the idea for the story for the film?
Michael Walker (MW): The idea was based on the fact that a lot of my friends were going through things that we always talk about, with money and trying to keep up with mortgages and paying insurances, and things like that, and jobs. I was looking around, and I didn’t see any films that were really like that, about these things.
So I combined that with an idea about bosses, and how they operate companies and how their enthusiasm carries over. So I worked with that, and those were the two starting ideas.
SY: Besides writing the script for ‘Price Check,’ you also directed the film. Does writing the screenplay help you in your directorial duties once you began shooting?
MW: I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But it definitely helps, because I can change things if I wanted to, I don’t have to ask anybody. It helps, and they go together, but it’s hard to say. When I write scenes, the ones that work the best are the ones that I have an idea on how they’re going to be shot and go, and how they’re going to be performed.
SY: What was the casting process like for both Eric and Parker? How did you decide to cast them in the lead roles?
MW: Well, we sent them the script. I met Parker in a restaurant, and we talked about the script. We had similar ideas on how it should be done and comedy. She puts a lot of thought into her work and the state of comedy in films these days. We had a lot of similar ideas on that end.
With Eric, he came in later, but it was the same sort of thing. We talked about ideas, and there were a lot there that he felt that he could relate to. We hit it off, and that’s how he came about. You send them the script, and see if they like it. But the other actors were cast by audition.
SY: ‘Price Check’ had an estimated budget of $2 million. Did having a limited budget place any restrictions on what you can shoot for the film?
MW: Oh yeah, definitely. There are a lot of things (that were restricted), like shots of cars driving down highways. I don’t know if having more money would make it a much better film, but working on these tight schedules, you’re very limited on how many takes you can shoot. You’re always up against the clock.
We don’t have a lot of exterior shots in the film, and part of that was because it was freezing cold. There was six feet of snow on the ground outside for most of the shoot. We didn’t have the time or resources to chip that away, and get the exterior shots that we wanted.
That kind of sits with the aesthetic of the film. Who knows, the aesthetic of the film could have been different if we had a larger budget. I wouldn’t change it, there’s a certain energy of shooting with that restriction.
SY: If the movie had a larger budget, would you be interested in adding anything to the film?
MW: There are things I see in there that I would have liked to have another shot at, that we didn’t have time to fix. But a lot of what’s in there came about because of those restrictions. So it’s hard to say.
I knew, when we started out doing it, how limited we were going to be. That’s what set up the style of the film int he first place. There were going to be wide shots, with a lot of actors in them, and jump cuts in it, and not a lot of takes. We moved along very fast, and I think Parker drove that energy a lot. It meant everyone worked a lot, and no one sat around too often. So it was a good way to work, in a way.
I don’t know what more money would do. I’ve never really worked on a bigger budget. The first film I did was bigger budget, and it all takes place in a house. It doesn’t seem like there was enough money for that, either. I think with films, there’s never enough money and time, and that’s basically what’s fun about making them. You go in, and it’s kind of an impossible task.
There’s this feeling of free falling when you start, because you know there’s not enough time or money. You feel like something’s going to happen, and eventually you get these things done. The things you shoot make it into the movie, and the things you don’t, doesn’t.
There is one thing I really hated cutting out. Amy Schumer’s character (Lila) had a great karaoke song that we couldn’t afford the rights to for the music. I’d love to put that in there.
SY: ‘Price Check’ premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and also played at the Seattle International Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out the movie would be playing at the festivals?
MW: I was really happy. Obviously, Sundance was amazing, it was the first time I had been there. With Seattle, I used to live there. I actually made it a point to send it there. In the end, I couldn’t go, because I was shooting another movie. It’s great getting into those festivals.
With Sundance, so many people put their films there, and they put their heart and souls into it. So much depends on these festivals, sometimes, that festival in particular. It’s great getting into them. It was hard work, but still a great experience.
SY: How did audiences react to the movie after it played at the festivals? Have people been connecting with the message of ‘Price Check?’
MW: Yeah, I think they do. Most people seem to understand it. I think even if they don’t agree with some of the stuff, it gets them talking about some of that stuff, especially some of the women’s roles in it. I think people seem to be responding to it, and it’s getting laughs, which is nice.
SY: ‘Price Check’ is your first movie since your feature film directorial and writing debut, the 2000 mystery horror thriller ‘Chasing Sleep,’ which starred Jeff Daniels. Why did you decide to wait 12 years between making your two films?
MW: Well, I’ve been writing the whole time. It was just getting something that would get made that was the problem. I had another film, called ‘The Maid’s Room,’ which I spent years trying to get made. It kept coming together and falling apart.
‘Price Check’ was something that I wrote in between. The circumstances happened so that I had the opportunity to make it. So I put ‘The Maid’s Room’ on the back shelf, and that was the one I was shooting this summer. So these things just sort of happen, you don’t always have control over them. But I’ve been writing the whole time. I’ve been working on scripts over the past 10 years, and hopefully I’ll get them made now.
SY: ‘Chasing Sleep’ won Best Film at the Festival of Fantastic Film in Sweden, and received praise from critics. Did you feel any pressure to emulate that same success with ‘Price Check?’ Were you able to bring anything you learned from making ‘Chasing Sleep’ to ‘Price Check?’
MW: Yeah, you learn something on every movie. But ‘Price Check’ was so different than ‘Chasing Sleep,’ I can’t really describe how different. Every movie has it’s own thing. I went from being one of the youngest people on set for ‘Chasing Sleep’ to probably being the oldest one on the set for ‘Price Check.’ It was a different way of working. A lot of things have changed since then.
They’re very different movies. ‘Chasing Sleep’ was much more about how it was shot, not that ‘Price Check’ doesn’t have a lot of planning behind it. But we didn’t need as much coverage, because it was all about the performances. It was such a different way of shooting it. But that’s with every movie. I think with very movie, you get better, hopefully.
SY: Since ‘Chasing Sleep’ was a mystery horror thriller, and ‘Price Check’ is a comedy-drama, do you have a preference of one genre over the other? Is there a particular genre you would like to direct for your next movie?
MW: I like both, and mixing them up a little bit. There are some moments of comedy in ‘Chasing Sleep.’ The film I just did, ‘The Maid’s Room,’ was more like ‘Chasing Sleep.’ It’s part psychological thriller. But I like both, and it was fun making ‘Price Check.’ Hopefully some of that fun came out in the film.
SY: Besides ‘The Maid’s Room,’ do you have any other upcoming films lined up, whether writing, directing or both, that you can discuss? Are there any details about ‘The Maid’s Room’ that you can talk about?
MW: Yeah, I can talk about ‘The Maid’s Room,’ we just finished it, actually a few days ago. It’s a psychological thriller, like I said, and it’s about a maid who gets a job out in the Hamptons. Due to certain circumstances, she becomes the only witness to the hit and run accident of the couple’s son. They try to cover it up, and it’s built around that premise.
Then I’m working on another film, called ‘The Revolution of Jenny Spec,’ and we’re starting to cast. That’s a combination of ‘Price Check’ and ‘Chasing Sleep.’ It’s about a girl who gets a job at a magazine, as a teen editor, fresh out of school. she becomes involved with the office politics. As she does, she starts to lose her grip on reality, and becomes involved with much bigger plots. That’s a fun movie that goes weird. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s fun.
Written by: Karen Benardello