Interview: 'Like Crazy' Director Drake Doremus on Filming Romance
by Alex Billington
October 28, 2011
Like Crazy starts playing in limited theaters in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, October 28th.
If there is one film that has my heart this year, it's Drake Doremus' Like Crazy, the indie romantic drama that swept Sundance and completely won me over, too. We've been recently featuring multiple trailers for the film, which stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, but I had the chance to chat with director Drake Doremus last week after the first trailer hit (watch the new one here). I met Drake at Sundance earlier this year, but haven't spoken with him since, so it was great to catch up. We talked about his festival experience and I asked him a few questions about the realism and truth behind bringing this emotional drama to life.
Drake Doremus has actually directed before: Spooner with Matthew Lillard and Douchebag, a black comedy starring Ben York Jones and Andrew Dickler, are his first two films. Like Crazy premiered at Sundance this year, but Douchebag had also played there the year before. Naturally, I started out by asking Drake how he ended up at this point - how he ended up directing Like Crazy and how that became next after Douchebag.
"I was just trying to make a movie a year. After I finished Douchebag I was really hungry and really excited to continue to explore filmmaking and try to have a voice and try to continue having something to say, and I wanted to go right away. I had this love story that was sort of nagging at me that sort of encompassed a lot of things I was feeling that I wanted to convey. I wrote it really quick, in about two months, and then we started casting and we were making it by June. So it was basically, right after Douchebag, we were right in it right away."
That's impressive for coming up with an entire feature, then shooting it so quickly and having it turn out fantastic, as his heart was truly in it. "There is definitely an emotional truth in the film that I experienced that I wanted to convey," he says. And it shows. But had to ask him how he went from an indie comedy like Douchebag to a hard romance that really is heartbreaking. Apparently it wasn't that hard for him. He says:
"You know, I think I always wanted to make the harder romantic, more dramatic films, but I didn't really have the skill set to do it yet, so I was pursuing more, really, lighthearted movies. This was sort of like the first foray into doing it. But I always wanted to do this stuff. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with, like, Out of Africa, and English Patient, when I was 12 years old. My mom was like, 'What is wrong with you? Why are you into these movies?' And I was like, 'I really want to go see The English Patient again!'"
"I love epic, sweeping romantic journeys that characters go on that are really emotional. So it was always in me, but I never really, maybe, had the balls yet to be able to make a movie like that. So I just sort of went for it. Douchebag was a really cool experience, but it's a tiny movie. And it's hard to keep progressing, so I wanted to grow and try something that I might fail at in order to grow."
I'm not the only one who has been comparing Like Crazy to 500 Days of Summer and Blue Valentine, two other recent fantastic indie romantic flicks, but don't worry it's not a repeat or copy of either of those films. Drake reiterates: "Hopefully it has its own tone, in a way, that it's not... I mean, sure, it retains some of the elements of those films and I totally understand why it gets compared. But hopefully we tried to make something with its own unique tone." If you haven't seen the trailer, he definitely has achieved that, as the film was shot mostly on a Canon 7D DSLR camera and it looks slick, but that helps keep it feeling realistic.
One of the other reasons the film works is the casting, and not just a few talented actors, but the two leads that we can truly believe were falling in love right in front of us. Drake speaks highly about how important it was to find exactly that chemistry - and how it all started with Anton Yelchin before Felicity Jones:
"We started with Anton. When we wrote it, then we started thinking about who's out there in their early 20's that was an actor. He came to mind right away. He sort of embodied the characteristics of Jacob. And I met with him and I was just like, 'Okay, great. Let's do this.' And then I started to think about Jenn, and [Felicity and Anton] were friends, and I talked to him about her. Felicity came in before me a couple days before we started shooting, really about a week beforehand. I had seen a bunch of different actresses with Anton—chemistry reads in Los Angeles; just wasn't quite feeling right. And Felicity videotaped herself in her flat in London and she did the shower scene in the film that, as you know, is at the end of the film."
"But she actually got in her shower and put up a tripod and went through the emotional journey of what her character was going through in that moment. She sent me the tape and I saw the tape and flipped out and immediately called her and asked her, 'How soon can you get to LA?' She said, 'I can get there tomorrow.' And then she came and we started rehearsing. Seven days after she met Anton they were frolicking on the beach together, and they were in bed together... It was really surreal. They just had that magic between them. They were willing to go to the place that they needed to go in order to make Anna and Jacob really feel alive."
