Elliot Greenebaum’s debut feature, Assisted Living, offers a look at something we all have to confront yet find uncomfortable to consider — what happens to our parents as they age. To make this film as a first feature was both daring and a challenge, something he speaks about lucidly.
The L Magazine: What inspired this story and how long did it take to write it?
Elliot Greenebaum: The aging of my own parents inspired Assisted Living and, more specifically, it is a mother-son story. The story did not take long to write because I didn’t write a script, but instead planned to improvise scenes in the real environment and use the residents as actors. There was a lot of chaos in this process but as audiences will see, there was a lot of magic as well.
The L: What sort of research did you do?
EG: While location scouting I saw very bizarre things and realized that the world I live in is bewildering and full of strangeness, comedy and sadness. The research occurred in the location scouting where I would dream up scenes to film the next day that could somehow capture the strangeness of our situation here on planet earth.
The L: What technical challenges did this film present?
EG: There were enormous challenges on this shoot because it’s not shot in a sloppy way like a mock-umentary. Assisted Living is shot in a stately way. When the elders would become bored of shooting a scene, they would get up and leave. Once one left, others would agree that was a good idea and soon everyone would be gone. Speed became very important and I can say, confidently, that my crew is now the best crew in the world at efficiently filming old people and making it look good.
The L: What made you decide on this particular assisted living home?
EG: The film was shot at five locations, but mostly at one. It looked like a nursing home and assisted living combined so there was an eerie, generic quality to it. The place captures a certain kind of generic sense we have about nursing homes, and I wanted to set my strange film in an environment that looked so plain.
The L: Have you stayed in touch with the people from the home that were in the film?
EG: A few weeks ago we showed the film to the residents and took many of the ones with larger roles to a movie theater in a limousine, unfurled a red carpet, and watched the movie together. They thought the movie was boring.
The L: How has making this film changed your perception of older people?
EG: I’m not sure what my perceptions were prior to the film; I tended to think, generally, that all old people were alike. Instead I discovered a huge variety of personality, idiosyncrasy, humor, and sadness. Often the mechanisms of acceptance were more sophisticated than those of younger people; there was less energy spent on resistance to the facts of life. And there was less of a sense that salvation could be improvised somehow.
The L: Do you hope the film will enlighten younger generations to the aging of America?
EG: Americans think pain can be avoided by successes, by “winning,” by products, by romance, by the proper ten-step program or nutritional system. That’s why we don’t have age in our movies. The film is definitely the work of a young person; the style is a bit weird (in a good way). But more than the issue of aging, the film is concerned with making the facts of our lives palatable, whatever the problems may be. All the characters in the movie are trying to improvise some way out of their dilemmas and in the end, they abandon this effort and find some relief.