Category: Magnolia Pictures
Taglines: Love will lead you home.
How I Live Now is a British drama film based on the 2004 novel of same name by Meg Rosoff, directed by Kevin Macdonald and script written by Tony Grisoni, Jeremy Brock and Penelope Skinner. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George MacKay, Corey Johnson and Sabrina Dickens. It was screened in the Special Presentation section at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.
Set in the near-future UK, Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy, an American teenager sent to stay with relatives in the English countryside. Initially withdrawn and alienated, she begins to warm up to her charming surroundings, and strikes up a romance with the handsome Edmund (George MacKay). But on the fringes of their idyllic summer days are tense news reports of an escalating conflict in Europe. As the UK falls into a violent, chaotic military state, Daisy finds herself hiding and fighting to survive.
Filming began in June 2012 in England and Wales. The film was released on 4 October 2013 in the United Kingdom and was set for release on 28 November 2013 in Australia. On 25 July 2013, Magnolia Pictures acquired the US rights to distribute the film.
About the Production
“The summer I went to England to stay with my cousins everything changed… Mostly everything changed because of Edmond.” – How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
When Meg Rosoff’s novel How I Live Now was first published in 2004, it was widely greeted with acclaim and blossomed into a word-of-mouth best-seller. The London-based American author’s remarkable debut found itself showered with prestigious literary awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.
Written in the compellingly innocent but acerbic voice of its heroine, an intelligent but angry and anorexic 15-year-old New Yorker named Daisy, How I Live Now deftly and movingly touched on themes of love, loss and loyalty beneath the topical shadows of war, chaos and carnage. Exiled by her father from Manhattan to the English countryside, Daisy’s coming of age is a mixture of bliss and heartache, the former generated by falling in love with her cousin Edmond, the latter by the darkness that falls when Britain is plunged into war. Suddenly, this self-absorbed teenager is solely responsible for her youngest cousin Piper and forced to embark on an epic and courageous journey of survival.
It was the imaginative scope of Rosoff’s story, set in a parallel or not-too-distant future, and the relatable poignancy of Daisy’s detached but sharply ironic observations about love, war, cousins and countryside that made the novel appeal to young and adult readers alike. Among its fans were Charles Steel and Alasdair Flind of Cowboy Films, who secured the option on Rosoff’s best-seller and put the adaptation into development at Film4.
Early on, they sent the book to Kevin Macdonald, who Steel had worked with on The Last King Of Scotland. He also read it and loved it but, after The Last King Of Scotland, he was a filmmaker in demand and his schedule rendered him unavailable. Macdonald was always drawn to the prospect of making a serious film about the teenage experience, as well as one that featured a female lead and a love story – both are firsts for the talented director. When the project came back around to him, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
“I think Meg’s book is really beautiful,” says Macdonald. “But as is so often the case, when there’s a really beautiful book, you often have to move further away from it than you would if you were adapting what was a mediocre book. So much of what the book did you can’t do on screen. For one thing it’s Daisy’s internal monologue, which meant that the structure of the book was very hard to replicate. And although Daisy’s voice is so strong in the book, we realized she needed to be slightly different in order for the film to work.”
The producers were faced with the challenge of distilling a novel that ventures into both youth and adult terrain in terms of its themes and subject matter, but without losing the poetic vision that made Rosoff’s manuscript such a celebrated success. Different screenwriters with varied skillsets were brought on board: Tony Grisoni (Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, In This World) was the first to work on the adaptation, before he passed the baton to Jeremy Brock (The Last King Of Scotland, The Eagle). Acclaimed young playwright Penelope Skinner came on last to put the finishing touches on Daisy, who falls in love with one of her cousins and faces extreme challenges throughout the story.
“We tried so many different voices for Daisy,” explains Macdonald. “The breakthrough was figuring out that the key to Daisy was her willpower. She is somebody who has an amazingly strong sense of self and identity, but she has used that willpower in very negative ways in her life because her life has been very negative. But she ends up using the same thing that’s made her a troubled person to survive.”
Although it’s likely to be classified in the young-adult section of any bookstore, Rosoff’s novel was strongly embraced by both a teenage and an adult audience. The book’s publisher, Penguin Books, even created separate covers to target both markets. Although that crossover appeal is strongly reflected in Macdonald’s adaptation, everyone involved was aware that the more they defined their target audience, the better chance they had of crossing over to reach both groups.
“Driven by Kevin, we’ve fully embraced it as a teenage love story aimed towards a teenage audience,” says Steel.
“What makes the film stand out,” adds Flind. “Is that this is Kevin’s version of a teenage love story. He has the ability to make it real and rough around the edges in all the right ways. He’ll make it stand out.”
Ronan was an actress whose name came up early on in How I Live Now’s development, around the time of Atonement’s release. Although she would have been too young at the time, the Irish actress’ talent and charisma were obvious to all, and she has gone on to become the standout actress of her generation. Call it serendipity but by the time the stars aligned for How I Live Now to move into production, Ronan was the right age to play Daisy.
Initially, Macdonald had considered going with a cast of non-professionals to portray How I Live Now’s group of five, and he arranged open casting calls to find an unknown to inhabit Daisy. Later, he abandoned that plan and began meeting with teenage actresses, but couldn’t find anyone he felt had the edge that Daisy needed. Until he met Ronan and was blown away. “She came in to read and she was just fantastic, I mean jaw-dropping,” says the Glasgow-born director. “The most amazing thing was that she’d come over from Ireland but hadn’t received the new pages we’d sent her so she had literally 10 minutes to prepare when she arrived. But she did it and she was fantastically good.”
The most enjoyable part of the shoot for Macdonald was getting to work with his teenage and younger cast. “They were fun and energetic and obedient, for the most part,” he smiles. “They were just a pleasure to work with and having so many kids around the whole time, even though Saoirse is 18 and George had just turned 20, created a lovely atmosphere for everybody. I was 44 when I shot it so quite distant from those sort of feelings and obviously I’ve also never experienced what it’s like to be a teenage girl so I came to rely on them in different ways than you do when you’re making a film about adults.”
“No matter how much you put on a sad expression and talked about how awful it was that all those people were killed and what about Democracy and the Future of Our Great Nation the fact that none of us kids said out loud was that we didn’t really care.”
How I Live Now depicts its wartime with frightening realism, and yet, seen through the eyes of its largely oblivious teenage protagonists, leaves a shroud of mystery around what’s actually happening. The unknown enemy that manages to seize control of the nation remains a shadowy force. “The world that Meg created is very much about ambiguity and we wanted to leave it in that world,” says Macdonald. “I’m sure that some people will ask, ‘Who are the enemy? What’s going on?’ But I believe it’s the right decision to keep it as vague as possible because, in a way, it’s all a metaphor. It’s not a political film, it’s not a film about the situation in the world, it’s the story of an unhappy teenage girl falling in love.”
“I don’t think it’s necessarily important for the audience to know everything that Eddie’s been through,” says MacKay, agreeing with his director. “What’s important is that the film is about healing damaged people and Eddie heals Daisy through their love. Sex and true love are new discoveries that come with being with each other and at the end of the film; Daisy is on the path to healing him.”
Macdonald wanted to steep the film in the English romantic tradition, which is why songs by melodic folk-rockers Fairport Convention and English singer-songwriter Nick Drake feature on the soundtrack. “It’s about the beauty of the landscape and the threat of the landscape at the same time,” he notes, “and I want to reflect this magical, melancholic version of England in the music.”
More than any film Macdonald has made, How I Live Now rests on a single character’s journey. Daisy goes on a staggering arc during the narrative, conveyed by Ronan with extraordinary conviction; the novel’s numerous fans will be thrilled to witness her performance. “I know teenage girls who got so excited when they heard I was making this movie,” says the actress. “Having a leading young woman like Daisy who’s very messed up and unsure of herself and insecure, I know as a teenager they’re the kind of characters I relate to more because they’re not perfect and they’re not glorified. Pretty much every teenage girl goes through at least some of what Daisy experiences.”
“What I find interesting about Saoirse’s performance is that she’s not always sympathetic in the film and she did sometimes find that difficult because she is, by nature, such a lovely person,” muses Macdonald. “But that makes it a particularly strong performance because it’s Saoirse as you’ve never seen her before. She’s tough, ballsy and the most grown-up we’ve seen her be. In this film, we watch her becoming a grown-up in front of our eyes and that’s exciting. After this film, you’ll see people start casting her as a leading lady.”
How I Live Now
Directed by: Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George MacKay, Corey Johnson, Harley Bird
Screenplay by: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality.
Production Design by: Jacqueline Abrahams
Cinematography by: Franz Lustig
Film Editing by: Jinx Godfrey
Costume Design by: Jane Petrie
Art Direction by: Astrid Sieben
Music by: Jon Hopkins
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: November 8, 2013
Taglines: The search for life is about to end.
