In making a film that draws heavily on his own struggles in the media industry, Colin Thompson figured that the finished product might, if he was lucky, appeal to thirtysomethings like himself. He never figured on it finding an audience with those thirtysomethings' parents.
Loser's Crown — which Thompson, 31, wrote, directed, coedited, coproduced and stars in — is a fairly autobiographical film. In it, Kevin (Thompson), a semi-successful music journalist in Los Angeles, returns to his small-town Vermont home to find that he's a little less hip and wise than he thought he was.
A Shelburne native, Thompson spent six years in LA doing odd jobs — painting buildings, coaching lacrosse — while hoping someone would buy one of his scripts. No one did.
"I reached a kind of breaking point," he says. The key event for Thompson was when a tech company purchased his apartment building, and he was offered $10,000 to end his lease and vacate. "I thought, I could stick around and put this toward another place to rent," Thompson says, "or I could write a script and convince some people to go back to Vermont in the dead of winter, for no money, and make a movie."
The latter option prevailed. The result is a film that strongly evokes two of Thompson's chief influences, filmmakers Alexander Payne (Sideways, Nebraska) and Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale). Like the films of those directors, Loser's Crown is heavy on the existential dialogue and bleak-but-honest humor.
Of Payne, Thompson cheerfully admits, "I would rip him off in any way possible. He's of the belief that ... as long as you have a good story and a camera and some interesting faces to tell that story, you can make a movie."
Just like the character he plays, Thompson owed money to the IRS ("That sucked," he says) and moved into his father's house in Vermont. His key creative collaborator on the project was an old friend, coproducer and director of photography Myles David Jewell.
"I've been letting music tell me how to feel since I first heard 'Baba O'Riley' when I was 6 years old," says Thompson, who stresses that the music in Loser's Crown is essential to experiencing it. Vermonters who have seen the film, or will see it this Saturday at Signal Kitchen in Burlington, likely recognize Thompson's brother, Lowell, a local musician who also contributes songs to the soundtrack. Songs by Vermont musicians Bill Mullins, Anaïs Mitchell and Anders Parker add to that soundtrack's local flavor, as does Neko Case's "Calling Cards." Thompson paid for the rights to Case's song with his credit card. "It was that important that we have that song," he says.
Good tunes notwithstanding, stories about disaffected 30-year-old slackers mostly find favor with ... disaffected 30-year-old slackers. Why, then, in its recent sold-out showings at Merrill'sRoxy Cinemas, has Loser's Crown attracted fans in their fifties and sixties?
Thompson isn't certain, though he's not displeased. "When I was writing [Loser's Crown]," he says, "I wanted to make it universal, but mainly for people my age. But it's resonating with parents who are watching their kids creep up on 30, trying to figure out what the fuck's going on."
He adds, "A lot of the kids I grew up with — their parents came to it; my third-grade teacher came to it ... I was scared because I have a filthy mouth in the movie. A real filthy mouth."
Like his protagonist, Thompson is currently without a permanent home. "I'm a drifter," he says with a laugh. "My life's in storage somewhere in Gardena, California."
Protagonist Kevin spends the better part of Loser's Crown trying to figure out whether to leave or set up shop in Vermont, and Thompson finds himself struggling with the same question. Committed now to shopping Loser's Crown on the film-festival circuit, he finds himself, against all expectations, a filmmaker. But will that require him to return to Los Angeles?
"I love [Vermont] and always have," Thompson says, "but would often think, I don't know what I would do there ... But I think that's why I've been working so hard: It was a way for me to live back here.
"I'm an asshole," he adds wryly, "but I've never looked down my nose at the place I'm from. I would like to be able to live here. More importantly, I want to keep doing what I'm doing."