Daniel Algrant will be the first person to tell you that he had no intentions of making a Jeff Buckley film. So how did the writer/director ever become interested in making what is now the only film about Jeff Buckley? Like most people who are impassioned about the man, Algrant remembers the moment he heard Buckley’s music. It was after a late night drive with the film’s producer Fred Zollo. Zollo was interested in making a film about the estranged father and son relationship between Jeff and Tim, and played Algrant some music. Once Algrant learned about the complex nature of the elder Buckley abandoning his son for the road, he saw a story that was universal. On a personal note, he saw a story that he connected to over issues he had with his own father. With that knowledge and Jeff’s story in his hands, Algrant set out to construct a story about a boy reckoning with the father he never had in order to become a man.
It’s a familiar tale even if one isn’t a huge fan of Tim or Jeff. Using the canvas of Jeff’s life proves to be interesting, if only because of the person he went on to become years after his death. It’s a starting point that we aren’t usually given in terms of where Jeff was before he recorded his first and last completed album Grace. Thanks to Algrant, we have a bit of an unorthodox version of what Jeff might have been like traipsing around New York City before the singer uttered his famous Hallelujah cover. If anything Greetings From Tim Buckley acts as another shard of glass in a whole menagerie of what Jeff Buckley meant to people. For Algrant, he was clearly just a man, and not a God as he’s often dreamed up to be.
The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz sat down with director and writer Daniel Algrant to discuss the arduous task of finding the right person to play Jeff Buckley, and the universal story underneath Greetings From Tim Buckley.
THE INQUISITR: As far as your casting, that’s obviously such a critical element. Where did you throw out the net?
DANIEL ALGRANT: What happens is you say you’re doing this, and then of course everyone has a lot of people on their mind. They begin to tell you all the people that should play this. There’s a circle of people who you’re interested in listening to – your producers, your casting director, and then there’s an enormous loop of people on the Internet. Babysue123 says, “James Franco is the only one who can do it.” And Sexybaby says “No f—king way! It has to be Robert Pattinson, otherwise I’ll throw myself out the window.” It was madness. In a sense I knew that it was important. It was the decision I needed to make. I had producers who didn’t require me to use anyone who they thought was going to finance the film. The film was financed. I looked at 150 tapes. They showed me this tape that Penn Badgley had made. I saw this young man who just was incredible. He took a million risks, and he could sing, and the camera loved him. He was willing to make mistakes.
THE INQUSITR: When did you become aware of Jeff Buckley’s presence in the music industry?
ALGRANT: When Fred Zollo drove me home, on Greenwich avenue and started playing it for me. That was probably just about the time when the Tribeca Film Festival was starting up, or maybe it was a little before.
THE INQUISITR: Did Jeff ever specify the reason why he performed at the St. Ann’s concert?
ALGRANT: I think he said at some point that he wanted to put this issue to rest. He wanted to address this issue, and what I think he meant was, “I want to be a singer, and I have a father who was a really famous singer and I have to address this issue. I have to come to terms with it.” I think his mother sanctified that. She’s said, “Go to New York and make it your own. Do it for yourself.” It’s quite lovely of her, really because if you think about it his father left his mother to come to New York. He in a sense betrayed her, so Jeff following him would be essentially like betraying her too. I really admired her for that if I may be presumptuous. My feelings go in that way.
THE INQUISITR: Mary Guibert is very protective over Jeff. Is that the reason why we hear Tim’s music instead of Jeff’s, or is that how you wanted the film to build?
ALGRANT: Making the movie about Jeff Buckley was not my goal in life at all. Fred Zollo, the producer, played music of Jeff’s and Tim’s, and he felt strongly that it could be a film. He had talked to Mary but he said, “The film should be about Tim” and she said, “Well, not the film I want to make.” Then he kept it in his mind to make it about the both of them. He and I always talk about our fathers, that’s just what we do. We get drunk, and talk about our fathers. No one really knows who Tim Buckley is, so here you have a kid who comes to New York, and he really doesn’t know who he is yet and that’s what a child is. “Who am I going to be amongst men?” The person you sort of have to get over to be your own man, is the man who reared you, but he didn’t even know him.
THE INQUISITR: You talked about risk before. This film is a risk. It’s a risk in its structure, and it’s a risk in taking somebody that may or may not be known to people. Was the pleasure of making the movie in the risk?
ALGRANT: Taking the risk of doing something like this seemed like the only way to do it so it doesn’t feel as much a risk, as it probably is. It feels pleasant here right now, but God knows what you’re going to write. [LAUGHS] You know, it’s a movie! The reason it feels like something else is because people have a lot of emotion when they feel a connection to someone who they feel is soulful, and then he’s gone. He died. I think that it makes it have this sort of hot button. It has a white light attached to it. People want to get involved, and they think they feel things. We just told the story. Tim and Jeff left us with something. They left us with their beautiful work. It’s not “the Jeff Buckley picture.” It’s about anyone, really.
THE INQUISITR: There’s also a risk in getting involved with people that actually lived it.
ALGRANT: We had some people who were there. We had enough to support and appreciation and participation. Gary Lucas and Sue Jacobs were friends. Some of the people in the house band were the original band.
THE INQUISITR: What’s next for you?
ALGRANT: I have two films. One is a movie about a jazz piano player, a contemporary movie, and then I have a film that takes place in South Africa about the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY IS CURRENTLY PLAYING AT THE TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL AND IS AVAILABLE ON VOD.