Director Drake Doremus Talks LIKE CRAZY and His Next Film With Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones

     October 27, 2011


Some movies are able to make you feel like what you’re watching is real.  On the other hand, there are plenty of movies that really want to make you feel something, but as you watch the events unfold, everything looks phony and all you see are actors delivering their lines.  Which brings me to director Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy.  Led by fantastic performances from  Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones, Like Crazy absolutely captures what young love is all about and what it will make you do when you love someone with your soul.  While Matt wasn’t enamored with Like Crazy when he saw it at Sundance, I’ll admit to being charmed by its honest and real take on love and I completely bought into the relationships and the heartache Doremus captured on screen.

Anyway, at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, I sat down with Doremus for an extended interview.  During our wide ranging conversation, Doremus talked about how he made Like Crazy, including the unique process of having the actors improvise all of their dialogue in every single scene.  He also talked about the way they filmed the movie, the rehearsals, and so much more.  In addition, he talked about his next untitled film, which he’s already shot, and said that it’s the story of an older man and a younger woman finding love at the wrong time. His new film stars Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, and Kyle MacLachlan.  Hit the jump for more.

like-crazy-movie-poster-hi-resHere are the things I learned from my interview with Doremus:

  • They didn’t shoot the film in order. They shot the ending about halfway through production.
  • Instead of scripted dialogue, they worked off of a 50 page outline that gave them the plot and exactly what was going to happen, but they improvised the dialogue.
  • Doremus says the characters are what changed the most when they started filming, because of what the actors brought to the characters and how they evolved.
  • They did a full week a rehearsal with Yelchin and Jones before filming began.
  • He shot about 3 hours of footage each day. Doremus said he thinks about 2% of what they shoot ends up in the movie. He also keeps the camera rolling in between takes when the actors are just hanging out.
  • He’s going to include about 3 or 4 extended scenes and 3 to 4 new scenes on the DVD.
  • Doremus’ next film, which he’s already shot, is the story of an older man and a younger woman finding love at the wrong time. It explores being in love with two people at the same time and being in love with two people in different ways at the same time.  His new film stars Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, and Kyle MacLachlan.
  • He says his new film is much darker than Like Crazy, and it was shot in the same improvisational style.
  • The new film won’t be ready in time for Sundance.
  • Doremus’ goal is to make one movie a year.
  • He shoots digital on the ARRI Alexa. He averages about 15 minute takes.
  • He never flags or circles takes that he likes on set, because he says how he feels about a take always changes.
  • He shot at Heathrow, JFK, and LAX airports and at each one he used real extras in the background who were unaware that they were filming a movie.

drake-doremus-image1Here’s the full interview.  You can click here to listen to our conversation.

Collider: What has it been like for you since January?

Drake Doremus:  It has been the craziest ride.  I mean, this movie was so tiny.  It was just basically like, “Maybe some people will see this movie.  Maybe people will relate to it and maybe it will resonate.”  Then to have this reaction and for it to be now coming out is like a dream come true.  This has been my dream my whole life.  It is crazy.  It still hasn’t sunk in yet – how special and grateful I am.  It is amazing.

You had Sundance and then Toronto.

Doremus:  You can’t beat that.  Going to film school it was like…if you went to Sundance and Toronto.  I mean, even in the same year with the same movie.  It is pretty much…I don’t know.

It doesn’t happen too often.

Doremus:  It is pretty special.

How has Toronto been like for you so far?  Did you just get here?

Doremus:  I just got here last night.  I haven’t even checked it out.  I haven’t even checked out the festival yet.  So I don’t know what the vibe is yet to be honest.  But I am looking forward to it.  I hear the audiences are great.

They do love film up here.

Doremus:  Good.  Well, I like film too.

I am going to start by asking you some fun questions.  What is your go to karaoke song?

Doremus:  With or Without You by U2.  I sing it operatically.  It is very strange, but it works.  It works for me.

drake-doremus-like-crazy-set-image-1What is the last video game that you played?

