Michael Lehmann Interviewed – ‘Because I Said So’

     January 31, 2007

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I loved the movie Hudson Hawk. When it first came out the film had all this buzz as it was supposed to be this huge summer blockbuster. If you are a student of film history you know that Hawk was not well received – in fact, it bombed pretty heavily. But I still loved it. And all this time I have held onto my belief that the film was better than the audience gave it credit for.

Where am I going with this story?

A new movie is coming out this Friday and it happens to be directed by Michael Lehmann, the director of Hudson Hawk. So while I was happy to attend the press conference and write about Because I Said So, I’ll admit I had an ulterior motive.

And if you read the transcript below or listen to the interview – which you can do here – you’ll see I was not the only one who was interested in Hudson Hawk and asking some questions.

Back to Because I Said So. The film is about the relationship between a mother and her three daughters. Of course nothing is simple in this family as Diane Keaton is an OCD mom. She constantly obsesses over everything little thing and is especially out of control with her youngest daughter – who is played by Mandy Moore. Unlike her older sisters, Mandy’s character is still single and searching for love.

Enter the OCD mom.

She takes out a newspaper add to meet perspective suitors and then interviews them like it’s for a job. That one example sums up pretty clearly how she acts and what she is willing to do for her family.

The film follows the typical chick flick movie rules so you know what you’re going to get prior to walking into the theatre. But to help me judge the film, I took a girl and she enjoyed it. I will say Diane Keaton was great as the obsessive mom and Mandy Moore continues to prove she is more than just a pretty face.

Without wasting anymore time here is the press conference with Michael Lehmann. Also I’ll be posting transcripts of the press conferences with Diane Keaton, Mandy Moore and Lauren Graham.

Because I Said So arrives in theaters February 2nd.

Question: Good afternoon.

Michael Lehmann: Good afternoon.

Michael, every time I see Bruce Willis I tell him how much I love Hudson Hawk.

And what does he say?

He says thank you and it’s in profit now.

Oh, good. He likes to say that. Bruce has always liked to say that because the movie was so hated when it came out. I get it now fairly regularly from people. Mostly from people on movie crews who come up to me and say “You directed Hudson Hawk” and I go “yes, yes, yes” and they go “Oh I loved that movie”, but….

The romantic comedies that are very common formula in Hollywood now, what do you think sets this one apart and why were you attracted to such a female center of the story?

It certainly is a very female centered story and it is…I think 2 things set it apart for me, 2 or 3 things. First of all in addition to being a fairly conventional romantic comedy it’s also a mother-daughter story. And I think the mother-daughter story has equal weight with the romance and feeds the romance and makes for a much different balance than you get in most romantic comedies. I was immediately drawn to that. And I felt that was the strength of the idea of the movie and the strength of the characters that were written. The other thing that appealed to me was the idea of working with Diane who is terrific and brings something to it that helps quite a bit and to work with her in finding the balance between a good strong emotional story mother-daughter emotional story and some romantic comedy that also delves with the character who was older than your typical center of a romantic comedy. I guess I’ll back up and say the mother-daughter story was part of it. The strength of the romantic comedy itself in the conventional way and also the fact that in addition to the Mandy Moore, Gabriel Macht, Tom Scott story there was the Diane Keaton and Steven Collins story which balance that out. I have to tell you when I first read the script I thought I woman should direct this movie. It’s a very much a woman’s movie. It’s about how women relate to one other. It’s about mothers and daughters and girls and at first I thought I’m probably not the guy to do this but…

What changed your mind?

Well, I had a really good meeting with Jessie Nelson who’s the producer and we talked about it and also I’ve always felt that as a director in my work, I’ve done movies that are sophomorically masculine. I’ve done movies that have mostly feminine characters and elements and I think that both “Heathers” and “Truth About Cats and Dogs” are in their own weird ways they’re different ends of the girl movie spectrum but they’re very much centered around the female characters and I like those movies and I like working with good actresses. I rally like getting inside the heads of female characters. I think I can do that well and I enjoy it. Jessie and I talked and I thought about what this movie was about and what it had to offer and where I could take it and it got me very interested.

Comedies like this always have great DVD features with lots of extras. I’m wondering what kinds of extra stuff that we haven’t seen yet that we can look forward to?

