The romantic drama Beautiful Creatures tells the story of 17-year-old Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), whose world is shaken up with the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), the niece of Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons), the reclusive owner of gothic Ravenwood Manor. Immediately drawn to each other, it becomes apparent that Lena is a Caster with powers beyond her control, and the two are faced with a curse that will claim her for either the Light or the Dark on her 16th birthday.
At the film’s press day, writer/director Richard LaGravenese spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how this project came his way, his process for deciding which aspects of the book to keep and which to change or cut, the adjustments he made once the actors were in place, how challenging the visual effects process was in post-production, that he’ll included a behind the scenes feature for the scoring process on the DVD, and the deleted scenes. He also talked about what it was like to see Michael Douglas and Matt Damon bring his script for Behind the Candelabra to life for director Steven Soderbergh and how proud he is of the finished product, along with his desire to do a film version of the off-Broadway musical The Last Five Years, which Anna Kendrick has signed on for. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
RICHARD LaGRAVENESE: I took my time thinking about it because I was worried about perception. I was worried that, no matter how hard I worked on it to make it original, it would be perceived as some kind of copycat project. So, that was my hesitation. But then, I said, “Screw it! I really love the story and I’ll do the best that I can to make people see that it’s something different.”
When you’re adapting something, how do you approach what you want to keep and what you feel like you can change?
LaGRAVENESE: What I do usually is read the book first, for pleasure, to see if my brain starts connecting with it, as a movie. And then, if I say yes, I read it again, only this time I take a pen and, inside the book, I say, “Okay, this is a scene. I don’t need this. I’m going to try this. I’m not going to take this.” And then, I use that book like a bible and each chapter heading, I write a menu of what’s in that chapter, in case I ever need to reference it. And then, I start to outline and write it. I get in there and it starts to evolve, based on having re-read it again. On this book, I had to read it a third time because my cognitive absorption of all the different witches, rules, curses and spells wasn’t fully working with all of the stuff that was in there. So, it took me awhile and, at one point, I put it down and stepped away from it for a few months to clear my head. The earliest drafts were true straight adaptations of the book. Everything that was in the book was in the movie. And for me, I didn’t have any room to feel something for character. There were just too many events that I was cramming together. That’s when I wanted to start to strip it away. The core of it is the human element of the two characters, and that’s what I wanted to focus on.
What did you end up stripping away, and how did that make things click for you?
LaGRAVENESE: Well, I stripped away the exposition. The movie doesn’t start until he knows she’s a Caster, so how long do I take until I get to that point. And I had to make it believable, so that he gets caught up in events that lead to him knowing who she is. I decided what was important to me, thematically. I loved the idea of the Claiming, which was a really important idea, and that was inside this Romeo & Juliet story. So, I used the Romeo & Juliet story as the spine, and then I used the Claiming as the time clock for moving the story forward. And then, their relationship and any obstacles to their relationship, I kept. Anything that was excess, I stripped away.
LaGRAVENESE: I tend to believe, when you’re in a relationship, if you don’t fight, it’s not a real relationship. You have to have arguments and tensions, otherwise I don’t believe it. My mother always said, “If you don’t fight, you can’t have a marriage. You have to fight for each other. If you don’t know how to fight, relationships tend not to last.”
Did you make any adjustments, once you had all these actors in place?
LaGRAVENESE: Yeah. I don’t know if it was in the book or in my first draft because I don’t remember anymore, but I had it in my first draft that he kisses her and a lightning bolt happens, and she says, “I’m sorry, that was my first kiss.” But, when I cast Alice [Englert], there was a worldliness that she brought to the part. I thought, “This is not her first kiss. She’s been through experiences before and heartbreak before.” That was more interesting. So, I took away that idea because of Alice. The actors each brought something to it. It wasn’t as childlike and naive as I had originally thought.
Some of these characters could have easily gotten too big and melodramatic. Did you give the actors any kind of limit, in that regard?
LaGRAVENESE: Yeah. Emma [Thompson] came in, and she started out as a comedienne. Her goal was to be Lily Tomlin. She had this wonderful broad character to play with, but when we got it on set, we both discussed how it was about finding the reality of Mrs. Lincoln and Sarafine, and how that was the way to go. Once she got that tone, she was dead on target.
With so many layers to this story and mythology, and so many different effects that you had to do, was there one aspect that was most challenging?
LaGRAVENESE: The visual effects process in post was a strange one for me because you have to edit out of sequence . As soon as you’re finished shooting, you have to go into the edit room and choose all of the shots that you’re going to commit to because the visual effects vendor has to get it because they’ll spend months on it. So, you’re editing out of sequence before you’ve gotten a film for the movie and the performances. And then, throughout the process, as visual effects are coming back in and going out, you’re actually editing the film, only seeing it with one eye. It wasn’t until the last two weeks that I was color timing and sound mixing, and visual effects were still coming in. So, I hadn’t actually watched the whole movie until it was done. That was a strange experience, partly because of our schedule.
