Drake Doremus is having one of those moments that indie filmmakers dream of, and if anyone deserves it this year, he does.
The first time I heard his name was when I saw his film "Douchebag" at Sundance in 2010. I enjoyed it, but it felt like one of those movies you see on the festival circuit and know will never end up playing theaters near 99% of your readership. This year, I saw his new film "Like Crazy" at Sundance, and it floored me. As much as I liked his earlier film, I wasn't ready for "Like Crazy." It's a beautiful, incredibly well-performed piece that works because of how bluntly honest it is, how carefully it avoids cliche. I found it to be almost as powerful a punch as last year's "Blue Valentine," and in particular, it is an amazing showcase for Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, the two young stars of the movie.
This afternoon, I got on the phone with Doremus to talk about his film and its impending release, and while it was just a short conversation, it was good to catch up with him and see how he's feeling as his film is being prepped for release by Paramount Pictures, which is very different than the fate of his last film. I asked him if there was any difference for him in terms of process as he moves from very small films to slightly bigger films, and he took a moment to consider it. "No, actually. Essentially it's all about the performances and the emotions. And this is still a tiny movie. I try to approach it the same every time out."
I brought up the work that Jennifer Lawrence, currently shooting "The Hunger Games" and on her way to superstardom, does in the film and how she's basically playing a non-verbal role for much of her screen time. I asked him about how they ended up working together and how he managed to get her to play something which many rising stars would probably turn down. "We had seen each other's movies at Sundance in 2010 and were fans of each other's work, and we met and became friends. And when this came up, she had a window of a couple of weeks, and she was so into it." I asked which film was shot first, "Like Crazy" or "The Beaver," since both films feature Lawrence and Anton Yelchin in very different relationships. "I haven't seen 'The Beaver' yet, but I hear they're good in that one, too," he said. "It was 'The Beaver' that shot first, but then after our film, they did some additional shooting."
Felicity Jones may be familiar to English TV fans, but for most Americans, "Like Crazy" will be an introduction, and I asked him about how he first noticed her and whether they plan to work together again. "I'm not letting her go. I've signed her to a 20-picture contract. I'm really excited for American audiences to get to experience her, because she's mainly been a British actress. She sent me a tape from her flat in London, and she did some scenes and sent them to me. We had seen a lot of different actresses with Anton in LA, just some chemistry reads, but nothing really stuck. And she sent in the tape, and without even seeing them together, I asked her when she could be in LA. So she got to LA, and then like seven days later, we were shooting. So it was great."
The trailer for the film made its premiere this morning, and many people online complained about the sound mix, saying they could not understand the dialogue. Here's the trailer for you to consider. There's been a lot of comment today about the sound mix on the trailer being wrong, and I asked him if he was planning to remix it and re-release it, and he laughed. "We were going for more of an '80s analog feel. Now we're going for a '90s digital feel." He laughed again. "No, seriously, we're excited to get the right mix out there tomorrow."
I brought up the dreaded term "mumblecore" and asked him if he sees his work as part of some larger movement, or if he just considers himself an indie filmmaker. "I certainly would understand why some people would put that label on my movies, but I'm trying to do my own thing. I'm just doing my own thing." I think his films have their own voice, and when I brought up the importance of that, he agreed. "I think there are a lot of really great voices in the independent world right now."
Obviously, the thing that is easiest to point at when trying to group a number of films together is the low-fi handmade quality to many of them, and that's due in part to the fact that it's become far easier and cheaper for people to get their hands on the tools of filmmaking these days. "It seems like everybody and their mother's on Kickstarter now raising $50,000 to go make their film. I think that's great for independent film. The idea that anybody who's got a passionate idea can go make a film is really exciting. There are natural filters out there, and anyone who's got a good idea, it will be seen, and it's just exciting that more people have that opportunity."
When "Douchebag" played Sundance, it got some nice reviews, but its eventual release was handled by Paladin, a company that does very limited releases for boutique titles like "I Am," "Cat Run," or "Splinterheads." This time around, "Like Crazy" immediately became a hot title at the festival and ended up in the hands of Paramount, and I asked Doremus how different his experience at the two festivals was. "To be honest with you, it's the audience experience. Sitting at the Eccles with 1300 people and hearing them laugh at 'Douchebag' is still one of the most amazing experiences of my filmmaking career, and to sit in the Eccles with 1300 people a year later and have them react with that sort of silence for pretty much the entire thing was really sort of… that's why I make these movies. All the hard work and the blood and the pain and the sweat just completely evaporated, and I feel so grateful to be able to share the work. An acquisition is just an opportunity to do that on a larger scale. It's always just about sharing the work with an audience."
One of the things that distinguishes "Like Crazy" is how there is no antagonist, no artificial obstacle for this couple to overcome. "I didn't want to make a movie that was obstacle-laden. I wanted the obstacle to be love. Just because you love somebody doesn't mean it's going to last. This is just two people navigating a relationship, and that's much more realistic."
In the film, alcohol plays a major onscreen role, but it's never treated as a negative or an issue. "To me, it's about when you're coming into being a young adult and you're discovering sexuality and alcohol and love and responsibility. At the beginning of the film, Jacob's not really interested in alcohol and he's had no experience with it, but by the end, he's the one who has a taste for it, and she's not interested in it anymore." It's impressive the way he shows these characters move from affectation to who they genuinely are, and it's just one detail that he gets right.
As we get closer to the release of the film, we'll have more on it, including my full review. For now, you can read Greg Ellwood's reaction from Sundance, and you can also check out the brand-new one-sheet for the movie:
"Like Crazy" arrives in theaters October 28, 2011.