Doremus:  NHL 2011.  I am a big hockey fan.  I have it and I like to play it on the Xbox.

Now let’s get into why we are here.  You shot this film in an unconventional way.  I think when you shoot in an unconventional way it could either go two ways:  it could either be a disaster or heartfelt.  I believe that your film is the later.  Can you talk about the decision of why you did it in the way that you did it?

Doremus:  It was so personal and so intimate.  I felt that it had to be done that way for me.  It had to be this sort of stolen, found, discovered, intimate feeling.  To try to do it in an unconventional way would have rendered it inauthentic in a way.  So I really wanted it to be just broken down and sort of stripped down in a way.

How much was scripted in each scene and what was your direction like on set?

Doremus:  For instance, let us take the scene where it is Anna and Jacob’s first date.  They are in a café and they are having a conversation.  In the script, it is pretty much just 4 paragraphs about what they talk about, what they get into, their objectives, the subtext, what they are feeling, and what they are going through in the moment.  Then, we find how to get there via that as opposed to saying, “Okay.  You say this and you do this.”  It’s more just like, “Okay.  Here is where you are at and here is what you are feeling.  Here is what you are thinking.” and then we sort of attack it.  So the direction is always to think about that, then forget it, be in the moment, and then just let it happen.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it comes in the first take and sometimes it takes five takes, but it is just a process of continuing to find something truthful.  You know, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

drake-doremus-like-crazy-set-image-2Did you shoot in order?

Doremus:  No.  Unfortunately we couldn’t because of budgetary reasons.  We went in order as much as we could, but we filmed the ending probably halfway through.

So you basically knew where it was going?

Doremus:  We had a 50 page outline.  So we knew exactly what was going to happen.  We knew the story and everything.  It was just the actual “insert improv beat here” and “insert chemistry beat here” .  It was inserting the moments where it actually happens, and that is just discovered in the moment.  But what happens in the plot is all solved and figured out.

Did anything change as you guys were making the movie?

Doremus:  The characters are what changed the most.  Once the actors bring themselves to it and once they have to find truth in it, which I forced them to do, it will inevitably change because there will be things that I thought of or wrote that essentially don’t really fit with this version of the character.  So the characters have to live, grow, and become something a little bit different than what is on the page.  So the characters are the things that change the most because the actors bring themselves to it.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-1I would imagine with something like this you would maybe not want to do too much rehearsal or did you do a lot of rehearsal for this?

Doremus:  We did about a full week.  Anton and Felicity met about 6 days before we started shooting and then they jumped in and they were in a full on love affair – it was incredible.  But we rehearsed it enough to just kind of understand what the scene is about, but to not overwork it to the point where it was losing its magic or spontaneity.  So we did it a little bit, but not too much.  Right when it was about to work we would stop and save it for the day.

Can you talk about casting your leads?

Doremus:  I was forced to work with Jennifer Lawrence. [laughs] No, I am kidding.

Were these all people that you were going after or did they come in and read for it?

Doremus:  Well, Anton is friends with my producer Jonathan Schwartz.  They knew each other and when I was writing this and putting it together, I was thinking that there are not that many really strong actors in their early 20s around right now.  Anton is, in my opinion, one of the best.  I wanted to meet him and we spent a couple of hours together over coffee and I was immediately like, “Okay.  You are Jacob.  Let’s do this.”  So I cast him pretty much right away.  He knew Jennifer and had worked with her.  I had seen Winter’s Bone because I had a film at Sundance that year as well.  We met and got along really well.  She was totally into it and wanted to try the process.  So she jumped on board second and then I had seen a ton of different girls audition with Anton.  I had seen chemistry reads and stuff, and it just wasn’t working.  I saw a ton of British actresses.  It was almost every British actress in that age range.  Felicity then sent me a tape from her flat in London and she did the ending of the movie.  She got in her shower and did it without any dialogue.  It was five minutes of what she was going through emotionally at the end of the movie.  As soon as I saw it, I was like, “Come to L.A.  and let’s do this.”  So I called her on a Friday night and she was in L.A. on Monday.  Then we were rehearsing Monday through Friday and then we started shooting the next Monday.  We were just in it.  It was just a gut feeling.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-2How much did you overshoot and how challenging was the editing for a film like this?

