Tampa man co-wrote ‘May December’ starring Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore

Alex Mechanik co-wrote the story and his wife penned the screenplay for the movie to be released theatrically on Nov. 17 and on Netflix on Dec. 1.
"May December" features, from left, Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo.
"May December" features, from left, Natalie Portman as Elizabeth Berry and Julianne Moore as Gracie Atherton-Yoo. [ Francois Duhamel / courtesy of Netflix ]
Published Nov. 8|Updated Nov. 13

TAMPA — Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore star in “May December,“ a movie about a sexual relationship between a minor and adult woman that makes tabloid headlines. Twenty years later, they are still together and their relationship begins to buckle when they allow an actress to study them for a movie about their past.

The movie will be released in theaters on Nov. 17 and on Netflix on Dec. 1.

The entertainment news website Vulture calls the film “very funny and light on its feet,” but it’s also a deeply uncomfortable movie.

Vanity Fair says it is “twisted.”

The director, Todd Haynes, told Deadline that the “disquieting” story is what brought him to the project. That story came from Alex Mechanik, a 37-year-old Tampa man who now lives in Los Angeles.

He outlined the plot with his wife, Samy Burch, who penned the screenplay.

After a decade of working in the film industry, as a casting assistant for blockbusters and as an editor for independent projects, Mechanik is ready for his breakout moment with “May December.”

Through email, Mechanik answered five questions about his ongoing journey in the film industry.

Alex Mechanik co-wrote the story for the movie "May December."
Alex Mechanik co-wrote the story for the movie "May December." [ Courtesy of Netflix ]

How did you get interested in filmmaking while growing up in Tampa?

Tampa felt really far away from the industry, but my family was always very into film and theater, and I became obsessed with movies at a pretty young age. My parents were really encouraging of that and got me a camera that I used to make a lot of short films with my siblings and friends.

And then also, at that time, Tampa happened to be a great place to see independent and art house films when I was starting to really get into watching movies. Between the Tampa Theatre, Channelside Cinemas and Burns Court in Sarasota, I was able to immerse myself in some incredible movies from a really young age, everything from “American Movie” to “Dancer in the Dark,” to more obscure Iranian films like “A Time for Drunken Horses.” I watched anything that was available to me.

Related: Tarpon Springs native will direct Marvel’s ‘Daredevil’ for Disney+

And then that naturally led to me wanting to go to film school, and I ended up studying film at [New York University] where I met a lot of the same people I still work with today, including my wife, Samy Burch, who wrote “May December.”

Talk about your experiences working in casting on blockbusters like “Ant-Man” and “Allegiant.”

After college I worked for a bit in reality TV, and then later worked for my now-wife’s mother, legendary casting director Jackie Burch (“The Breakfast Club,” “Die Hard”), as her casting assistant in North Carolina and Atlanta on a few projects. It was an amazing learning experience, and if you look those up, I am credited as “Woody” because she had another assistant named Alex and I had an embarrassing accident in the office involving a huge splinter of wood that we don’t need to get into.

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How did you transition into writing?

Samy is a screenwriter and we started directing together not long after college, making short films and taking them around to film festivals. She would usually write them, and I would edit. I currently work as an editor on the “Open Door” series for Architectural Digest, and I just finished writing a feature that Samy and I co-wrote the story for, that I’m hoping to direct early next year, starring the very talented and beautiful O-Lan Jones (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Natural Born Killers”).

Tampa Bay Times note: “Open Door” is a streaming series that provides tours of celebrity homes.

How did you come up with the concept for “May December”?

Samy and I outlined the script and then she wrote the screenplay herself on spec. We liked the idea of examining a tabloid story years after the fact, with some distance, and always wanted it to be something fictional. There are so many stories from 1990s tabloid culture that we just grew up knowing as part of the collective consciousness. We wanted to dramatize how the public reacts to those kinds of scandals and the way it’s transitioned to the true-crime-obsessed culture of right now. And being able to look at it through the eyes of an actress coming to study for a role felt like a way in that could be both satirical and heartbreaking at the same time.

How did you sell the screenplay to be made into this major movie?

After Samy wrote the script, it eventually got into the hands of Jessica Elbaum at Gloria Sanchez Productions (her production company with Will Ferrell) and they came on as producers. Jessica sent it to Natalie Portman and her producing partner Sophie Mas, who got it to Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler at Killer Films, as a submission for Todd Haynes to direct. Once he decided he wanted to direct the film, he sent it to Julianne Moore (who he has made many of the best films of our time with) for the role of Gracie, so it all kind of fell into place in this incredible way. My reaction at every step has been just pure elation, and I couldn’t be happier to see the film getting such a positive response from audiences at Cannes and the New York Film Festival.