Written by Madelyn Deutch, produced by Zoey Deutch, directed by Lea Thompson and starring all three (making it quite the family affair!), the indie dramedy The Year of Spectacular Men follows Izzy Klein (Madelyn Deutch), who barely graduates from college, only to find herself stranded in New York City and unsure of what to do next. Deciding to move back home to Los Angeles and live with her movie star little sister Sabrina (Zoey Deutch), Izzy decides to explore her new-found single status by dating a series of very different men while also dealing with the loss of her father, her mother’s (Lea Thompson) love affair with a woman, and what path she wants to take next, in her own journey.
During the film’s Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with Madelyn Deutch, Zoey Deutch and Lea Thompson (who are beautiful to watch interact and support each other, as a family) at the office of MarVista Entertainment to talk about the challenges of making a low-budget independent film, facing the blank page to tell the story that you want to tell, how this became a family production, what they learned about each other from making The Year of Spectacular Men, and learning to find their voice in other aspects of the business, outside of acting.
Collider: Madelyn, since the blank page can be a scary thing, what was it that made you want to face the blank page to tell this story?
MADELYN DEUTCH: Wow, I love that question! What made me want to face the blank page? I was in so much emotional pain that I didn’t know what else to do with it, except to write about it. That’s always been my process, since I was a little kid. I’ve kept very thorough journals, since I was seven years old. I started writing songs when I was 12 or 13. I’ve always written creative short stories, kind of like prose. I write this lengthy prose style. I swear to god, it got me scholarships to college for music. They were like, “She kind of sucks as a musician, but we like her prose.” So, my way of dealing with stuff was always through writing my experience. Putting pen to paper is a way to filter and figure out what’s actually going on. That’s why I did it that way, for what eventually became this film.
When you started working on this, as you faced that blank page, were there a bunch of times where you thought, “This is awful, I’m gonna give up,” or did you know the story that you wanted to tell?
MADELYN: No, I finish everything I start. I know that sounds like a real dick thing to say, but I do. I don’t start something, if I don’t think I’ll finish it. It’s a rule of thumb that I have.
ZOEY DEUTCH: What about the dishes?
MADELYN: I finish the dishes!
ZOEY: That’s true!
MADELYN: I finish the dishes, 100%. I have to see projects through, to the end, even if I know that they’re garbage because I know that I’ll learn something, along the way. It just has to get done. It’s the OCD in me, or something.
ZOEY: What does it say about me that I leave always one dish. I know I’m using this dish metaphor, but it’s not a metaphor. I’m literally just wondering. I always leave one dish in the sink. We’re learning a lot about each other here. This is a deep conversation that you’re witnessing. It’s movie therapy.
At what point in the process did this become a family affair?
MADELYN: The concept was that I would write, [Lea] would direct and [Zoey] would produce, and we would all be in it together. We wanted to create a vehicle to give each other the jobs that no one else was gonna give us, at the time. We were working on getting this film made, pre #MeToo and Time’s Up. I’m not saying we were trying to get it made during the 1950s, but it still feels like a really different time, four years ago, than it does now. Every single room we went into to get the money, no one said, “We can’t give you the money because Maddie wants to star in it and no one knows who Maddie is.” They said they couldn’t give us the money because female-fronted comedies are the riskiest investments, which is also a lie. And so, we felt emboldened to try to do this together, on our own, and give each other jobs because people were not exactly coming out of the woodwork to let me write, or [Lea] direct, or [Zoey] produce.
So then, how did the experience of actually doing this together compare to what you thought it might be?
ZOEY: I personally didn’t have any expectation. I was just excited to work with people who I had already been working with, for so many years. I’ve been collaborating and learning from the two of them (Lea and Madelyn) for my whole life, but in more of a professional setting, from the time I was 14 and started working as an actor. I always asked for their career advice, and to run lines with me, and to work on auditions with me, so the groundwork was there, which was neat. I’d never worked with someone that I’d been working with, for my whole life.
LEA THOMPSON: Yeah. It was a rigorous, difficult experience. I think people don’t realize how physically demanding and difficult it is to make a movie, and this was a low-budget movie without people to lift the furniture. I filled up my car, every single day, with set dressing.
MADELYN: Every couch in the movie is from her house.
LEA: The locations are lush and beautiful and packed full of stuff, and each one was different. My mother’s paintings – and she’s since passed – are in the movie because I didn’t realize that you needed rights for all of the images. So, I was carrying my mother’s paintings in my car. And we’d show up and there would be no couch, even though the whole scene takes place on a couch, so they’d send a truck to get one.
ZOEY: I swore I would never put my house in a movie, and there’s a scene where they made my house one of the Tahoe locations.
LEA: We had a great producer, named Damiano Tucci, and he’s been a producer since he was like 14. He was just amazing, in terms of helping get stuff. We were literally just moving furniture, and we had so many locations that we had to match. We had to find an inside of a cabin in Tahoe in L.A., in 100-degree weather, and then match the outside in Tahoe. There were a lot of complicated pieces.
