SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 24, 2012
You probably think that you have already seen the plot of writer-director Nate Meyer’s See Girl Run played out countless times before; but Meyer respectfully approaches this quirky indie rom-com as a serious romantic drama. Most importantly, Meyer removes all of those annoying clichés that have somehow become inseparable from the rom-com genre. See Girl Run does not abide by the expectations that pop culture has perpetuated. For example, no indie pop ballads — or any songs with lyrics — were used (or abused) during the post-production of this film; instead Meyer relies solely upon his script and actors to convey the emotions of his story. Like a tedious restoration of a genre that has decomposed into an unrecognizable state, Meyer utilizes tremendous directorial restraint in order to reconstruct romantic [and independent] films to their original state…you know, back when writing and acting mattered more than snarky jokes, quirky directorial flourishes and a “next big thing” soundtrack. This is not to say that Meyer’s script is not purposeful. Despite its natural dialogue and realistic situations, See Girl Run is a carefully manicured and extremely calculated piece of cinema — but that is not such a bad thing. (Check out our SXSW 2012 reviews of See Girl Run by Caitlyn Collins and Don Simpson.)
Don Simpson: How did David Gordon Green became involved as an executive producer on this project?
Nate Meyer: David and I went to film school together [at North Carolina School of the Arts] and graduated the same year. Basically, from a few months into our freshman year on, we were very close friends and we have stayed in touch. We have a very small circle of friends. After film school, he made George Washington, and I went on to pursue acting education — not to become an actor, but I really wanted to learn how to work with actors better. The films that I wanted to do were very character driven and I wanted to learn it from the inside out. So I went in that direction and David has obviously enjoyed a lot of success.
What is great about David is his loyalty, and he has very eclectic tastes. Although my film isn’t necessarily fitted to what we know of his cannon of films, he had seen my first film (Pretty in the Face) and after reading the script he knew what it meant to me. He didn’t try to impose his own sensibility on it, he said “I see what you are trying to do here and I believe in you.” He was actually the first person to read the script. I really just sent it to him to get his opinion, but he immediately said “Let’s go find a way to make this happen.” He ended up becoming executive producer on it and being very closely involved in a lot of things.
DS: How did you approach casting? Did you always intend to make this film with actors of Adam Scott and Robin Tunney’s stature?
NM: I just wanted to work with great actors. Knowing that we didn’t have a Hollywood budget, the way to get actors of that caliber is by having a script with roles that they want to play. In the case of both Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, they each read the script and said it was a role that they have never played before. That’s the type of actor that I want to work with. They are challenged by [the script] and they see that it can add to the career that they are building. Presumably they will be a lot more invested in working through it and creating something special.
We started putting this together three years ago, but its always a balancing act of finding the money and getting everyone’s schedules to come together. Adam first agreed to do this before his career had really exploded. He had done Stepbrothers, but it was prior to Parks and Recreation; he wanted to do it, but we couldn’t figure out a schedule. A year later we went back to him — thinking he wouldn’t want to do this because he had a ton of other opportunities — and we got really lucky with the timing. We worked around his schedule a little bit and it worked out with Robin’s schedule; so then we started putting all of the other actors together and it was magic. It is one of those things — if there is such a thing as indie film gods, they were certainly looking down on us.
DS: Were the actors involved in the character development process?
NM: One of the things I really love about directing actors — and this is probably the best rule that I learned while studying acting — is that every actor is different. They all need something different. They all want something different. They are all willing to do different things. Adam immediately understood his character — and the reason we wanted to cast him is that he didn’t want Jason to become a caricature or a dweeb. Jason is very boyish and stuck in a romanticized, idyllic youth; but we didn’t want the character to be flimsy. Adam was always intent on saying, “No matter how in love Jason is with life, I still want him to be grounded.” That is what makes Adam such an interesting actor. Before Stepbrothers, his career was mostly dramatic — he was on Tell Me You Love Me which was a very heavy show and I had seen him in The Vicious Kind. Now everyone thinks of him as a great comic actor — which he is — but this was an opportunity for him to do a little bit of both.
