“Much like the character in the film, I have a delusional quality where I somehow feel like it’s okay to ask the titans of the fields I’m interested in for advice,” Birbiglia deadpanned. Among the long list of helpful sources was Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “The Descendants”), “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” funnyman Jeff Garlin, screenwriter Mike White (“School of Rock”) and indie director Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”).
While that cast of characters provided some sweeping advice about acting, writing and directing, Birbiglia also sought counsel on more granular aspects. Given that the movie’s narrative is punctuated by moments where the comedian speaks directly to the audience, the budding screen actor decided to talk to someone with immense experience.
(Larry Busacca/GETTY IMAGES) - Mike Birbiglia
“Mike actually called Matthew Broderick,” Glass said, sounding slightly incredulous. “Nathan [Lane] performed with Matthew in ‘The Producers’ for years, so he could call up Nathan and say, ‘can you give me Matthew’s phone number?’ So he called up Matthew Broderick and he said, ‘We’re going to do this thing with direct address to camera, do you have any advice based on your experience in ‘Ferris Bueller’?” Newcomers might be too sheepish or too proud to ask for guidance, but Birbiglia’s approach helps flatten out the learning curve. As Glass notes, “When you’re doing something for the very first time, you’re not going to be good at it, and so the only way it’s going to be decent is if you tap into the expertise of others.”
If there’s another lesson in all of this, it might be that — even in the famously cutthroat movie business — the golden rule applies.
“He has good manners and isn’t pushy and seems really sweet, and somehow you want to help him,” Glass said. “I can’t describe it. It’s some crazy mind trick that he’s doing that is very much instrumental to where he’s gone and how he’s been able to put this together.”
The cinematic brain trust has paid off so far. The movie, which hardly looks like an amateur effort, snagged an audience award at Sundance and was a Festival Favorite at SXSW. The buzz is growing, too, thanks to yet another request from Birbiglia. When he noticed the film was slated for release in only a few dozen theaters nationwide, he was nonplussed. He took to Twitter, while Glass tapped into his radio audience, and both suggested that moviegoers contact theaters where IFC Films (which bought the rights to “Sleepwalk With Me”) typically screens. The response was immense to the point that “Avengers” director Joss Whedon made a tongue-in-cheek video announcing his concern that the low-budget film might outpace his summer blockbuster.
“We went from being booked in 34 theaters to being booked in 125,” Birbiglia said. “It’s like a movie people are getting to see by demand.”
And in that way, Birbiglia is teaching his fans a little bit of his grass-roots wisdom: If you want something, try asking nicely.
“Sleepwalk With Me”
Opens at Landmark’s E Street Cinema on Aug. 31.