MADELYN: It says a lot about what a jerk first-time feature screenplay writer I was. There are literally 60 locations in the movie. It takes place in four major cities. It takes place over the course of a year. We needed four actual seasons. We needed six leading men. The scope of the film is so rude. I can’t believe [Lea] said yes. It’s so mean to do this, for a small movie.
LEA: A normal house location here is $10,000 a day. We couldn’t afford that, and we needed 25 of them. We worked really hard. Physically, we worked really hard, which was fun and difficult. It was difficult to do this kind of grassroots thing, in this way, but that’s what I’ve always tried to teach these girls, and I’m so proud. My husband and I, Howie Deutch, tried to teach them the importance of hard work, and they get to see it, every day. That’s how they know how to work, and that makes me really proud. That’s the underpinning of everything. If you want something, you have to work really hard, and they got to see that, firsthand and from scratch, which was really good.
Madelyn, because this film was such a challenge, do you want to just write a movie with one location and only two people, who never have to leave to go anywhere?
MADELYN: That sounds like my next film. I won’t tell you the name of it, but you just guessed the premise. There are a few locations in my next one, but it’s definitely more contained. I was just like, “I can’t do this to people, ever again. This is so crazy!”
LEA: We loved it! It was fun! There’s so much up there, on screen.
Are there things that you guys learned about each other, through making this film, that you were surprised to learn?
ZOEY: In a positive way, I was surprised at how much chemistry Maddie and I had. Of course, that may seem like a weird thing to say, given that we’re sisters and best friends and spend almost every day together, but how chemistry translates on screen can be so interesting.
MADELYN: It’s not an exact science.
ZOEY: There is no science. It makes no sense. Sometimes you hate someone and you look like you’re madly in love, and sometimes you love someone and there’s just nothing there.
MADELYN: And I’ve seen siblings act next to each other, where it’s just not that interesting.
LEA: I was surprised at what a great producer [Zoey is], and I was surprised at what a great comedic actor [Maddie is]. I had worked with her before, but she does things that, because I’ve been doing this for so long, I know are really hard things to know and learn. I just hadn’t ever seen that, and I was so delighted.
MADELYN: Izzy is also a difficult character. Nothing [Zoey and Lea] did surprised me. They were brilliant and wonderful and goddesses among men. They did exactly what I thought they would do. But what surprised me about me was how poorly I approached the acting, in the beginning. I really honestly thought that because I wrote the script, I would just know how to play her, and that was so not the case. Two weeks out from the movie, I was like, “I have no idea who this person is.” The part where I surprised myself the most is the part where I learned that I’m not that good at compartmentalizing. I realized that I had to start lighting up different parts of my brain, in order to do these different jobs that were required of me. One was acting, one was writing, one was doing the score, and they were all very different. I had to learn, really quick, to fix that.
Lea and Zoey, having your acting background, what’s it been like to find your voice, as a director and as a producer, respectively, alongside of that?
LEA: I don’t know if this is all smashing together with the #MeToo and Time’s Up, but I’ve been examining my past and the way that I’ve let people tell me stories about myself that aren’t necessarily true, and I’ve realized that I’ve behaved in certain ways to diminish myself, in order to make everybody like me more. Whatever that is, it’s colliding with these two awesome women and doing this movie, actually taking something from the ground up and making it happen.
ZOEY: And not letting other people tell you that you can’t because you can and you will and you did.
LEA: Thank you! For me to be this age that I am, which is beyond middle age, at this point, I feel a real blossoming, as a human being, because of working with these women and doing this film, which is what you really want in life. I remember someone saying, “You’re a famous person and you want to make your kids famous.” That’s crazy! Who would want to make anybody famous?! That’s not my goal here. It’s all about the process. We all know that, in the end, it’s all about the process, and the process has been really beautiful, even just sitting here, talking to you.
Zoey, does having that producer credit feel like it makes it harder for people to dismiss what you might want to say?
ZOEY: I started finding my voice, as a producer, on Flower, in part because Max [Winkler] encouraged me and wanted me to be a part of the collaboration, but there were definitely other elements of the film that I wasn’t involved with. It was interesting to realize that, in order to be heard and for my voice to matter, I had to have that title. To me, the title doesn’t mean anything. I just want to be included in making something as good as it possibly can be, and that means having that title, I’ve learned. I was so blessed that Maddie and my mom gave me that opportunity.
MADELYN: I’ve watched her blossom, as a producer. I really have no doubt that Zoey could be slinging heavy, high-level projects, and just as a producer, if she didn’t want to be on them, as an actress. It’s a muscle that she has, that she’s been building, over the last few years. It’s amazing! I’ve seen her do it in the financing process, in prep, and when we were shooting. I saw her putting out fires about things with trailers. She was amazing at it. And then, I saw her do it at the festivals and in selling the film. There are all of these different stages of making a film that people don’t really talk about. They talk a lot about shooting, but shooting movies is the smallest part of it. I wish we could have shot, forever and ever.