From first-time writer-director Josh Boone, Stuck in Love is a romantic dramedy about a dysfunctional family of writers who have nearly lost the plot of their own love stories. Veteran novelist Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear) can’t stop obsessing over his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly), who left him for another man. His daughter Samantha (Lily Collins) is publishing her first novel but wants to run at the thought of first love with a diehard romantic (Logan Lerman), having seen what her parents have gone through. And then, there’s his teen son Rusty (Nat Wolff), who is trying to find his voice as a fantasy writer while pursuing the girl of his dreams (Liana Liberato).
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Josh Boone talked about how this film came about, the bumps along the way, just how autobiographical the story is, what it was like to work with and direct this cast, getting Stephen King involved with the film, and the importance of music playlists for his actors. He also talked about how excited he is to go into production on his next film, The Fault in Our Stars, with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
JOSH BOONE: It started when I was eight. My buddies and I started making movies on home video, so we were a lot like those kids in Super 8. We were literally movie-obsessed, growing up. I had a laser disc player and was obsessed with audio commentaries. I watched every movie that I could possibly watch. I was writing scripts, even back then, and just tried to learn how to tell a story. And then, I moved out to L.A. in my early 20’s and spent 10 years pushing a snowball up a hill. I had a lot of projects almost happen, and then fall apart. I had Mark Ruffalo attached to something I had written, and I had David Duchovny attached to another thing I had written. It was like trial and error. I had to try to figure out how to get a movie made. And what I finally realized was, “How can I ever sit in a room and make the case that I’m the best person to direct a sci-fi movie or a horror movie?” I felt like, if I wrote something really personal where I could tell personal stories to actors and people I was trying to get to invest in the movie, then at least I could make the case that I was the best guy to tell that particular story. It just took me 10 years to figure that out.
Whenever you make an indie film, there are always some bumps along the way. What would you say the biggest bumps were, in getting this movie made, and did you have any moments where you wondered if it would actually ever happen?
BOONE: I always say that there are probably way more talented filmmakers who fell by the wayside or just gave up, before they were able to actually make a film. Talent is half of it, but perseverance is the other half. It’s really hard, whether you’re writing books or trying to make movies. You just have to be thick-skinned. It’s rejection, rejection, rejection, and you just keep saying, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. I’m not going to listen to you.” I was just hard-headed. When I was young and I started watching movies, and even coming out to L.A., I was so naive and that naivete helped me, in some ways, because I believed that a dream could actually come true and a lot of people probably don’t believe that.
Did it feel like, once the ball started rolling with this, that everything came together fairly easily?
BOONE: Once Judy Cairo was on board, we were shooting a year later. I had written this script maybe a year before I brought it to her, and I was with a small agency in L.A. People liked the script, but they couldn’t get anybody to say they’d make the movie with me because who was I? I just got so frustrated, after about a year, that I started writing letters to every single producer I could think of, who had worked with a first-time director before. Judy had made Crazy Heart with Scott Cooper, and I knew that he hadn’t made a film before that. I just begged her to read it, and within a couple of weeks, she brought the script to CAA and they started putting me in rooms with actors. I was just really, really, really lucky. It could have gone the other way. I just finally found the right person to take a chance on me and put some money into something I wanted to try to do.
So, how much of Stuck in Love was actually autobiographical?
BOONE: A lot of it was autobiographical. That relationship between Nat Wolff and Liana Liberato was very much based on a girlfriend I had in high school, and Nat is very much an alter-ego. He’s a more handsome, cooler alter-ego, but he was very much playing me. I just tried to take things that I wanted to talk about, from my life when I was younger, and just hang them on that family of writers to see if I could tell that story.
When you’re writing a movie that is largely autobiographical, how did you decide which parts you wanted to include that really happened, and which parts you wanted to change, to give your own outcome to?
BOONE: I don’t know. It happened in an organic way. I didn’t think that much about it. It just happened naturally. My process is always that I write a lot of notes for months and months and months, until I feel like I’ve reached a saturation point. When I was growing up, Spike Lee would release these books for his movies. Half of it was the journal that he kept while he was figuring out the script, and the other half was the script. Because of that, I’ve just always written notes. I write notes, every day, until I feel like I have enough material for a movie.
You have such a great cast of award winners and up-and-comers. What was it like to get this cast together? Was it just totally surreal, every time someone else signed on?
BOONE: It still feels surreal, right now. I’m making a movie for Fox, and I was on the Fox lot recently, just looking around. If 15-year-old me knew, we’d just high-five each other, so much. Jennifer [Connelly] is an actress I’ve loved, since I was really young. She was my favorite actress. I just loved her, and I never thought I would get her in this movie. In the original draft of the script, her character never goes to the book party, never has that altercation with Lily [Collins] there, and never is with Greg [Kinnear] when they go to get Liana [Liberato] out of that apartment. Jennifer basically said, “I love this movie and I love these characters, and I think she needs to be there, in that last act.” I can’t even imagine the movie without that now. It wouldn’t even make sense. She brought that to the table, and I did a rewrite for her and brought her on board. Greg and her are so experienced that they were really helpful, in that way. And then, the kids helped make it emotionally honest.