On the last day of the first manned mission to Mars, a crew member of Tantalus Base believes he has made an astounding discovery – fossilized evidence of bacterial life. Unwilling to let the relief crew claim all the glory, he disobeys orders to pack up and goes out on an unauthorized expedition to collect further samples. But a routine excavation turns to disaster when the porous ground collapses and he falls into a deep crevice and near certain death. His devastated colleagues attempt to recover his body. However, when another vanishes they start to suspect that the life-form they have discovered is not yet dead. As the group begins to fall apart it seems their only hope is the imminent arrival of the relief ship Aurora…
About the Production
It was pulp sci-fi author Sydney J. Bounds’s short story, The Animators, which provided the basis for what would become The Last Days on Mars. First published in 1975 in the anthology Tales of Terror from Outer Space, the story of a group of astronauts exploring the Martian surface fascinated screenwriter Clive Dawson, who brought the project to producer Michael Kuhn at Qwerty Films. “It was very succinctly written and felt like a film treatment,” says producer Andrea Cornwell. “It’s sparse and atmospheric, and put the focus not on spaceships but on the human psyche.”
In the process of adapting the story, Dawson focused on expanding the mission’s crew and decided to lead the story not with Brunel, the group’s captain, as in the original story, but rather with senior systems engineer Vincent Campbell. “It’s about a chain of events put into play on the very last day of one of the first missions to Mars,” summarizes Cornwell. “What is unusual is rather than looking at their arrival on Mars, the story is about a group of people that had been together a long time and looking at the disintegration of the group psychology.”
For Vincent, explains director Ruairí Robinson, what happens on the planet plays into the deepest of his fears. “He has a fear of losing himself that becomes manifest in facing something that literally threatens to take over,” he says. “That’s what first attracted me to the script: to place a character into a situation where they have to face the very thing they’re terrified of in the worst way possible.”
And it was this notion that attracted actor Liev Schreiber, who found the idea of Vincent’s claustrophobia and anxiety immediately appealing. Says Schreiber: “One of the things we started talking about when I became involved was ‘how do you articulate that claustrophobia?’ ‘How do you express something as complex as his sort of anxiety?’”
All the elements were aligned, he says. “Being trapped, in a space station, in close quarters, in spacesuits… all of it contributed to this oppressive, suffocating thing that was really interesting to explore.”
In fact, it harked back to some of the most interesting science-fiction horror storytelling on the big screen. The touchpoints within the subgenre were films like Alien, The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Thing. “When we started this there hadn’t been a movie in that key in years,” says Robinson, “Or certainly not a good one, anyway.”
But the influences went beyond science fiction too, he adds. “There are elements of Sergio Leone’s Westerns in there – a New Frontiers vibe. And for me, United 93 was a touchstone in terms of the tone of the acting and how to deal with emotion without resorting to cheap tugging at the heartstrings.”
For Olivia Williams, who plays Kim, the film’s character notes were instantly relatable and not at all confined to sci-fi genre setting. “That David Bowie-like image of the man floating around in the tin can is so powerful, but if you don’t give a toss about who that man is then you might as well not bother. When I read the script, the sweet scene of Vincent sitting with Lane and talking about Earth won me over. It could be two people sitting on a park bench on the top of Primrose Hill. It has a timeless, placeless quality.”
And as the title suggests, the story takes place on this crew’s final few days on the surface of Mars, something that was crucial to completing the sense of desperation that is bubbling under the surface for all of these characters, as they realize their mission’s aim – to find life on Mars – may well be left unresolved. They’re also, says Cornwell, blasé about the environment they’re in: “They’ve already got over the ‘wow, we’re on Mars’ phase.”
“There’s a sort of Treasure of the Sierra Madre quest for gold thing too,” expands Robinson, “where the protocol goes out of the window once they see this prize that they’ll get their name on if they’re the first ones to find it. Everyone starts bickering and fighting each other and putting all their training aside, and that’s when they start making mistakes. All those things come back to haunt them, in the form of death.”
Goran Kostic, who plays Marko, agrees: “They all want to be the first to make the discovery and they’re desperate to do it as the end of the mission approaches. They’re prepared to take a one-way ticket if the chance is there for their names to make history. But none of them knows what’s ahead.”
Mars is what is killing them. “The walls are closing in,” says Cornwell, “and humans aren’t built to survive like this. Our characters’ personal journeys mirror the themes of the film. Mars is vast, but there’s nowhere to hide. And that almost makes it a counter-Western: there’s no town over the hill to run to.”
The Red Planet has played a part in countless science fiction stories, with the proximity of Earth’s nearest neighbor, and the uncertainty about what might lurk in its red depths having inspired writers and filmmakers for more than a century. In fact, perhaps the most famous Martian story, HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds, was first published in 1898. “It didn’t occur to us that we were stepping into a genre of its own,” relates Cornwell.
In the end, it was Ruairí Robinson’s unique pitch for the project – United 93 in space – that won him the job and crystallized The Last Days on Mars’s unique place in the pantheon of Martian moviemaking. Says Cornwell: “In a way you want to forget it’s a sci-fi movie and focus on those characters and their individual motivations, so when this massive event comes into their lives, you believe how they react to it.”
A successful commercials and short film director and animator, Robinson was Oscar-nominated for his 2001 short Fifty Percent Grey. One of his most recent short, Blinky TM, is the story of a young boy and his unsettlingly cutesy housekeeper robot. “You only need to watch that film to know Ruairí has everything,” enthuses Williams. “He created such empathy for a robot and it was also deftly observant of modern life and human relationships.”
With an animation background, Robinson approaches every scene with a strong visual sense. “He storyboarded the film in extreme detail,” says Romola Garai, who plays Lane, “and he knew exactly how he wanted to block each scene. We shot in continuous takes, with a roving camera, where every time we did the scene we did it in its entirety, and you could appear in the shot at any time.”
This was a boon for the actors, who were afforded an opportunity to breathe and delve into their characters in each moment. “Ruairí’s strength is in combining a strong visual sense with a real grasp of character,” says Schreiber. “He’s the kind of director who likes to figure things out on his feet, and so we’ll suit up, get on set and start trying things. There’s a lot of improvisation and finding the scene as we play it.”
Kostic was impressed with Robinson’s desire to hear the ideas of the cast and crew. “He’s very open to ideas into what we’re trying to achieve. We see him as another member of the mission’s crew, there with us, feeding us information, listening and learning. The openness, and the idea of trust, is very important.”
For Robinson, allowing his cast to build fully rounded performances in their own time was essential to selling the story’s genre aspects. “It’s not a straight horror film,” he shares. “There are no cheap shocks. The fear is of mounting dread more than anything else, and so hopefully it’ll be emotional.”
The science fiction setting, which includes plenty of sequences set on the surface of Mars, makes it an ambitious undertaking for a film of its cost. But, says Schreiber, it’s in the stories utilization of its budgetary limitations that it sets itself apart. “What I found so fascinating about the script was how sparse it was,” he says. “Today, with CGI and spectacle and all of that, it almost feels like the genre has become a party for effects and production design, and forgetting the basic sense of suspense and withholding.” The Last Days on Mars does the opposite, he insists.
“It’s incredibly ambitious for the budget,” confirms Robinson, “which makes it quite challenging, and means you’ve got to work harder to achieve what you want. But, I think, if I’ve done my job, it has converged in a decent way and hopefully it’ll achieve the desired effect.”
The Last Days on Mars
Directed by: Ruairi Robinson
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostić, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama
Screenplay by: Clive Dawson
Production Design by: Jon Henson
Cinematography by: Robbie Ryan
Film Editing by: Peter Lambert
Set Decoration by: Robert Wischhusen-Hayes
Music by: Max Richter
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language,
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: December 6, 2013
When their obnoxious and over-served best man, Lumpy (Tyler Labine) unexpectedly dies at their destination wedding in Phoenix, bride and groom Kristin (Jess Weixler) and Scott (Justin Long) are forced to cancel their honeymoon and fly home to the snowy Midwest to arrange for his funeral. But getting Lumpy’s body back to Minneapolis is just the start of their adventure, as the well-intended sacrifice surprises at every turn. And when the newlyweds’ path leads them to a fifteen year-old girl (Addison Timlin) in a small, northern Minnesota town – all bets are off on who Lumpy really was.
A few years back, my brother told me a tragic, yet darkly comic story about a friend of a friend of a friend. It seemed that this distant acquaintance had gotten blotto drunk at a “destination” wedding and was found the next afternoon slumped over a Pachycereus pringlei. Dead. Without knowing anything else about the deceased or what his life had included, I was fairly confident this man would live in infamy as “the guy who died on a cactus.”
