After working for different production companies in Hollywood over the last decade, first-time filmmakers Geoff Moore and David Posamentier decided to “forge a business relationship” and sit down together to write a movie. Realizing they had the same kind of humor, understanding of the industry and career goals, Moore and Posamentier developed the script for the dark comedy “Better Living Through Chemistry.” The film stars Sam Rockwell as a disrespected pharmacist who finds a new lease on life when he begins an affair with a trophy wife (Olivia Wilde) who lives in his small town.
During our interview, Moore and Posamentier talked to me about their inspiration behind the film and their lead character and explained why they don’t usually write scripts with specific actors in mind.
“Better Living Through Chemistry” opens exclusively at the Bijou Theater in San Antonio March 14 and is also available On Demand on the same day.
How much do you think you can actually learn about someone just by looking in their medicine cabinet?
David Posamentier: You can learn a lot. As filmmakers approaching this movie, however, we didn’t want to make it all about the drugs. They obviously play a huge role in the story, but it’s more about the chemistry between people. While we would walk around pharmacies and hang out in the corners of the stores and watch people walking to the counters ashamed to pick up things like jock itch spray or some sort of anti-fungal cream, you learn a lot about their physical ailments, but you don’t necessarily know what’s going on inside them.
Sam Rockwell’s character Douglas Varney is this small-town pharmacist who basically knows everyone who comes in to get their medication. Do you think a more personal relationship with someone like a pharmacist is beneficial to a person or would you rather be just another number in the system?
Geoff Moore: That’s an interesting question. Our writing process always started with the characters and what makes them tick. Dave and I both grew up in small towns, sort of like what you see in the movie. My next door neighbor was the pharmacist. There was one family-owned pharmacy in town and it was him. Anyone who walked into that pharmacy, he knew socially. Is having a personal relationship with your pharmacist interesting? I guess so, but it wasn’t anything we were really thinking about in the movie.
DP: Yeah, I don’t necessarily think there is a benefit to it. There might be a fun, awkward byproduct from the relationship that develops just because you live in the same town and your kids might go to school together, but I think what we were trying to bring across in the movie is that pharmacists, sadly, are really looked at as the help. There’s a scene in the movie where a postal worker comes in to get his drugs and he doesn’t even know the pharmacist is a guy whose mail he’s delivered for 12 years. There’s something interesting about a postal worker, someone who is the “guy who delivers the mail,” looking down on the guy who is probably twice as educated as he is and has a very specific skill set.
And has all his customers’ lives in his or her hands, right? I mean, that’s a lot of power for an occupation that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.
DP: Yeah, it really made for a compelling character. You have this guy who has done this very intensive training to become a pharmacist. Pharmacists are very bright and have a deep understand of chemicals and formulas and the interactions of those within the body, but didn’t quite go that extra step to become a doctor. So, it’s a very interesting middle ground. While we’ve been told being a pharmacist is a very lucrative line of work, it’s kind of like the nursing industry where there’s always going to be a need for it. We found it very compelling to be in that grey area. You’re not a doctor, but you are a scientist and you’re very educated. You have a degree on your wall that is very impressive, but for most people that walk in, they don’t care. They just want their meds.
GM: I think it also spoke to the character himself. A lot of what he has are failed aspirations. This is a guy who wanted to be a doctor but then life happened and he had to take a backseat. In a bygone era, being a pharmacist was like being a doctor. People used to come in and have conversations with their pharmacist. Like Dave pointed out, now it’s like, “Here’s my prescription. Give me my bottle as quick as you can and let me get out of here. I don’t really care who you are.” You’re not a doctor and part of our dominance over you is making sure you remember that.
You both just mentioned you come from small towns and also did some research inside pharmacies, but did this story originate from anywhere else? David, I know you worked on the set of the movie “Garden State” back in 2004, which also touched on the idea of “self medication.” Did that experience inspire this film in any way?
DP: I don’t necessarily think anything from that film directly influenced this one. I think it was all about character first. The inspiration for this movie was truly the character Doug. We wanted to craft this world around him. The dark underbelly and malaise of suburbia [like in “Garden State”] is definitely something we find very compelling, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the same thing we’re doing in [“Better Living Through Chemistry”].
Was it easier for you to make this film because you were already involved in the film industry? I mean, this is only your first film and you have Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde and Jane Fonda in it. How does that happen?
DP: Absolutely. It was certainly a big leg up that we’ve been working successfully in this industry for the last 10 years, doing things like selling scripts and doing rewrite work. We’d be lying if we said having an agent at a big agency with an independent film department wasn’t a huge advantage. That is just one component. On the flip side, over the years, we have cultivated a lot of relationships with writers and directors and actors who we’ve met on movie sets. We pride ourselves on being good to people. Hopefully, you can catch some of that karma and we did. We picked up the phone and called in tons of favors. Being a part of this industry certainly has its advantages.
Did you write this role specifically for Sam Rockwell?
GM: I don’t think we, in general, write for specific people. More often than not, if you do that you’ll get your heart broken. With that said, we did write the voiceover, which we tend to agree that using one is a crutch, for Dame Judi Dench. When we were writing the script, we just put her name in there because we thought, “Well, everybody knows her voice.” Oddly enough, she got the script and read it and was keen to do it. A few weeks before the film started, she had to bow out because of some scheduling complications. Then we got Jane Fonda, who is pretty amazing backup plan. Besides that, we tend not to write for specific people because all those actors and actresses out there who you’d love to be in your movie would love to be in a lot of other movies, too.
Explain a little more about what you just said about narration being a crutch. If that’s something you find to be true, why did you include it in your film?
DP: Yeah, well, as screenwriters, we know voiceover is a big no-no. So, we knowingly went in breaking that rule, but at the same time we knew it was woven into the fabric of what we wanted to make. So, we didn’t necessarily see the voiceover as being a crutch in a negative way. It certainly turned out to be as a blessing in disguise.
Do either of you have an embarrassing moment at the pharmacy you can share?
GM: I always saw buying condoms as embarrassing when I was a teenager. At that age, you didn’t want people to know you were having sex. Then I got into my 20s and thought going up to the counter with condoms was like, “Check it out! I’m having sex! I want the world to know!”