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Faces of Tribeca: Treatment

The directors and stars of this conjointly high concept and human story know a little something about finishing what you’ve started, and the “real” story behind the Sheen charade.



Before you hear about Treatment from its witty, wacky co-directors and stars, here's an introductory tidbit about the film:


“Leonard and Nelson are friends/screenwriting partners looking for a fast track to success. As both confront a mid-30s reality check and a pile of unsuccessful screenplays, Leonard convinces Nelson to back his stint at a glitzy LA rehab clinic so he can pitch their new movie deal to mega-star Gregg D. As the half-baked plan twists and turns, and Leonard's ambition and selfishness spin out of control, the writing duo's friendship cries for an overdue dose of reality.”
--Genna Terranova


Also to note: Parts of this interview are not 100% serious and tend to veer violently/delightfully off topic. Comedians; what can we say?


Directors Steven Schardt and Sean Nelson

Tribeca: Tell us a little about Treatment.


Steven Schardt: Sean Nelson and I co-directed the film. Joshua Leonard plays Leonard and Ross Partridge plays Gregg D. Leonard is a screenwriter who checks into a rehab facility to get Gregg D to do his movie.

Tribeca: Is this story at all autobiographical?


Steven Schardt:
I cringe every time I see the movie.

Sean Nelson:
It’s not really autobiographical, but it’s semi-autobiographical, which means autobiographical.


Joshua Leonard: It’s thinly veiled in all the best ways. When Sean started writing the script, he was really grappling with his own super-stardom.

Sean Nelson:
Well, it's like, how do you get less famous? Make an independent film. So all these very talented people got on board with that plan, and now nobody knows who I am. And I’d like to keep it that way.


Joshua Leonard: It’s been moderately successful, and we were actually hoping that it would plummet.

Sean Nelson:
Yes the triumph of Treatment at the Tribeca Film Festival, if you’ll forgive my alliteration, has been wonderful. I wasn’t expecting to be carried down Canal Street on a team of white stallions, but it was fun.

Steven Schardt:
It’s been Sean’s own little Royal Wedding.

Tribeca: Are you guys based out in LA?


Sean Nelson:
Only Joshua is. Steven and I are from Seattle, and Ross is from Mars.


Tribeca: Are there any Hollywood characters you know who are inspirations for the main roles?


Sean Nelson:
In a way, the two main characters, Nelson and Leonard, are a composite of a lot of people I knew in the '90s who decided that really all they needed to do to become famous was to just say they were. I know some of them have never really grown out of it, but nobody is based on an actual person.


Tribeca: There’s no Gregg D?


Sean Nelson:
There are many Gregg D’s.


Joshua Leonard: Gregg D’s are everywhere.

Tribeca: He’s been given a new relevance by Charlie Sheen.


Sean Nelson:
People keep saying that. We’ve been making this movie for 27 years, when Charlie Sheen was still hoping to get Wall Street.


Joshua Leonard: What nobody actually knows is that the Sheen publicity campaign/debacle is actually just an ancillary part of our marketing campaign. We called Charlie 7-8 months ago and we said, “Charlie, we want you to go off the rails a little bit.”


Sean Nelson: And to his credit, he was right there. He was ready to go.


Joshua Leonard: He was good. He was rehearsing for the Bar Mitzvah at that point.

Sean Nelson:
Sheen was also preparing his one man show of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which is an ambitious production and a hard play to do as one person.

Sean Nelson:
It is true though that those public meltdowns are part of the same thing that the film is partly about, which is the ubiquity of celebrity culture, which has gotten only more, well, ubiquitous in our lifetime and since the Internet came around. There is that thing of people seeing famous people and being fascinated by them, and we’re all sort of fascinated by them even if we’re being contemptuous of them too.


The thing about Leonard is that he thinks, “Well, there’s no difference between me and that guy except for that guy is actually famous. I could do that if I were also famous.” It’s that weird mental
lapse, and I think that happens to a lot of people in tiny ways, but this is a movie about somebody that it happens to in a big way.

Joshua Leonard:
Yes, and when Nelson’s character and my character are brainstorming in the beginning of the film, that’s one of Leonard’s lines. He says the plan is that they’re just going to make a couple of really huge blockbusters and then they’ll get around to their art projects, as though the huge blockbuster movies and the attachment of a big star is the thing they can just do really quickly.


