Writer-Director Jamie Linden Talks 10 YEARS, Paramount’s THE FLIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, THE TESTAMENT, DOGS OF BABEL and More

     September 14, 2012


The ensemble comedy 10 Years follows a group of friends, many of whom haven’t seen each other in quite some time, on the night of their high school reunion.  Jake (Channing Tatum) is deeply in love with his girlfriend (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) but runs into his high school flame (Rosario Dawson) for the first time in years; jock Cully (Chris Pratt) married cheerleader Sam (Ari Graynor) but is still haunted by all the classmates he bullied; longtime rivals Marty (Justin Long) and A.J. (Max Minghella) are still competing to impress the hottest girl in class (Lynn Collins); and rock star Reeves (Oscar Isaac) is still too shy to talk to his high school crush Elise (Kate Mara), except through song.  The film also stars Brian Geraghty, Ron Livingston, Anthony Mackie, Aubrey Plaza, Scott Porter, Aaron Yoo and Nick Zano.

During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, writer/director Jamie Linden (Dear John, We Are Marshall) talked about this film being inspired by his own high school reunion, developing characters and storylines around actors that he wanted in the ensemble, developing the look and feel of the reunion with his production designer, how much fun it was to shoot the karaoke scenes, and why he loves the post-production process more than production itself.  He also talked about his next project The Flight Before Christmas, which he’s writing and directing for Paramount, writing Dogs of Babel for actor Steve Carell and director John Carney (Once), and the development status of The Testament, adapted from the John Grisham novel, and a remake of the 1966 Steve McQueen movie Nevada Smith.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

10-years-posterWhat was your inspiration for this film?  Did it start with going to your own reunion?

JAMIE LINDEN:  Yeah, it did, actually.  I went to mine with my friend, Scott Porter, who is an actor.  We grew up in Orlando, Florida, as far away from this business as you could be.  I have a couple other friends who live here in L.A. that went to high school with us, and we went back as a group ‘cause we don’t get a lot of chances to go home and definitely not together, so it was an excuse.  And I don’t think I was disappointed by it, but just was underwhelmed by it all.  But, I found it interesting, just purely on a sociological and anthropological level.  We were filming Dear John, not too long after, and Channing [Tatum] was there and Scott was there, ‘cause he was in that movie as well, and all of the producers of this movie were producers of that movie.  We were talking about a way to subvert how filmmaking is normally done and how it was being done on that movie, which is that production takes precedence over the creative process, in the sense that you film scenes out of order, based on locations and actor availability.  The line producer drives the bus, as far as how things are scheduled.  If you have a lot of time for rehearsal, that’s okay because you can figure it all out beforehand, but on that movie, we didn’t.  As actors, and even me as a writer or Lasse [Hallström] as a director, you have to take a moment and go, “Okay, what are we doing and where does this fit into the larger thing?” 

So, we were looking for a way to strip all that away and shoot something chronologically, let the script just be a guide post, and to allow us to figure it out as we went and make changes as we went, and for it to be as organic as possible.  We wanted to give a chance to a bunch of actors and a bunch of our friends to do something that was as naturalistic and real as we could make it.  We were just looking for an excuse to get a bunch of actors in a room together, and the reunion seemed as good as anything, since we’d just been, despite my slightly conflicted feelings about it and the very conflicted feelings of the population as a whole.  We talked about a wedding and we talked about a funeral, and all of that stuff.  None of it is original, as far as settings go, but it really was just an excuse for us to try to do something real that, because it feels real, hopefully has a modicum of originality to it.  But, there is a large portion of the population who has absolutely no interest in reliving any of the experiences from high school, which doesn’t bode well for our audience for this movie, but it was our challenge, too.  Most of the actors didn’t go to their reunion, actually.  Some of the actors said there was no way in hell that they’d go to their reunion, and we wanted to harness that, in some way.  It’s such a bizarre measuring stick for where you are in your life because you can’t help but compare and contrast, and life is too short.

Channing-Tatum-Rosario-Dawson-Ten-Year-movie-imageWas there a specific character or storyline that the film started with, or did it all develop organically from working with the actors?