Oh, that’s a good question. I’ll have to think about that. We did a lot of physical stuff with Diane that was really funny and really good but I found as the movie was cut together that you can only take so much of that because at a certain point it starts to throw the balance off from the more emotional elements. This isn’t a movie that is flat out kind of silly physical comedy, but there’s some really good bits that Diane did that either got trimmed way down or taken out because I felt that they didn’t really help the balance of the emotional elements of the movie which are ultimately as important as any comedy, so, maybe that.

How did the cast come together on this film? Who was the first one involved and how involved were you in the casting of the film?

It’s interesting because directors—you’re always involved in the casting of the range of parts in the movie but sometimes you get involved in a film and the stars are already there and you read the script and you say “oh ok, I can do the movie with these people, that’s fine” In this case, the script was brought to me first with the idea that Diane Keaton was interested and might do the film. So I read the script with her in mind and that was helpful. I felt like “ok, good this is a great role for Diane if she wants to do this, there’s a lot she can do with it and it would be fun to work it out with her”. She was not fully and absolutely committed to the film. She was sort of loosely attached. When I said I was interested in doing it after meeting with Jessie I sat down with Diane whom I knew a little bit but not very well. We had a really long good conversation in which she basically read me page upon page of notes which really impressed me. I thought it was great. This was a movie she hadn’t agreed to do yet but she was taking it seriously enough to look at it and say “I like this, I don’t like that, I don’t understand this, how would we do that” and so I felt at the end of that meeting I thought either she will not want to work with me and I can walk away or she’ll not want to do the movie and I’ll have to decide if I want to do it with somebody else, or we’ll move ahead. And pretty much we moved ahead. So she was the first one attached which was good. It made it easier to think about who we could cast around her.

The most interesting choice was that in the very original conception of the movie, the idea was the Millie the daughter was actually the eldest daughter. There was a possibly to take this movie and have it be about a single mother of three daughters. The eldest of whom had never gotten her life together. That makes a lot of sense. But there are not very many actresses that can pull that off and whom I think you’d really want to see involved in a romance and a set of issues with her mother. There’s not many 40 year old actresses you’d want to see that with. So we looked around and we thought about that and as we went though the casting process and thinking about who could be in the movie, Jessie and I both decided we should younger as well because the movie would work quite well with it being the youngest daughter. Mandy Moore came in to read and I said Ok, sure. I think she’s good. I always liked what I’ve seen of her. I wasn’t all that familiar with her wok. I’d seen Saved and I thought she was terrific in that and I’d seen her sing on TV and I knew that my kids knew who she was and I said let’s see what she does. She came in and she gave a really, really good reading. That to me ….it’s a very gratifying thing as a director when you sit in a room and an actress comes in or an actor comes in and does the role, does the scenes that you have them read and you realize oh, this person can inhabit this role and do something great with it. Mandy was the 2nd person to be cast. Then we went from there and went though it all. Readings…we read everybody or met with everybody and that was that.

Did you have people read together?

I don’t think we did. Sometimes you do that. I think we felt that Mandy’s reading was so strong and it was so clear what she could with the character that I talked to Diane about it. I said “Mandy Moore came in and read. She was very good. Do you know her work? Are you interested?” And she did know Mandy’s work and she was interested. She felt comfortable with that. I think maybe at one point we thought should we bring people in the room together but we didn’t. And the guys….I felt so strongly that those 2 guys were the best people to play those roles of the people we saw. There was no question. It wasn’t like oh, is the chemistry going to work? It was pretty clear it was going to work well.

What kind of specific input did Diane give you when you…you said she gave you lots of notes about this. But what was it specifically? Was it just about how to make her character funny without seeming completely crazy or making it more crazy? What was her input into that aspect?

It was all sorts of things. She was very specific in her notes. It’s a great thing when an actor would do that. She’d go scene by scene and say “I don’t think my character would say this line. Does it have to be done this way? Wouldn’t it be funnier if? I don’t feel comfortable with that. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t do this. I don’t feel like my character would do this” These are all just openings for discussion. She was not “I absolutely won’t do this. My character wouldn’t do that. Take it out” It was “do you think this really makes sense? Is this the best way to go?” A lot of it had to do with….and this was a really fascinating part of the process. She knew that she needed to play a character that was domineering, who was overbearing, who was controlling, who had certain images of what her daughter should and shouldn’t be. But she didn’t want to be absolutely unreasonable abut it. She wanted to make sure there was logic to what she did and how she treated her daughters and she didn’t want to violate certain things that she felt that were appropriate for this character to do or not. She didn’t want to break things to make a joke, which I’m always in favor of. I think you make better jokes when you don’t break logic for the joke unless you make a movie just about jokes.