Drake said before that he wanted to challenge himself making Like Crazy, so I asked him exactly what the biggest challenges he encountered were. His answer was quite interesting, screenwriters should take note:
"Just making the film from an outline and having to discover it. It changes immensely over the course of shooting and the course of editing. It's a huge challenge to try and keep the whole big picture right in front of you when these little elements are being discovered and little things are kinda springing up and happening. It's just a constant sort of battle every day to keep the whole thing in perspective and what the journey is and where we're going with the story while asking the actors to completely lose themselves in these sort of very, very genuine and improvisational moments when they are losing complete sight of sort of what's going on with the story and the arc. I think it's a huge challenge just to try to keep sight of that."
I followed up by asking if he thinks allowing for improv and that openness on set helps bring a story out while shooting. His answers delves into what makes Drake such a refreshingly new filmmaker. He explains:
"Yeah, I definitely think it encourages authenticity. I mean there's nothing worse than an actor hitting a line and saying a mark. For me, that's… I just don't understand that. For me, I want it to come organically from within the actor so that it's not necessarily me forcing the performance on them, it's me forcing the circumstances in which they can perform and do something genuine. So, for me, it's all about trying to find truth every day. You know, it changes. Sometimes it won't work, but really, at the end of the day, it's going to be effective for audiences. So that's sort of the goal every day and was the goal on this one, for sure."
I also decided to ask Drake if he thought writing comedy or romance was harder, given he's had great experience with both. I expected him to say comedy, as it's true, but it's great to hear his answer anyway:
"I think comedy is really difficult. I grew up in the comedy world. My mom was a founding member of the Groundlings. I sort of grew up in that environment of an improvisational sort of childhood, in a way. So I'm quite familiar with it. But it's really hard to do in movies because some things you think are funny on set don't really translate in the [theater] and vice versa, so it's hard. I think I have a better knack for drama than comedy, I've realized over the past couple years. Maybe I'm getting less funny as I get older, but I certainly don't feel like I understand it. I think it's really difficult. I think comedy is really hard."
As always, I love asking new filmmakers who/what their biggest inspirations/influences are and Drake has some good ones. In addition to mentioning Out of Africa and The English Patient earlier, he tells me:
"I used to say Lars von Trier, but I don't know if I can say that anymore. I don't know if that's politically correct... But I really love Lars von Trier films, Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark - the way he captures performances really inspires me. Alfonso Cuaron's work - Y Tu Mamá También is a huge influence. I really wanted to be a part of independent film when I saw that. I was in high school and it inspired a lot in me. So - foreign independent cinema."
I told him that makes sense for a guy whose been going to Sundance two years now, given that festival has all kinds of great cinema, but especially great foreign independent cinema. Speaking of Sundance, the last question I had for Drake was about his experiences up in Park City this year, since Like Crazy won the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Felicity Jones won a Special Jury Prize. Drake still seems in awe:
"It was surreal. I mean having been there the year before, I kinda knew what to expect, so I was sort of expecting the same sort of thing, which was: bring this film there, have an amazing time with the audiences, not selling it, and not winning anything. So I was so prepared to go through the exact same thing, which was this unbelievable experience. And if that had happened that would have been amazingly grateful because it is the greatest festival in the world and it is the most special place for young filmmakers, American filmmakers especially, to be discovered."
"So to be a part of that crop for the last two years is probably one of the greatest dreams come true. And then to win the Grand Jury Prize and then sell the movie to Paramount, it was surreal. I mean it didn't happen. It's just now sinking in. As the movie is being promoted, it's just now sinking in. And it's just... it's unbelievable! This is my hobby. This is my passion. This is not my job?! It's crazy! It was amazing... We went through a bidding war, we premiered the movie at Noon on a Saturday at Eccles, and basically we were in rooms with videos until 6AM the next day. It was so surreal."
It's great to hear that's the case, as it shows their is a genuineness behind this project from top to bottom. I'm honored to have the opportunity to introduce Drake Doremus to everyone and speak about his films, even if you haven't seen any and are catching up with Like Crazy. As I've been emphasizing with each of the new trailers, I really love this film, and it's the emotion and genuine story in it that make it stand out so much. I can't recommend it enough and I really hope people seek it out and see it, I don't expect many to be let down, and most will make a strong emotional connection. I keep referencing 500 Days of Summer and Blue Valentine because, like those films, it surprised and won me over, one of my favorite films of the year.