A Q&A with Keith Boynton, Director of The Winter House | Film | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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A Q&A with Keith Boynton, Director of The Winter House

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Lili Taylor plays Eileen in The Winter House
  • Lili Taylor plays Eileen in The Winter House

Keith Boynton is the director and writer of The Winter House, a comedy-drama about Eileen (Lily Taylor), a grieving writer who rents a house in New Hampshire in the dead of winter. As she unpacks, we see that she has a gun. I caught the film, and loved it, at the 2021 Woodstock Film Festival.

—Sparrow

Sparrow: Did I see the world premiere of your film?

Keith Boynton: You did! You lucky son of a gun.

S: How did you manage to make seven films? Do you have a rich uncle who’s a dentist and loves you?

KB: Well, as I may have mentioned, the first three or four movies were mostly just learning experiences; it’s only the last few that I’m really prepared to stand behind.

As for how: you’re pretty close! I have several rich uncles, all childless, and whenever I want to make a new movie, I just murder one.

Still from The Winter House
  • Still from The Winter House

S: You seemed surprised by the reception of the movie. You said you didn’t know the movie was funny. Is that true?

KB: It was an exaggeration, but it was true enough. Because The Winter House is relatively bleak and forbidding by my standards (and because I’ve seen it way too many times myself), I underestimated how warm and accessible—and yes, funny—people would find the movie. I can’t help it; I’m a crowd-pleaser at heart, so when I try to make an austere, severe, “artistic” movie, I inevitably fail.

S: When did you write the film?

KB: In the summer of 2016. I was on an intensive writing kick at the time, just trying to churn out as many producible screenplays as I could. It was kind of a golden moment in my life, actually; I was feeling productive and inspired, and I spent most of my time writing—and binge-watching the first six seasons of Game of Thrones.

S: The woman in the film has just two relationships—with the guy who breaks in her house and her mother. Were you making a statement of some kind, that there are just two types of relationships?

KB: Definitely not! There are many, many different kinds of relationships. Just in the movie alone, I’d argue that Eileen has at least six relationships: with Jesse (the intruder), with her offscreen mother, with her (unseen) husband, with the owner of the general store (just a casual acquaintanceship, but that counts), with the woman from whom she’s renting the house, and with the menacing figure who shows up in the film’s second act.

Still from The Winter House
  • Still from The Winter House

S: Do you live in New York City?

KB: I used to! That place is tough, man. Tough.

S: I felt that the film shows the New Hampshire countryside the way it looks to New Yorkers: static, romantic, beautiful—but distant. After you live in the country for a while, you begin to see the details.

KB: Well, I’m certainly no New Yorker, but it makes sense that it comes across that way in the movie, since we’re seeing it primarily through Eileen’s eyes, and she’s very much a “city person.”

S: For me the show is partly about writers. A writer spills out her inner life to strangers, yet remains unseen—sometimes even anonymous. The cagey way Eileen handles someone reading her book reminded me of myself. Writers pretend to be oblivious to their readers, and in a certain way, they are. A dancer can see the audience, but a writer doesn’t know if thousands of people are reading her at any moment, or no one. (And of course you are the person who wrote this film—you are a writer yourself.)

KB: That’s a very astute observation. I think most writers have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with their work, and I think there’s something wise about that caginess. In some ways, the work isn’t really the writer’s business – at least, once they’ve finished writing it. It’s in the hands of the readers at that point, and it’s a mistake for a writer to try to maintain “possession.”

Still from The Winter House
  • Still from The Winter House

S: Do you think every movie should have a bad guy? (I prefer the term “bad guy” to “villain.”)

KB: I mean, it’s certainly a very useful device. It’s probably true that every movie needs an antagonist—who may or may not be “bad,” but who in any case gives the protagonist something to push against. In the case of The Winter House, there’s a bad guy lurking in the shadows, but the main antagonist in the movie is probably Jesse—who’s not necessarily a bad guy at all.

S: Is winter an essential element of the film? I notice that it’s in the title. Is this film about the stasis of winter, particularly in rural areas?

KB: I think it’s essential in terms of mood, tone, and atmosphere. I was trying to give the sense of these two people stuck together in an isolated environment; the wintertime setting helps to create their little “island,” where there’s very little to distract them from their confrontations, flirtations, and epiphanies.

S: I think I implied to you that I don’t particularly like the title. Did you go through other titles?

KB: You didn’t imply it; you said it outright! I confess I did not consider other titles. I’ve been calling this movie The Winter House for five years now, and for me it’s a strong title that captures the tone of the movie. (But for what it’s worth, titles are really hard.)

S: What’s next for the movie?

KB: We’re finishing out our festival run—Savannah Film Festival at the end of October, Napa Valley Film Festival in November—and then we’ll be considering our distribution options. You can follow us on Instagram (@winterhousemovie) for updates!

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