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Interview with Ron Lazzeretti of “The Merry Gentleman”

April 29, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

Ron Lazzeretti

Josh Sinason

Ron Lazzeretti is proud that The Merry Gentleman, the film he wrote, produced, and was set to direct until a ruptured appendix forced him to hand the reigns to Michael Keaton, has developed a cult following.  His influences range from all different artists who have made it big in Chicago, from funnymen like Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, to gritty auteurs like Michael Mann and John McNaughton.  During our talk he said “I’m still grieving over the death of Robert Altman.”  You can see that influence in his darkly funny, poignant and heartfelt film The Merry Gentleman, and all his work ranging from his shorts and digital serials to his other films like Something Better Somewhere Else.

Josh Sinason: What Chicago area filmmakers influenced you when you were starting?

Ron Lazzeretti: There are a number of Chicago filmmakers that I really admire.  I wish I was as funny as [Harold Ramis]. My favorite film of his is a local production- Groundhog Day and that’s because my tastes run more in the direction of comedy that also makes me feel something.  I remember the first time I saw Annie Hall I was blown away by the fact that something could be that funny and that melancholy. The Merry Gentleman is no comedy, but it has some unexpected humor in it.  My recent movie, Something Better Somewhere Else at times leans toward comedy. But it is still based in drama.  That’s the kind of stuff I like and that’s the stuff I find myself doing.


JS: What makes Chicago a great city to make indie films in?

RL: I could go on about making indie films in Chicago. I’m amazed we don’t have more of an indie scene. It’s a beautiful city with so many looks to offer if you open your eyes. On The Merry Gentleman we tapped into grittier settings, and even those had a strange beauty to them. It’s a great-looking city with farmland an hour out, and great neighborhoods.  We’ve got an internationally acclaimed theater scene that includes Steppenwolf, The Goodman Theater, and Second City not to mention any number of smaller but amazing theaters.  We’re loaded with wonderful actors, great writers, and we have some of the best crews.  Keaton and our director of photography on The Merry Gentleman Chris Seager, came into Chicago unsure of what to expect. They were blown away by our crew. Seager keeps telling me, “Get me back there. Let’s do another one.”

From "The Merry Gentleman"

JS: I really enjoyed looking at the Graveyard series of shorts on your website.  What is your philosophy on short film?

RL: I see [The Graveyard pieces] more like comic strips. It’s like Charlie Brown and Peanuts to me. They’d make great interstitial programming on a cable channel like IFC. We’re exploring that now.

It’s funny, because “Something Better Somewhere Else” is also comprised of 4 different stories, about twenty minutes each. They were created to be part of the same collection.  Roger Ebert said a very kind thing about it in.  The stories, “remain in my mind with as much psychic weight as full features […] Here’s a movie with the quickness and acute observation of a good short story.” And that is very much what I go for in shorts.  I was heavily influenced by J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories, Hemingway’s short stories, and The Half You Don’t Know by Peter Cameron.  I asked myself, “What makes them whole? What makes them satisfying?”  That’s what I go for.


JS: How important is making short films to honing a young filmmaker’s craft?

RL: I think anything that allows you to go out there and learn how to tell stories.  That’s what’s important.  The other good thing about short films is that they allow you to be more prolific, and that helps you to find your voice. You may think you know who you are as an artist, but until you actually start throwing things at the canvas, you really don’t know.

From Lazzeretti's "The Graveyard"

JS: When Michael Keaton was filming The Merry Gentleman in the Chicago area did you talk with him about specifics of filming in Chicago?

RL: He approached the idea very enthusiastically and ultimately used the city in a terrific way. By the time I had to step aside as director, he and I had had many conversations about the movie.  We were very like-minded about so much of it.  When I had to hand over the reins, I was very happy that he wanted to do it because I was confident that we had a very similar vision. But after that point, I tried not to be too specific about any of my thoughts regarding shooting in Chicago.  If he was going to direct, he needed to work it through himself. There was a lot of collaboration beyond that point- he was very generous about that. But he chose those locations; he used the city the way he saw fit.

JS: What filmmakers or projects, that you aren’t involved in, are you excited about?

RL: I’m always interested to see what Paul Thomas Anderson has coming up. Same with Wes Anderson. Anyone named Anderson.

Steve James, the great documentary filmmaker who, like me, lives in Oak Park, Illinois, always offers up interesting and challenging work.

If Bill Murray is in something, I’ll go right now.

I’m waiting for Smell-O-Rama to make a comeback.

JS: What projects are you currently working on?

RL: Aside from the shorter stuff like the Graveyard series, I have three screenplays in various stages of development.  One is a comedy called The Goon that’s loosely based on an experience I had working with a character from the old David Letterman NBC show named Larry Bud Melman. The other is a strange romantic comedy called The Judy Blue, about a romantic triangle between a woman who loves to be needed and two guys who try to out-needy each other. And the last one I’m still writing, but it’s more of a drama more in the style of The Merry Gentleman.

The Merry Gentleman is available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon, and IMDB.  For more on Ron’s future films go to 59films.com or just go find him wherever a Bill Murray movie is playing.

Josh Sinason is a regular reader at Curbside Splendor Reading Events

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