“Writer-director Tom McCarthy is now 3-for-3 at Sundance thanks to his charming, surprisingly affecting dramedy “Win Win,” which is easily the best movie I’ve seen at Sundance so far.”
January 22, 2011
“Every week or two you’ll see a film that cost $100 million and, as likely as not, the script plays as if it’s been knocked together in an afternoon. Yes, I know. It’s amazing. I should know. I’ve appeared in enough of those films.”
Actor/Filmmaker Thomas McCarthy
With the theaters full of big Hollywood sequels (Pirates of the Caribbean, X-Men, The Hangover Part II, Kung Fu Panda 2) I opted for Win-Win last night. Sure, it’s been out a while, but it just made its way to a theater in Cedar Falls this week. (And it’s already gone as of today.) Fine film.
Win-Win was written and directed by Thomas McCarthy (who worked on the story with Joe Tiboni). McCarthy is not exactly off the radar, but he’s not as well-known as, say, writer/director Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways). But he’s definitely a writer in command of is craft.
He was born in New Jersey in 1966 and first studied business before gravitating to philosophy at Boston College (“I had nothing to do with the arts.”) He then went to the Yale School od Drama where one of his classmates happened to be Paul Giamatti (who stars in Win-Win). He’s got a solid list of acting credits that go back to 1992 working on everything from Ally McBeal, to Meet the Parents, to Flags of Our Fathers. And in 1996, he starred in Death of a Salesman on Broadway.
His first film as a writer and director was the The Station Agent (2003) which made quite a splash at Sundance winning Best Drama Audience Award, Best Screenplay, and Best performance (Patricia Clarkson.) McCarthy’s next film as writer/director was the Visitor (2007).
In a Sundance Interview Q&A, Claiborne Smith asked McCarthy where the idea for Win-Win came from:
“Joe [Tiboni]and I used to be championship wrestlers ourselves [jokingly]. This is Joe’s first screenplay, by the way. I had this idea one day where I thought, ‘I haven’t seen anything about high school wrestling,’ a much undervalued sport in this country. I called Joe – we’ve known each other since we were about 10 or so – and I said, ‘Hey, do you want to develop this idea with me?’ And he said, ‘Totally. I’m in. What do we do?’ And I said, “We just start talking a lot and we see if we can think of a story to drive it.’ And Joe is actually an elder law attorney and lives in the same town we grew up in.”
And in an interview with Kirk Vanderbeek, McCarthy had this to say about writing Win Win:
“With this one specifically I burned through a first draft, pretty quickly; it was only three to four months. And I mean, by that point I’d been talking about it with Joe for … six months, maybe. And then I sat down to write and kind of had a draft pretty quickly just to see if the shape of the movie made sense to me. And then I spent about another year, year-and-a-half, really just combing through the script. I’m a big rewriter. I feel like with every pass I’m dropping things in and also thinning it out, stripping it down, and trying to leave as many textures and flavors as I can, but at the same point leaving space for the actors to do their thing.”
And to show just how electic McCarthy is, he also was credited on the story for the Pixar animated film Up (for which he earned an Oscar nomination) and had a role in the Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie 2012. It’s also important while looking at the success McCarthy has had, and the road he has taken. Not only Boston College and Yale (and his mixture of business, philosophy & theater) but his first film took two years to secure private financing. And according to and article at Irish Times, “McCarthy started out shooting amateur actors on a second-hand camera.”
McCarthy is a slow, steady train moving forward.