I have a couple of questions about the physical comedy. First, logistically what’s involved with getting a balloon to cooperate with you and secondly Mandy said the snort laugh was based on Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and I was thinking Suzanne Somers in Three’s Company.

The funny thing is….her character was written as having this laugh…..this snorty laugh. Let’s make sure it isn’t what Sandra Bullock did in Miss Congeniality. Which I thought was really good by the way and really memorable. The challenge was how can we find for Mandy her own kind of snorty laugh. It took quite a bit of work. She had fun playing around. It was kind of funny to see her go from feeling like “I don’t really know how to do this and I don’t know what to do” then letting loose with all kinds of bizarre kinds of laughter. The balloon was a huge pain in the ass so to speak. It worked so much better that I thought it would. The trick is super simple. First I thought we’d need to CGI a balloon in and we’re going to have to do all sorts of fancy stuff. But for the most part it was a piece of monofilament pulling through her dress. There’s a guy hidden out of frame tugging this balloon at the right time, the right way, the right place, a wind machine and all that sort of stuff. Those things can take hours and hours and we did ok. We did ok. We got stuff fairly quickly.

That kind of ties in with my question. How did you use costume design to support the comedy in the film especially the outfits that Diane was wearing.

Yeah, and that’s also an area where Diane had a lot of input and a lot of good input. She has her own sense of style and fashion. Shay Conliff, the costume designer, came in what a concept and talked to us and talked to me and Jessie first. We went though a lot of choices and looked at a lot of photographs and that sort of thing and we narrowed it down. Somewhere in the next ….I think it was shay who came up with idea of these kind of 1950’s big dresses which Diane….I can’t remember if she immediately embraced it or whether it took her a little while, because she was really involved. She came in and she looked at a lot of choices. She’d say yes, no, I don’t like this I don’t like that. She did embrace this sort of 50’s mom look. We all thought it was funny and we all thought it was kind of an odd way to portray a contemporary mother. The costumers are not retro but they’re retro-feeling I guess. So that was something we had a lot of fun with.

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As a director how do you approach the different genres that you’re working on? Do you approach them differently?

You have to. It’s funny as a director, there are movies you make because you’re passionate about getting your vision across and you know that you’re vision is different than anybody else. In those cases, you take the plunge and it works or it doesn’t. You make the stylistic choices based on how you feel about the material. A movie like “Because I Said So” which in many ways and I’m very passionate about it is a romantic comedy. The people who go to see it want to see a romantic comedy that delivers to them the kind of story that they expect. For me as a director , I look at it and say “alright, how do I manage and satisfy people who’s expectations need to be fulfilled and at the same time bring my own personality to it without having my personality destroy what the movie needs to be. Does that make any sense? And certainly in terms of director style, choice of camera angels, how its shot, I feel like this is anytime I do my work, I try to make choices that are appropriate to the material, so it’s very, very tricky. Most people don’t realize this but when you do a romantic comedy you’re most likely going to be doing incredibly complex camera moves and radical angels and fast cuts and that sort of thing. It’s almost as if those things are libel to destroy the balance of comedy and emotion that’s necessary in this movie. I look to choose ways to shoot that support the material.

There’s been rumors about a possible “Heathers” sequel. I know Daniel Waters is doing something else right now but what are your thoughts on that possibly?

I never really thought as a realistic possibility. It’s something Wynona talked about for years. She’s always wanted to do it and Dan and I kind of chuckle and say “well what would that really be. How can you make a sequel to a movie like that”? There was a point at which we all talked abut setting it in Washington DC. This was a while ago because we felt that that’s a territory where people like that thrive. Wynona’s in Dan’s movie and so I’ve seen footage of it, I haven’t seen the cut yet. I read the script. It’s a really interesting piece. It should be really good. That may revive interest in it, but I always feel like where do you go? Just because a movie is good or people like it means you need to make a sequel to it.

