Matthew Ryan Hoge is suffering from a case of beginner’s luck. For his first film, “The United States of Leland,” which has just opened in theaters, Hoge has a star-studded cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams and Chris Klein. Hoge’s initial foray into film ended abruptly after he had filmed about 20 minutes because he was financing it through credit cards and had run out of money. He later made a feature film, “Storage,” for $9,000 before “Leland” came about.
In the film, one of the main characters is a teacher at a juvenile detention center. He worked at a detention center, which Hoge could relate to. “Right about the time I was finishing ‘Storage’ I kind of stumbled into teaching. I needed a way to pay the rent and it was really easy to get hired because there is such a need for teachers in that setting,” Hoge explained.
Despite the similarities between Hoge’s job and the setting of the film, he says that there wasn’t a real life Leland Fitzgerald that he based the character upon. Instead, he said that most of the people that he worked with hailed from the gang world. But the idea for the film came from the interaction between himself and the students.
The film boasts a cast many directors would kill to line up. Hoge joked, “They were all my bridge chums. One day I said to Kevin [Spacey], ‘lets make a movie.’ He said, ‘All right Hoge.’ I didn’t know anybody. There were maybe three people in Hollywood who had read or seen something and liked it. When I told them what I was doing, they said ‘call us when you’re doing the next one.’ So the response wasn’t overwhelming.”
However, Hoge explained that it was due to perseverance that he was able to get the film made. “When I finished it, one of the few people I did know, one [being] Harry Guidis, got the script. His assistant got the script and liked it; He gave it to someone else who gave it to someone else who gave it to my agent who a few months later wound up getting it to Spacey.”
Hoge admits that it was because of Spacey’s involvement that they really got the ball rolling with the film. “He came on as producer before. I think it was more his role as a producer than him as an actor because we didn’t use his name as an actor until we had the financing, which was important to him,” Hoge said about Spacey’s initial involvement.
Hoge is also happy about Spacey’s involvement for another reason; the fact that he was able to make the movie his way. “His approach was, ‘From the get go this is your film.’ From the minute he signed on as producer, not a word changed in the script. When he wasn’t acting, he was on set for five minutes, maybe,” Hoge explained. “He’s one of those rare classy guys who is happy I made the movie I wanted to make. He wanted to support that. He didn’t want to get his thumbprint on it and say this is Spacey here and this is Spacey there.”
The film applies a unique style of filming as it takes the character’s points of views as they close an eye and then open it and close the other. “It’s something I do. But it is also the central metaphor of the film. That idea of process of vision, left eye sees one thing; right eye sees the other and the brain puts it together and tells you what’s really there,” Hoge said, explaining the thought process behind the technique. “But for Leland it’s one or the other. The tragedy of that character is the inability to unite the states.”
Hoge says that “The United States of Leland” has opened the door for him. He has gotten writing jobs, but he is still looking for a project to direct. One of those writing jobs is for “L.A. Confidential” and “8 Mile” director Curtis Hanson, about the competitive world of Scrabble.