Like other directors, Miguel Arteta borrowed money to make his first movie, 1997's "Star Maps, which shown at the Sundance Film Festival and launched a career that included independent hits, "The Good Girl" and "Chuck and Buck."
After the success of 2002's "Good Girl," which starred Jennifer Aniston, Arteta moved on to directing television for several years and worked on shows such as "Six Feet Under," "The Office" and "Ugly Betty." He returned to indie movies in 2009 with "Youth in Revolt," starring Michael Cera.
Arteta's new comedy "Cedar Rapids" tells of a naive insurance salesman's wild weekend at a convention in the big city. It premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival to strong reviews and will open in theaters on February 11.
He spoke to Reuters about the festival and his new movie.
Q: At the premiere of "Cedar Rapids" you likened Sundance to a big creative pond for moviemakers. What did you mean?
A: "I'm one of many incredible stories that happened here. You come here from nowhere and get a shot of validation overnight. Nowhere else can you get that sense of discovery. I made a movie on credit cards. It took me four years. We were living in my garage and completely in debt when we got here."
Q: But Sundance is not just the festival, there's the institute and it offered you support and training.
A: "This is like an artist colony for filmmakers. What Sundance understands is that when you are making a movie, you have to put your absolute best foot forward because you most likely will never get a second chance. They find filmmakers who are getting ready to do their first movies and really help them with their scripts and directing skills, so they have the very best chance at success their first time out."
Q: If you hadn't had that support, what may have happened to you, career-wise?
A: "My first film may have been not fully baked, and I may have not had a chance to pursue this career."
Q: What would you have been -- a janitor or something?
A: (laughs) "You usually can spot a director on a set by who looks the most helpless. I think that's one trait we all share. If we weren't doing this, we'd be flipping burgers."
Q: Let's talk about "Cedar Rapids." On its face, it's a light comedy about a small-town insurance salesman who grows up on his first trip away from home. Is that about right?
A: "Something that really attracted me to this script was that it was about this guy who always sees the good in things ... It's going back to a Jimmy Stewart or Jack Lemmon type of hero. It's a movie about a guy who has good values and needs to learn to trust them."
Q: That guy is insurance salesman Tim Lippe (played by Ed Helms of "The Office") and while he is naive, he wants to break out. We're all like that. He is an everyman, that way.
A: "Yes, definitely. Audiences must be able to see somebody who has to trust himself to know who his true friends are, so it's also about the joy of finding lifelong friends in unexpected places. When you think about when you first met friends, who are friends of yours for life, those are magical moments. That's what we were trying to capture."
Q: What makes it a Miguel Arteta film?
A: "It was really funny but very moving. It was a balancing act of tones. I love films that make you laugh, make you cry, make you think, and they are just relentlessly going from one idea to another. I love that challenge. But mostly, it was a set of characters I could really have affection for."
Q: Three other insurance sales reps who befriend Lippe (played by Anne Heche, John C. Reilly and Isiah Whitlock, Jr.). What do they represent in the movie?
A: "It's like the 'Wizard of Oz' of insurance. It's a motley crew. Tim, as Dorothy, has to go to Emerald City and he meets the most unlikely friends and changes them. That kind of affection for the characters really drew me to it."