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Vera Farmiga and David Duchovny Headline the Stoner Coming-of-Age Saga ‘Goats’

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Director Chistopher Neil and the cast of GOATS. Photo by Stephen Speckman.

Jeff Hansen

Coming-of-age stories in film are as ubiquitous as the human condition itself. But rarely does such a story come together as well as it does in GOATS, an intricate mash of individual life journeys, all swirling around and through a 15-year pot-smoking, cross-country running, straight-A student named Ellis (Graham Phillips).

First-time filmmaker Christopher Neil fashioned his film from Mark Jude Poirier’s infectious novel (and screenplay). And while there really are two very rascally, scene-stealing goats in the movie, the story focuses more on young Ellis and his refreshingly fluid relationships with a cast of character oddities––including Ellis’ out-there mother Wendy (Vera Farmiga), stoner sage Goat Man (David Duchovny), and often absent father Frank (Ty Burrell).

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday evening. After the screening, Neil was joined for a Q&A by cast members, which included Phillips, Duchovny, Farmiga, and Burrell.


Why did it take you so long to make the film?

Neil: I first met Mark Poirier in 2002. I had read the book and was knocked out by it. There were a lot of parallels to my own life. When we had our first meeting, we hit it off and he said that I knew the book better than he did. It was the start of a great collaboration, and I worked very closely with Mark on adapting the book along with our producer Shannon Lail.

Graham, can you talk about some of the challenges of playing such a big role?

Phillips: I don’t think anything can prepare you for having to carry your first film. But I would have never thought this was (Neil’s) first film. He was so apt at getting me to where I needed to be without ever forcing me, and helped me get there on my own.

David, how did you prepare for the odd role of Goat Man?

Duchovny: The original Goat Man was actually a person in Chris’ life. He shared that guy with me…his pictures, the way he looked. So he helped immerse me into all things Goat Man.

Vera, what drew you to this role as the mother?

Farmiga: As a mother, who is learning to be the best mom that I can…I think the character was a contradiction, very tortured and yet very childlike. It put me into some very interesting headspace. That intrigued me. And honestly, I wanted to wear kaftans!

Ty, how do you go from playing everyone’s favorite father in Modern Family to everyone’s least favorite father?

Burrell: I started by reading Mark’s book, which was a really beautiful read. The script was equally beautiful. It was a refreshing change to play somebody so measured. And I think the commonality is that both of those characters are both really trying, but this particular character was a little more fearful.

I know working with goats must have been a little difficult. Did any of you have any funny stories?

Phillips: The scene we were doing would totally dictate how the goats would act. If it were a tense scene, they would get all serious, but if it were more easygoing, they would be a little more relaxed. And it was very difficult to drive with them in the back of a very small Jetta, The horns would poke through just about anything.

How long was the shoot and tell us about some of the challenges?

Neil: The film was shot in just under 25 days—and it has a lot of locations and a lot of scope. We shot in Tucson, Arizona for at least half of that, we shot in Albuquerque, and we shot a bit on the east coast. I had to employ a second unit for a week in Tucson, so that gave us a lot of the film’s textures and landscape. I really feel like we did 10 years of prep and three weeks of production.

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Sundance Institute Piloting Direct Individual Support for Mediamakers Through the Sundance Institute | Humanities Sustainability Fellowship

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended life in general, and halted production and distribution for many creatives, the nonfiction field was plagued by issues of sustainability. For several years, sustainability has been an urgent and vigorous topic of study, debate, and organizing, as more and more filmmakers find it difficult, if not impossible, to make a living solely on the basis of their creative work. 

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