Honestly, I felt sorry for him. We all have a friend like Lumpy. And if you don’t, you’ve certainly seen him at a party or a wedding. Surely there had to be more to the guy than his unfortunate death-by-cactus. Surely there’s more to all of us than one moment, good or bad. People are so easily categorized as “the girl who ______” or “that guy who got caught ______.” We get one piece of information and we think we know the whole story. But life is never that simple. Public labeling used to be limited to politicians and celebrities. But in a modern world of texting, Facebook and Twitter, we’re all subject to instant and permanent branding. And we rarely get to choose what that moment is.
I also couldn’t stop thinking about the story from the survivors’ point of view. What would you do if your best man died the night of your wedding reception? There’s an almost ridiculous amount of stress put on weddings today, and I could only imagine the reaction of some of the brides I’ve known. A day designed to be one of the “happiest of our lives” so often ends up defeating its own objective, due to an obsession with recreating an event from the pages of BRIDES magazine.
So who was Lumpy? We live in a world where technology designed to make communication easier, more often takes the place of face-to-face interaction. How can we not lose track of old friends when intermittent texting replaces real conversations and Skyping has become a legitimate substitute for travel? As a society, our social nourishment comes increasingly from a fast-food diet. Maybe Lumpy was a boorish drunk. Maybe he was a bad guy. But maybe –at least to one person—he was a surprise arrival, a new relationship, a lifeline even. How did they meet? What was their connection? Who did he become to her? Was it above board, or did the relationship slide into icy waters?
In Minnesota, as in so much of our country, there’s a great divide between city life and small town America. Farm life is dying. Main Street has been replaced by a big box store just outside town. Drug trade has become industry. And too many promising young minds fall through the cracks. So I wanted to weave the two sides of Lumpy’s world: Ramsey’s “family’ in Lutsen and a relatable bride and groom as our narrators. They may appear to have little in common, but over time we see them struggle with the same issues of money, drugs and loss.
I wrote my first draft in about four weeks in July of 2008. A mild polish that fall added more time with Lumpy in Ramsey’s eulogy. After a couple years and a couple producers attached [and detached], the green light came out of nowhere. By the time we started prep, it was already late February of 2011 and we couldn’t shoot the film without winter. The producers and I quickly realized that the only place we were going to find a frozen, Minnesota lake in March was in… Minnesota. I was ecstatic. In this day and age of production tax incentives, it’s a rarified luxury to shoot your scripted locations –let alone send a postcard to your hometown. And true to form, Old Man Winter dumped a late-in-the-season blizzard on us the second day of shooting.
The Minnesota location was also important because I knew I had a secret weapon: the local talent pool. I grew up in Minnesota when fine arts were an integral part of public education. And in Minneapolis, there are still more theater seats per capita than any other city in the U.S. outside of New York City. The local casting director was fairly shocked when I requested specific actors by name for day player roles, but I was only too happy to call on some of the acting talent I had literally grown-up watching on stage (mostly at The Guthrie).
It’s taken a while to get my first film finished and out into the world, but I can’t help but feel like a lucky storyteller. Not only did I get to make my first film with amazing partners in front of and behind the camera; but I was also able to shoot Minnesota as I know it, and hopefully take the audience on an unexpected, emotional ride they haven’t been on before.
Best Man Dowh
Directed by: Ted Koland
Starring: Justin Long, Jess Weixler, Tyler Labine, Addison Timlin, Shelley Long, Frances O’Connor, Evan Jones
Screenplay by: Ted Koland
Production Design by: Jade Healy
Cinematography by: Seamus Tierney
Film Editing by: Grant Myers
Costume Design by: Kiersten Ronning
Set Decoration by: Britni West
Music by: Mateo Messina
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, drug content, some sexuality and brief language.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: November 8, 2013
Taglines: If you never make a choice, anything is possible.
A young boy stands on a station platform. The train is about to leave. Should he go with his mother or stay with his father? An infinity of possibilities rise from this decision. As long as he doesn’t choose, anything is possible. Every life deserves to be lived.
The film tells the life story of Nemo Nobody, a 118 year-old man who is the last mortal on Earth after the human race has achieved quasi-immortality. Nemo, memory fading, refers to his three main loves and to his parents’ divorce and subsequent hardships endured at three critical junctions in his life: at age nine, fifteen, and thirty-four. Alternate life paths branching out from each of those critical junctions are examined. The speculative narrative often changes course with the flick of a different possible decision at each of those ages. The film uses nonlinear narrative and the many-worlds interpretation style.
Mr. Nobody is a science fiction drama film. It was written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael, produced by Philippe Godeau, and starred Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little, Toby Regbo and Juno Temple.
Mr. Nobody had its world premiere at the 66th Venice International Film Festival where it received the Golden Osella and the Biografilm Lancia Award. Critical response was generally strong and the film was nominated for seven Magritte Awards, winning six, including Best Film and Best Director for Van Dormael. The film was mostly funded through European financiers and was released in Belgium on January 13, 2010. Since its original release, Mr. Nobody has become a cult film, noted for its philosophy and cinematography, personal characters and Pierre Van Dormael’s soundtrack.
Directed by: Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Clare Stone
Screenplay by: Jaco Van Dormael
Production Design by: Sylvie Olivé
Cinematography by: Christophe Beaucarne
Film Editing by: Susan Shipton, Matyas Veress
Costume Design by: Ulla Gothe
Set Decoration by: Regine Constant
Music by: Pierre van Dormael
MPAA Rating: None.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: November 1, 2013
Taglines: Embrace your inner demon.
Duncan’s (Ken Marino) life is a real pain in the ass. Tormented by a manipulative, crooked boss (Patrick Warburton), a nagging mother (Mary Kay Place) with a boyfriend 1/3 her age, a deadbeat new age dad (Stephen Root), and a sweet, yet pressuring, wife (Gillian Jacobs), his mounting stress starts to trigger an insufferable gastrointestinal reaction.
Out of ideas and at the end of his rope, Duncan seeks the help of a hypnotherapist (Peter Stormare), who helps him discover the root of his unusual stomach pain: a pintsized demon living in his intestine that, triggered by excessive anxiety, forces its way out and slaughters the people who have angered him. Out of fear that his intestinal gremlin may target its wrath on the wrong person, Duncan attempts to befriend it, naming it Milo and indulging it to keep its seemingly insatiable appetite at bay.
Poor Duncan Hayslip – he has an ass demon. A trooper in his pooper. And it’s all caused by PM– uh, PSM – Poor Stress Management. He needs to lighten his load. Or at least go drop one. So it’s a movie about a guy with a little creature up his butt that comes out and kills people, right? Well, why not – most horror movies have some kind of monster or monstrous character that goes running around killing everybody.
“The creature feature genre tends to be a little formulaic sometimes,” writer / director JACOB VAUGHAN recalls complaining to his co-writer and friend BENJAMIN HAYES, whom he had met in 2009 at SXSW. Vaughan was wondering how come so many of these kinds of films seemed to get funding – why couldn’t they? “I’m actually not a huge horror fan at all,” he notes. “I love ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Poltergeist.’ I’m not a slasher – I’m thematic.”
Vaughan was telling Hayes about a favorite David Cronenberg film – ‘The Brood’ – which stars Oliver Reed as a psychiatrist who tries to manage the anger of a woman who, when angry, births children from her belly and skin which then go off and kill people. “I was telling Ben, ‘Now, that is something great. It’s psychological. There’s a metaphor there. Wouldn’t it be funny if we made a horror film about a creature that killed people? And it should come out of the guy’s ass.’”
He began to laugh at his own suggestion – then began taking it seriously. “I’ve had stomach issues all my life, and it comes from stress.” So he imagined a fellow, a la The Incredible Hulk, who if angered or stressed, not only got horrific stomach aches, but had a horrific little creature come out of his rear end and target the people causing the stress. “The whole idea made me laugh, so I knew, if I did this, it would have to be funny. No way you can make a movie like this serious.”
Vaughan had gone to film school with filmmaker JAY DUPLASS and had been friends with him and his brother, MARK DUPLASS, since the early 1990s. A skilled film editor, Vaughan had been cutting films for the successful duo since working on their 2010 hit, ‘Cyrus.’
It was during the production of that film that Vaughan gave Mark Duplass a script of his idea which he and Hayes had written. “I had asked Mark if he might be interested in acting in it. But he had been shifting away from acting, but told me that he and Jay would love to executive produce the project and make it happen.”
The Duplasses became involved with a number of their own projects over the next few years. But, in 2011, during production of “Black Rock,” a thriller directed by Mark’s wife, Katie Aselton which Vaughan was cutting, he offered up a new draft for his friend to check out. “Mark went upstairs and read it in two hours, and when he came down, he was really pumped. And when Mark Duplass gets pumped about something, that’s a very good thing.” Duplass began sending the script to actors he knew and arranged for financing, and before long, BAD MILO! was under way.
