Exclusive Q&A with Mike Mills about his film Beginners

LAEM: Where did the inspiration for the graphics, graffiti and cartoons seen throughout the film come from? MM: ‘I went to art school, not film school, so this kind of open filmmaking comes quite naturally to me. It’s how I instinctively solve problems in production, story, or just film boredom. The reason the graphics and drawings worked is because they were a real way to understand what Oliver was thinking and feeling. And while they are quite straightforward and declarative, they end up feeling strange and lyrical, and deliver information in a way that doesn’t feel dialogue driven’.

Length explanation at pivotal moments seems purposefully left out, drowned out by music, etc. What drove this artistic decision?
‘What you leave out in film can actually have the most substance for the audience, and I think mimics the way we don’t understand so much of what we live through. Life is so much more confusing, unexplained, multilayered and paradoxical than even the most mysterious and artful films. I guess I’m trying to point to all that flux, rather than pin everything down’.

How did the comparison of the external factors influencing the father, Hal, and the internal factors affecting the son, Oliver, emerge?
‘This is the great conflict between me and my real father. When my dad came out, we began having much more interesting conversations about what can and can’t happen in relationships, and he had a new understanding about how “internal” blocks can be quite real. He was born in 1924 and part of a generation that was taught to not talk about their interior lives, especially their interior fears’.

Do you feel that you would’ve been able to write this picture without the personal experience?
‘There are always amazing writers that don’t seem to need to come from such a personal place. Or they are so good at transforming their real experience that you don’t see the connection. For me, I do really like other artists who work from what “really” happened, or who try to process issues that are alive and not understood. But also, even the most concrete memories with my dad, by the time it’s made into a film, it’s a fiction, your version, your dream’.