Interview: ‘The Art of Getting By’ Writer-Director Gavin Wiesen on Making an Anti-Clique Movie

Did you model Sally after women you’ve encountered? What kinds of details, aside from the wardrobe and her themes on the soundtrack, did you put into her character?

Wiesen: She was inspired by girls that I knew in high school that I had crushes on or friendships with. This is now 16-17 years ago, but I remembered with great clarity yearning for romantic connection with girls that were really out of my reach, out of my league. Whether I was right in that belief or wrong in that belief, that’s how it played out. It’s so interesting about looking back on that time period in your life, when you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing. You don’t know the ways to navigate the channels of building relationships. There were these girls that I knew, that I had these strong romantic feelings for but never got into a relationship with them. [We] formed a friendship more, and then it would get very complicated because she was a girl, I was a boy—you’d get to a point where maybe it was gonna become something else. And that was always a really exciting, confusing thing.

That was just ripe for coming up with a great charater. When I sat down to write her, she became her own person. Sally transformed from the differnet people I was thinking of to being a totally original creation that I had a different relationship with in my mind. I gave her different complexities of character, allowed her to make some bad choices but also mean very well. She obviously cared for George but didn’t know exactly how to handle him.

There was a lot of commentary on high-school cliques in the movie, but in a very understated way. It addressed issues between social groups without making that the primary focus.

Wiesen: You know, I think it stemmed out of[the fact that] unlike George, I had a lot of great friendships [in high school] and still have some of those friendships to this day. I was neither cool nor was I a nerd nor was I a jock; my closest friends weren’t any of those things, either. We may have had a slightly more privileged, private-school background, but we were not the guys partying the most or dating the most girls or winning the football games. We had our friendships evolve out of slightly more authentic origins than I see in that whole “clique-war” thing.

When I conceived of George being more like I felt on the inside, that sort of fear and isolation and hestitation about getting along with others—I made that literal in George’s life in a way that it wasn’t in mine. I just thought it would be really refreshing to have him not made fun of by the cool kids. Not even necessarily accepted, but to skip all that because it doesn’t always happen that way. It’s cooler when you treat kids like the adults they fel like they are, and give them the respect to not behave the way they’re portrayed in every single movie.

The Art of Getting By comes to theaters this Friday, June 17. Check in tomorrow for our interview with Freddie Highmore, where we ask him about the differences between filming high school on-screen and his first year of college at Cambridge.

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