BAD MILO! centers around DUNCAN HAYSLIP, an accountant at National Investment Group, a financial services/investment firm. “He doesn’t buy or trade,” Vaughan explains. “He’s just there to maintain accounts, give updates, do quarterly reports.” His manipulative boss, Phil (PATRICK WARBURTON), has been quietly siphoning off money from the accounts, though, and with disappearing money comes disappearing staff. “He needs to find a pushover to do the dirty work of firing people, playing it like ‘These are hard times.’” Duncan is his kinda guy.
“He’s somebody who has trouble standing up to people and voicing his opinion in a calm manner. So he’s a pushover – he can’t say no to his boss, because he’s afraid of losing his job.”
Duncan also faces pressures at home, from his wife, Sarah, played by GILLIAN JACOBS (from NBC’s “Community”). “His wife is ready for a family, but he doesn’t feel like he’s ready. He’s worried that he might not be a good dad and will screw everything up.”
The pressures begin piling up inside of Duncan, and before long, he finds himself suffering from excruciating stomach aches, resulting in the release, one night, of a little demon, which Duncan later names Milo. The creature – who can alternately look either don’tcha-wanna-hug-me cute or terrifyingly angry – emerges from Duncan’s you-know-where and dashes off, killing whomever it is that appears to be creating stress in his host’s life.
But Milo is more than just a disgusting little creep. “He’s a metaphor for what’s going on with Duncan,” the director says. “The movie is about facing his demons” – even the ones that come out of his butt. “It’s about him coming to terms with things he doesn’t want to face and growing up a little bit.”
Playing Duncan is actor KEN MARINO, who had appeared in Adam Scott’s Funny or Die short with Mark Duplass, “The First A.D.,” in which Marino played the world’s worst 1st assistant director, who’s… an asshole. “Ken had played a lot of those really broad characters,” Vaughan notes. “But he has this other side to him – he can play small, very nuanced characters, in a way that’s really endearing. He’s also one of these people with funny bones – they walk across the room and you laugh, and you don’t know why.”
Duplass had suggested the role to Marino during the making of “First A.D.” The actor notes, “When Mark Duplass asks if you’re interested in doing something, your first reaction is, ‘Hell yeah. What is it?’”
The appeal was instantaneous for Marino. “I always like a tortured, put-upon character, someone who is constantly feeling the pressures of the world. And this was a cool take on that kind of character. A guy who stresses out, and when things finally come to a head, this monster comes out of him and kills the things that are stressing him.” And besides, he notes, “If you go back and look at every movie I’ve been involved with, there’s somebody on a toilet, talking about a toilet, taking a shit, talking about shit, getting caught taking a shit. And my dad was a cesspool cleaner. So I guess I have a weird affection towards toilets and toilet humor. And this movie embraces the world of what happens on the toilet.”
The role required another important quality. “Duncan had to be a very likeable character,” Vaughan says. “If you’re gonna make a movie about an ass demon, you have to have somebody who can sell it. Duncan is reacting to a very real situation. It’s a ridiculous situation, but it has to feel like he takes it very seriously, and Ken knows how to do that.”
The audience has to believe it’s real, without getting a wink of the eye from the actor – which means playing it straight, says Marino. “I always feel like the best way to do something that’s absurd is to play it straight. That’s the most interesting way to go with it. You don’t have to do much, other than try to believe it. If you can do that, other people will believe it. If you wink at the audience, it takes them out of the movie.”
Marino is an expert at delivering blank-faced, surprised looks – the you-just-said-what “Huh?” take. “It’s in the DNA of the script that Duncan is overwhelmed by all these ridiculous things and crazy people that are around him,” says Vaughan. “So there’s plenty of opportunity for Ken to give those marvelous double-takes, those surprised looks.”
A Bunch o’ Nuts
The even-keeled Duncan is surrounded in the film by all kinds of kooks – played by some of the funniest character actor/comics Vaughan could round up. “I got so excited doing this movie,” says Marino. “Every time they brought somebody new in, I was, like, ‘Oh, my God – I love that guy!’ They just filled it up with so many great actors and actresses that I was a fan of. I couldn’t wait to come to work.”
Early in the film, Duncan and Sarah go to see a doctor about Duncan’s teeming gastrological problems, a Dr. Yeager, played by “King of the Hill’s” TOBY HUSS. “We quickly found out what a mad genius he is,” says Vaughan. “If you give just him a little bit of room to run, he will just go for it. And he will come up with most insane shit you’ve ever heard. It was hilarious.”
“Watching Toby was like watching Lebron James play basketball,” notes Marino. “You might be good at basketball, but then you watch him do his thing, and you’re, like, ‘Hold on a minute – he’s like another level of funny.’”
Shooting scenes with Huss and Marino resulted in, often, 18-minute takes. “I obviously couldn’t use all of it. That’s going to end up on the DVD as bonus material,” Vaughan says.
The director, in fact, encouraged his cast to improvise – particularly these people. “Jacob was great, because he had a specific vision, and he knew what he wanted,” Marino points out, “but he was open to letting actors play. The material he wrote was funny to begin with – but when you bring funny people in, it would be silly not to let them open up and take ‘em off their leash. Especially when you have somebody like Toby Huss.”
The two comic actors fed well off each other – Huss saying ridiculous things, and Marino reacting like someone who just heard something ridiculous. “They had that dynamic down,” notes Vaughan. “They knew what the dynamic was, and they just laid into it.”
The seasoned Marino was able to keep a straight face working off most of his comic co-stars – but not so with PATRICK WARBURTON, who plays Duncan’s manipulative boss, Phil. “Ken’s actually good at not breaking,” the director says. “The only time that happened was with Patrick.”
“He just kept making me laugh,” the actor admits. “He’d make some… weird, awesome choices,” such as when Phil appears to, uh… flirt, maybe, with Duncan, when trying to convince him to carry out the layoffs. Notes Vaughan, “He’s trying to create a smokescreen, by distracting Duncan with this effeminate come-on. But it’s just an act.” But an effective one, Marino adds. “He made me squirm.”
Directed by: Jacob Vaughan
Starring: Ken Marino, Peter Stormare, Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, Kumail Nanjiani
Screenplay by: Jacob Vaughan, Benjamin Hayes
Production Design by: Lindsey Moran
Cinematography by: James Laxton
Film Editing by: David Nordstrom
Costume Design by: Anthony Tran
Set Decoration by: Bobby Martin
Music by: Ted Masur
MPAA Rating: R for bloody comic horror violence, and for language and some sexual content.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: August 29, 2013
Touchy Feely is a closely observed examination of a family whose delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt), is a sought after massage therapist and a free spirit, while her brother Paul (Josh Pais) thrives on routine and convention, running a flagging dental practice and co-dependently enlisting the assistance of his emotionally stunted daughter Jenny (Ellen Page). Suddenly, transformation touches everyone. Abby develops an uncontrollable aversion to bodily contact, which not only makes her occupation impossible but severely hinders the passionate love life between her and her boyfriend (Scoot McNairy).
Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to miraculously invigorate his practice as well as his life outside the office. As Abby navigates her way through a soul-searching identity crisis, her formerly skeptical brother discovers a whole new side of himself. Touchy Feely is about the experience of living in one’s own skin, both literally and figuratively. The film, written and directed by Shelton, and co-starring Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, and newcomer Tomo Nakayama (of the indie rock band Grand Hallway), is filmed on location in Shelton’s hometown and urban muse of Seattle.
About Touchy Feely
Over the past few years Lynn Shelton has established herself as a distinct helmer of offbeat indie dramedies, with her two latest features (Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister) offering an artfully measured ratio of two parts quirky comedy to one part soul-searching drama. Both of those films were pared-down affairs built around three primary characters. For her latest feature, Touchy Feely, Shelton decided it was time to explore something new. “My previous three films had three main characters and one key location,” Shelton explains. “I wanted to break out of that formula and do something more expansive. I was drawn to the idea of an ensemble cast, something along the lines of Short Cuts or Hannah And Her Sisters.”
In addition to the idea of working with a larger cast, Shelton was also intrigued by the prospect of making a more aesthetically oriented film, something she hadn’t done in quite some time. “Before directing narrative features, I was an editor of other people’s films, but I also made very expressive, personal art films. My initial impulse as a narrative filmmaker (We Go Way Back, 2006) was to tell a story that had room for an experimental, experiential, approach to storytelling. My second, third and fourth features were very observational and very dialogue-driven; there was little opportunity to include visual poetry, or sound and music-driven cinematic language, as I had with my first feature.
I think cinema is probably the best medium we have to represent interior human experience. That combination of sound and picture is so powerful! You can create something visceral and very sensual. I was yearning to go back to that kind of territory, — a more interior, emotional kind of film.” However, this new stylized approach didn’t hinder Shelton from including the kind of comedy that has become a key component of what she does. “I think the comedic aspects are a good complement to this kind of filmmaking. They enable people to open up more to the emotional experience.”
