It’s 2015 and there are no less than 20 apps that serve to guide desperate, lonely people towards other desperate, horny people. And yet, solitude and loneliness is an issue people face more and more. The growing divide between sexual satisfaction and emotional closeness is one that interests director Leslye Headland of Bachelorette and now Sleeping With Other People. Joined by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, Headland revealed – in riotous fashion – what her creative process looked like (a lot of on-set crying), what it was like working with the actors, knowing where to draw the line and her many, many movie references.
Leslye Headland: I’m sure you guys have been sitting out there since 5 a.m. or something. It’s like a Grateful Dead concert. I think that just dated me. I can hear them say my name, I’m on cloud nine! Look at all these god damn motherfuckers! You perverts, what are you doing here at 5 a.m. in the morning. Holy shit! I’m going to introduce some people who are going to do this Q & A with me. We’re so excited to talk to you about the movie, and answer any questions you might have. We’re just so excited, and so proud of this film.
Q: How much of the acting was improvised, and how much was written?
LH: Do you guys want to talk about that?
Alison Brie: Most of it was written, a large percentage of it was written. The script was so tight, and so amazing, from the get go. But Leslie was so wonderful about letting us loosen it up, and discover little idiosyncrasies between Jake and Laney. Obviously, Jason Mantoukas and Andrea Savage did a fair amount of improv in their scenes; the end credit bit was fully improvised. And this guy comes up with really amazing, funny stuff all the time. It’s really fun, so much of it was scripted, but it’s also fun to see the things that made it in.
Jason Sudeikis: As far as improvisation goes, I think it’s kind of a misnomer, even with us not burning film anymore, it all being digital, which you can delete and re-format and save money on. It’s not just, “Roll the camera, and do something until you find something. Say whatever you want.” Because there’s the danger of inventing some new set that hasn’t happened. I mention, “I work at NASA.” That’s bad improv. Then Jess is like, “Great! Now I’ve got to add a space station to the set!” So a lot of it more comes in terms of fast re-writing, just sort of bantering through the rehearsals, which we did. And I think Leslie, coming from the theater, you don’t have that six weeks before you show it in a preview. And then this, especially in an independent film, we’ve only got five takes, and we’ve got to move the camera. We got to do shit, we’ve got stuff to do. We’ve got a space station to get to! So the idea of it being improvised is a misnomer. You’ve just got to think of the script, and Leslie’s words, and Leslie’s heart and soul, as being a jumping off point, almost like a suggestion in an improv show. You try to improvise within the character, within the tone. It’s all about being inspired by the original voice, and the voice you’re given, as a character, from the writer, and in this case, the director as well, coming through that. It’s less making things up on the fly, it’s more about catching the wave that’s already there.
Q: I don’t think anyone’s going to look at a green tea bottle again. Can you talk a little bit about that choice?
LH: I did let Jason pick the bottle. We brought like three of them, and I was like, “Which one do you want to use?”
JS: I was in the bathroom…
LH: And you bought him dinner?
AB: Glass bottles, dinner, and the best woman blood.
Q: Did everyone know one another, before the film, or was this the first thing that brought you together?
LH: I met Jason about three years ago, right before I started shooting ‘Bachelorette’. He’s heard me tell this story a million times now, I was so… we met up, and I thought it would be sort of like, “Hi…”, “Hello…”; and we sat there for like three hours; it was a long time. I just thought, “This guy is so fucking special. His point of view is so unique.” We just talked about everything, from theater, to film, to our personal lives, it’s like a real artistic connection there. I just thought, “I really want to write this guy something. I really want to write a love story, where he’s the lead. He’s the guy.” Because I think that’s one of the things that’s so hard about making a romantic comedy, right now, are the leads. They’re usually so, they don’t have any problems. It starts out, and the girl’s got everything, except the right penis to stick inside her! And Jason’s just a complicated, awesome person, and so I was inspired by meeting him, and the work he’s done. I’m probably the largest ‘Community’ fan there is, out there. When I met Alison, it was like… I kept it together, for like fifteen minutes at least, I acted cool. Then I was like, “I’ve seen every episode of ‘Community’ at least three times.” I’ll be at home, hanging out, and I’ll be like, “Let me just watch community again. Let’s just do that.” She was someone I always wanted to work with, but I didn’t know. I didn’t know her, socially, and she had read the script, and she was kind enough to come in, and meet me, and it was just love at first sight. And I got to see them read together, as well, which was really exciting, because I think that so much of a romantic comedy is the sound… it’s one of the first genres, where they introduced sound to film. Here you go, 20th century. When I heard them speaking to each other, I was like, “This is the sound of people falling in love with each other.” And I think you guys were talking about nothing. Shooting the shit, and I was like, “We’re going to make some money off of that.” The first time we were rehearsing, and they were rehearsing the drinking scene, and we didn’t have a glass bottle, and Jason was just sort of saying the lines, “glug, glug, glug”, and he started doing it. And I was like, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” My dad’s going to kill me! This has to be in the movie. So many people have to see this. Anyone with retinas is going to see this. Anyway, a long-winded answer, but as you can tell, I’m brimming with love for these guys. This movie’s my heart, and they met me so hard. They didn’t flinch once, man. I came at them, hard, and they came right back at me. I’m so proud of their performances, and of the film itself.