Doremus:  We shot somewhere around 3 hours a day.  We just wrapped a film that I just shot this summer yesterday at 4 pm in New York.  I was shooting for the past 2 months with Felicity again, who is the lead in it.  We wrapped at 4 pm and we just got here last night.  So we just did it again.  We shot about 4 hours a day on that and on Like Crazy it was about 3. I mean, we shoot everything.  I think about 2% of what we shoot ends up in the movie.  We could cut 5 different versions of the movie just because there is so much footage.  The camera is always rolling, even when they are in between takes and they are just hanging out.  It is like I am shooting everything.  It is 360 degrees and they constantly have to be in character.  Everything has to be functioning as an engine so that any moment that comes up we can capture it and steal it.  The editing process is really difficult because it is like killing babies.  There are so many things that I want to put in the movie and I couldn’t just because it didn’t move the story forward or it didn’t work at 90 minutes.  But it is a very exhilarating process because you are rewriting the film.  It is like the third writing stage because you are just completely rewriting the movie.  You are deciding what is going to go in and what is not.  It is really fun and I love it.

I would imagine that there is a lot of stuff that got left out.  How many of these scenes that you shot are you willing to put on the DVD?

Doremus:  We are going to put a lot of it on the DVD.  We have 7 or 8.  We have about 3 or 4 extended scenes.  Then we have about 3-4 scenes that are going to go on it that I am really proud of and excited about people seeing.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-6Do you believe in the extended edition of a movie or do you like having the deleted scenes in a separate area on the DVD?

Doremus:  This movie in particular is the movie that I wanted to make.  So I wouldn’t extend it.  I would just say, “This is what it could’ve been.”  It really is an experiment when you are doing movies like this.  It is a process that I think is somewhat fascinating to see.  But I do believe that the 90 minutes that we ended up with is the movie that we were supposed to end up with.

Do you think you are putting on approximately 10-20 minutes of extra footage?

Doremus:  Yeah.  It is somewhere along 20 minutes.  We are doing a commentary, which will be fun.  It is exciting for me.  It is all of the things that I have always grown up watching and seeing, and now I get to be a part of it.  It is kind of surreal.

Can you talk about your next project?  Do you have a title yet?

Doremus:  No.  There is no title yet, unfortunately.  But somewhere through the improvisation we will find something in the editing room.

What would you say the film is about to people that don’t know about it?

Doremus:  I would say that it is a story about an older man and a younger woman finding love at the wrong time.  Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, Felicity Jones, and Kyle MacLachlan are in it.  It is a fun, dark movie.  It is much darker than Like Crazy.  It is in the same style.  It is kind of a darker cousin to it in a way.  It is still exploring love and it is still exploring how it works and what it is about.

Who is the person who is finding love at the wrong time?

Doremus:  Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-9One of my favorite films is Lost in Translation.  It doesn’t really explore that theme but it is about two people who are perfect for each other that are just not meant to be together at that point.  Is that a similar theme with your film or is it about them exploring getting together?

Doremus:  It explores being in love with two people at the same time and being in love with two people in different ways at the same time.  It is about how you deal with that, fighting it, and wanting to indulge in something.   It is a strange time talking about it – I literally wrapped on it yesterday.  I am really interested in the idea of fidelity at the moment, monogamy, and things like that.  So it is certainly exploring those subjects.

Is your goal Sundance?

Doremus:  No.  We are not going to be ready, unfortunately.  It breaks my heart because that has been my home for the last couple of years.  But we just wrapped yesterday and there is no way that we will have it ready.