Shelton had an idea of the direction she wanted her next film to move in, and had a general starting point, but she was still searching for inspiration when two fortuitous meetings occurred. “I’ve had an idea for a while about what if you were a dermatologist or doctor or massage therapist, someone who has to deal with the bodies of strangers on an intimate level, and then you suddenly reach a threshold where you just can’t do it anymore? Bodies are so intense.
They’re weird and crazy; nobody has a perfect body. When I met Rosemarie [DeWitt], this character started coming up again for me. I had worked with her on my last film and now, with her in mind, the character started to flesh itself out, to become more real to me.” DeWitt, who was one of the leads in Your Sister’s Sister, noticed a difference from the start with her involvement in Touchy Feely.
“With Your Sister’s Sister, I got a call from Lynn on a Saturday and we were shooting on Tuesday. We didn’t have any time to spend together beforehand, talking about the character. The whole shoot was maybe twelve days. With this film, she had mentioned the idea to me maybe a year earlier, and we’d talked about it a bit. Touchy Feely is a very internal story, it gets inside the characters’ heads, it’s not super-conversational, so the trick here was to convey the story Lynn wanted to tell. It was trying to open yourself up to the unknown.”
DeWitt would prove to be one half of the primary equation. At a Tribeca Film Festival screening of Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give, Shelton met Josh Pais, a standout character actor recognizable for his work in that film, as well as Adventureland and Arbitrage, among many other movies.
“I had been a big admirer of Josh’s for a while, ever since seeing him in Year of the Dog. When I first met him, I was this geeked out superfan. He was very gracious, and then, when he found out I directed Humpday, he kind of flipped out on me! He loved that film. So we decided we had to work together. We talked on and off for a while, and we sort of had an idea about a character who goes through a transformation, and I decided to combine it with the massage therapist idea I had for Rosemarie. So I called the two of them up when I had an opening in my schedule – I would’ve shot something else if they hadn’t been available, I couldn’t have recast them – but they were both available, and everything came together around those two central storylines.”
For Pais, the discussions with Shelton about a character who goes through a transformation were key in upping his excitement for the project. “I had seen this postcard in some bookshop of a guy who was this odd, bearded guy, looked like he was trying to create some new age-y thing,” Pais explains. “I thought, what a great character that would be, to have fun with the cult side of the new age movement. Lynn had the idea of, what if he’s a dentist who comes up with a way to heal people, and that’s how his following emerges? In the movie, by no means is my character aware of anything new age at all, it’s completely foreign to him until he’s exposed to it, but he does have a following all of a sudden, when he becomes able to heal people.”
Bodies, Healing and Finding Catharsis
The story of Touchy Feely originated with two healers who find themselves embarking on journeys of self-exploration they didn’t know were possible. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a massage therapist living in Shelton’s hometown of Seattle. She’s dating a younger guy, Jesse (Scoot McNairy), and seems to have things pretty much together – until Jesse asks Abby to move in with him, to which she agrees, but not without reservations. Soon after, Abby finds herself undergoing a professional and personal crisis as she develops an aversion to physical contact, becoming unable to do her job while growing increasingly confused about her feelings toward Jesse.
Meanwhile, Abby’s brother Paul (Josh Pais), a buttoned-up dentist with social anxiety, finds himself revered as a healer after he becomes able to somehow cure his patients of various ailments. His newfound popularity is something he finds both terrifying and, ultimately, exciting. The link between Abby and Paul is Jenny (Ellen Page), Paul’s daughter (and Abby’s niece). Jenny works as Paul’s assistant at the dental office, but we sense that Jenny – consciously or not – longs for bigger and more exciting things for herself. She’s also developed a massive crush on Jesse, as much of a mistake as that may be. As the narratives of these four characters interact, it becomes clear that Touchy Feely is a film about intimacy and healing, and how it’s impossible to truly heal others until we get in touch with our own intimate desires and issues, however painful that process may be.
For Shelton, the film’s exploration of identity was crucial. “I’m constantly pulled to the theme of bucking expectations, especially around identity. We think we know who we are, and then evidence to the contrary presents itself and we have to deal with that. I think Paul is terrified by the idea that there may be more to him than he thought, while Abby goes into a temporary depression when the foundation for her self-worth, her abilities as a healer, is taken away from her. For Paul, I think he figures he’s in his mid-40s and this is who he is, who he’ll always be. He’s not going to seek anything new out. So this opportunity to open a door and wonder, is there more, is sort of shocking to him.
Paul and Abby seem like they’re going in opposite directions, and they are, but what ties them together is looking beneath the surface. Abby has just been bouncing along with this idea that she’s free-spirited and a healer, enlightened, she thinks she knows who she is, and then she’s forced by this mysterious thing to have to dive a little deeper. To look under the surface and find herself again, or ground herself in a new way.”
Pais understood that much of the drama in Paul was portraying a man whose entire sense of self has just been pulled out from under him. “I think for a lot of people change is disorienting, but I think it’s especially disorienting for Paul, who’s locked into this mode of being invisible, and then all of a sudden people are looking at him like he has special powers. He doesn’t go into an ego place with it – he can’t process it. It’s about him letting go of certainty – life starts to become spontaneous and he doesn’t have the tools to ride spontaneity. Part of his journey is to let life unfold and go on the journey, as opposed to locking everything down and being dead.”
DeWitt felt that her character was also conflicted with regard to her own sense of self. “I’m not sure how much of Abby’s new-age attitude was her authentically finding it or rebelling against who her parents were and who her brother is. I think everybody wants to find out what they’re about and why they’re here, but what drove her into those realms was running away from something else. A lot of people are trying to figure it all out for themselves, but I don’t think she has all the answers yet. The movie is part of her journey, and after the film she’ll start the next part of her journey, but with her feet planted more firmly on the ground.”
Much of the film’s drama comes from how the dynamic between Paul and Abby – one being conservative, the other a free spirit – plays out in relation to the behavior of Jenny. Shelton immediately understood that Jenny would function as a sort of narrative connector for the other characters. “I knew that the brother-sister relationship would be at the center, and that they were different personalities. I liked the idea of Paul’s daughter – Abby’s niece – as a kind of glue. If two adult siblings don’t really get along, why would they hang out with each other? So Jenny is someone that they’re both deeply connected to. There’s actually a kind of tug-of-war going on.
Abby doesn’t want to see Jenny get stuck due to the influence Paul has over Jenny’s life, she doesn’t want to see her go down the wrong path. And I then started imagining Jenny having a really codependent relationship with Paul, really taking it upon herself to take care of him – but Jenny has really put off her own life as a result. And then thrown into the mix of Jenny’s interior life is being totally crushed out on her aunt’s boyfriend. It’s such a ridiculous person to be so hung up on, and it’s indicative of her generally being stuck.”
Pais credits the many credible varieties of his and Page’s onscreen dynamic – sometimes seeming like father/daughter, but sometimes more like bickering siblings – to Shelton’s directing methods. “Ellen and I just clicked. We got it. It was just one of those things where actors really get each other. There was a total trust and surrender to each other’s work. There’s a realm where something magical happens in acting, where all the stars align and it transcends something methodical, and it’s a surrender to what’s happening in the moment. Lynn, more than any director I’ve ever worked with, nurtures that magic. She allows you to do your absolute best work.”
The other key supporting character is Jesse, who is both Abby’s (younger) boyfriend and the object of Jenny’s longing. For DeWitt, Jesse’s suggestion that Abby move in with seemed like the catalyst for Abby’s breakdown. “I think the seriousness of Abby’s relationship with Jesse kind of snuck up on her. Abby’s divorced, so I think she got burned before, and despite her new age-y faux-openness, she actually shut something down there. Someone asking her to engage and take things to the next level leads to her dark night of the soul. I think the whole beauty of finding someone younger than her, more directionless than her, is that she didn’t think that he was a serious person, that it could develop into something serious – but it does.”
Of all the moments in Abby and Paul’s journeys toward self-discovery, one of the true standouts is a sequence in the third act where MDMA is taken by both characters, leading not to hilarity or a nadir, but rather, clear-eyed insights. The sequence is an even-handed representation of recreational drug usage in a time when such actions are normally played for laughs or pity in cinema. For Shelton, the sequence was not so much about drug use as it was about self-exploration.
“I felt like the narrative needed cathartic moments. What’s important is that neither Abby nor Paul are drug users – both of them are saying, “okay, I need to break out; I’m ready to try something new.” The intention of it is the first step toward opening their minds to the world. There’s a lot of different ways to have those moments of transcendence (meditation, listening to music…) the drug is just a physiological trigger. But the important thing is that it’s part of a therapeutic, almost spiritual, journey, a part of healing. It’s like a hall pass for each of them to, as Allison Janney’s character says, “let go of their fear and embrace the world.”