Sean Nelson: It’s like that Steve Martin joke: “I know how to make a million dollars and never pay taxes. First, you get a million dollars.”

Steven Schardt:
And that’s why we chose to make a small indie film.

Sean Nelson:
We could have gone with a $100 million movie.

Tribeca: When can we expect your big blockbuster?


Sean Nelson:
Any minute now. We have to go, actually.




Tribeca: The film is interesting because it starts off as a comedy and then takes an unexpected dark turn, and the story somewhat inverts itself.


Joshua Leonard:
I think the interesting thing about a movie like this, as well as some of the other films that this group here has been a part of, is their ability to take something that has a high concept, entertaining notion built into it that will ride the audience through the film, and then being able to supplant a really human story underneath it and reverse engineer a story from a ridiculous notion. I do think that is an advantage that we as independent filmmakers actually get, because the stakes are lower. There is less money involved and fewer people are paying attention.


As an actor and a filmmaker, when I hear a story that starts out as a character study, I’m kind of bored on arrival. Sometimes that’s done really well, but sometimes it’s a very didactic portrayal of somebody talking about his or her own feelings and pretending like they are relevant for anybody else. Putting the drama behind the comedy and a high concept is a good way to take into consideration what you care about as an artist, and what won’t be too monotonous for an audience.

Sean Nelson:
It would have been too abstract to start off by saying, “Let’s make a movie about artistic delusion.” There are so many ways to do that, and it’s vague. So if you have this parochial thing of a plot that sounds like a movie plot, that’s really important. When Steven first came up with the character of Leonard, a man who decides to check himself into rehab to befriend a movie star who can help him make a blockbuster, it was just the beginning of the story. Then there were a lot of ways we could go with it.  The one that seemed the most interesting and appropriate was not the one where they wind up being
friends and making the movie. It would be disingenuous for us to make a Hollywood satire, because we don’t really know anything about Hollywood except for what we see in celebrity magazines. It would be a satire about other satires.


So what Treatment wound up being is really not a satire at all. It has a lot of farcical elements in the beginning, but what it’s about is a serious subject that has affected almost everyone I’ve ever known well: whether people actually follow through and do something with their lives, or whether they just con themselves into thinking they’ve done that. It’s about finding yourself in your '30s and realizing everything in your life is based on decisions you made when you were 20.

Tribeca: In the film, rehab ends up being a metaphor for this discovery.


Sean Nelson:
I really think it is, as is Leonard’s screenwriting career. People who see the film don’t really seem to get that in Leonard’s past, there has been no writing and no projects. He’s never finished anything, and that’s completely on the nose. I have known so many people like that and they’re going to suffer when they see this film… on their iPhones.


Tribeca: Steven, you don’t have any interest in acting?


Steven Schardt:
No. I tried acting in my early 20s and it was disastrous.

Sean Nelson:
Have you not seen his Lear?


Joshua Leonard: Steven has a cameo in Humpday. He plays the angry cab driver.

Sean Nelson:
That’s probably the best scene in the film.

Steven Schardt:
I think you can make the case that without the angry driver, it would have just been two guys playing basketball.




Tribeca: What's the craziest thing (or "lightning strikes" moment) that happened during production?


Steven Schardt:
Well, there are many, but the one I remember in particular was when we were shooting at a friend of ours’ hotel and it was pouring. It was probably the fifth day of torrential rain, and we had to get a shot where Josh was doing a stunt into a pool.


Sean Nelson: His own stunt.

Joshua Leonard:
It stunted a few things.

Steven Schardt:
The owner of the hotel was meeting with a very important person where we had set up all of our wet bags, clothes and supplies. It was the only available room in the hotel, and he came up to me and very gently said, “If you don’t get your stuff out of here in 5 minutes, I’m going to look like a real asshole.” So we sent the crew up into the rain and Josh jumped in the pool, and everyone else exited out the back door. So we did get the shot.

Joshua Leonard:
My main disappointment in that shot is that you can’t see my face, so it just looks like somebody doing that astounding stunt.

Sean Nelson:
Everyone that knows you will recognize your ass and your signature falling posture.

Joshua Leonard
: That’s true. No one else falls like me.