With Robin… She had been living with this film for three years — not every day, but there were a couple times that we had some stops and starts. She was very familiar with Emmie. We had talked at length over the course of those years about her character. Then, a few months before shooting — once we realized that we were actually going to be able to make this thing — we dug in a little more. We started talking more, and we got to spend some time with Jeremy Strong, who plays her brother. Robin and Jeremy didn’t know each other, so we got them together so that they could establish a rapport. Robin also did some work on her own; so by the time the cameras started rolling, all of that groundwork that she had done was really helpful.
DS: Is there any significance to some of the specific character traits you gave the characters — such as their careers?
NM: For Robin’s, I just wanted her to be clearly successful, but not necessarily crazy successful. I felt like she should be doing something that is very Brooklyn to me, and I had just never seen a doggy daycare in a movie before. When I lived in Maine with my wife a few years ago, she worked at a doggy daycare and I always thought it was a fun environment. My dog goes to the doggy daycare [that we shot See Girl Run at], but there wasn’t any special meaning to that. I just thought it would be a fun thing, and I love dogs.
With Adam’s character… Thematically, a large part of this story is me checking in with a 15-year-old version of myself and trying to have the 15-year-old me hold myself accountable to the decisions I’ve made and who I am now. And then arguing with that 15-year-old version of myself — “Yes, I know you wanted me to be this, but you don’t understand that there are things that effect your life that don’t allow certain things to happen.” Jason is very much stuck in that 15-year-old version of his self. When people were reading the script they would go both ways. Some thought he was heroic because he stuck to his guns, he had not given up, he was not changing and he would not let anything get in his way; but other people thought that he had to grow up. That whole man-child thing has been depicted in films a lot, especially recently, but I wanted to look at it in a more realistic way. Jason is a local hero and part of the reason he is sticking to his guns isn’t necessarily because he isn’t willing to give up but it is the fear of losing his local hero status. When I go home, people ask me about my career and if I am in Hollywood yet. Of course I don’t want to lie and say that I am, but should I give them little nuggets that make it seem like I am more of a success than I am? That is what I tried to infuse into Jason.
DS: You touch upon the rom-com genre, romantic dramas, the man-child trope — but your approach is much more restrained and toned down. I am assuming that was all very purposefully done?
NM: That was absolutely by design. Even in a much larger sense, this is technically an independent film. So while there were investors, there were no money interests that dictated our creative decisions. We specifically did not want to make a film that felt typically indie. We wanted to make a film that had a broader reach. My mother and I don’t have the same tastes — and I didn’t do this by design — but this is a movie that has some credibility for myself and my friends and it is something that my mom will enjoy. There is the multi-generational aspect to it, and just some of the themes it touches on. We didn’t want to make a film that looked, sounded or felt specifically indie and just get stuck in that sub-genre. All of our choices in music and the way the film looks, we wanted to get lost in it as a movie in general. We didn’t want to fall into the traps that a lot of indie films do, such as using pop songs to drive scenes.
DS: Why did you want to tell this specific story?
NM: While its not autobiographical, I check in with what my expectations were of myself years ago and see where I am now. Sometimes I am disappointed and sometimes I am proud, and that’s just a part of life. I also really like romantic movies, when they work. There are a lot of movies that are about romance — or lost romance — and love, but there are not a lot that ask questions like “What is romance?” and whether there really is such a thing? My generation has grown up thinking that you need to be happy all of the time. If you are unhappy you should run and go do something else. But what is happiness? Is happiness just making yourself feel good? Or is happiness getting through the tough parts of life and getting to the other side? That is the thing that the 15-year-old versions of ourselves don’t have any concept of. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I think the direction we go in — both thematically and where the story eventually ends up — subverts what you typically see. The goal was to make that organic; to say that this is just another way of looking at what romance, love and growing up really means.
DS: Your approach to romance and relationships feels like a very classic interpretation — stick with it and try to make things work. Our modern culture does not seem to know how to approach relationships like that anymore.
