Currently playing in limited release is director Sam Mendes “Away We Go”. The movie stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph and it’s unlike anything Sam Mendes has ever done as the film is part road trip/part trying to figure out who you are.
In the film, John and Maya play a couple that discovers they’re going to have a baby. After deciding to live in an area close to John’s parents so they can help take care of the child, they’re all of a sudden told his parents are moving away and their only reason for staying is gone. After processing the news, they decide to go on an ambitious trip to visit friends and family to try and decide where they want to raise their child. Along the way, they meet some very eccentric characters who each have their own ideas about where they should live and how they should raise a family.
While I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, “Away We Go” has everything going for it – including a great and original script by novelists Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida.
So to help promote the film, I was able to talk with the two writers and our conversation is after the jump. They talked about where they got their inspiration, how much were the characters based on real people, their writing process and a lot more. If you’re a fan of these writers, you will love the interview.
Collider: How are you both doing this morning?
DAVE EGGERS & VENDELA VIDA: Good, how are you?
EGGERS: Sorry we’re a little late.
Oh please. It doesn’t matter. You’re lucky you guys made a good movie.
EGGERS: Oh thank you.
So I guess the first thing we should start off is every time I do a phoner with anybody—have you guys ever seen the movie “Shaun of the Dead”?
EGGERS: Oh of course.
Have you seen the DVD and some of the extras that they did?
EGGERS: I think so.
There’s an extra where the 3 of them are basically in underwear sort of making fun of each other as they’re doing phone interviews.
EGGERS: (laughter) That’s great. I mean, is that real footage?
It’s totally real. It might have been “Hot Fuzz” but it’s just the point that after they’ve been doing phoners for so many hours it’s like they’re losing their minds.
EGGERS: Yeah. You know I’ve got to see that. I haven’t seen that. I’ll watch every extra on any DVD, so I must have just…I mean I saw the movie in the theatre so I guess I haven’t seen the DVD.
Well, every time I do a phoner I just imagine the people I’m talking with are just acting crazy.
EGGERS: It’s a little too early for us. We haven’t gotten that slap-happy yet but I’m sure it’ll happen.
So I might as well jump in onto why we’re actually talking on the phone. So congratulations on the movie. I really loved it and I especially loved your guys’ script. I see a lot of movies and right from the beginning that opening scene I’m like “Yeah, I’m in. This is great.”
EGGERS: We were too, you know? Like when we saw the movie kind of as you did because we hadn’t been involved in the production so much. I mean we weren’t on location and so when we saw it…
VIDA: We have 2 small kids. We couldn’t go around locations with the film crew. We also were really happy just to trust Sam with the script and let him do what he wanted to do and that resulted in actually really pleasurable experience for us and we got to see it, I think last October, much the way you recently saw it just as an audience and getting to see it for the first time and see what the actors and Sam and everyone brought to the film.
EGGERS: Well, we didn’t know the music even that he was going to use and then Alex Murdoch’s music starts while they’re driving and we were just like…I think you could hear us both gasp like “Oh my God! This is so much more beautiful than what we could have even imagined,” because Sam sort of made a tone poem out of what, you know, you could have taken that script a different direction, but he made something so much more real and beautiful out of it with Ellen Kuras and Jess Gonchor and I don’t know. Yeah, we had the same experience where we thought “Okay, we’re in,” and we sort of watched it as kind of as almost detached like we were just film-goers because he had sort of taken it so far and made something wholly new and better out of it.
VIDA: What I love about the first scene was just John Krasinski’s mismatched socks. He’s wearing white and one sock has a blue stripe and the other has a green stripe. And then also the small detail, there’s like a shawl or a scarf that’s been draped over the bedside lamp and I really loved that. I thought “Wow, they really got this so realistic,” and you could just see this couple’s life and they’re in a sad house and all that was a surprise to us.
EGGERS: We wanted it to be real and we had talked about Hal Ashby a lot, and that he was kind of our inspiration. And then at the same time we thought of like “Sideways” and how Alexander Payne sort of picked up that mantle a little bit and the homes there were real homes that real people lived in and the hotels weren’t so…people weren’t all living in Pottery Barn-homes and hotels. And then when we saw that house that Sam found and filmed in Verona we knew that they were living in…we wanted them to live in a regular place and sort of maybe a little bit ramshackled but they turned it up a notch and then it’s like “Wow, that is a real kind of humble dwelling,” you might say. We were so happy that they went so far.
So you’re trying to say the production designer and the director actually do something?
EGGERS: (laughs) Well, yeah.
VIDA: I think the way they dress and live like grad students and they take that very literally, yeah.
EGGERS: That’s our first experience with sort of having incredible professionals just listen to…you know you write a couple words and a stage direction or in a description and then all these dozens of people go shopping for sea horses and…I don’t know all of these different things that we…and they all go filming at a dog track in Arizona. I mean, when we wrote that we figured “Well, they’re obviously going to film the dog track in Southern California somewhere and it’ll match for Arizona,” and the next thing we know like Sam and the producer, Ed Saxon, were sending us Polaroids from a dog track in Arizona. We thought “Man, these guys are serious!” Like they were very serious about realism and it was just a continual series of pleasurable surprises for us-the whole production.