LINDEN:  Channing and I had people that we wanted to work with.  I had worked with Kate [Mara], Brian Geraghty and Anthony Mackie on We Are Marshall.  I was friends with them and wanted to work with them again, so when I called them up, we talked about it.  We talked about what the storyline could be, what they wanted to do, and how they wanted to interact and with who.  But, it really started with Channing.  Channing’s storyline is not autobiographical, but he was drawing from something that had happened to him in high school and a situation that he understood.  And he and I both wanted to work with Jenna [Dewan], his wife.  We were talking about characters that would be interesting, and then we thought of this musician character.  Every other part, I wrote for actors that I either already knew or just liked, like Chris Pratt and Justin Long and Aubrey Plaza.  I wanted a chance to work with them, so I wrote parts for them specifically.  Channing went to high school in Tampa, but he didn’t go to his reunion because he was famous, at that point, and he didn’t want to see his friends, who he wasn’t still in touch with but he still had fond memories of, behave differently because he has some degree of fame, whatever that means.  He wanted to protect how he thought of his friends from high school, and I thought that was really interesting, but I didn’t want to make this a story about a Hollywood actor.  So, I had this idea about a musician and a song, but that was really the only part that we went out and looked for somebody for.  Everything else we wrote for the actors and let it originate as naturally as possible from those actors.  It really was collaborative, all the way through. 

10-years-oscar-isaac-channing-tatumDid having Channing Tatum involved, from the beginning, really help get this process going and get this film made?

LINDEN:  It did, in the sense that Channing is up for anything.  In a lot of ways, this was, for him and for me and the rest of the actors, a tonic to the studio movies, which he also loves and which are also fun, in their own way, but this was never meant to be that.  This was always meant to be small and experimental, in the sense of how we were filming it and how many actors we had and how little of a net we had, as far as what we would do when we would show up for work, every day.  We had a very small budget on this movie and Channing actually wanted it even smaller, from taking scale, as an actor, to not wanting a trailer.  He wanted to do it as low frills as possible and to strip away all of the artifice that comes from production, and just give an excuse for a bunch of actors who like each other, personally and professionally, to get together and see what happens.  For someone like him to say, “I make X amount of dollars on my studio movies, but let’s go do this for pennies,” everybody else was excited to jump in with him.  He definitely led the way, in that regard, and set the tone for how the set was going to be, which is big.  I’ve been lucky.  I sound like an impressionable child, but everybody I’ve worked with has been great.  They’ve all been good human beings.  You hear the stories about big Hollywood movie stars, but Channing is so the polar opposite of that.  Channing is just a guy that wants to go and make things.  As a director, you can’t hope for anything more.

10-years-kate-mara-oscar-isaacWhen you decide to take the step to director, that must be nerve-wracking on its own.  Did it make you more confident and comfortable to be surrounded by so many actors that you were friends with?

LINDEN: I thought it would, but when you’re really familiar with somebody and you have a personal relationship, I found it a little difficult.  It was very much like actor camp for these guys.  They were all staying in the same hotel, and it was the hotel that we were shooting in.  There were 15 of them and they were all in the same scenes, and I’m not used to be the adult.  I’m not very good at being the adult.  To some regard, I wanted to just hang out and joke around, like I would normally, but I had to try to find the movie to shoot.  The challenge, and also what I like most about a big ensemble movie, is that all actors have completely different processes and all of them prefer scenes to be done a different way.  That was what we had to figure out.  How can all these different styles meld together into one thing that feels relatively cohesive?  We developed all the storylines with the actors, and some of them were naturally more dramatic than others were, and there was a concern about tone and if it would feel like these people were in the same movie.  At the end of the day, what we decided was that they were in the same room, by nature of them all being there, so we had to have them interact and make it work.  We had a script, but it was loose, so you don’t really know what’s going to happen.  But, that’s the appeal of it.  That’s what’s both scary about it and exciting about it.

Did you spend a lot of time on how the reunion itself would look and feel?

LINDEN:  No, I didn’t.  The reunion was such a means to an end, for me.  When I was in the editing room, I wanted to get out of the reunion as quickly as possible.  I was bored in the reunion, but excited about what happens afterwards.  It’s not autobiographical at all, but the progression of the night, for these characters, is the same as what my reunion was.  We started it at a friend of mine’s house, which is Chris Pratt’s house in the movie, and then we went to the venue, but left kind of quickly.  And then, we went to a real bar in Orlando, called Pretzels, which is this dive bar, and we stayed there the rest of the night.  I have a great production designer, who was our production designer on Dear John, so I left it to her.  I showed her some pictures of what my reunion looked like and what Pretzels looked like and hoped that she would come up with something good, and I think it’s great.  We didn’t have it at my reunion, but the production designer built that memory wall that they were walking around.  That was all her invention.  I liked that stuff.  As soon as we got to that, it was fun to shoot.

10-years-castHow much fun was it to shoot everybody singing karaoke?