Sean Nelson:
Absolutely not, and that’s why we needed you in this film.


Steven Schardt: And just to make everything clear with SAG we did have… whatever it is they require.


Joshua Leonard: SAG is definitely trawling the Tribeca website.


Tribeca: What’s the biggest thing you learned while making Treatment?


Sean Nelson:
Don’t trust Whitey.


I learned, after many years of hoping and wanting to be part of making a movie like this, that the biggest obstacle is always your own ignorance, and being okay about that and not knowing things is a sign of great strength.

Steven Schardt:
I knew that before, but it’s always good to review.


Ross Partridge: I learned that shooting heroin is totally dangerous. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

Tribeca: What's your advice for aspiring filmmakers?


Sean Nelson:
Measure twice, not once.


Joshua Leonard: The only advice that has ever continued to prove really relevant to me is to not wait for permission. As Sean said, there are people we’ve known who have talked about doing something for decades. A lot of young filmmakers and actors start with the idea that in order to do something creative, first you have to meet somebody important and be given the chance, and then you can start your career. I think anything I’ve done that I’m proud of is something that I was at from the inception and saw through.


It’s passion and time and commitment, by any means necessary, and fortunately, we’re at a time and a place in history when this very daunting medium of film, which has historically taken so much money and so many people, can be done on a much more suburban level. You can get a camera and go make a movie. The guy who did Oldboy [Park Chan-wook] just sold his film that he shot entirely on the iPhone.

Sean Nelson:
Jonathan Caouette’s movie Tarnation was one of the most incredibly affecting things I’ve ever seen, and it was made on software that comes with the Mac. The things that you’ve been conditioned to think are not available to you are, in fact, widely available to you. You just need to have the courage to believe that your work is good enough and counts. That was the big thing for me. I waited a long time. I’m 60 years old! [Minus 20 years..]

Joshua Leonard:
You finish your movie, and if you’re lucky, you get into a film festival or whatever level that film is at, and then you do press and you talk about things that happened in the past and you have them all planned into quick sound bytes and stories that don’t illustrate the actual amount of work that went into it. A film or a career, when talked about in bullet points, becomes something that you read, and what gets edited out is the astounding amount of failures, rejection and disappointments that must be endured to get it made. It’s dangerous to look at a career and not plant in all the stuff in the middle that was boring and heartbreaking. It’s really easy to look at the highlights and think that you are doing something wrong if it's not working out for you. Everybody I know that has sustained a career has sustained it through vast amounts of low times.


Sean Nelson: And that is, in a way, what the movie is about.


Tribeca: What are your hopes for Treatment at Tribeca?


Sean Nelson:
I just want one person to laugh at this one particular line in the film, and I will not disclose what that line is. I just think it’s empirically brilliant, and it doesn’t ever get a laugh. Nobody even smiles.


It would also be great to sell it, and people have expressed some interest, so we’ll see.

Tribeca: If you could have dinner with any filmmaker (alive or dead), who would it be?


Sean Nelson:
Definitely dead.


[Lots of laughter]

Sean Nelson:
Orson Welles or Francois Truffaut. Truffaut is so tiny, so you would get all the rolls.

Ross Partridge: Kieslowski

Steven Schardt:
The Farrelly brothers?

Joshua Leonard:
Leni Riefenstahl.

Sean Nelson:
Early Riefenstahl. Nazi Riefenstahl.


Tribeca: What piece of art (book/film/music/TV show/what-have-you) are you currently recommending to your friends most often?


Joshua Leonard:
I’m in the middle of Just Kids, and it’s great.

Sean Nelson:
The new PJ Harvey record, Let England Shake, is the only new bit of music I’ve had any passionate response to in a couple of years. I saw her play at Terminal 5 and it was pretty awe-inspiring.


Steven Schardt: A new novel by Peter Mountford called A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism.


Ross Partridge:  A small movie called "Sweater Dad."


Sean Nelson: Starring Gregg D.


Ross Partridge: They’re doing a new installation in Madison Park, and that’s a great place for anyone in New York to go to during the summer because they have all these great sculptors there.


Tribeca: What would your biopics be called?


Sean Nelson:

Ross Partridge:
“You Again.”


Joshua Leonard: “Saigon, Shiiiit.”


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