For Paul, I think about those people you knew in high school or college who were wound up so tight they could barely speak to another human being. And then you’d see them at a party, and they would take one sip of alcohol and transform! It was just a permission slip to break out, to not have to be the way they thought they had to be.” For Pais, the sequence was about a very physical kind of acting. “The MDMA sequence was what we shot first, which was really interesting. There was a moment where Paul’s walking down this long hallway, and I found the character in that walk. It was like he was walking into the unknown. I just felt so tight in my body, and then experimented with watching how other people live completely differently and have fun and dance and move. It’s him trying to experience what life is all about. That’s what I was playing with. Seeing how alive, within this tight body structure, how alive I could become. The most uptight guy taking ecstasy – who wouldn’t want to see that?”
Making Touchy Feely
While the production schedule of Touchy Feely afforded Shelton more than three days between offering her lead actress the part and rolling the cameras, it was certainly not without its own hectic escapades. Indeed, Rosemarie DeWitt’s rising popularity in Hollywood threw the production for a bit of a loop. “I started putting the film together in my mind in the spring of 2011,” Shelton explained.
“I then put it to the side because another project had come along, a script that we all of a sudden started working on full-time, but that project got pushed because of one of the actors’ schedules, and at that point I just had to make something. I got the news that the other project had been pushed and I got on the phone with Josh and Rosemarie, got them to commit, and then I called up my producer Steven and I asked him if he’d like to produce a half-written movie! I told him the cast and the idea, and he said sure. So we started to work on it, and it was pretty exciting. We were going to shoot it in May or June, and then all of a sudden, halfway through prep, Rosemarie was offered Promised Land.
So she’s been offered a part opposite Matt Damon and John Krasinski, directed by Gus Van Sant, and they wanted to shoot exactly when we were shooting. What were we going to say – no? We said of course, you have to do this. So we tried to figure out what to do, and Steven called me and said okay, I think we can make this work, but the only way to do it is if we start shooting three weeks earlier. I said of course! It ended up making everything super stressful, we had three weeks less prep, and we lost Mark Webber, who was going to play Jesse – we had to replace him with Scoot – but it all came together pretty well in the end.”
Stressful as the prep for the shoot may have been, from the actors’ recollections it sounds – unsurprisingly – that the positive energy so many of Shelton’s characters (attempt to) channel was reflected in the vibe on-set. For DeWitt, a big part of the desire to work with Shelton a second time came from her personal feelings toward the filmmaker, as well as their similar artistic sensibilities. “I love Lynn so much as a person, I love to be around her. I think she’s so original. The moments she notices – like with this movie – they’re so subtle! This is not a big issue movie; it’s about little moments in peoples’ lives that actually have a big impact. So I am drawn to her brain. There’s so many different ways to tell stories, and you can do them with a big dramatic flourish, but I think we both really like those quiet truthful moments. A lot of directors don’t have the patience to find those moments, but Lynn really lets them live.”
As the film was something of a step in a new direction for Shelton, she decided to edit the feature as well – the first time she’s done that since her second feature, My Effortless Brilliance. “Editing was the last thing I wanted to give up, because for me editing is the place where the artistic vision really comes in. It’s the most important phase for me. So to allow myself to open up to a collaborative environment there in the past was a big thing, and it was great, but I really had the urge to be in the driver’s seat this time. As I was working on Your Sister’s Sister I was having a disconnection from that experience. Like with We Go Way Back, a lot of that was me piecing together the film in the editing room. I like the directness of being able to just do something without having to pitch the idea to someone else.”
Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Rosemarie DeWitt, Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Josh Pais, Scoot McNairy, Ron Livingston, Tomo Nakayama
Screenplay by: Lynn Shelton
Production Design by: John Lavin
Cinematography by: Benjamin Kasulke
Film Editing by: Lynn Shelton
Costume Design by: Carrie Stacey
Art Direction by: Tania Kupczak
Music by: Vinny Smith
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and brief sexuality.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: September 6, 2013
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a craft brewery. They have one of those friendships that feels like it could be something more. But Kate is with Chris (Ron Livingston), and Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick). And Jill wants to know if Luke is ready to talk about marriage. The answer to that question becomes crystal clear when Luke and Kate unexpectedly find themselves alone for a weekend. Drinking Buddies is written and directed by Joe Swanberg and stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston.
Drinking Buddies is an American film written and directed by Joe Swanberg, and starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. The film is about two co-workers at a craft brewery in Chicago. The film premiered at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival, and also screened within Maryland Film Festival 2013.
Q & A with Director Joe Swanberg
What was the inspiration for this project?
The inspiration originally came from two places: The first was studio comedies of the early 1970’s, specifically BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE and Elaine May’s THE HEARTBREAK KID, which were both mainstream films (and big hits!) that portrayed complicated, interesting characters and adult points-of-view. The most important lesson I took from these films is that they never forgot to be funny, which earned them the space to also be complex and challenging.
The second inspiration was the craft beer world. Craft beer is the most exciting business in America right now, if you ask me, and I wanted to get inside a world that I love. I’m a home brewer and a craft beer advocate, and as the years passed, I realized that nobody was making a movie about it.
I started talking to a friend of mine, Kate Thomas, who works for Half Acre Brewing in Chicago. She told me about her job, and about being a woman in a very male dominated industry. Through her stories, and other conversations with friends who work at breweries, I started to form the Kate character, who has learned to thrive in her surroundings. The other main character, Luke, and his girlfriend, Jill, are modeled after my wife and I at a certain point in our relationship before we were married, when we were still trying to figure things out.
As with all of my films, once I had the cast in place we started to work on the characters and the story together. Olivia had great ideas about Kate, and brought a lot of her own life to it. Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick shared their own relationship experiences with me so that we could blend them with mine to make Luke and Jill as relatable as possible. Once we all started talking about these issues, we realized how universal they are. Everyone struggles to balance relationships and platonic friendships with the opposite sex. Everyone has doubts and questions about whether they’re with the right person, or whether they could be happier with someone else. We had fun throughout the shoot talking about these subjects and working our ideas into the film.
How do you write your films?
I start with a few broad subjects or themes that I’m interested in and I work with my collaborators to generate specific ideas. This usually happens through phone calls and emails, in a very casual way, as opposed to writing sessions with a specific goal in mind. As certain ideas start to solidify, I will create an outline to give the film some shape. These outlines are usually a page or two long with a short paragraph describing my idea of the scene. I typically go into production with only the outline to work from, and the writing process continues on set with the actors. As we film a scene, we are writing and rewriting with each take, and also writing the next day’s scenes based on how the current day is going.
With Drinking Buddies, I needed a way to communicate with the art, wardrobe and locations departments, so I took my outline and expanded it into something much closer to a traditional script. It was mostly free of dialogue, but it conveyed in great detail the scenes in the film, where they took place, what the locations looked like, and what the actions were. This allowed us to schedule the film and incorporate the entire infrastructure without sacrificing the freedom for the actors and I to figure certain things out in the moment.
The first take of any scene I do is usually the “writing” take. Occasionally we get exactly what I’m hoping for and we only do something once, but typically we use the first take to shape the scene, keeping certain things and making adjustments to other things. The dialogue is always improvised, and there are variations from take to take, but we’re working toward a unified version of the scene that feels right. Once we have something we like, we go from there.
With this film, for the first time, you worked using a more traditional production infrastructure – how did this affect the way you made the film and why did you do this?
I wanted to tell a story about these characters, and the craft beer world, and the film naturally evolved into being the size it is. There wasn’t a concerted effort to make something “BIGGER.” We just looked at the locations we needed, the kind of crew we needed, and I pursued the actors I wanted to work with, and everything else fell into place accordingly. The size of the film is exactly what it needed to be to tell the story in the way I wanted to tell it.
The additional infrastructure required me to make many decisions during pre-production that I usually make on the day of shooting. I wanted to give my collaborators in the art, wardrobe and location departments plenty of time to do their best work, and that meant arriving at some definitive answers to big questions very early in the process. Rather than fighting the system and trying to bring the entire Hollywood production model to me, I happily embraced this new way of working and focused on carving out space for the actors and I to work out the emotional details on set. Rather than focusing on the restrictive elements of the infrastructure, I focused on my new freedom to be a director and a director only, as smart, talented, hard-working people took over most of the jobs that I had previously handled myself.
Despite the much larger crew, we still had to be able to break down and be flexible when necessary. Our main location in the film is a brewery and they were busy making beer every day that we were there. We had to be sure that we were never in their way. The brewers were suspicious of us at first, and seemed a bit territorial, but the head brewer, Jim Cibak, took Jake under his wing and taught all of us a lot about making beer. All of the employees at the brewery have cameos in the film and many times I would see them sitting at the monitor watching takes or talking to the actors and crew about filmmaking. It felt like a cultural exchange in the best way!
One thing I loved about my smaller productions, that I was fearful of losing, was the sense of fun and the spirit of togetherness. So at the first production meeting I gave a speech and declared a Fun Mandate for the film. I was sure to point out that “fun” did not mean “easy.” We were all going to be working very hard, make no mistake, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun while doing it. I strongly believe that a fun film set produces better work from all involved and ultimately a better film. Thankfully there was a great team working on the film and it was the most enjoyable filmmaking experience I’ve had.
