The 20th annual Philadelphia Film Festival recently opened with a screening of Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy, the story of two young lovers kept apart by international customs. The movie won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Drama and Best Actress awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by Paramount after a very competitive bidding process. This was actually my third time seeing Like Crazy, a movie I really love. Today I had the great pleasure of speaking with up-and-coming filmmaker, Drake Doremus, whose previous two films (Spooner and Douchebag) also played at Sundance. In my opinion, he’s definitely a director to remember, and it was great to speak with him.
CINEDELPHIA: What inspired you to make this movie?
DRAKE DOREMUS: Just reflecting on where I am in my life, reflecting on love and relationships more then anything. I feel like any time I try to make a movie I’m always trying to express where I’m at and what I’m thinking about and how I’m feeling. I’m just trying to get those expressions out.
C: Were there any film references you tried to emulate or had the cast watch?
DD: When Felicity and I first talked we talked about Breaking the Waves and that was sort of a starting point in terms of performances and the way that the movie unfolds. Y Tu Mama Tambien in the way the camera tells the story. Those were the reference points we talked about.
C: When you were at Sundance with Douchebag, did you see Blue Valentine or had you seen it before shooting?
DD: I did, but I wasn’t as influenced by it. I was more influenced by Lars Von Trier’s work.
C: I’m interested in the “scriptment” for the film. What’s the process of writing that, are there moments of fleshed out dialogue or is it just an outline of events?
DD: It kind of reads like a short story because it’s 50 pages and it’s got a lot of backstory and a lot of what the characters are thinking and what they want, what’s going on in layers throughout the scene. I think it’s more of an in-depth thing than a normal script in a way. It has quotations like in a short story, but it’s just the gist. For me, I want the actors to always put it in their own words. I want it to come from the inside out. I never want it to be a situation where the actors are forced to stand somewhere and say anything. It’s important to me that the actors own it and you can see the strengths in their performances. It’s actually very specific, the improv only works if it’s within these strict confines.
C: Could you talk about working with the Canon 7D?
DD: It was the perfect camera for it. We want it to feel very “stolen”. That was always our goal. Whether it was an intimate conversation or a conversation under the covers or running around LAX, we always wanted it to feel stolen, like we were peering into these people’s lives. A lot of the time it’s sort of voyeuristically told. The camera was perfect for that because we could hide. Sometimes I wouldn’t even tell them where it was, if they couldn’t see it, they didn’t know about it.
C: I know the Duplass Brothers set up two cameras at all times during their mostly improvised shoots, how did you go about it?
DD: Just one camera. I don’t believe in the two camera system. I mean, I believe in it at times, we used it for my new movie which we shot this summer that Felicity is the star of. The camera is constantly moving in the middle of the take, and we’ll get different shots in the middle of a take and we’ll start over and we’ll try it a different way. But I feel like having two cameras limits us because it limits where you can put the cameras and it limits how you can light the scene and where the actors can go in the scene. So at times it’s limiting as opposed to freeing. So I just use one camera. Like Crazy is all one camera. I try not to start and stop takes. I never say “action” and I never say “cut” because it’s constantly evolving and I never want the actors to feel like they’re stopping and starting a performance.
C: What’s the structure of a day on your sets? Do you start with a meeting to go over the scenes or do you just launch in?
DD: We’ll start with basic blocking with the First AD, DP, gaffer and myself, and we’ll actually walk through the space. Then the actors will walk in and we’ll walk through it. And we’ll shoot the first take, we shoot the rehearsal, there is no rehearsal. And sometimes the first take will be amazing and then we’ll just keep going with that, and other times it’ll be a disaster and we’ll have to rethink the scene. Either way, it’s just a matter of letting the scene become what it needs to be.
C: How many people do you have in your crew?
DD: It was like 15, but once everything’s set, everyone just kind of goes away and then it’s just like four of us in a room.
C: Is your crew still a group of friends from film school or people you have to reach out and hire?
DD: A little bit of both. My DP is someone I went to film school with, my editor is someone I went to film school with, and then in LA it was a lot of our friends working for us, the gaffer and some others. And then we hired industry people like the costume designer, but for the most part we try to keep it intimate like a family. We try to use people that we know and trust.