LINDEN:  It was fun.  A lot of times, when you’re doing movies and they’re singing, they’re actually lip-syncing to a pre-recorded track, so we wanted to do live to tape, even though technically the sound suffers somewhat.  Even for Oscar Isaac’s song, which we wanted to sound as good as possible, that’s still him up there, singing live.  For instance, when Chris Pratt gets on stage, we just pulled back and let the camera roll to see what would happen.  We just had him perform his song, three times in a row, and that was it.  There was no shooting other angles, or any of that stuff.  We just let the camera roll.  Same with Scott [Porter], too.  They really enjoyed it.  They went to a lot of karaoke bars in Albuquerque, before we filmed that, trying to get some sort of rhythm going.

Now that you’ve directed and finished a film, do you think it will make things any easier the next time, or does each project really come with its own set of challenges?

LINDEN:  Honestly, I came out of doing this, saying I would never do it again.  I’m inherently a lazy human being, and doing something like this requires a lot of work and time and effort.  It’s so much easier just hang out with my friends.  The great thing, as a screenwriter, is that you are always proud of what ends up on the screen, you are able to create something in isolation and you have a lot of freedom.  You never have to get up at 6 am, if you don’t want to get up at 6 am.  So, I didn’t think I’d ever want to do it again.  But then, when I got into post-production, I loved post-production so much.  It’s like writing, except better because you have pieces already there and sentences already written, and all of these great ad-libs and improvisations that you can essentially steal, but it’s not stealing because it’s from the actors.  That’s so much fun.  Getting through that made me want to suffer through production again. 

jamie-linden-1Do you already know what you’ll be doing next then?

LINDEN:  I’m doing another ensemble movie, but I kind of wish I wasn’t doing another ensemble movie.  I love ensemble movies when they work.  I’m doing a Paramount movie next, called The Flight Before Christmas.  The good thing about the studio is that, when the movie comes out, they will put their marketing and their money behind it, which isn’t necessarily true with indie movies, just by the nature of it being an independent film.  So, I thought I would see what it would be like, on the other side.  We’ll see.  I haven’t started writing yet.  I’m just in the outline phase right now, working with the producers and the studio. 

What are the added challenges, in doing a holiday film that the studio will presumably want people to return to, year after year?

LINDEN:  I don’t know.  One of the biggest issues, which is certainly similar to 10 Year, is that you want to do something that feels like it has some piece of originality to it because we’ve all seen the dysfunctional family holiday movie before.  But, that’s a challenge that, as you’re starting, is a double-edged sword.  All they had when they brought it to me was the title, The Flight Before Christmas.  The best version of this movie is something I would want to see, but the worst version of this movie is something that I feel like I’ve seen before, so that’s something to be aware of and try to keep pushing.  As a writer, you want to keep pushing on the page, the same way that, as a director, when we were filming 10 Year you had to keep in mind that the setting was another reunion and go, “Let’s try to make this as unique and interesting as possible, even if that’s just because it feels genuine and real and honest.”  We were not responsible to a studio, to make the happiest ending.  We were only responsible to us, to do something that felt genuine and authentic and real.  So, I don’t know how it’s going to shake out with The Flight Before Christmas, but that’s the fun of it. 

jamie-lindenWhat stages of development are Dogs of Babel, The Testament and Nevada Smith in?

LINDEN:  I’m doing another draft of Dogs of Babel, as we speak.  That’s with Steve Carell still attached and John Carney, who directed Once, and talk about an independent movie that feels real and authentic.  I loved that movie, Once.  So, we’re working on that.  And then, they’re looking for a director for The Testament.  I’m actually really excited about that.  It’s a John Grisham book, but it’s not your typical Grisham.  It’s actually like African Queen.  It’s this adventure, down in Brazil.  So, I’m very hopeful with that.  That’s a bigger $50 or $60 million movie, so I have my fingers crossed.  And Nevada Smith is at Paramount, and in a bit of a backseat to The Flight Before Christmas.  That’s a remake of a Steve McQueen movie that could be really interesting.  But, I’ve got to work on Flight first.

As a writer, is it easier to know what actor you’re writing for, or do you prefer to write without anyone in mind?

LINDEN:  I wouldn’t say that it’s easier, it’s just different.  I like doing it.  Channing was attached to Dear John before I came along.  Channing was attached, when they bought the book.  That was the first time I’d ever done that, and I liked it.  It fills in a piece of the puzzle for you.  As a writer, everything is just a blank piece of paper, so I like knowing who I’m writing towards.  For 10 Year, that was part of the process.  With Dogs of Babel, Steve Carell has such a specific voice and persona that it’s easy to write towards, to some degree.  There’s nothing funny about that movie, at all, but Steve Carell has this great vulnerability and sadness underneath his eyes, and you can really take advantage of that.  But, for The Flight Before Christmas, I intentionally want to start with that blank slate and write characters, as opposed to things for actors, and see how it’s different.  You just want to keep challenging yourself and trying something new.

10 Years opens in theaters on September 14th.

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