Looking Back on Opening Night of PFF20

Written by Alex Gibson on . Posted in Interview, Like Crazy, Opening Night, Philadelphia Film Festiva, Tags

By Le Anne Lindsay and Alex Gibson

Everything appeared to go as planned last Thursday at the opening of the [b]20th Anniversary Philadelphia Film Festival[/b]. The spacious Zellerbach (Annenberg) theater felt full and the mood was light as we were welcomed by PFS Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt, Artistic Director Michael Lerman and Mayor Michael Nutter.

The film chosen to set off this milestone occasion would seem an insignificant choice by the description – basically a romance involving two recent college grads: Anna, a pretty, unaffected young woman (Felicity Jones) who is in the US on a student visa from the UK and must return upon graduation and Jacob, (Anton Yelchin)an adorable, curly-haired, furniture maker. The two fall for each other in touching and simple ways. Their only obstacle is Anna’s obligation to return home to England until a work permit can be arranged. When things go horribly wrong in this regard, the film depicts their attempts to hold onto a long distance relationship, even when all signs point to being better off alone. Like Crazy is co-written and directed by Drake Doremus, who received the Dramatic Grand Jury prize at Sundance 2011 with Felicity Jones receiving Dramatic Special Jury Prize. Both joined us for the opening night, with Doremus in sneakers with wonderfully comical, bright lime green shoelaces.

Below is a video excerpt of the Opening Night Q&A. (Please excuse the distance of the shot, I admit to being lazy and shooting from my seat):

After a long night at the Zellerbach Party, Doremus and Jones spent the morning at R2L Restaurant. In a conference room overlooking the city, PFS Staffer Alex Gibson got the opportunity to sit down with them for an interview:

I was extremely impressed when I first saw Like Crazy, but when I read that the entire film was improvised, I was astounded. The film was based on a long and detailed outline written by Ben York Jones and director Drake Doremus. Based on that material, the actors rehearsed for weeks, building on and melting into their characters.
Doremus and Jones described working together until the early hours of the morning, using improv and method techniques to get to know the characters. Jones explained some of the creative process to me: “There are specific story points we have to hit in each scene…but how we get there is found in the moment.” Doremus described the rehearsal sessions as voyeuristic, saying “The whole thing was designed for them to sort of lose themselves in each moment that we were going to capture and therefore not think that I’m watching them or that there is a camera…”

It was truly amazing how Jones managed to fall into her character Anna. Sitting down with her, it was clear that she was nothing like the impulsive person that she depicts on screen. She said that her biggest challenge throughout the shoot was to understand the woman she was portraying “The scene when I have to tell Jacob that…I’m going to stay [for] the summer when I should go back – that was the hardest scene of all because I found it difficult to understand why she was doing that…It was hard…how impulsive she is and how obsessed she is with Jacob. It was exhausting the amount of times I had to say ‘I Love You’. And trying to understand her because I am probably slightly more cautious…just trying to understand where she was coming from.”

During the 22 day shoot, there were sometimes only four people on set – Doremus, Jones, Anton Yelchin, and a cameraman. The small crew and budget forced everyone involved to play various parts on set, quickly becoming a makeshift family. Despite the long hours, Jones described the enthusiasm on set: “Everyone had to care about the story…We were with each other so much that the only way it worked was if we were all as equally passionate about it and I think that came from Drake…he inspires you and he care more about film than anything else in his life. “

Even after having speaking with him for mere minutes, Doremus’ passion as evident. He remarked about his unconventional process, “The idea of being able to capture something spontaneously and have it be truthful is so much more exciting to me than forcing an actor to stand on a mark and say a line.” He mused about the priceless, random moments that the actors came up with, specifically when Yelchin’s character, Jacob, rambles about Ahi tuna boats and a poem that Jones herself wrote for Anna to read to Jacob.

When I asked how the final product compared to his original idea of the story, he replied, “It was better.”

Doremus and Jones have just finished their second film together. The movie, shot in New York City, also stars Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan.

And this is a video of a Opening night party attendee giving her feedback on the film:

For the full Philadelphia Film Festival line-up, check out our Online Program Guide!

Le Anne Lindsay is a PFS Blog Contributer. For more of her work, visit Tinel & Tine.

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