Do you think the mother-daughter relationship in this movie relates to mother-son relationship in your life in any way?

In some ways. You know I have a very strong mother that’s for sure. She has a lot of ideas. I get along really well with her and we’re really close. I have 2 sisters, I had 2 sisters, one isn’t alive anymore but there was the dynamic in my house with the mother-daughter stuff was I think more relevant than the mother-son relationship I experienced. But I definitely know what it’s like to have a mother who has a really strong point of view.

Was the laryngitis scene already in there or did Diane come down with it beforehand? It sounded real. To me it sounded like when she was loosing her voice, it sounded like she was really loosing her voice and the second thing I wanted to ask you, how difficult was it to get the girls to sing?

The laryngitis scene was in the script. It was always in the script and I always thought it was probably the most interesting and strongest part of the movie, really something that….if it were done right the movie would benefit from it in a big way. What Diane did which was interesting and kind of fun to watch was when we shot the scene where the girls all sing together at her birthday party and Diane blew her voice out. She did it deliberately and she did it starting the day before, I think, and we had to shoot in way to get everything done before she blew her voice out because it was going to go. Then she did and you know it was kind of the only way to do it, so that was all planned by her and sort of carefully meaded out in the shooting of that scene. We had pre-recorded the girls singing for that scene and they’re all good singers, the pre-record was great. It was really good, but my feeling was I don’t really want to use the pre-record it’s there just in case we need to bolster something and the technicalities of cutting together something where people sing. It always helps to have something for them to play to. Right now it’s their voices singing live. I think probably, if not 100% maybe 95%, so Diane in the singing is already starting….we shot the scene where she looses her voice after that but she was already starting to blow it out so you can hear it in the singing there. Was there one more part of your question?

Were they all game for the singing?

They were all game to do the singing. It was always conceived as part of what the family does. So, I think it was one of the attractive elements of Mandy Moore coming in because we knew she could sing well and we knew that would work. Diane likes to sing. Going back to the questions of outtakes, Diane did sing a very beautiful version of the song “Little Girl Blue” which was originally going to be part of the movie and it was just a little but too lugubrious and didn’t quite fit in. We have her singing that and she did a great job. She really wanted to sing.

Wasn’t there supposed to be a special edition of Hudson Hawk coming out on DVD?

Nobody ever tells me about this stuff. You know I did the directors commentary for Hudson Hawk. They called me and they said do you want to do the commentary and I said well is Bruce going to do it? Is Joel Silver going to do it? And they said no and so I ok I’ll do. So I flew down to LA and they put me in a room and I hadn’t even seen the movie in 2 years and just talked. It’s impossible for me to gauge whether there’s any interest in that movie.

It was on the schedule for July and then it disappeared. They had specs for it and everything.

Who knows? I’d love to see a special edition of that. Does that movie even have a life?

I wanted to do a follow up on Hudson Hawk and basically say that the interesting thing was I was in Florence staying in a hostel and that movie was on every night in the TV room and that’s all anyone watched.

Really?

I think the movie suffered when it first came out from this hype and to be honest it was really bashed and now it seems like it’s really come alive with fans and people really seem to appreciate it and what’s your take on all that?

It’s interesting. The release of that movie was really painful for me. I was a young filmmaker. I had done Heathers and I chose to do Hudson Hawk because I thought I could really take that what the action adventure genre was and completely fuck with it and that was the idea. We just got punished, we got punished brutally. It almost completely ruined my career as a director and I had to kind of walk around for a couple of years with my head down and suffer basically a certain kind of humiliation which I said “we tried and we did this” I have no perspective on that movie. There was a lot of work that went into it and a lot of stuff that Dan Waters and I really wanted to put in there that made it through I’m really happy when people tell me “oh I like the movie or the movie has life” and I go “oh good” because it never got what it deserved when it came out that’s for sure.

People have realized how you were messing with the genre there?

They didn’t know that at the time.

No they absolutely didn’t. It was supposed to be Die Hard 3. They tried to sell it as that.

It shocked me that people looked at the movie and said “gee it’s like an incompetent version of what we expected” I go “no that’s what we wanted to do”.

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