5 Questions: ‘White and Lazy’s’ James Runde

“I think people’s early 20s are times of exploration, and this lends itself to trying to understand new things, ideas, personality types, and just society in general. I can definitely empathize with that confusion. Most of my time these days is spent being confused.”

Festival-goers who missed our UW showcase at the Madison Library last spring are in for a treat as White and Lazy is getting a more official roll-out. Directed by James Runde, White and Lazy details the frustrations of Steve (a flabbergasted Runde as the straight man) as he painstakingly collects rent from his roommates.

That frustrating and uproarious process proves unsuccessful for Steve. His house is preoccupied with marching to the beat of their own drum kits and following out-of-date Gregorian calendars. Whether or not its title pokes fun at Steve or his roomies, White and Lazy is determined to show that its characters are still just people, right down to its understated early 90s period trappings.

For “5 Questions,” I talked with Runde about shooting on 16mm and the value of weird, limbo spaces:

1. We showed White and Lazy at the Madison Library last spring, and I may enjoy it even more now than I did back then. There seem to be some elements I don’t remember. Have you made any revisions?

I’m glad you enjoyed it more the second time. I really hope it’s a movie people think is funny the second and third time they watch it, so that’s good news. I did make revisions since then, but mostly just cutting stuff. I had the feeling it was too long, especially in the beginning, so I trimmed about a minute overall. I still feel like more could have been cut from those second and third scenes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Evan Millard, the editor, always favored leaving stuff in, which was good because I’m self-conscious about the scenes people don’t laugh as much at and want to cut them. He’s more level-headed and convinced me to leave them in because they do help flavor the film. I think some of the stuff toward the end pays off as a result of the pacing in the beginning, even though it may seem a little slow in the moment. It’s one of those movies that picks up steam as it goes along. If people don’t walk out or throw their tomatoes at the screen within the first three minutes, I think they’ll end up enjoying the movie by the end.

2. Have you shown this anywhere else?

I haven’t shown it anywhere since last May. I did that screening to try to get another small audience for the work-in-progress cut I had at the time. I find that every time I watch the movie with an audience, the things that don’t work become more apparent, so I was eager to show the rough cut at the library last May to get notes for improvement. I think it worked out for the best!

3. His landlord will tell Steve that he’s the “reliable one” but he’s disconnected, too. He’s always asking his roommates to explain themselves, and when he connects with someone (through her space-age spoken word thing) he’s still not sure what he’s hearing. It feels like nobody’s on the same wavelength here.

Yeah, that seems like a good interpretation to me. I think miscommunication is really funny, especially when people act like they’re communicating but clearly aren’t, which is Steve’s impulse. More generally, I think people’s early 20s are times of exploration, and this lends itself to trying to understand new things, ideas, personality types, and just society in general. I can definitely empathize with that confusion. Most of my time these days is spent being confused. It’s obviously a driving force of the film.

And although it probably won’t mean much to the audience, it was an important decision to set the film in the year 1991 because that’s the year Nirvana’s Nevermind blew up, and these types of questions were being asked on a national scale. I wasn’t alive then, but it seemed like a time where things weren’t so fragmented and people really had to come to terms with the differences between underground culture and mainstream society. Kids were dabbling and learning. Anecdotally, when one of my favorite bands, Pavement, played Lollapolooza in 1994, their drummer noted that half the kids in the audience were trying to decide if they liked this band while the other half were trying to decide if they even liked indie and punk rock. My movie definitely takes place in that weird limbo space — enter Steve trying to collect the rent from his slacker roommates.

4. I know you shot this on film. Was that film grain at all inspired by the time period, too?

Definitely. The main reason I shot the movie on 16mm was because it was the format of choice of indie filmmakers in that era, so it was period accurate. Also, it let me get away with more in terms of art direction because it looked very vintage-y just from the grain. I’m sure there are a lot of period inaccuracies in the film, but I think people are a little more forgiving because of the 16mm look.

5. I assumed White and Lazy was in reference to Steve, but he’s very restless. You play him as this uncomfortable, almost fidgety character who shows a lot of confusion and anxiety about the world around him, which is hilarious to watch. Do you see any connection between his restlessness and this “DIY” punk element you have under everything?

I’ve developed mixed feelings about the title of the film. When I first came up with it, I copped the Replacements song of the same title and pitched it to the producer/cinematographer, Quinn Else, as a joke. He immediately laughed and thought it was funny, so it stuck. I think it’s a title that grabs people’s ears and they remember it, which is good, but regrettably they also take it as a statement about my character or like a semi-political statement or something. That’s really not the intent. It’s more coming from a place of self-deprecation. We wanted the audience to laugh at the characters, at the filmmakers, and at themselves. Part of the humor is that everyone in the film, including the landlord, is just a lazy white kid, and actually Steve probably least fits that label, but he’s continually lumped in with it. That’s a really funny dynamic to me.

As for the DIY thing, a lot of that ethos informs the film, definitely. I don’t think it has a connection to how I played the character so much in terms of acting style, but it does have a connection to Steve’s place among the other characters. All of the other roommates are sort of DIY on a surface level — they have cool posters, dress thrifty, play instruments. But as I mentioned before, a big part of the film’s humor is that they all turn out to be lazy or motivated by their own self-interests. Steve’s the only one who pays his rent and picks up the slack for the others while still “keeping it real.” To me, that’s true DIY.