How did you stay calm and collected, throughout the shoot? Did you feel like you were hiding your nerves, or did you take to working with actors pretty naturally?
BOONE: I think it’s just growing up making movies that makes me comfortable doing that. We all acted in our own movies, when we were kids. Not well, but we had some idea of what that was like. I guess the first day, I was a little nervous. But, we shot the film in 20 days, which is a very tight schedule. We shot five to seven pages a day, and I think on a normal movie it’s more like two-and-a-half to three. We had 20 camera set-ups a day, and with each set-up, we could only do two or three takes. We just didn’t have time for any more. So, this cast being as good as they are was really the only way to make the movie on a schedule like that. We needed experienced actors who knew what they were doing, in order to get it done in that short of a period of time.
Did that also make it easier to edit and put this film together?
BOONE: There wasn’t a lot of deleted material. There were really only two scenes that we cut out of the movie. We were on a 20-day schedule and before I even got on set, I already chopped the script pretty significantly, just to be able to make our days and get it done. So, the editing process was good. Music was the biggest thing. When I was writing the script, a lot of the songs that are in the movie, I had in the script. I’ve just always done that ‘cause I love Cameron Crowe movies and he was a role model to me. Bright Eyes has been one of my favorite bands for years, and I got them to come and do the score. Conor [Oberst] gave us an original song, and Bon Iver gave us an original song. I was really lucky. The stars just aligned. The shoot went really smoothly. I got Stephen King in the movie, who’s my childhood idol. I got everything that I asked for. I really did.
How did you get Stephen King involved with the film?
BOONE: The short of it is that my parents were born-again Baptists and I wasn’t allowed to read Stephen King. I had to rip the covers off of Christian books and glue them to Stephen King books, so that I could read them. I remember reading The Stand under my bed when I was 12, and I hid the book in the box springs under my bed, and my mom found it and burned it in the fireplace. I wrote him a letter when I was 12, just to tell him how much I loved his books and how much I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and that he was my idol. I sent him a couple books, hoping that he’d sign them. I came home from school one day and my dad said, “There’s a box here from Stephen King.” He had written me this beautiful letter in the front covers of each of the books. My parents were just so moved by the generosity, that he was willing to take the time to do that, that they lifted the Stephen King ban. So, to be able to go back to him, all these years later, and just hug him and thank him so much for being such a big part of my childhood, meant so much to me. To have him be part of the movie meant so much. I was just trying to honor him and what he meant to me, when I was that age.
Why do you like to make personalized playlists for your actors?
BOONE: I think the biggest thing with music is that it’s a way to make sure everybody is in the same world, tonally, when they’re in a scene. Playing music is just the most direct way to get across the emotion that you want with the actors, so that they know how a scene is going to feel. I just loaded them up with as much music as I could, that I thought felt like their characters. Music was key. If it’s tonally consistent, it’s because of that. I worked at a record store for years and ran a music review website. I’m really, really into music, so I have a vast iTunes library to cherry pick from. We were just lucky enough to get to use those songs. We couldn’t afford them. People gave them to us for almost nothing.
What is it that’s always drawn you to these complex family stories, and why decide to steer clear of the cynicism that often comes with them?
BOONE: I love Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and The Whale, but I just remember thinking that I wouldn’t watch it again because it was too painful. I love Cameron Crowe movies, and really wanted to write something earnest and make something sincere. I knew I was taking a risk with the ending, but I really wanted them to be together. I was like, “I’m just gonna do it!”
Now that you’re set to start production on The Fault in Our Stars, are you getting more excited or nervous about shooting that?
BOONE: I can’t wait! That’s the fun part. Writing, for me, is the part that I dread. I really enjoy the process where you dream up the script. When I actually get in the room and have to write, I just want to get the hell out of that room. I go every day and try to write my way out of that room, so that I can go work with the actors. The part that’s fun is going and hanging out with everybody, and making a movie.
Audiences are getting more and more familiar with Shailene Woodley and what she’s capable of, as an actress. But, what was it about her that caught your attention and made you want her for the film?
BOONE: She was the first person that made me cry. I’d seen so many girls, and I was just really moved. I knew within maybe a minute and a half, after she started doing it. I had met her and had a dinner with her, and she was the nicest, most outgoing, coolest person, but I was like, “She doesn’t really seem like Hazel.” But then, she came in and she was Hazel. She was a completely different person, with the physicality and everything. It was pretty amazing to see. I was just blown away by her.
BOONE: That was really challenging, and that involved a lot of chemistry reads between her and a lot of different guys to find the right combo that really felt like it worked.
What do you feel most excited about, in getting to bring that story to the screen for people?
BOONE: I’m bringing a lot of music to the table. When I went to Fox to pitch my take on the movie, I brought a lot of music and a lot of song cues for specific moments, and I brought a lot of photographs in from photographers that I really like, that I thought captured the tone of the piece. I just love all of it. I told Scott [Neustadter] and Michael [Weber], who wrote the script and wrote 500 Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now that Shailene is in, that they did the hard part for me. I get to go do the fun part.
Stuck in Love is now playing in theaters.