James Ponsoldt on Crafting The David Foster Wallace Film 'The End Of The Tour' & Having Sympathy For Journalists
In 2013, filmmaker James Ponsoldt produced one of the most beautiful, innovative, and truthful indie flicks of 2014. The Spectacular Now, starring Divergent's Shailene Woodley and Whiplash 's Miles Teller, acted as a coming-of-age saga for a generation that's too old — or perhaps not gullible enough — to soak up wisdom from a John Hughes' film. But Ponsoldt's indie sensibilities aren't just for angsty teens and lovers of independent cinema. With the upcoming The End of the Tour , which premiered at 2015's Sundance Film Festival, audiences will get to see once again the transcending power of Ponsoldt-crafted pictures.
"I felt like I had to make it," Ponsoldt says. "It started with the screenplay written by Donald Margulies who was a playwriting professor of mine in college. He had adapted David Lipsky's book which I was a huge fan of. Once Donald sent me the script and told me Anonymous Content was producing it, it was all there on the page, and I couldn't stop thinking about it."
And after seeing the film at Sundance, neither can I. With a transformative performance by Jason Segel as David Foster Wallace, and a script so rich with pearls of wisdom, I found myself aching for a rewind button. "I'm sure there will be many, many different responses," Ponsoldt says of the film's reception. "I'm excited to hear them because I haven't played it for an audience of strangers before. I hope [audiences] are still thinking about it a couple of days from now. I hope they feel something. I hope they feel inspired to read the readings of these two writers. That's where my love of all of this began — from the writings of David Foster Wallace and David Lipsky."
While the film is based off the true story of Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky's five-day interview with the enigmatic writer, even "based on a true story" films emit a point of view. David Foster Wallace, who tragically committed suicide in 2008, may or may not have approved his representation in this film, but as Ponsoldt reassures, this is Lipsky's story. "It's his book. It's telling his story of his five days with someone else and how he's effected by it, so that was really the point of view we tackled," Ponsoldt says. "Any relationship about a journalist's point of view with their subject, it becomes a very subjective, non-objective thing. It's one person's point of view. We were trying to tell that, while respecting the memory of the other person."
Ponsoldt, who occasionally pens articles for film magazines, said crafting this story for screen gave him incredible insight into the world of journalists. "It gave me huge sympathy for journalists. I know what it is to spend time with someone who's work you really admire," he says. "There's always something a hair artificial about the dynamic. Inherently people are performing for one another. It's a tough thing, and it's a tough thing to do well. For both people, they want to be nice and decent, but they both have a job to do. Someone's promoting something, someone wants a good story, and somewhere in the middle is the truth."
For his next project, Ponsoldt is working on adapting a book, The Circle, for a feature. "There are lots of irons in the fire. Right now, it's just about bringing [The End of the Tour] to an audience and being there to receive whatever they throw at us," he says, adding: "...Hopefully it's not tomatoes."
The End of the Tour was picked up by A24 with a release date pending.