C: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie whose main character is a furniture designer [Anton Yelchin’s character designs furniture in the film] so I’m wondering where that idea came from.
DD: That came from my co-writer Ben really. He knows this guy, Dakota, who did that. Anton and Ben and I went to his shop and hung out and learned a lot about making chairs and making furniture. He made the chair in the film.
C: I’m wondering about the title, it’s not an obvious choice…
DD: That was always the title from the beginning. The idea of [referencing the film’s poster] “I love you like crazy, I need you, I miss you”, to me that’s what the movie’s about. It’s about not being able to say any of those things but always being able to say “like crazy” because that’s what it is, that’s what it feels like.
C: I really like the rough editing style, where we cut through different moments in conversations and scenes, were you always planning for that or did it come about through necessity?
DD: No, I wanted it to feel very loose and free. We kind of invented this term, “mixed montage”. It’s sort of mixing around a feeling. That, to me, is what the movie’s about. I hate the conventional idea of “cut to this thing, then cut to this thing”. It’s such an interesting way of telling the story and at the end of the day it actually has an interesting emotional effect by virtue of jumping around like that. Sometimes you need things to breathe, and sometimes you don’t. You can pick your spots. Five years in 90 minutes, let’s see the important stuff.
C: Was this something you edited in a studio or something you edited on your laptop?
DD: Like Crazy I cut in my bedroom, Final Cut Pro, I did the first assembly for two months. And then Jonathan Alberts came in and we finished the movie in the spare bedroom in his house.
C: I first saw this film a couple months ago at a test screening at home in Los Angeles, I’m wondering what you take away from the test screening process?
DD: We learned that the movie speaks to all generations. Paramount was thinking and I was thinking that it’s a “younger” movie but we saw that people in their 40s, 50s and 60s were all connecting to it too.
C: I know you shot a movie over the summer with Felicity, Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan, can you talk about what that’s about?
DD: Sure, it’s about a younger woman played by Felicity who stays with a family, Guy and Amy, and it’s about the friendship and connection that’s generated by these two people. The film’s really about dealing with those feelings. It’s a little of a darker cousin to Like Crazy, it’s a romantic thriller. It’s a different genre, a much bigger budget, so it’s exciting to try things with a different scope and do something even more cinematic and push the boundaries and explore love and continue to create.
C: How different is the aesthetic from Like Crazy?
DD: Well, we shot on the ALEXA, which is a much bigger camera. And it looks gorgeous. But it’s still handheld. It’s a little more composed. It’s different, but it’s still the same. It’s still got the same integral values.
C: Is it a similar improv style to Like Crazy?
DD: Yeah, same thing, it’s a little bit longer of a scriptment. It’s 80 pages, it’s a little more specific.
C: Is it hard to sell that style to actors?
DD: Much easier. They love it. With Guy it was interesting because he’s never done anything like this before, especially improvising in a foreign dialect was a difference experience for him, but he was game and he through himself into it. He’s special in it. It’s very different from any character he’s ever played, I’m excited for people to see him in it. It’s a very raw performance that I’m excited to share with people.
C: Is it still untitled?
DD: Yeah, but we’ll be done in the spring and hopefully it’ll be ready soon.
C: So it won’t be Sundance four years in a row for you?
DD: Sadly no. Which kills me.
C: Growing up, what were some specific experiences with films that inspired you and stuck with you?
DD: Going back to Y Tu Mama Tambien, I was 17 when I saw it and it really influenced me. I think at first I thought it was really artistic and coming from a really personal story and it just bowled me over. It was so incredible and I got so inspired to try it and to experiment. And now to be able to get to make films, it’s just so incredible.
C: Can you talk about the reaction to Sundance? Were you prepared for it at all?
DD: It was such a fairy tale. When we made it I thought it was something special but I never thought it would get the reaction it did. I thought it would do maybe a little better then Douchebag and maybe get more distribution, but certainly not the backing and support we’ve got from Paramount.
C: What are you expecting and excited for in the next few months?
DD: I’m expecting to be able to share this with a lot of people and I just hope that people get to see it and people go see it and that’s all my focus is right now.
Like Crazy opens this Friday at the Ritz East.