How did you work with the actors?
Working with actors remains the most inspiring part of the filmmaking process for me, and Drinking Buddies allowed me to devote most of my energy to this. was lucky to have a few days with Olivia and Jake before we started shooting, and I used this time to familiarize them with the Chicago craft beer world. We brewed beer together in my basement, so they could see how it’s made, and then we took a trip to the Three Floyd’s brewery, where my friend Andrew Mason, who brews there, showed them around. I knew I wasn’t going to turn either of them into beer experts in 2 days, but I wanted them to soak up the atmosphere and get a sense of the people who work in a brewery. During this beer boot camp, we were also discussing the characters and the story and finding ways to plug Olivia and Jake’s experiences into the story.
We scheduled the film in such a way that Olivia and Jake would have a week of shooting together before Anna and Ron got to town. I wanted to give them space to play and figure some things out before we got into the meat of the story. We worked quickly the first few days, doing small, playful scenes, and then moved toward more dramatic moments. They quickly found a rhythm with each other and started to add to the story and the characters with each scene.
When Anna and Ron arrived, we had to work on the fly, building the relationships and the character dynamics while we were shooting. This is how I’m used to working, so I felt right at home. Everything was made easier by the fact that these actors are incredibly good at what they do, and things like continuity are second nature to them. So despite the improvisation, and looseness of the dialogue, the actors could always hit their marks and keep certain actions consistent in a way that made editing very easy.
In the middle of the shoot we spent 3 days filming at a beachfront cabin in Michigan, and this was the perfect way to decompress while also getting work done. After we would wrap for the day, the cast and crew would go swimming and build bonfires on the beach. It was during this period that I got to know the actors the best, and we moved into the second half of the shoot with a great level of trust and camaraderie between everyone working on the film.
Cast Q & A
Why did you want to work with Joe Swanberg and how did you like making the film?
I wanted to work with Joe after seeing HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS and hearing fantastic things about him as a collaborator. I wanted to experiment with his unusual process of making a film (improvising the entire script) and dive into the unknown with only an open mind. I loved my first few conversations with Joe about the characters and we really just seemed to get along and jive immediately. His idea for the story was immediately intriguing.
I loved making this film. I felt inspired on an entirely new level. We were set free and dared to be honest. Joe is brilliant, because he allows the actors to feel safe while letting go of their typical process, and he is a master editor. I can’t wait to make another film with him.
I wanted to work with Joe because Joe is all about freedom. He told me when pitching the idea to me that whatever I was feeling each day would be what my character was feeling. He wants his movies to be a true collaboration. I found him to be true to his word and a true honor to work with him.
I was excited about the idea of working with Joe because of this gorgeous honesty in his films and was equally excited by our brief and awkward first meeting over Skype where even then I got my first glimpse of his intelligence and confidence; I knew that he was someone whose instincts I could trust completely.
Signing onto the film was terrifying and I was sure I was going to end up the weakest link but the environment when I arrived was so relaxed and supportive. It was a really freeing experience. Everyone in the cast was so talented and open and on top of that you always had Joe as your safety net. You felt like you could be really brave.
I love Joe’s confidence in his storytelling. He really works without a net, and invites you to work that way, too, and it’s exhilarating. You get the feeling from him that he can make a movie out of whatever you give him, which allows you the freedom to give him whatever you want. Say what you want, do what you want, change it up every take (which is maybe two) — it’s a hell of a way to make a movie. What’s unfathomable to me is that it seems to work. Which means that those of us taking years and spending millions of dollars to make movies have a lot of explaining to do.
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West, Mike Brune, Michael Gaertner, Kristin Davis, Alicia Van Couvering, Joe Swanberg, Michael Zeller
Screenplay by: Joe Swanberg
Production Design by: Brandon Tonner-Connolly
Cinematography by: Ben Richardson
Film Editing by: Joe Swanberg
Costume Design by: Amanda Ford
Set Decoration by: Jennifer Herrig
Art Direction by: Akin McKenzie
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: August 23, 2013
I Give It a Year is a comedy from the writer of Borat and Bruno that lifts the veil on the realities of the first year of marriage. Since they met at a party, ambitious high-flyer Nat (Rose Byrne) and struggling novelist Josh (Rafe Spall) have been deliriously happy despite their differences. Josh is a thinker, Nat’s a doer, but the spark between them is undeniable.
Their wedding is a dream come true, but no one — family, friends and even the minister who marries them — is convinced that they will last. Josh’s ex-girlfriend, Chloe (Anna Faris), and Nat’s handsome American client Guy (Simon Baker) could offer attractive alternatives. With their first anniversary approaching, neither wants to be the first to give up, but will they make it?
I Give It a Year is written and directed by Dan Mazer (Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Bruno), and is produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner (Love Actually, Atonement), along with Kris Thykier (Stardust).
Starting where other romantic comedies finish, I GIVE IT A YEAR stars Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids), Rafe Spall (One Day), Anna Faris (The Dictator) and Simon Baker (“The Mentalist”). The film also features Stephen Merchant (“Extras”), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting) Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class) and Olivia Colman (“Peep Show”).
About the Production
Filmmaker Dan Mazer had a very specific idea for his debut as a feature film director, I Give It a Year. He had already been enjoying something of an iconoclastic career, working with Sacha Baron Cohen as a writer and producer on ‘Da Ali G Show’, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, while also either producing or executive producing ‘The 11 O’Clock Show’, ‘Dog Bites Man’ and The Dictator.
“But I wanted to do something that was a bit more mainstream and yet which still had the ability to be edgy and a bit shocking,” he begins. “I am getting older, the craziness can’t carry on forever and there comes a point where you don’t want to be shocking for shocking’s sake. Funny is funny.”
“Ultimately, what brings all my work together is that comedy to me is about character,” Mazer adds. “That’s where it starts and finishes and if you have compelling characters that feel real and three-dimensional and all of the humor comes from that, then whether they have got their balls in someone’s face or whether they are giving a romantic speech, as long as it comes from a place of character and truth, it will work.”
With a career in comedy Mazer decided he would work his humor around romance, though he had no interest in writing and directing a traditional romantic comedy. He was delighted to work in conjunction with Working Title and says that while he admires the breadth of their work — from Barton Fink to Burn After Reading, Shaun of the Dead to Senna — he was keen to subvert the comedy genre with which they are closely associated.
“I thought it would be good to slightly reinvent what Working Title are traditionally renowned for and give a new spin to the romantic comedy,” Mazer says. “So I thought that it would be funny to write a comedy where instead of a couple getting together, with all the stereotypical things we have come to understand about that particular genre and trope, you subvert that and do a similar thing about a couple that you want to split up.”
We have all seen the rush to the railway station where an eager lover is yearning to propose “and we have all seen those things a million times, so to play against that, for example, was an immediately funny and doable idea. I thought of all those set pieces that we have all seen hundreds of times and thought, ‘How I could play against those, how could I turn them upside down and confound expectation?’”
Producer and co-chairman of Working Title Films Tim Bevan comments, “Dan has worked with us a number of times as a writer since we met on Ali G Indahouse. He has always expressed his desire to direct and I Give It A Year proved to be the right project. The truth of it is that there are very few comedy directors in this country and Dan has had a lot of creative experience around some very successful movies.”
Mazer goes on to say that more humor can be mined from a break-up than a coming together. “I think on a broader level there’s nothing that funny about happiness and people coming together. If you are sitting with your mates at a pub, their stories about splitting up with their girlfriends, their stories about breaking up, stories about arguments and about things going wrong, they are much funnier than, ‘She was amazing, we met, wasn’t it adorable.’”
Mazer was determined that I GIVE IT A YEAR would remain a “feel-good comedy, because it is about people finding love in the right places after a slightly disastrous marriage. I didn’t want to leave a nasty taste in the mouth, but at the same time misery, acrimony, anger and arguing are much funnier than love and butterflies, champagne and all of that.”
The key to making the movie, Mazer says, was to remember that I GIVE IT A YEAR is “a comedy with romance.” He adds, “It happens to be about relationships, and it is definitely a comedy but it is not one of those romantic comedies that has four jokes in it and is about girls wearing nice dresses and being happy and all the jokes are in the trailer.
“It is definitely a comedy first and is a romance second. Hopefully, everyone will be happy. Obviously, my history in terms of the films I have done before are quite edgy and different and iconoclastic and hopefully I have brought that sensibility to this film as well, but maybe a slightly more kind of accessible and palatable iteration of that.”
Producer Kris Thykier says that I Give It a Year picks up where most romantic comedies end. “What happens when the fairytale romance has ebbed away, what’s the reality?” he asks. “This story has a real modernity to it, and it is a comedy that happens to be based around relationships rather than being something in the vein of where romantic comedy has ended up now. This goes back to being a straight comedy that happens to be about relationships.”