NM: I agree. There are certainly relationships that should end, but what I have seen around me — in my peer group and close friends — is an unwillingness to try to see things through sometimes, or work through things. There is sense that you don’t have to, so just move on and do something else. I am not here to judge what other people do — I am not puritanical about it. The reason that it is important to me is that it feeds into all of our relationships — not just romantic relationships. I partly made the movie to encourage myself.
DS: You mentioned the multi-generational aspect of the film, and that allows for the younger characters to learn from the older generations — was that always part of this script?
NM: Definitely. It is how I like to write. I learned a lot about this while I was studying acting — the way plays are written and how they are about themes. The movies that I love most have really a strong theme. If you think about that theme and look at every scene of the movie, it all centers on this central theme. To make a movie just about two people would not be a broad enough canvas to look at the themes of romance, love, change, sacrifice and that sort of thing. I love family dramas, so I figured I would open it up and have the parents and grandmother also reflect what Emmie is going through, but all in different — and hopefully surprising — ways. It is not just that she learns what she learns or experiences because the writer-director is telling her to; it is because the people around her who love her have also experienced what she is going through. Through sharing their love with her, she can understand and grow all the more.
DS: It seems like it was probably a real challenge as a screenwriter to keep Emmie and Jason separated for so long, despite both being present in such a small town.
NM: That was the first challenge that I took on. My initial idea was their meeting and I worked backwards from there. You do box yourself in a corner, and it creates a lot of challenges because you don’t want to seem contrived. The audience will just feel the machinations of the director forcing things to happen. A lot of my thought process was: How many days go by during this period? What would be too much? What would be too quick? And because I already knew how things were going to end up, it made things a little easier because I could build towards a very, very, very specific outcome. This was very important to the actors, so that it would make sense to them. I think everyone involved is very proud of how that trajectory plays out.
DS: The setting of this film really becomes a character in this film. What is the significance of this location to you?
NM: That is absolutely true. There are two things: the logistics of it and the way it fed the story. I lived in New York when I met my wife and I wrote Pretty in the Face for her. It took place in a small town, but it didn’t really matter what small town and we didn’t have any money. We were going to move to this small town, get jobs and make this movie on nights and weekends, and then move back to New York. We had visited Portland, Maine once and we thought it was a really cool town with great culture and great art. This seemed like a place that some schmo from New York might be able to gather some local support because people seemed really into this kind of thing. It is also only five hours from New York, so it wasn’t too far from where we wanted to be and actors could come up on weekends. It wasn’t undoable. Once I started shooting — I shot on such a low-grade format, I had no crew — I realized that Maine is so distinctive and beautiful and so rarely depicted in film (for a number of reasons), but I knew I couldn’t do it justice with that movie. So I kept things very small and contained and tried to make it look like it could be anywhere. So I didn’t make it a character; but in the back of my mind I just really wanted to get back to Maine and do it right because it is so beautiful and it could become a really great character for a film.
As I was writing See Girl Run, it made a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. If Emmie is in New York, distance-wise it made sense that within the course of a day she could get home. Her parents and family — which is sort of an albatross for her — are close enough that she could get there in a day, but not too close that they would unexpectedly show up at her doorstep. As I was conceiving Jason’s character, I knew a lot of visual artists in Maine and it all made sense and came together. I have a filmmaker friend (Ben Kahn) who is local to Maine — and who had helped me on Pretty in the Face — come on to See Girl Run as an associate producer and assistant director. He was able to help us re-find this community — because I had stayed in touch with folks from my first film — and once we got up there the whole community opened their arms. That enabled us to really tap in to make this great environment into a real character. Even when we shot in Brooklyn, we purposely did not shoot the side of Brooklyn you normally see in movies. We wanted to shoot a different Brooklyn — and I thought thematically that really worked with her character; to draw a great distinction between her life now and her life in small town Maine. All of those things were very much be design, and a lot of the credit goes to our production designer (Devoe Yates), cinematographer (Jeremy Saulnier) and locations people for helping us.