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Interview with Dylan McCormick

Dylan McCormick was born in New York City and grew up in upstate New York. He graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in dramatic literature where he acted, directed, and wrote for the stage. He is a founding member of two downtown theater companies: The Open Road Group and The Orchard Theater, where he directed and acted in numerous productions. As an actor, McCormick worked both regionally and in Off-Broadway theaters that include Hartford Stage, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Manhattan Theater Club. He's also acted in several independent feature films. He directed the short film Night and Day, written by Barry Crooks. McCormick is also a guitar player and lead singer in the legendary and elusive alt-country-rock band Big Red.

In Four Lane Highway, Sean, the talented son of a famous writer, resides in the college town where his dad once taught, working construction, bartending, and going through the motions of meaningless one-night stands. But one day he decides to change his fate; by heading on a roadtrip to New York with his boozer pal in search of Molly, a woman that he met while tending bar. Watch the trailer at

Tribeca Film Festival: Congratulations on (the theatrical release of) Four Lane Highway. That’s very exciting.

Dylan McCormick : Yeah. Nerve-wracking, but exciting. It’s been sort of a long and progressive process. We were looking at possibly opening somewhere other than New York City, and then trying to build momentum to break into larger markets, but ultimately decided against that. We’re starting in New York in the hopes that things go and, we’ll then be able to push it up into the other direction. We have a stronger base in New York- both in terms of audience and all the actors and everybody is here.

Tribeca Film Festival: Can you give us a run-down on what’s been happening since the film premiered at Tribeca in 2005?

McCormick: The next year after Tribeca was basically going to a bunch of smaller festivals – there ended up being 9 or 10 in all. The most exciting were Woods Hole and Santa Fe, where we won the award for Best Picture. You know it can get some what weary going from festival to festival; by the end of it you feel like you’ve done this a million times. But it was very exciting to have that much contact with people seeing the film in the Q&As. But by the end of it I kind of felt like, “Alright, that’s enough festivals. But I have been incredibly moved and struck by some of these festival audiences- people just saying, I was tears watching this. I literally had people saying to me, and I don’t expect this to be everybody’s response, but "why don’t people make movies like this?"

Tribeca Film Festival: Was the writing of this story a long process? It seems like a deeply personal story.

McCormick: The (writing) process was preposterously long. I started writing it maybe eight years ago. I chose to write moment to moment and scene to scene without really structuring it beforehand and figuring out where I was going and where the characters were going. I think in a lot of ways that was good, in that it allowed me to just get stuff out. But I think that does get you in trouble because I spent many, many years afterwards honing the script and honing the story and figuring out who these people were and what the through line was. While in some ways a lot of people feel that it is a very personal story, what’s also true, and something that I feel slightly proud of is that nothing that happens in this movie that has ever happened in my life. I’ve never lived in Maine. My father is neither a writer nor an alcoholic. I spent a fair amount of work trying to create people that were distinct from myself as well.

Tribeca Film Festival: Well it is a very intimate story. That comes across.

McCormick: Yeah and it’s a very small story. It’s not a huge broad canvas tackling important issues. It’s just really about people trying to connect with one another, and to themselves. It’s the type of movie that I like to go see, but it’s very small And I think a lot of people- the people that like the film- I think that’s why they like it. It probably feels too small to the people who respond less-well- maybe a little too detailed and not clever enough..

Tribeca Film Festival: It’s such a great story about New York itself, and how to navigate the difficulties of finding intimacy, specifically in this New York art scene maze that you portray so specifically.

McCormick: What was conscious for me is this interplay between the issues of ambition and the sort of intensity of the urban existence - especially in New York - contrasted with the rural, idyllic, slower pace and the ways in which that can be a way to hide from things. I just happen to be fairly torn myself, having grown up in part in New York City, and having spent most of my life in upstate New York. I’ve spent a good amount of time idealizing the rural parts. But I’m also pulled to the energy and the electricity and, I don’t think ambition is the right word, but the kid of intensity that is around New York. I think Molly in particular- the female main character- what she’s struggling with is the art world and its acceptance of her.

Tribeca Film Festival: It’s a timeless issue for so many people in this city who are trying to find peace and space in the midst of such an energetic city they can’t imagine leaving. It’s a love/hate relationship for a lot of people.

McCormick: I hope it’s not too specific to the experience of artists. That it has a broader reach. That people don’t just think this is a movie about artists in New York. For me, it just sort of fell into place with each character that that’s what they were struggling with.

Tribeca Film Festival: Well, it’s hard to make a broad movie about New York. You sort of have to choose your genre or your community, rather.

McCormick: I find that anytime anyone wants to make a broad story about anything, the lead character is always an architect. There’s something generic about it, but slightly creative.

Tribeca Film Festival: With such a strong history in theatre, what was the transition into filmmaking like in terms of crafting a story that was not only sellable, but something that could be portrayed on the screen without loosing the sense of intimacy of the stage?

McCormick: It was certainly challenging. But I just threw myself into it and tried to surround myself with the best people I could find. Of course before becoming a parent at the end of it and telling people that I know what I’m doing!

And the scale of performances is so different in terms of size of performances. The camera just picks up everything. And in theatre you have to work so much harder and generate so much more energy to reach the back rows. In that way I find film, in an odd way, to be more intimate a medium in that there’s something almost more naturalistic about it. Now I say that as somebody who is very passionate about theatre. In the writing of it, I certainly had to think of ways to say things visually at times that I might have chosen to say with longer stage directions in a play. But still, there’s a lot of dialogue in it- it’s a story about people interacting with each other so it was inevitable that it would rely heavily on dialogue.

For me, I just got so exhausted watching clever exercises in style or things getting blown up. Both of which have significant entertainment value, but I’m personally more interested in watching people collide with each other in some kind of way that feels real or that has more depth to it.

Tribeca Film Festival: What has happened to our attention span?

McCormick: Well, I’ll tell you. Spider-Man opens and makes over $100 million dollars that weekend. The next grossing movie that weekend made $4 million dollars. It’s hard to compete with the spectacle.

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