A shorts-clad Jakob Kornbluth strolled to the front of the Z Space stage, where his older brother was looking down at the red tape that indicated his mark. “He’s a performer, impersonating a performer.” the director said with a smile to the 25 extras seated in the first five rows. “We’re looking for a little bit of a response, nothing unnatural.”
A couple of moments later, one Kornbluth called action and the other, Josh, delivered the familiar opening of his breakthrough monologue, Red Diaper Baby. Standing behind Josh, cinematographer Hiro Narita framed the audience over the actor’s shoulder, capturing a deep-focus collection of warm smiles and chuckles. One take was all that was needed, and lunch was called.
This particular day’s shooting coincided with last week’s brief but intense heat wave, and Josh rapidly retired to his backstage dressing room. Collapsed on a bed with his eyes closed, marshaling his energy for the rest of the day, he murmured a word or two at an interloper who ventured in. Answering questions wasn’t a priority at the moment.
Jake Kornbluth was happy to talk, though, as he devoured his burrito. This was the final week of production on Love & Taxes, an independent feature adapted from another of Josh’s monologues. The piece describes Josh’s efforts to resolve a huge debt he owed the IRS, and the resulting change in his attitude towards the government. It’s a comedy and a love story about seeing the big picture and taking responsibility, which makes it pretty timely in Jake’s eyes.
“From my perspective, it’s about the importance of paying your taxes and being a citizen,” he says between bites. “To make a pro-tax romantic comedy feels spot on. Anyone can criticize the system, but to fix it is the goal.”
Love & Taxes marks the second collaboration between the Kornbluth brothers—the charming Haiku Tunnel, made exactly a decade ago, had the bad luck to open in New York the week of September 11—and it’s a big step up artistically.
Haiku Tunnel was told from the POV of Josh’s character, a secretary, and it had to feel like the secretary was making the movie, Kornbluth explains. The new movie is also from Josh’s point of view, but it’s more cinematic and more sophisticated. The film jumps back and forth in time, from 1964 to 1976 to the present, and from the East Coast to the West Coast.
To accomplish all of this on an indie budget, the Kornbluths and producer Raub Shapiro shot half the film on sets and half on location. That’s an unusually high proportion of studio scenes, Jake points out, but it allowed the filmmakers to integrate a stylized look with a naturalistic look. To that end, they also enlisted Idle Hands of San Rafael to produce animation.
“We did our first camera tests in 2008,” Kornbluth recalls. “As we’ve raised money, we’ve shot more. Luckily, each section has looked good, and interesting, and we’ve been able to take that out and ask people for assistance on the next section.”
Jake relocated to Los Angeles in the ’00s, where he wrote and directed his second feature, The Best Thief in the World. He moved back to the Bay Area specifically to work with Josh on the new film. In fact, the entire cast and crew of Love & Taxes.is local, Kornbluth says, which wasn’t the case with Haiku Tunnel.
Now, it’s not uncommon for plays (and monologues) to make the stage-to-screen transition several years after their premiere. What’s a little strange about both Haiku Tunnel and Love & Taxes, for those who’ve been around a while, is watching Josh Kornbluth recreate his role several years after the original events transpired. The director, who’s 13 years younger than his brother, is struck by something else: The themes of the pieces have particular meaning in his own life.
“Haiku Tunnel was about a character trying to find his footing in the world,” Jake says. “That really resonated for me then. Now I’m about to get married and the character in this film finds his love.”
With principal photography finished, the filmmakers will spend the summer in post working with editor Dan Hayes and composer Marco d’Ambrosio.
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