Q: Discuss the challenge of keeping the tone right.
LH: Oh, the tone. That’s one of those ethereal words, isn’t it? Keeping the tone right… I don’t really know how to answer that question, because I feel like it’s something that’s usually very difficult. With this film, even when I watched the assembly – if you don’t know what an assembly is, it’s when you basically see the entire movie cut together. It’s usually about three hours long. And you basically think, “Why did I do this? Why did I decide to become a director? I’m going to fade away into obscurity, and everyone’s going to find out that I’m a hack.” Maybe I should just go kill myself, in a peaceful way. And no one will ever see this. And so, that’s usually the reaction. And I have to say, when I saw the assembly, the tone was really there, already there. It is a little bit magical chemistry, kind of thing that I’m really grateful for. It wasn’t something at the forefront of our minds. We put a lot of work, my department heads did a lot of work. My editor, my production designer, my costume designer, my DP, line producer, Jessica, everybody.
AB: I want to say something about this, because I want to give you more credit! A lot of the material, especially with the Sobvechik/Laney scene, could be very intense! And I think that Leslie was very great about taking the temperature of it, every time we were shooting it, and getting a read on, like, “Okay, we’ve done the REALLY intense version. And now let’s do some where no one’s going to slit their wrists, right away.” And things like that. And I was also going to say, because I think it’s funny, with Adam’s schedule, we had to shoot all the Sobvechik scenes, the first week of production. And it was super weird, because we kept being like, “Are we just making a sexual, psychological thriller? What is this movie? It’s crazy intense!” And then Jason, suddenly, would have a scene, with some casual walking time, and we’d be like, “It’s fun and bubbly! Oh, thank God!”
LH: Poor Jessica would be like, “Holy shit!” I also wanted to add to that, the Adam Brody scene, in which Adam was so incredible in. He did me such a solid, to come in for one day, and do that scene. I just remembered, that day…
AB: I want to immediately piggyback on it, before you even get to say anything about it! Also, what you were saying about it, in terms of, not necessarily improving, but Leslye’s so great with rehearsal, that even without a lot of time, we would get to set, read through the scene, and figure it out. The Adam Brody scene, which I think plays so funny, and he’s so funny in it, but meanwhile, Laney’s going through really deep emotions! And it’s just one of those things, when we first got there, it was like, “Here’s the super serious version. Here’s the more silly version. Where’s the happy medium?” And once it finally clicked, everyone was like, “Ah, it’s clicking.” I think the same way, with the bottle fingering scene, that even going into it, Leslye was like, “All right guys, I hope this doesn’t turn out super creepy.” The more we did it, it ended up being sweet and romantic, I think. It was just great, and educational!
Q: With all of the references you made, you really reveal yourself as a movie nerd.
LH: You mean the movie references? Yes, absolutely! I’m a human. Speaks English. All of the references were very planned. I’m a huge, huge film nerd; really, it’s my first love, it’s my only love. Literally, the first shot is clipped from ‘The Shining’, that’s a shot from ‘The Shining’. When she sees Sobhichev on the bridge, that’s a sequence from ‘Jaws’. Jake’s first line to her, the ginger reference, is from ‘Casablanca’, and is also referenced in ‘When Harry Met Sally’, not to mention all the references to ‘When Harry Met Sally’, including the text montage. It’s almost exactly like the voiceover, when they’re on the phone with each other. It’s how people will spend their whole days interacting with each other, even though they may never see each other. Especially ‘Graduate’ references, from ‘The Graduate’… it’s a great film, I get a little bored after Mrs. Robinson leaves, but she deserves her own movie… Maybe that’s the next one. But yeah, they were all very planned. I think it’s just because I love movies. I think even the last shot, her and Ann… I love movies. I love referencing them, because they are my church, they’re my lover, they’re my friends. In a weird way, when you’re referencing things, you’re just saying thank you for being there, in a weird way. You’re just saying, “Thank you for giving me a chance to do this, and as a result, I’m going to give you a loving butt tap.” ‘The Graduate’ booty touch. Hashtag that, guys. I don’t know how to spell it.
Q: Can you illuminate us on the choreography of the fight scene? How was that all worked out?
