A film of friendship: ‘Standing up, Falling Down’ kicks off the 39th annual Breck Film Fest

“Standing Up, Falling Down,” starring Ben Schwartz and Billy Crytal, will screen at the opening night of the Breck Film Fest on Thursday, Sept. 19.
Noah M. Rosenthal / Tilted Windmill Productions

BRECKENRIDGE — According to former Edwards resident Matt Ratner, a key to directing movies is having a plan that allows for deviations and building a production schedule that’s ambitious but achievable.

“The last thing you want to do is tell Billy (Crystal) he can’t do a second take because we’re out of time,” said Ratner. 

“You got have to be secure enough in yourself and secure enough in who you are,” he said. “If someone else has a good idea, I don’t care if it’s Billy Crystal or a PA, … this is this collaborative medium where I get to have these smart people around me who have all of these things to contribute. To not listen to them is insane.”

That flexibility has paid off and Ratner’s directorial debut, “Standing up, Falling Down,” featuring Crystal and Ben Schwartz will screen at Breck Film Fest’s opening night.

The movie is about a struggling stand-up comedian (Schwartz) who moves back to Long Island after abandoning the Los Angeles comedy scene. There he forms an unlikely friendship an alcoholic dermatologist (Crystal) who gives him career and life advice. A fan of Alexander Payne’s work like “Nebraska” and “Sideways,” Ratner aimed for the drama-comedy to have a tone that was grounded, yet elevated.

“It’s looking for actors who are basing what they’re doing on some sort of truth, not shtick,” said Ratner as he talked about recruiting people who can execute his vision. “That carries through to everybody. A director’s biggest job is hiring good people and making sure they’re paddling the boat in the same direction.”

If You Go

What: “Standing Up, Falling Down” screening and Q&A

When: 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19

Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge

Cost: $20. Visit to purchase.

Along with playing on the opening night of the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, the film has already screened at the Vail Film Festival last month and Ratner is excited to return to his part-time home of Colorado. The Cleveland native grew up skiing, spent a year in Edwards after college and still returns to the area about six months a year.

“I have to be home in L.A. for work, but in terms of lifestyle, I’m just a happier person in Colorado. … That Sierra cement thing is real,” he said.

In Ohio he learned to appreciate the arts at an early age from his grandmother and his mother, who ran a gallery in Cleveland. Though he wasn’t the stereotypical cinephile who made home movies with classmates after school, he watched foundational ’80s films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and kindled his passion for storytelling by directing student plays in high school.

“I’m Jewish,” Ratner said, “and growing up Jewish, there’s so much storytelling that’s part of the culture. It’s a culture of storytellers. That was something that was always important to me.”

He followed that path by studying acting in college at Northwestern University, yet he gained more skills from the holistic education on multiple facets of the industry that he could use behind the camera rather than standing on the stage.

“As a director that’s so helpful because if I know more about cinematography than my cinematographer, I’ve hired the wrong person. But I’ve got to know enough to have a conversation with them and articulate what I want.” 

Though theater is Ratner’s first love, it wasn’t until after that year in Colorado and a brief stint in working at the Justice Department during the Obama administration that he decided to go to L.A. “It was really sort of good, dynamic, interesting work, but it was turning into a career and I didn’t want to wear a suit to work everyday.”

The reach and scope of Hollywood called to him so he became a producer. Eventually writer Peter Hoare handed him the script to “Standing Up, Falling Down” and Ratner called Hoare about developing it the next day. Ratner had found the movie he wanted to commit years of his life to by finally sitting in the director’s chair.

Billy Crystal, director Matt Ratner and Ben Schwartz work on the set of “Standing Up, Falling Down.” Schwartz plays Scott, a struggling comedian who leaves Los Angeles, California, to move home to Long Island, New York. There he befriends the charming, alcoholic dermatologist Marty portrayed by Crystal.
Noah M. Rosenthal / Tilted Windmill Productions

“I really wanted to do this story because I thought it was real,” Ratner said. “At times it’s uproariously funny, but it’s also deals with things I struggle with, things like the nature of regret. You’re often crying and laughing at the same time.”

With Hoare’s script and himself as a director and producer, all Ratner had left to do was the find the actors to bring the nuanced, layered roles to life. It started merely as a dream to get someone with Crystal’s resume to be the dermatologist Marty, but Ratner was on a plane to L.A. to meet with the actor two days after Crystal read the script. It then wasn’t difficult to convince Schwartz to come on board as the protagonist Scott once he heard Crystal was involved. As Ratner hoped, the two’s comedic talents quickly shone through in addition to their earnestness.

“There’s a lot of takes where you’re biting your tongue so you don’t laugh and ruin the take,” Ratner said. “They both were incredibly committed. … If you’re a fan of “Parks and Recreation,” you’ll see some of the Ben you know and love, but you’ll also see him shift into another gear, and the same with Billy.”

Schwartz and Crystal never met in person before the shoot and they had only two days of rehearsal before the cameras started rolling. The pair naturally fed off of each other to deliver the moving performances Ratner wanted.

“With a big studio you’d do chemistry reads to see if they’d work well together. This was kind of a leap of faith and they’ve become incredibly close. The relationship between the two of them on-screen and off-screen sort of mirrored each other.”

Following the screening will be a Q&A featuring Ratner, Hoare and actor Eloise Mumford, who plays Scott’s hometown girlfriend Becky. A theatrical release is planned for early 2020.

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