10 Directors to Watch
BIRTHPLACE: New York, NY
PIC INSPIRATION: “I really love ‘Chinatown.’ I watch it every two years. It works on so many different levels. It’s a personal story; it’s a political story. It’s really a perfect film in so many ways.”
AGENT/MANAGER: Marty Bowen (UTA); Adam Schulman (The Firm)
Stettner enjoys probing “the truth of people who tell lies,” he says. A graduate of Columbia U.’s film school and the son of New York street photographer Louis Stettner, the Gotham-based writer-director made a splash in 2001 with his debut, “The Business of Strangers,” a sharp-edged portrait of two businesswomen locked in a psychological tug of war.
Now, five years later, Stettner returns with another story of two people vying for power, “The Night Listener.” An adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s novel, the film stars Robin Williams as a radio storyteller who forms a relationship with one of his avid fans: Donna Lomax (Toni Collette), a troubled woman who may or may not have an AIDS-afflicted son.
After the success of “Strangers,” Stettner was flooded with similar scripts about corporate women, but it was the story of “The Night Listener” that finally grabbed him. “I felt very at home with the ideas,” he says, “the whole sense that both these characters — Julie in ‘Strangers’ and Gabriel (in “Night Listener”) — wouldn’t have gotten to a place of personal truth without these other people.”
Maupin says he was extremely pleased with the results — not always the case for authors who see their work adapted to the bigscreen — applauding Stettner’s “easygoing” but firm hand. “I see it as thriller of the heart — both a personal drama and a creepy movie — and I feel he achieved that balance well.”
Indeed, Stettner’s latest, tense tete-a-tete recalls the work of such influences as Claude Chabrol, Roman Polanksi and George Sluizer’s original “The Vanishing.” “I really wanted this subtle tension that kind of pulls you in ways that you don’t know,” he says.
Stettner is already at work on another power play about different kinds of liars: He’s adapting Gore Vidal’s political drama “The Best Man.” “It’s all about how we choose our kings,” says Stettner, “and what it takes to become president.”