John and Maya’s characters meet some very colorful people along the way. So how much of those people are influenced by real friends and how much are just made up?
EGGERS: Thank God we don’t know anyone like those guys, not so much. I mean, usually, it was like how we typically write characters in fiction. You take just a tiny piece of fabric that you might find and you weave that into a full person. I don’t know…if you’re making a person out of fabric-that sounds weird doesn’t it?
No. I get what you’re saying though.
EGGERS: Yeah, so you might say well, what if there’s some…like the LN character; how can you take sort of….we live in the Bay Area so there’s some people that LN shares a little bit of DNA with out here for sure that are maybe seemingly-liberal and informed but also kind of horrible and judgmental.
VIDA: And very happy to give advice about anything.
VIDA: Especially parenting-related.
EGGERS: I was just going to say we had to take great pains to make sure that it wasn’t seemingly-based on anyone we know because we knew all of our friends and family would see it. So we actually had to afterward like think “Okay, is anyone we know going to think that they’re LN? Does anyone we know think they’re going to be Roderick?” and make any adjustments because I think given we’re a couple and its about a couple and babies involved and everything, people would make parallels so we sort of had to go very far a field.
VIDA: We wanted to make sure they were realistic. We didn’t want to make them charactertures so much. We wanted them to be well-rounded people who maybe are little bit on the eccentric side.
I’m definitely going to come back to that but I definitely have to ask: where did LN come from?
EGGERS: (laughter) Vendela you wrote that.
VIDA: I think I wrote that. I’ve always been fascinated with the way that people start changing the spellings of their names. Like I think we might know someone named Susie who spelled her name in an elaborate way or we might know someone who…either people just [inaudible] spellings and name changes I find really intriguing and I think we just thought what if her name is Ellen but she spells it differently. I don’t know.
EGGERS: I mean, we’re all for changing the spelling if that seems right for you but we just thought the Ellen to change it to LN just seemed sort of aggressive and over-thought in a funny way that was just a nice touch. And then once we started writing LN, we just kept on kind of making her more and more horrible in a way. She was probably the most fun to write because you think “What could the most”…I don’t know…passive/ aggressive sort of we wanted her and Burt to have kind of a history in some vague way and that she just finds ways to…you know there’s just people that find ways to needle you no matter what they’re talking about and that she just wanted to have all these back-handed compliments at Burt and Verona and then Maggie Gyllenhaal took our skeletal character and just killed it. I mean she was incredible. I think people…we’ve seen people clapping at the credits when her name comes up, you know? I think people just think….and we weren’t there but the crew apparently gave her a standing ovation in her last scene. It was kind of incredible.
Oh yeah, she made the most out of that character.
EGGERS: Yeah. It’s a new aspect of Maggie that I don’t think people have seen that she’s just…it’s so real and she’s so three-dimensional but also just so wicked in a way and funny and I think people will be really surprised to see that new aspect of her.
Well, I definitely have more questions on “Away We Go” but in case I run out of time I want to ask you a few other things as well. I definitely have to ask what other possible scripts might you guys want to work on or are you working on other scripts because I would imagine after this process and writing “Where the Wild Things Are” maybe you’ve possibly been touched by Hollywood.
EGGERS: You know what’s funny is that it’s not like people have been calling, for sure. I don’t think we would ever be good at taking any kind of assignment, but we had to go back to our day jobs and our life’s work, which is books, and that’s always going to be the main thing we do, but Sam and Focus and everybody involved made this so easy and painless and pleasurable that we’d be open to it if it was exactly like this again. Right, Vendela?
VIDA: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, the scale of this project was just so perfect for us too. It just felt like it wasn’t a big production. There was obviously a lot more people involved than when you write a book but it didn’t feel like too many people. It just felt the scale was really important to us and people who try to do things on a small scale with magazines and with my books. I try to use economy in scale with everything and I felt it was a very good match for us.
I was going to say the other thing of course and I have to ask about is “Where the Wild Things Are” which is a film I’m so anxiously awaiting.
EGGERS: Yeah, you and me and everybody. Spike’s in the middle of mixing sound and they’re finishing some digital effects, but you know it’s cruising along and I was able to see a few scenes the other day and it looks phenomenal. I’m like you. I’m not deeply involved in the process right now, but it’s going to be fantastic. So it’s the same thing where it’s really fun and incredibly rewarding to work with people that you know are going to take whatever skeletal ideas you have and just flesh them out and make them ten times better and that’s certainly the case with Sam and with Spike.
Well, I hope that later this year when that movie is in the promotional swing that you’re able to go…I’m able to talk to you again about that project.
EGGERS: Oh absolutely, yeah.
And just to let you know I have a friend who saw that famous test-screening in Pasadena for “Where the Wild Things Are”.
EGGERS: Oh, you know I didn’t even know about it. That’s how out of the loop I am. There was a screening there?
A very long time ago before the film got delayed. My friend saw it there. They did one test-screening and he loved it and this was before any of the final work had been put in, just like the very raw film.
EGGERS: Oh it was raw for sure, yeah. Oh that’s great. And it hasn’t changed elementally since then. I mean the spirit is the same but it’ll be more polished in every way.
EGGERS: Tell him thanks.