LaGRAVENESE: I would be prepared, in a completely different way. I was being guided by great people, but they still all look to you for the images and the guidance. I was just feeling my way around. It was a whole new world for me, so I had great people around me who helped me a great deal. But, I would plan it in a completely different way now.
With everything that went into it, will you have any behind the scenes effects features on the DVD?
LaGRAVENESE: Gee, I didn’t think about that. I don’t know if we can now. We had some really tough times that I’d rather not go into because I would be saying something derogatory about a certain company and I don’t want to do that, but it was really difficult. The good parts would have been great to put on film, but we don’t have them on film. We were scrambling. It was tough. The stuff that we did put on film was the music. We have footage of us scoring the movie that will be on the DVD. That was a great experience with thenewno2, who had never done a soundtrack for a movie before, but they’re incredible musicians. thenewno2 is Dhani Harrison, George Harrison’s son; Paul Hicks, the son of Tony Hicks, who was from the band called The Hollies; and Jonathan Sadoff, who is a composer and musician. He was the only one of the three of them who had scored an indie film, but as a band the three of them had never done a movie before. Paul Hicks is the only guy The Beatles will allow to arrange, mix and engineer their music, so he did the Cirque du Soleil Love show. They’re just extraordinary talents, all three of them, and they loved the movie and the ideas. They were so excited! I wanted an original sound that I hadn’t heard before, so they came up with things like swamp-tronica and some really cool stuff. They used really interesting instruments to delineate certain character, and they gave me a love melody, which I wanted, very much. There’s a classic quality to that, that I like. When the score is constantly amorphous, I find, as an audience member, that I can’t hang onto anything or hook my heart on anything. So, we recorded the score at Abbey Road, in Studio 2 where The Beatles did all there stuff, and it was a really special experience. We do have video on that.
Are there many deleted scenes?
LaGRAVENESE: There are a few sequences. Everyone got something deleted. Emma [Thompson] had a scene deleted. Zoey [Deutch] had a really nice scene with Alden [Ehrenreich] that I had to delete. Emmy Rossum also had a scene. But, the movie takes on a life of its own, at some point, and starts to tell you what it needs and what it is, and you have to serve it.
You also wrote Behind the Candelabra, about the tempestuous relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover. What was it like to see Michael Douglas and Matt Damon bring those characters to life?
LaGRAVENESE: I’m very proud of that. I wrote it in 2008 for [Steven] Soderbergh, and Matt and Michael were committed immediately. They stayed committed for four years, and they never wavered, even when financing wasn’t happening and scheduling didn’t work. It was really amazing that these two actors were so committed to this, through Michael’s cancer treatments. And then, I got to see what they did and the courage of these actors, throwing themselves into the roles the way that they did. It’s not parody. They found the emotional core of it. I really believed there was a love between these two. If you don’t have that, then it becomes camp, and it’s not, at all. They really believed that this was a marriage. It was the disillusion of a love affair and a marriage, that can happen to anyone. I’m very proud of their performances, and of the piece itself. They really went for it. I think they’re both extraordinary.
Do you have any idea what you’ll be writing or directing next?
LaGRAVENESE: No. I have a little indie film that I’m trying to put together, which is a musical. It’s all sung, so it’s already written. It’s called The Last Five Years, which was an off-Broadway musical a few years ago, and it’s actually going to be off-Broadway again in April. It’s just with two characters and it’s all sung, about a young man and young woman in their 20’s who meet, fall in love, get married and break up, all in the span of five years. All of her songs start at the end of their relationship and go to the beginning, and all of his songs start at the beginning and go to the end. So, in the end when she’s saying goodbye to their first date, he’s saying goodbye to their marriage. And in the beginning, she’s getting the letter saying they’ve broken up, and then the next song is five years earlier and he’s just made love to her and he’s never loved anybody more. It goes back and forth like that. It’s not sung dialogue. They’re songs, and each one has a monologue that tells the story. It’s a great little piece . I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s something I want to try. Anna Kendrick is attached to play the girl, and I’m looking for the guy now. [Redacted] So, we’ll see.
You shot Beautiful Creatures on film and you’ll shoot that on digital. Do you have a preference for one over the other?
LaGRAVENESE: I’ve never shot on digital before, so that will be my first time. I’ve always shot on film, but the times are changing. My post-production supervisor just told me that, as of next year, Technicolor is not even going to make film anymore. And the studio is only making 500 prints out of over 2,000. So, what are you going to do? It’s the end of an era.
Beautiful Creatures is now in theaters.