Vermont’s Green Mountains set the scene for a new film about a married couple who seeks refuge in living a simpler life. In It’s Us, written and directed by Shelburne native Colin Thompson, the couple moves to Vermont to save their marriage, in what is known as a geographic fix.
Thompson, 32, now lives in Marina Del Rey. He attended preschool in Shelburne, went to Shelburne Village School in the Gus Mercaldo era, then to Shelburne Middle School before it changed to the Shelburne Community School, and was a Champlain Valley Union High School Crusader, he said.
He attended Quinnipiac University for freshmen and sophomore year, and transferred to the University of Vermont for his last two years of college, where he graduated with an English major and film minor. He also wrote, directed, and starred in his first film, Loser’s Crown, where he played a character on the fence about returning to Vermont after moving away for a time.
We spoke to Thompson on Dec. 28.
Shelburne News: How did you become a filmmaker?
Colin Thompson: The initial goal, or dream, or seven-year nightmare, depends on which of me you ask, was to write. I moved to Los Angeles and wrote for a few years, then a few more and then, who’da thunk it, nobody offered me a fat sack of money for any of my scripts. And when I had moved there, I said to myself, ‘if you don’t get that fat script sack of cash by the time you hit 30, well, we need to go back to the drawing board.’
Thirty came quick, so I freaked out and made Loser’s Crown, with the thought that, ‘if this sucks, we’ll get a job-job.’ Luckily, my skill set is incredibly limited. And the movie didn’t suck.
Shelburne News: Loser’s Crown was your first film? Can you tell me about it? How well was it received?
Colin Thompson: I was a desperate man with nothing to lose. I don’t mean that to sound dramatic, I just had literally nothing. I had a Le Creuset, but it wasn’t even mine. So I wrote a story that wasn’t so far from what I was going through at the time—a thirty-year-old has to figure out what the hell to do. Things aren’t going according to plan, so it’s time to have a serious conversation with yourself about whether or not to pull the rip-cord on whatever muddled dreams you may have concocted in your 20’s.
It’s also about looking at where you came from, your hometown, through a different lens. For me, the movie was about trying to be nicer. So, to all those who think it’s auto-biographical, it’s not, I’m the pits to be around.
Shelburne News: How did you come to create It’s Us? Where can people see it?
Colin Thompson: They can pre-order it on iTunes. And it’ll be out on Jan. 5. The short version of this story is that we finished Loser’s Crown in record breaking fashion and it blew up. And by blew up, I mean a few hundred people saw it. But one of those people who did see it, a guy who I met the summer before we shot Loser’s Crown and who liked my reckless, irresponsible attitude toward my own body and career, a man named Jon Dishotsky, well, he said, “Make another movie.” So I said, “Fine.”
And so it was springtime when he said that, and I wanted to shoot the movie that fall. I knew we had to keep it simple, and I wanted to write a romantic comedy, and It’s Us was what came out. Mostly, I wanted to have a couple say some of the terrible things couples say to each other that we never get to see on screen. I sent the script to Eliza Coupe’s manager, and next thing I knew, Eliza wanted to do it.
I remember looking up into the sky after she agreed to do it, saying to my dead friends, “I fooled ‘em! Guys! I really fooled ‘em this time.”
With Eliza, I think the bottom line is that she made me feel like I might be pretty good at this stuff. Obviously that’s completely subjective, and I’m still finding my stance on that, but she validated Loser’s Crown and made It’s Us ten times better than it was on the page. And for that, I’ll be forever indebted. Love that woman.
Shelburne News: There is a saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I thought of that when I was reading about the geographic fix theme of the movie. There are stressful and demeaning jobs all over Vermont, too! Why do people move to Vermont expecting our way of life to fix everything?
Colin Thompson: Air quality, maybe. And it’s far enough away (especially when you get to the greater Burlington area and more so the Kingdom) that it retains some mythos of sorts. More than anything, I think it’s the absence of interstate billboards and food signs, so right when you cross state lines, you know you are in a superior land with superior people.
Shelburne News: How is Shelburne, Vermont different than the city you live in in LA? Are there blatant cultural dissimilarities that blew you away at first?
Colin Thompson: Mostly the Mexican food. Oh, and the population of my apartment complex in LA is greater than the population of Shelburne. Air quality (again). It’s the second biggest city in America, and it’s closer to Mexico than here, so the Hispanic population is a little greater. But nothing that blew me away. I saw Swingers, like, 40 times in high school, so I pretty much knew how LA worked.
Shelburne News: How did growing up in Shelburne shape who you are now?
Colin Thompson: I’m not sure if Shelburne specifically shaped me. My family and friends probably did the shape shifting, and who knows if they could have done that from the Upper East Side or Sioux Falls. But, the sunsets at Shelburne Beach maybe made me feel a little less insular, a little more at ease with whoever’s making decisions up there.
Shelburne News: Did the weather cooperate when you were filming here? How was the shoot at Shelburne Orchards and Lake Champlain? Did Nick Cowles greet you with some of his famous apple brandy?
Colin Thompson: I still feel weird talking about it. We had the nicest October in the history of Vermont Octobers. It was terrifying. And the day we wrapped, it went grey and 36 and raining. Shelburne Orchards was just one afternoon, so we didn’t dip into the brandy. A lot of the movie was shot down on Thompson’s point in Charlotte. My friends Jim and Liz Foster let us borrow their cabin for a few weeks. Couldn’t have been done without them.
Shelburne News: Do you think your films celebrate and promote Vermont, keeping people believing in the authentic-life dream, or do they take us down off of the idyllic pedestal into reality? Vermonters struggle with everyday living and the trappings of modern wants just like everyone else! Right?
Colin Thompson: I hope they do both. I think with each, Vermont comes out of the gates as a very beautiful place. But I’m not making movies that lean on the majesty of Momma Nature. I’m more interested in that oft times scary place between your ears. And of course Vermonters struggle with the common struggles. My dad left a pillow out on the porch last night where he was doing a crossword. And it rained. He’s bummed. Not super bummed. I think he’s past it.
Shelburne News: What do you hope people walk away with after seeing the film?
Colin Thompson: I hope they get divorced. I’m trying to free people from the shackles of the marriage industry. No, no, the goal has always been, that if somebody thinks about it two days later, finds themselves driving and thinking about the movie, if something bums them out or cheers them up, if they feel something, then I think we did our jobs.
Shelburne News: What is next for you?
Colin Thompson: Try to make some money, write Ant-Man III for some bread. Then make another movie I wanna see.