So is the plan to have it ready for a certain festival?  Do you have a distributor or are you doing it indie?

Doremus:  This is Indian Paintbrush, who co-acquired Like Crazy with Paramount.  So we don’t have a full distributor on board yet.  That will come later.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-4I would imagine that with that cast there will be some interest.

Doremus:  We will see.

I love Guy Pearce.  He is one of my favorite actors.  How was it like collaborating with him and the rest of these actors?  How do you think they felt about the process?

Doremus:  What is interesting with Guy is that he has never done anything like this before.  I think he was reluctant because he was a little bit nervous about the process.  He has never improvised before in a film, let alone in a foreign dialect, which was scary.  But that is why I wanted him to do it.  I wanted to push him and see what would happen.  He committed to it and did it, and it was an incredible process to watch him over the course of shooting letting go and finding this character.  Felicity helped him a lot obviously because she had been through the process before.  But he is an incredibly kind, thoughtful, passionate, and intense actor.  Everything he does and every moment he does is 150% and you just believe him and buy him.  It was kind of a dream come true because I grew up watching and idolizing so many of his movies and so many of the choices that he made as an actor over the years.  It is inspiring and to get to work with him was really, really special.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-3Do you scribble down a lot of ideas or do you focus all of your energy on one thing at a time?

Doremus:  I’m kind of ADD.  So I try to do one thing at a time.  Otherwise, I would be sort of scattered and won’t be 100% where I need to be for certain things.  But I have lots of ideas constantly in notepads, files, and things.  I am trying to make a movie a year.  This would be the fourth one in the last four years.  The first two no one saw.  They had tiny distribution and then Like Crazy is coming out and now this new one.  I am just trying to make one a year.  I am just trying to grow and get better at it.

Are you shooting on digital?

Doremus:  Yeah.  We shot this new one with the Alexa.

I interviewed Roger Deakins and he said…

Doremus:  He says that it is the only digital camera that he would use.  It is a cool camera.  We shot anamorphic and it was awesome.  It was incredible.  I was blown away by it.

What are your experiences with this digital revolution?  Can you talk about using the camera and how long does that camera go for?

Doremus:  It is 15 minute takes.   But the cards run over so you could put two cards in and get to 30 minutes, which is great because I like to just do long takes.  Most of our takes fill up the full card.  We just sort of play and we will do a series where I jump in and we will try different things.  But I never shot on one, which is crazy.  I grew up when it started to become the VHX and all of these different digital cameras.  So, for me, I don’t know that style of filmmaking.  So I am grateful to have the opportunity to have a camera and system that works for my process.

What kind of system are you editing on?  I would imagine that if you are shooting 3 or 4 hours a day you have radar rays everywhere.  Where do you put all of this footage?  How do you save it?

Doremus:  We have a lot of drives and I just try to make selects.  I try to just go through it and pick every single moment.  For me, the performances are the most important thing.  So I just want a little piece from this take and a little piece from that take.  I want to build the perfect performance, essentially.  It is kind of amazing because there are so many choices.  But it is daunting.  I work on Final Cut Pro and my editor works on Avid.  So I am going through it and making selects or doing assemblies of certain things while he is doing his.  Then we come together after we have done that and we start working together.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-10Are you making notes while on set or do you literally sit down and watch every single take of every single thing?

Doremus:  I never circle takes and never make decisions about how I feel about anything on set because it always changes.  With something so subtle you feel like it works or plays to the crew, but it doesn’t work when you watch it later.  So I go through fractions.  When I get back and it is done, I will watch every single second and judge it separately.  Then I will try to piece it together.

I believe that you filmed at Heathrow Airport.

Doremus:  I filmed at Heathrow, JFK, and LAX in the last 15 months.  I just filmed at JFK yesterday.

How many of these places did you have permits for?

