AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR DRAKE DOREMUS
Landmark Theatres: Like Crazy seems like a very personal story. In fact, it feels like we're in that personal story. Where did this story come from? Is some of this from your life? How did you come up with the idea?
Drake Doremus: Yes, the movie really started from wanting to explore some feelings and ideas l had about relationships and long-distance relationships. It's very personal for me, in many ways. I just wanted to tell an honest version of what I have experienced in my life. Anton [Yelchin] and Felicity [Jones] really bought into that and, we, together, made the film.
LT: You start the story in this really romantic space, and then you just throw them apart. Could you talk about the difference in how you crafted the story? From our understanding the script itself was actually a treatment.
DD: Yes, I worked from an outline, or "scriptment," if you will. We'd write fifty pages and figure out exactly what happens in the story, but there's no actual dialogue in the outline. We'd try to find that organically, through the process of rehearsal and shooting the film.
LT: So there was a lot of improv in there. How did that process go? Did you have a lot of rehearsal time?
DD: We only had about a week, Anton and Felicity only met about a week before we started shooting so we had to jump in right away. They had to trust each other, learn the characters and learn what was going on. It was really fast, but in that week, we really immersed ourselves and they checked themselves at the door. I asked them if they had any boundaries during the process, and they didn't. They really did become Jacob and Anna for a month. And that's what I really wanted to do—explore the idea of doing this as real as possible and making it not feel like there are actors or a camera. It's just an exploration of characters essentially.
LT: How specific did you get in that scriptment? In terms of object work, or what they would talk about...the memories...were you very specific or did you let them come up with some of those specifics as they were working?
DD: We were really specific, but there are lots of things you can't be specific about that are magical that you have to let happen. There are so many things, so many quiet moments, where they're sort of looking at each other, and it's silent. Those are my favorite moments in the film because that's still in the improvisational moment even though people aren't talking. For instance, in the scene when Jacob's talking about the Ahi boat in Catalina and talking about taking her and that he likes tuna. In the script it will say something to the effect of "Anna's really upset, she's leaving tomorrow, but she doesn't want to talk about it. Jacob sees two people playing football on the beach and starts making fun of them to try to cheer her up." Which we shot, but that didn't feel right. So we changed it up and went with the Ahi thing. Things just constantly evolve until it feels right.
LT: What struck you most, in this process, as a surprise that the actors came up with? Was there a moment where you didn't see it going one way, and realized...oh my, this is even more true than I'd even imagined?
DD: Every day they would lose themselves in the scene and it was always exciting to watch them do the first take and have it be very "actorly," and then for them to really kind of forget about it. To just choose the objectives, choose the subtext, lose yourself in the moment and just let it happen. They were amazing once they got on that roll together. They became really good friends and it was a really intimate shooting. I mean, there was nobody in the room, it's the DP [Director of Photography], me and the sound guy and everyone's gone. I mean, it really is fundamentally simple in that sense.
LT: Working in the improv environment, how specific were you with the DP? Did you have any kind of storyboard in terms of camera angles you wanted to get for him, or did you rely on his eye to pick up certain things as they started to go in that direction?
DD: Everything was shot listed, but I'm constantly moving the camera around in the middle of a scene. Whenever I'd see something I'd nudge him, or we'd look at each other and he'd move it. But the things that are most stylized in the film are the time transitions, where there's a time lapse, or we go to six months later, but it's in the same room. Things like that we storyboarded because we wanted those moments to be the most stylized moments in the film. But everything else, we're feeling. But then again, we'll change it up if it doesn't feel right. Every day we'd just push each other to do the best work we can, and because of that, if it doesn't feel right, we just have to tell each other. And from the DP to the actors, we all did that.
LT: Did anything in the story change because of that? Was there something like...oh, now we have to do this instead?
DD: Originally, they stayed together the entire time and we added the visa last minute. No, I'm just kidding! I'm really proud of mapping the story out really specifically, because it really frees the actors up to not have to worry about trying to tell the story to the audience, or through exposition, so they can just lose themselves in the moment and the story will tell itself because we've thought about it so much. Everything was really planned out in that sense.
LT: One of the things that really struck us about the film was that, while watching it, it just felt really real. It didn't feel like they were trying to over-communicate things. Did you have to pull them back at any point? Were they trying too hard to express who their characters were, or was it just easy to just fall into that subtlety?
DD: Yes, every first take is that way. Then it's a stripping down process, where we distill it almost. The first take needs to be that, it needs to be very expository because it's scaffolding. And then they realize it, and they know, and they can feel the beats and then, before you know it, the scene works just as well without any dialogue, but it still says the same thing. It's always stripping down. The first take is always twenty minutes long and then the last take is two.