Filmmaker Ira Sach’s on His New Film, ‘Little Men’ by Uinterview

Ira Sachs, the filmmaker known for the acclaimed Love is Strange, once again explores relationships and their complications in his new feature, Little Men.

Ira Sachs Video On ‘Little Men’

Set in Brooklyn, New York, Little Men follows the new friendship that grows between teen boys Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) as their families feud over financial and real estate matters. Casting the roles of Jake and Tony came first for Sachs, who knew that they would be the heart of the picture he had set out to make. In Taplitz and Barbieri, he found his perfect pair.

“I needed to find two kids that you would remember. Theo Taplitz, who plays Jake, came through an audition; when he sent the tape in, I looked at it and I felt like I was watching a documentary about this character, it was so authentic. And Michael Barbieri is a real New York kid,” Sachs told uInterview in an exclusive interview. “I knew these kids would be memorable. I also knew they were very different. One was like out of a Bressan film and the other was out of Scorsese.”

Little Men is a consciously multi-generational film that begins with the death of Jake’s grandfather. Sachs, 50, hoped to explore the relationships between familial generations – and to create a movie that would, in the end, appeal to all of them.

“I’m a 50-year-old, middle-aged man, I have 75-year old-and 80-year-old parents, I have four-year-old kids, I’m very aware of being somewhere in the middle. […] I’m interested in those dynamics between generations,” Sachs explained. “I also wanted to make a movie that was about childhood, but from a very mature perspective. At the same time, I felt if I did that well, it’s a movie that kids and adults could enjoy and connect to.”

Sachs’ approach to filmmaking includes making an effort to get at the truth of his characters’ – of every age, and to allow the characters to be honest with each other.

“For me, honesty has been something that I’ve always struggled for, and in much of my life I feel I didn’t attain in any way, shape or form and that was in a way the subject of my previous films,” Sachs said. “The central relationships in Love Is Strange and Little Men are quite successful. It’s really those couples facing the world. I hope my films are realistic and empathetic, but also they’re about the struggles all of us have in being those things.”

The commitment to reality extended to the socioeconomic statuses of the families involved in Little Men‘s central conflict. Sachs hopes that with no clear villain or hero outlined by status, the movie will organically captivate its audience.

“In this case with Little Men you have a battle between two families who are both trying to hold on to what they have. And we made a pretty specific decision as writers that the rich characters would not be too rich and the poor characters would not be too poor, and in fact they’re both very similarly educated as people. So what that creates is a kind of moral suspense,” Sachs said. “You can’t easily choose as an audience member which side you’re on. I think that’s what keeps the movie exciting.”


Q: How did you find the two young leads of the movie? -

I began with the boys because I knew that I was making a film about childhood and friendship and it would all begin and end with that pair. But, I also knew that I didn’t need to find like a needle in a haystack; it wasn’t like I was trying to find Judy Garland for Wizard of Oz. I needed to find two kids that you would remember. Theo Taplitz, who plays Jake, came through an audition; when he sent the tape in, I looked at it and I felt like I was watching a documentary about this character, it was so authentic. And Michael Barbieri is a real New York kid. We had an open call here and he just appeared with his dad. He’d seen a listing on a bulletin board at his acting school. He was such a New Yorker, he has the history in his accent and his voice and he was so exciting to watch that I felt like, as I said; I knew these kids would be memorable. I also knew they were very different. One was like out of a Bressan film and the other was out of Scorsese. They were opposites, in a good way.

Q: What was it like working with children? -

I have to say they are like two of the best actors I’ve ever worked with, and easiest. Kids are not as needy as adults. So, the challenges were just to finish before it was their bedtime and things like that, and to figure out how to let them be themselves while at the same time we had a script and we had a story that we were telling and try to make sure that I let them free enough in the movie that you could feel that particular energy of kids that is so cinematic.

Q: Why did you want to make this film? -

I’m a 50-year-old, middle-aged man, I have 75-year old-and 80-year-old parents, I have four-year-old kids, I’m very aware of being somewhere in the middle. So, both with this film and Love Is Strange previously, I’m interested in those dynamics between generations. I also wanted to make a movie that was about childhood, but from a very mature perspective. At the same time, I felt if I did that well, it’s a movie that kids and adults could enjoy and connect to. For me as a father, with kids I’m beginning to take to the movies, I wish there were more films I guess like this, or films like...400 Blows or The Red Balloon, all the films that made me in a way love the movies.

Q: How do your films tie into issues of social class and wealth? -

I could be living in Peoria and I would see these issues playing out, and for me it’s so connected to just the kinds of stories in the way that I look at life, in the sense that I don’t think you can disconnect economics from who we are as people. And usually the dramas that take place. So, all my films in some ways are about class and how money influences who people are. I also think that a lot of the books that I’ve loved in my life, specifically I think of Henry James or Edith Horton, both New York novelists, that I’ve learned so much from, they understand that you can’t disconnect those characters from exactly what kind of property and land and work they do.

Q: Is there a central theme to your work? -

For me, honesty has been something that I’ve always struggled for, and in much of my life I feel I didn’t attain in any way, shape or form and that was in a way the subject of my previous films — the difficulty of being honest with intimate relationships. In the last ten years of my life that’s changed. I feel like you get what you pay for and I am who I am, and all those kind of things. So there’s kind of more directness about who I am and how I connect to people. So, the central relationships in Love Is Strange and Little Men are quite successful. It’s really those couples facing the world. I hope my films are realistic and empathetic as you say, but also they’re about the struggles all of us have in being those things.

I think in this movie you really think about Greg Kinnear, and Greg Kinnear is to me another ‘Little Men’ in the film besides the two boys. He’s trying to figure out how to be an adult and how to be a father, and he’s having a hard time saying what he feels. Eventually, that changes in the movie and that’s kind of the growth that takes place.

Q: What does it take to direct a film? -

It reminds me of when I was first looking for a psychoanalyst just out of college, and it’s what I think about therapists in general, is that you need to find someone who has great empathy but also the ability to be analytic about things. So, you need a kind of sweet spot that is both connected and has some distance as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, because I think overly empathizing becomes sentimental and nostalgic and I’m trying to shy away from that in my work. In this case with you have a battle between two families who are both trying to hold on to what they have. And we made a pretty specific decision as writers that the rich characters would not be too rich and the poor characters would not be too poor, and in fact they’re both very similarly educated as people. So what that creates is a kind of moral suspense. You can’t easily choose as an audience member which side you’re on. I think that’s what keeps the movie exciting.