TORONTO — Matthew Weiner is accustomed to anxiously guarding the secrecy of “Mad Men.” Talking candidly about his feature film directing debut, “You Are Here,” goes against his practiced paranoia.
“It’s weird,” he says, laughing. “I guess in this case, you really kind of want to tell people what it’s about.”
Then, after a pause, he’s himself again. “But I do think, like all entertainment, on some level: the less you know, the better.”
At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Weiner premiered “You Are Here,” a contemporary comedy about a Maryland weatherman (Owen Wilson) whose best friend from childhood (Zach Galifianakis) is bequeathed a lucrative country estate by his deceased father. It forces both friends to grow up and face some things in their life.
“Male friendship is so complicated and you sort of wonder: What is the purpose of it?” Weiner said in a recent interview. “That’s kind of what I was writing about, these two characters who are bound together by not growing up, and what happens if somebody starts to move on?”
The film, a mix of comedy and drama, doesn’t bear any of the stylish severity of “Mad Men,” his AMC cable TV drama about a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s. But its characters do have some of ad exec Don Draper’s melancholy. “You Are Here” is a much more earnest story, one that Weiner first wrote (with Wilson in mind) in between his first two seasons as a writer on the mob drama “The Sopranos.”
He spent years trying to get it made, then had to shelve it when “Mad Men” became an Emmy-winning sensation. But his status also enabled him to finally get financing for the film.
“This is not a graduation for me,” he says. “It’s hopefully just a continuation of my work in a different form. Getting your own TV show, that is really, really hard to do. I’m greedy for even asking to make a movie.”
But, like David Chase did after “The Sopranos” with the 2012 film “Not Fade Away,” Weiner is in some ways going against the currents of pop culture. Because of shows like “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos,” television is where a lot of movie talent is flocking, drawn by its potential for longer, more in-depth storytelling, and pushed out by the recent movie industry pull back on medium-size films for adults.
“I’ve never really understood the hierarchy,” says Weiner. “They’re very different forms to me. I had been encouraged during the many years to get ‘Mad Men’ made to turn that into a feature, and I knew that was a television show.”
For his transition to moviemaking, Weiner, as he says, “cheated a little bit.” On the North Carolina shoot, he brought almost his entire “Mad Men” crew, from his cinematographer to his prop master.
“You Are Here” is seeking distribution, but meanwhile, Weiner is writing the seventh and final season of “Mad Men.” For him, the difference between TV and movies is ultimately about their end points.
“It’s really about how much resolution it has,” he says. “Lots of movies end with a here-we-go-again or a sequel, but a lot of the movies I love, especially some of the movies I was sort of trying to emulate here ... when you try to look at these movies, they drop you off at a very different place than where they started. TV shows can do that, but you really don’t want to close any of the knots.”
“As I’m saying this,” Weiner adds, “I’m like, ‘Oh, man. I need to end my TV show.’ Oh, God, I really have to.”