NEW YORK — At an event that kicked off the Tribeca Film Festival’s abundant panel program, filmmaker-playwright Neil LaBute declared that making people uncomfortable isn’t “intentional, it’s just a tic.”
“I take no particular pleasure in it, but I’m not afraid of it. Entertainment should be good, not nice and carefree,” added the writer-director of pic “In the Company of Men,” in which two buddies set out to seduce and dump a deaf woman.
In his recent Off Broadway play “The Mercy Seat,” a man is having sex with his mistress near the World Trade Center when the planes hit and ponders letting his family think he’s dead so he can continue the affair.
LaBute was interviewed by “The Mercy Seat” star Liev Schreiber at the panel “Directors on Directing”; fest features four days of breakfasts, talks and workshops dotting downtown Manhattan. Fittingly, LaBute’s play explores the tragedy that led to the fest’s creation.
He spoke to a crowd of 100-plus at the spacious, sunlit Prada store in Soho. The Italian fashion house is a fest sponsor. LaBute’s latest film, an adaptation of his play “The Shape of Things,” was to be shown Wednesday night, with cast attending.
He had lots to say about the challenge of working in film (“scary, bizarre”) vs. theater. One rehearses a play, he said, working toward a finished product, but in film, process and product are entwined. “What you shoot the first day has to be as good as the last day.”
“And there’s constant pressure, like: ‘We have to move on. We’re losing the light. He has to leave Thursday.’ You tell an actor, ‘I don’t think we have enough time for you to cry today; you can cry tomorrow.’ ” Sometimes, “there are so many people setting up a scene that you feel superfluous,” and you often “don’t get as much time to shoot something as you do to light it.”
He said that when he sits down to write, he doesn’t think “play” or “screenplay.” “I start writing about people. If they stay in the house, I say, ‘This is shaping up to be a play.’ If they go out to the car, to the grocery store, then I say, ‘I think it’s going to be a film.’ ”
LaBute said he’s writing short stories. Projects include the film “Vapor,” based on the recent novel, and a remake of “The Wicker Man.” His TV pilot “Lilac Lane” has been picked up by Showtime.
He didn’t seem to mind that his bio on the IMDB Web site, a key source for quick film info, is one sentence long: “Frequently casts Aaron Eckhart.”