Written by Justin Long, Christian Long and Keir O’Donnell, the indie flick A Case of You tells the story of a young writer named Sam (Justin Long), who has a crush on a cute and quirky barista named Birdie (Evan Rachel Wood). By studying her Facebook profile, he makes himself into the man of her dreams, in order to woo her, but when she falls for his alter ego, he realizes that he needs to tell her the truth, even though he could lose her.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor/screenwriter Justin Long talked about where the idea for this story came from, what their writing process was like, how writing about a subject like this made him rethink the way he communicates with people, and making sure this character never came across like a creepy cyber-stalker. He also talked about shooting the Kevin Smith horror movie Tusk, and writing a TV pilot with his brother, that he expects to also star in. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JUSTIN LONG: My friend, Keir [O’Donnell], and I wrote it with my brother, Christian. Around the same time, we were going through separate break-ups. It was more of a therapeutic exercise to put some of these thoughts down on paper and act out some scenes. My brother, Keir and I have a very similar sense of humor, so we started projecting people we knew in our lives, into this script. Over the course of a couple of months, it would start to take shape. We would meet, every once in awhile. It was just a thing to work on, and it was an excuse to hang out and be creative. It had those unambitious beginnings. We just wanted to see what would happen. And then, we started doing table reads of it and enough people whose opinion we trusted were positive about the script. That’s when we started thinking that we would try to make it. That then became the goal.
People talk about the challenges of having a writing partner, but what is that like when you have a writing trio? Do you work together, or separately?
LONG: We all work together. That’s what took so long. We would wait until we were all in the same place together. Every couple of months, we would spend a few weeks together. Now, my brother and I have assignments, so we don’t have the luxury of just waiting until we’re together. We’ve been working on our own and mailing scenes back and forth, taking different parts. We’ve formulated different ways of working. But with this, it was just when we were together. It took us several years, and several different incarnations. Because it was our first script, there was a certain learning curve that we needed to get over.
When you have actual deadlines and you have people to answer to, does that take the fun out of it for you, or do you work better under a deadline?
LONG: I prefer working under a deadline. I run the risk of getting lazy and I can be complacent, so it just helps. It’s still fun. I like being creative. It’s just a matter of forcing the creativity, a little bit, with a ticking clock. Someone is paying you, so it’s not fun and games.
When you write a movie like this, about this kind of subject, does it make you rethink the way you communicate with people and all the time you spend texting?
LONG: Oh, god, yeah! Another impetus for writing this was that it was a whole new world that was opening up to us. It was uncharted territory, and I think it still kind of is to people. I didn’t have much experience with Facebook or Twitter, at the time, but even just with texting, you can misrepresent yourself. You can misuse that, as a tool. It’s very easy to fall into that trap. I think it can also be beneficial. You can cut through a lot of the bullshit. You can get to the heart of something. You can be more efficient. There are two ways of looking at it. It can also speed up the process, for better or for worse. But, it definitely was a whole new thing that we were dealing with, and we thought it would be interesting to try to examine that in a movie.
This movie really makes a point to say that we really are our own worst enemies when it comes to love and relationships, and if we got out of our own way and our own head, it wouldn’t be so difficult.
LONG: I’m so glad you said that. That was the conflict of the movie. There were a few versions of the script. We’d get notes that say, “You need a clear conflict. You need to introduce an ex-boyfriend, or a new potential love interest.” And every time we did that, it felt like it started veering into the rom-com territory that felt hokey and false. So, we settled on the conflict being within himself. He gets in his own way. He’s his own obstacle. And that’s something that I think is relatable. To the three of us, it definitely was. Sometimes that’s the biggest hurdle, and I think that’s something we hadn’t seen too much of before. Once he’s in the relationship, he continues to get in his own way. They say, “Write what you know,” so I guess we were all working that out, in our own lives.
Did you take anything from the experiences that you’ve had, doing films like this, that you either wanted to apply or avoid while you were writing this?
LONG: Yeah, for sure. I’ve done my share of those romantic comedies, and they’re always better when you’re just committing to a very grounded reality. I always try to do that. I’ve just never had so much say, creatively, in the final product. I don’t know, specifically, what I picked up from movies I’ve done, but I suppose I did. Keir and I did a fair amount of ad-libbing on sets. Sometimes the scripts that we’ve worked on were under-developed, and the studio or the producer would come in and empower us or give us license to keep ad-lipping. We felt like that gave us some screenwriting experience, in a strange, round-about way. It was always something I’d wanted to do.
Even though this guy is something of a cyber-stalker, you somehow manage to still keep him likeable and make him someone that audiences can root for. Did it feel like a balancing act, writing it and shooting it, to keep him from ever crossing the line into creepy?
LONG: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for saying that. I think that was a fear of mine. That’s something that you don’t really know until you see the way it’s all cut together. Certainly, in script form, there’s the danger of that. We had to cut out a lot of stuff, too, that explained where he was coming from and why he was so hell-bent on being in a relationship, which made his actions a little bit more redeeming. So, it was scary. I’m sure there are still going to be some people who say it wasn’t enough, and that he’s creepy. At the end of the day, that comes down to how it’s directed and how it’s acted. I just hope he’s not too weird and unlikeable.
What are you going to be doing next? Are you working on the Kevin Smith movie, Tusk, or are you focusing on writing the TV pilot, The Younger Man, with your brother?
LONG: I’m doing both. We’re writing the pilot and have some deadlines on that, coming up before Kevin’s movie starts. And then, I’m going to go to Charlotte and shoot Kevin’s movie. I can’t wait! It’s a very bizarre horror movie. I don’t even know what to call it. I don’t know what genre it exists in. It’s a strange movie, but I can’t wait to do it. I just saw my walrus suit. Kevin sent me a photo of it. I’m going to be very claustrophobic for a couple of weeks.
Are you looking to star in the TV show?
LONG: Yes, that’s the plan. You just never know how these things will go. They make so many of them. But, that’s what we’re hoping for. We’ve just started writing it, though. It’s a very recent thing, but exciting.
A Case of You is now playing in theaters.