The film debuted at South by Southwest to upbeat notices, but Mitchell and his collaborators returned to Los Angeles, where little had changed for them. “After we had made ‘Myth,’ we were all basically really broke,” Mitchell said. “If we had a good review, we would joke, ‘My God, can we exchange that for some cash somewhere?’”
His next film, the artsy, low-budget “It Follows” in 2014, was a more unqualified success: rave reviews in Cannes and more than $20 million worldwide at the box office. Still, Mitchell remained inclined to reject the easiest path forward: Though producers were interested in turning “It Follows” into a lucrative horror franchise, Mitchell had no interest in repeating himself.
“I just want to push in a different direction, always,” he said.
Instead, Mitchell put his muscle behind “Under the Silver Lake,” a sprawling, 160-page script he’d written before “It Follows” had given him any chits to cash. Once animated by similar dreams of success in the film business, the lead character, Sam, now floats listlessly but finds renewed purpose as an amateur detective. After all, a sleuth and a Hollywood wannabe have a lot in common: Each is searching for his big break.
An oddball prone to flashes of creepy behavior, Sam cuts a poignant figure as his dashed Hollywood dreams come to light. “That’s where it moves away from anything that I ever felt, which is that feeling of what happens if someone really, truly, gives up?” Mitchell said. “What happens if somebody really is unable to find the desire to try?”
For Garfield, who had spent several years playing virtuous heroes, like those in “Hacksaw Ridge” and the “Spider-Man” films, “Under the Silver Lake” presented a new challenge: Could he channel the carrot-on-a-stick anxiety that hangs over Hollywood like a layer of smog? “Even I feel it, and I’m obviously a very privileged person in the opportunities I’ve had,” Garfield said in a phone interview. “You can feel your position on the hierarchy very acutely here.”
Mitchell started shooting “Under the Silver Lake” in fall 2016 for more money than his prior two films put together, but that didn’t make the production any easier. The script was long with a large cast and many locations. And the director could be exacting.