Doremus:  All of them.  But we are so small, contained, and we don’t block anything.  At all three airports I have used real people in the background.  That is something that I love.  There is nothing better than real extras because they are not acting.  They are real, picking up baggage, and walking around.  But they have let us do it because we are so small and don’t get in anyone’s way.  So we just run around doing it.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-11Is that easier to do when you have Felicity and Anton than when you have Guy Pearce?  Does that change the background?

Doremus:  It is funny because he has a beard and he is wearing glasses in my movie.  So I think he is a little bit disguised.  We were running around this airport and not that many people ruined takes, which was good.

What are some films that you will always watch when they come on TV?

Doremus:  Breaking the Waves is one, which is sometimes on the Sundance Channel a lot.  So every time I see that I have to watch it.  That movie is inspiring in many ways.  Y Tu Mamá También is a very inspiring movie to me in many ways. Revenge of the Nerds and Spaceballs are the comfort movies. I like comfort movies because my movies are so serious and dramatic that it is nice to watch a silly movie a lot.

You mentioned that you are interested in fidelity and monogamy as themes.  What do you think is the reason why that is on your brain right now?  Do you see yourself doing a romantic comedy or what might be bubbling up for future things?

Doremus:  It’s funny.  I am 28 years old and I am sort of going from growing up and becoming an adult to finding my balance about love, finding love, keeping it, and relationships.  I just don’t even understand it yet.  I’m so curious as to what the path is.  So I am just…what is it?  Am I supposed to be married?  Am I supposed to have kids?  Am I supposed to find my soul mate and be with that one person forever?  I am so confused and I have no clue.  I am just curious and I want to ask those questions.  So, right now, those are my stories.  That is what I have to say.  I don’t understand myself in relationships and I don’t understand relationships.  So to continue to explore them and to try and work that out is honestly what I am really doing.

anton-yelchin-felicity-jones-like-crazy-image-8Do you live in L.A.?

Doremus:  Yes.

What is your favorite theater in L.A.?

Doremus:  I have a couple, actually.  There is a certain amount of comfort at…I am going to go with The Landmark on Pico.

I like The Landmark, but I still think that the Arclight Cinemas 3 and 10…

Doremus:  There is nothing better than The Arclight, but it is so far from where I am at.  I am in Venice so Pico and Landmark are sort of the closest.  But there is nothing better than going to see a movie at The Arclight.  The sound and the picture quality it’s like….that is filmmaking.  It is fucking awesome.

like-crazy-movie-poster-hi-resI ask this question to actors, but I will ask it to you.  Some people like the Clint Eastwood method of filmmaking of 2 takes and some people like the David Fincher method of 90 takes.   Where do you fall in this line?

Doremus:  It all depends on what is working.  If 1 or 2 takes get the job done and the scene is going to work, we can move on.  If it takes 20 takes, then we can get it.  It is all dependent on the scene and every day it changes.  Sometimes, because it is improv, it will work perfectly on the first take and we can just move on.  Other times, it takes 20 takes to finally find the scene or the moments.  It varies.

What do you think is the most amount of takes that you have done?

Doremus:  Around 20 or 25 probably.  But it is all in a series.  I never cut and then do another take.  It is like I will yell something like “Go back to one!  Do it again!” So it is all organic.  Any time the actor has time to think, it is bad.  So if I can yell at them and make them not think and they just have to go into it – it is amazing what will happen.  The power of repetition sometimes without having the time to reset or think – they stop thinking and just be.

I saw an interview where David Fincher said that the reason he does a take 50 times is because the first 15 are the actors just going through the motions.  It is not even a performance.  It is just getting it.  But then by take 35 it is becoming a part of your body and that is when you start to really get the performances.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but the guy seems to have a good track record.

Doremus:  Yeah.  I think he knows what he is doing. [laughs]

Yeah.  He is just a little bit talented.

Doremus:  It is amazing because I think he is really good at understand a performance.  So that is an interesting thing to hear.

Like Crazy opens tomorrow in limited release.

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