The Tao of Steve

The word "Tao" has several meanings, one of which is "the art or skill of doing something in harmony with the essential nature of the thing." The making of THE TAO OF STEVE involved its own share of Tao. In this case, the natural essence of the movie had much to do with Santa Fe (where the movie was conceived, written and shot) and Duncan North (one of the film's three writers and the real life inspiration for the character of Dex). The art and skill of the project had everything to do with the filmmakers.

After graduating from NYU film school in 1994, director Jenniphr Goodman, a native of Santa Fe, moved back to New Mexico with her husband. They ended up sharing a house with Duncan North, an old friend of theirs, for two years. During that time, Jenniphr was unemployed, and Duncan, a kindergarten teacher, had lots of free time on his hands. As Goodman got to know him better, she became intrigued by his highly individual ideas about life and dating; an unlikely Lothario, North was the most successful seducer of women Goodman had ever met... and she watched in amazement as two of her closest friends succumbed to his wooing. Of course North had a far more dispassionate view of the situation. "When you live with someone for two years in a small space you either find them fascinating or you end up not being able to stand them at all."

As a filmmaker, Goodman eventually became intrigued with the idea of capturing Duncan on film. She considered filming a documentary, or maybe creating a one-man show, but then Greer, Jenniphr's New York based sister and an actress in her own right, became involved in the project and soon the project turned more narrative. At this time, Jenniphr realized that they had a really complex character in Dex (i.e. the North character), but no story. So the Goodman sisters and North buckled down and spent the next two years developing a script. For Greer, this involved a lot of flying back and forth from New York as well as significant time sending scenes and dialogue over the internet. As the story developed it became less of a personal odyssey and more of a romantic comedy.

In 1998, with a script in place, the filmmakers started pre-production on the film. Teo Maniaci, a friend of Jenniphr's from NYU Film School who had been hired to be the cinematographer, gave a copy of the script to Good Machine's Anthony Bregman. Maniaci had worked with Bregman on Bette Gordon's LUMINOUS MOTION (a Good Machine production which is scheduled for release this May). Bregman was immediately taken with the script's "really distinctive flavor," and with Jenniphr's short films. He called Jenniphr, only to find out that she was in pre-production. "I actually tried to get her to stop," says Bregman, "But she said no." Fortunately, Goodman was unable to secure the lead actor that she wanted; the production was pushed back, and Bregman signed on.

Most of 1998 was spent reworking the script. "We went through more than 10 drafts," says Bregman. "That's one of the luxuries about independent film, you often have time to make the script perfect. You're always waiting for something -an actor's schedule to free up, more money to appear- so you have lots of time to reschedule, re-budget, and rewrite." This was no loose collaboration; the three writers would sit in a room and argue with each other about the changes for hours on end. For North, the process was particularly strange. "It was weird to hear people saying Dex is this, or Dex is in denial," says the first time screenwriter. "It's hard to negotiate your inferiority."

Finally, actor Donal Logue, who had been unavailable for the 1998 production, wrapped his work on REINDEER GAMES, and the Good Machine production started shooting on July 7, 1999, in Santa Fe. The crew was primarily local; many of them had worked on the production ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, and were happy to be part of a more intimate film. For Goodman, working with Good Machine was a tremendous benefit. "They were a wonderful ally on the set; they're very director friendly."

Bregman is quick to point out Goodman's open-hearted approach as a real asset to the film. "It's difficult to make a romantic comedy on a set where people don't get along; that sort of thing translates onto the film. Jenniphr's approach is to involve everyone around her in the process and decision-making, and as a result every member of the crew cared immensely about every aspect of every shot." One particular joy for Goodman was the chance to direct both her sisters, Greer (who plays Syd) and Dana (who plays Julie, the bartender at the reunion). "It was a privilege," she says. "Basically I could grunt at them and they would get what I meant."

The film's post production was done in Santa Fe, New York and Los Angeles. To date the film has several happy endings. For Jenniphr it was the opportunity to tell her parents that the film had been accepted at Sundance. For Duncan, it was the unnerving but ultimately satisfying experience of seeing himself depicted on screen. "It was like two million dollars worth of therapy, but I'm intensely private and intensely distrustful of others. Jenniphr is the only person in the world that I would let do this." For Bregman, it was the opportunity to make a different kind of romantic comedy--one that looked at some of the underlying issues about love, relationships and the ways in which a self-centered individual can ultimately learn to make room for other people.




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