The young filmmaker likes to take a darker look at relationships among men and women.
Movie director-writer Neil LaBute hasn't been back to Lawrence since 1989, but his newest feature film, "In the Company of Men," will be taking up residency beginning Sept. 19 at Liberty Hall Cinemas.
The 93-minute film -- a psychological love triangle set in the '90s corporate world -- is getting mixed reactions from viewers and critics.
"The reaction is polarized, but it hasn't been divided down gender lines," LaBute said during a recent phone call from Los Angeles. "The reaction to how they feel toward the characters is based on what they are as a person. ... I've heard it called everything from misogynous trash to feminism touchstone, and others are picking up tips on what to do on their next vacation."
The film focuses on Chad (Aaron Eckhart, LaBute's classmate at Brigham Young University) and Howard (Matt Malloy), two young white-collar executives from a home office in a nameless city. Both have been passed over for promotions and rejected by longtime girlfriends.
When they are sent on a business trip to New York, they agree to find a young woman susceptible enough to be pulled into a situation in which both men can date her during their stay and then leave her in such a state that she'll be "reaching for the sleeping pills within a week."
They choose Christine (Stacy Edwards), a deaf woman, as their prey. But as the story unravels, it becomes clear that Christine is not a pure victim.
"She's compliant in her own fate," LaBute said. "She learns how to play the game and realizes she has power."
LaBute says he took an old movie theme and put his own spin on it.
"It's a take on an old story, a twisted love triangle," LaBute said. "I tried to find an up-to-the-minute take and laid the business world over its top."
The film was shot in Fort Wayne, Ind., where LaBute lives with his wife and two children. To finance the film, LaBute asked a couple of friends to lend him the insurance money they were awarded following a car accident.
"We didn't have a lot of money or time," he said. "The budget was under $25,000."
The movie was completed in July 1996 after only 11 days of shooting and some last-minute innovations.
For example, the crew shot some scenes at an airport and later realized they didn't have what they wanted. They couldn't afford to rent the airport again so LaBute went to Sears, bought some venetian blinds and made a background that could substitute for the airport.
While the film's budget is listed as $25,000, LaBute said the movie's cost rose to about $250,000 by the time the "sink and bathroom costs" of post-production were added.
LaBute received a master's degree in film and theater at KU and also attended Brigham Young University and New York University. He received a literary fellowship to study at the Royal Court Theatre in London and attended the Sundance Institute's Playwrights Lab.
He is best known in this neck of the woods for his plays: "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times," "Rounder," "A Gaggle of Saints," "Leper," "Bash," "Sangguinarians & Sycophants" He also has adapted "Dracula" and "Woyzeck."
LaBute is currently in Los Angeles working on another movie, "Your Friends and Neighbors," which he wrote and will direct.
"It's a different look at three men and three women," he said. "It's not a romantic comedy, but another peek at relationships."
The film's crew is expected to start shooting in October.