“We all recognize what happens when two right people get together at the wrong time,” he continues. “We have all been in a relationship with someone who isn’t a bad person but isn’t the right person. This film is about two people who rush into a relationship.”
Thykier believes that people in their late 20s and 30s feel pressure to be in a successful relationship “and to be married”. He adds, “There is a social expectation and if you haven’t managed to crack a successful relationship and probably taken it to the next level at that age people think there might be something wrong with you.”
Leading man Rafe Spall, who plays the central character Josh, agrees. “For my generation marriage has become fashionable again,” the actor says. “For my parents’ generation marriage wasn’t necessarily fashionable, but people like it these days. They like to get married.”
“And when something like that becomes fashionable then you end up with a lot of people who shouldn’t be together. People getting married for the wrong reasons,” notes Spall.
To pull together the story, Mazer turned to his own life, and the life of his friends. “My marriage and my friends’ marriages and my life have all been plundered with a reckless abandon,” the director laughs. “I have to say I have pilloried and pillaged and completely stolen things.”
“I am very happily married and I love my wife inordinately, but we obviously have funny arguments and tricky times and early on in the script there is a row that my wife and I had and I wrote down verbatim, but when people read the script, they said, ‘Well, that is not believable, people would never say that. That’s not credible.’ So I had to dilute some of the reality of my life!”
Mazer adds, “My marriage and my friends marriages have definitely provided inspiration for this film but I must say that my wife is very keen to let the world know that certain instances and certain sexual predilections in the film are not hers!”
I Give It a Year
Directed by: Dan Mazer
Starring: Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Alex Macqueen, Stephen Merchant, Jane Asher, Simon Baker
Screenplay by: Dan Mazer
Production Design by: Simon Elliott
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Film Editing by: Tony Cranstoun
Costume Design by: Charlotte Walter
Set Decoration by: Rebecca Alleway
Music by: Ilan Eshkeri
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: August 9, 2013
Taglines: The lie is spreading.
Directed and co-written by Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt is a disturbing depiction of how a lie becomes the truth when gossip, doubt and malice are allowed to flourish and ignite a witch-hunt that soon threatens to destroy an innocent man’s life. Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor Award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for his penetrating portrayal of Lucas, a former school teacher who has been forced to start over having overcome a tough divorce and the loss of his job. Just as things are starting to go his way, his life is shattered when an untruthful remark throws his small community into a collective state of hysteria. As the lie spreads, Lucas is forced to fight a lonely fight for his life and dignity.
Co-founder of the Dogme movement and director of award-winning international hit Festen (The Celebration), Thomas Vinterberg delivers yet another powerful drama that is sure to leave its mark. The Hunt, which was co-written by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm (whose credits also include A Hijacking, which he wrote and directed), won the 2012 European Film Awards Best Screenwriter prize and was nominated for prizes in a number of other categories, including Best Film, Director and Actor.
The Hunt is produced by Morten Kaufmann and Sisse Graum Jørgensen for Zentropa Entertainments in co-production with Film I Väst and Zentropa International Sweden with support from The Danish Film Institute, DR, Eurimages, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Svenska Film Institutet, SVT and the MEDIA Programme of the European Union. Nordic distribution by Nordisk Film Distribution. International sales by TrustNordisk.
On a dark winter’s night in 1999, there was a knock on my door. A renowned Danish child-psychologist stood outside in the snow with some documents raving about children and their fantasies. He spoke about concepts such as “repressed memory,” and even more disturbing, about his theory that “thought is a virus.” I didn’t let him in. Didn’t read the documents. Went to bed.
Ten years later I needed a psychologist. I called him, and as a belated form of politeness, I read the documents. And was shocked. Spellbound. And I felt that here was a story that needed to be told. A story of a modern-day witch-hunt. The Hunt is the result of this reading. – Thomas Vinterberg
The Hunt was selected for The Danish Cinema Club quite early on. With its 200,000 potential audience members, the club is in itself enough to constitute a commercial success in Denmark. They only admit three Danish films, so we happily accepted their offer of a January 2013 Danish release date since January is traditionally a very good month in Denmark.
However, that meant The Hunt was ineligible for the 2012 Oscar season even though it was in Cannes earlier that year. Fortunately, The Hunt exceeded every optimistic expectation and became the third biggest audience success in Danish film in decades. – Sisse Graum Jørgensen
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Alexandra Rapaport
Screenplay by: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg
Production Design by: Torben Stig Nielsen
Cinematography by: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Film Editing by: Janus Billeskov Jansen, Anne Østerud
Costume Design by: Manon Rasmussen
Set Decoration by: Rasmus Balslev-Olesen
Music by: Nikolaj Egelund
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: July 12, 2013
Based on the best-selling book, Syrup is an edgy comedy that exposes the cut-throat world of advertising through the eyes of a young prodigy chasing fame, fortune, and the woman of his dreams. Fresh out of school with a degree in marketing, Scat will do anything to prove that he has what it takes to swim with the rich and wildly successful.
Scat comes up with a brilliant new product that gives new meaning to the old saying “sex sells.” He is sure it will send him right to the top…if only he can convince his boss, the beautiful and mysterious “6,” that it’s an idea worth millions. Betrayed by his best friend “Sneaky Pete,” Scat stumbles through an industry riddled with deception.
As he begins to realize that fame and fortune have cost him his morality, he must rediscover his true self behind the elaborate image he has created or risk losing the love of his life. In a world where the average person sees over eight hundred ads in a single day, SYRUP takes a biting look at the insidious—and often ridiculous—side of advertising. Crackling with romance and humor, this razor-sharp satire leaves you guessing and laughing until the end.
Syrup is an American drama film based on the novel of the same name by Max Barry. Its Video on Demand release date is May 1, 2013, and its US theater release date is June 7, 2013.
About the Story
A young marketing executive named Scat thinks of a new idea for a drink after he drops his drink and swears, hence coming up with a new drink called ‘Fukk’. He goes to a drink company where he meets a young woman named ‘6’ who he charms with his idea after getting her out of the building by pulling the fire alarm. She presents his idea to the board and says that Scat will sell his copyright for only two million dollars, making Scat realize he hasn’t reserved the copyright.
After going to reserve it he is told that his roommate ‘Sneaky Pete’ has reserved it, after Scat telling him of his idea. Scat loses the idea to Sneaky Pete and the drink becomes the highest selling energy drink in the nation. Embittered, Scat goes back to his ordinary life but is hired by ‘6’ to help her come up with an ad campaign to beat Sneaky Pete’s and hence win the ‘Fukk’ campaign rights. Told to come up with an idea by Friday (only five days away), Scat moves in with 6 and is unable to think of anything until only moments before the deadline. After shaking a vending machine in frustration and 6 telling him that twelve people have died by being crushed by vending machines, he comes up with the idea of ‘Wouldn’t you die for a Fukk’ advertising a cartoon where people die by being crushed by vending machines because they want the drink so badly.
The ad is accepted and aired but a young teenager dies by being crushed by a vending machine and the ad is now considered insensitive and taken off air. Scat and 6 attend the funeral and when Scat makes a speech, 6 points out that all the mourners are actors that she recognizes from ads. Scat quickly realizes that Sneaky Pete created this fake death to get their ad to fail, and he quickly pulls out the fake body from the coffin and holds it up for all to see. Scat is fired while 6 remains at the company. After driving people around on a bike as his new job, Scat is hired by a rival company and 6 is also poached.
The two must come up with a new drink idea and after talking about their attraction for each other, Scat comes up with the idea of ‘Average KOK’. He presents this as a drink to the board and also thinks of a different drink just called ‘KOK’ that they give to celebrities. The normal ‘KOK’s are numbered up to 100 and each number represents a celebrity and the celebrity deems who can drink their numbered drink.
After the frenzy for the drink that they can’t have, Scat and the company decide to make the drink go public but not before the suicide of a teenager who killed himself after not being ‘cool’ enough to drink his lucky number 17’s corresponding drink. After confirming that this time the death is real, Scat goes on TV to apologize but ends up pointing out that drink sales have never been higher even after the death and that people, like him, ‘have a dream’. Scat walks along watching himself on the TV displays and 6 finds him. Scat tells her his real name is ‘Michael’ and they kiss but 6 insists that 6 is her name and Scat walks away.
Directed by: Aram Rappaport
Starring: Brittany Snow, Shiloh Fernandez, Amber Heard, Kellan Lutz, Rachel Dratch
Screenplay by: Max Barry, Aram Rappaport
Production Design by: Dina Goldman
Cinematography by: Julio Macat
Film Editing by: Robert Hoffman
Costume Design by: Sophia Banks-Coloma
Set Decoration by: Shannon Finnerty
Music by: Peter Bateman, Andrew Holtzman
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual references and brief drug use.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: June 7, 2013