JS: It was always… in the script, both Alison’s sex scene, and my sex scene, with Amanda, with the character, and the fight scene, were all conceived in the written way as being done in masters – only one shot, all the information. For the sex scenes, it’s a nice little lithmus test, seeing what kind of gumption the people reading it would have. It was like, “Would you be willing to do this? We’re not going to have you do this.” I asked him if we were really going to show d’s in b’s and penetration, the day before… Not that I’m shy with that kind of stuff. I just made the assumption that we probably would be bucking for an NC-17. But the fight scene maintained that, and it was done with that one tracking shot. I can’t remember how many takes we did; it was really hot that day. We had to do the fight choreography, with great stunt guys, and that was probably a couple of hours, and little bit, piece by piece, learning it. It was kind of like a dance – this, and this, and this, and sort of added things to it. Adam was super into it. He and I had tons of mutual friends, as well; we all kind of met during this movie. Pertaining to the fight scene, it was very intimate. You don’t want to hurt someone, or get a boner, or not get a boner. There’s all this stuff – your right brain’s in a different mode than your left brain. You’ve got to hit your mark, but you can’t hit it too hard. We’re just constantly checking in, right-click, and the foley sound effects help. It really makes it look like I’m hitting him harder. I remember watching, before the sound was done, and I was like, “I look like a first season WWE wrestler.” I didn’t have quite the comfort level, as the rest of it, but I see it here, and it all flows. I was standing outside, and I heard you guys react to it. I heard the music shift. My friend Julian and I were like, “It sounds like a horror movie, all of a sudden!” I didn’t realize that until I was watching it, then you hear the audio, it helps tremendously, to add that visceral nature to the fight. It was just checking in – I think we did three takes of it, only. No cutaways, or anything like that. And that was all written.
Q: With the synergy of the cast, was that something that was difficult to conceive and get together and make it all work?
LH: I would love to speak to the cast, and how that all came together, but I can say that once everyone was together, I really put my entire heart on the line with this film, emotionally. I cried on every take – even funny takes. Coming up to them, and really giving them that energy, “here it is.” Really not speaking a lot, or giving a lot of direction, but just standing and in this case, with Jason and Ali and Eva, especially Adam… Adam Scott… I think I gave Adam one piece of direction, the whole movie. The energy was so reverberating, and really experiencing it, emotionally, telepathically, spiritually, with the actors, as opposed to dictating to them, “Do this thing.” Because I feel like many directors do not do this – I feel like it is my job to make myself emotionally vulnerable for the actors, and to stand there with them, and go, “I know this is hard.” I have lived these moments, not specifically in the movie, but I’ve had heartbreak. I’ve had romantic obsessions. I’ve had rage. And I want to be there with you guys, and I want to feel that with you. Once we’re together, I felt like that was the emotional glue that held us together. I don’t know if you want to talk about the actual physical act of putting everybody together, really brainstorming about who should be in this movie.
Q: Please tell us a little more about your creative process, Leslye.
LH: That’s a great question but really difficult to answer. It’s incredibly ethereal; it’s weird. I had an ex that called it “montage-ing”; I’ll just go out and walk around. I’ll listen to music, or see a lot of films. I’m inspired, definitely, by things that happen in real life. I think if you’re an aspiring writer, give yourself that time to just stew in it. A lot of the ideas that this movie came from, are nothing like this movie, if that makes sense. Even the first idea I had for this movie, the very first inkling, was to tell ‘Fatal Attraction’ from Glenn Close’s point of view. And that’s where I came up with the character of Laney. I was like, “What if we just told it really sympathetically?” This poor chick is REALLY obsessed with this guy, and he’s being a dick! And definitely Jake’s pattern, the way that he spoke – I don’t if I ever told you this – not really by Jason, who I really wanted to work with, but I remember seeing Jen going… and watching Christoph Waltz just talk people into everything. I was like, “What if there was a dude who could just talk his way into everything!” His motive, instead of revenge, was just pussy. There’s this weird little balls that go on. For me, the creative process is just noticing which ones fall by the wayside, as you continue to gestate the idea, and you start doing drafts, and re-writes, and then starting to collaborate with the actors and getting their input, The wheat gets separated from the chaff, and you start to really see what the movie’s going to be, and what the story’s going to be. As far as comedy goes, which is really what your original question was, I had no idea that I was a funny writer. When I first did this, when I first started producing my plays, in black box theaters and basements and stuff. I was just mortified, when people started laughing at it. I thought I had written ‘Glengary Glenn Ross’, and I was like, “Here you are. The female voice of a generation.” And people were just like, laughing, they were dying, and I was just like, “God damn it!” No one is ever going to take me seriously. I think the key to comedy is, don’t write jokes, write people. I put that in a piece I wrote, about last night, this kind of heart thing that I wrote. I really don’t come from a place of jokes. I’ve gotten better at writing them, I think, but I really want to start with the characters. People are very funny, and pain is very funny. You can just trust that, if you’re working on something, that’s coming from your heart. If you want it to be funny, don’t worry too much about… but maybe you’ll disagree, though, with, like, SNL, and Joe Friday, and things like that. I just come from a place of “Are these people speaking truthfully?”
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