The Story Behind 'People Places Things'

The indie dramedy People, Places, Things was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and it is being categorized as an endearing, quirky film that's bound to please audiences. The film was written and directed by James C. Strouse and stars Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame as Will, a graphic novelist whose marriage has just combusted. He's left alone to figure out how to be a good parent to his young daughters while also teaching at the NYC School of Visual Arts and trying to mend his broken heart. The movie is beautifully organic and references a lot of real-life locations and institutions, prompting me to consider the possibility that People, Places, Things is based on a true story. But is it?

A little digging reveals that, while not based on actual events, the movie contains multiple elements of the real life of one person in particular: screenwriter/director James Strouse. In a "Meet the Filmmaker" interview at Sundance, Strouse confirmed that People, Places, Things is autobiographical in more ways than one. He said, "A lot of the story's reflected out of my own experience: I teach at the School of Visual Arts, I have so many gifted students who are finding their voices...I draw from what I'm doing in my own classroom and try to reflect it in the story." See the filmmaker's full commentary below:

It's obvious that this project is close to Strouse's heart, and his beautiful writing and direction are complemented by a fantastic performance on the part of Jemaine Clement. The movie also features great music, which is nothing less than what one would expect for a film that stars one half of Flight of the Conchords. Here are a few other examples of movies where a filmmaker drew from their own life and added cinematic elements to create something beautiful.

Almost Famous

This film was based on Cameron Crowe's experiences as a 16-year-old writer for Rolling Stone, during which he traveled on tour with a band and was thrust into a world of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Um, I'm pretty sure that when I was 16 my biggest responsibility was studying for the SATs, but no matter. The movie features so many great performances, including Kate Hudson as the "Band Aid" Penny Lane.

Tiny Furniture

Much like her HBO show Girls, Lena Dunham's first movie pulled largely from her own life perspective in telling the story of Aurora, a discontented recent college grad who has to move back in with her parents and figure her life out. A helpful hint: do NOT do what I did and watch this movie the day after you graduate college; it's a great film but it makes the post-grad world seem pretty bleak.


It's common knowledge that Amy Schumer's first movie was penned by the comedian herself, taking much of its content from her personal life. For example, her character Amy's relationship (and awkward sexual encounters) with John Cena are taken from her own experience dating a WWE wrestler. But there are also some more meaningful autobiographical elements to the film, including Schumer's experience of watching her father suffer from a chronic illness. Director Judd Apatow encouraged Schumer to show vulnerability in her writing, and the result was a summer hit of a film that managed to show genuine painful emotions while also being uproariously funny. I cried in the theater. Please don't tell anyone.

The above films all have something in common with People, Places, Things; they show that the strongest scripts are often those based on true human experience. It makes sense if you think about it; art mimics life, and life mimics art. In creating this film, James Strouse shows that he's an artist in more ways than just being a graphic novelist (although the graphic novelist thing is pretty cool, too).

Image: The Film Arcade