Lawrence Kasdan has a storied career. Even before his work had been produced he was known as the writer for the best unproduced screenplay in Hollywood (The Bodyguard). George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were happy to use his talents. He wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But writing wasn’t all Kasdan wanted to do. He quickly got his hands on producing and directing, making some of the most iconic movies of the mid-80s including Body Heat and The Big Chill.
His latest feature is Darling Companion, co-written with his wife Meg and produced by Anthony Bregman (who also produced Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synechdoche, New York). The three came to town in February when Lawrence Kasdan presented a Vielehr award to Bregman at the Boulder International Film Festival. So Marty Mapes spoke to them about Darling Companion and about producing films.
Colorado or Utah?
Darling Companion is set in Colorado but shot in Utah. What's up with that?
LK: We wanted to shoot in Colorado but the rebates were too good [in Utah].
The press notes say Darling Companion is the third film in a trilogy, with The Big Chill and Grand Canyon. Who said that? And do you agree?
LK: Anthony said that
(to the Kasdans): Was that in mind when you were writing this?
Meg Kasdan We knew it was about our generation...
LK: It was a way into that, I guess, but it really was about the dog. I think it started more with the dog than the people.
In the press notes Lawrence says this was “One of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had” ...why do you say that?
Lawrence Kasdan: We had so little money and so little time, yet we were able to get these world-class actors out to Utah and work for very little money, for six weeks, and a crew, a great crew, all entering into the idea of this story. At the end of the movie the crew presented Meg and I with an album of pictures of all them with their pets. Practically everyone on the crew had a dog somewhere. You could see there was this underlying feeling about this relationship that had helped get us this crew for very little money.
Anthony Bregman: People do movies for lots of different reasons. One of the trademarks of a really low budget movie is that the reason why people are doing it is really just to make the movie. It’s not about the payday they’re getting, it’s not about the creature comforts, it’s not about anything other than they really want to do that movie. That, I think, comes through in a production like this.
Why go small on this one?
LK: It’s become much more difficult to make the kind of movies that I made for a long time, in Hollywood.
Is that because it’s more calculated...?
LK: You know what’s coming out of Hollywood. There’s been a huge shift to bigger budgets, fewer chances. They’re devoting enormous amounts of their resources to just a few pictures aimed at an international audience. That means that talky pictures about relationships are gonna be the last thing that they produce.
AB: When you’re making movies that are geared more towards grownups and are about human interactions and don’t have wizards in them, you’re not fitting into [...] that kind of money-making machine, you’re fitting into a different one, and it has different economic parameters to it. It requires often lower budgets, tighter schedules, more narrowcast marketing and publicity, and that’s where this movie falls in that equation.
I was going to say that the tradeoff seems to be that cheaper, easier, smaller, but not broad audience.
AB: The great thing about making a smaller movie is you can succeed without reaching a broad audience. That’s why the economics are different.
Is it more fun to make a smaller movie with a smaller budget?
LK: Making movies is fun. We’ve had fun making movies where we had a lot of money, and we had a lot of fun making this movie.
Is there less pressure?
LK: There’s pressure in both. You never have enough time, you never have enough money. It doesn’t really matter how big the budget is. I’ve directed 11 movies and I’ve never had one day where we said: this is going to be easy.
I watched Grand Canyon this week and there’s praise for producers in that. I couldn’t help laughing because I knew you were coming and giving an award to your producer...
AB: I’m pretty much like that Steve Martin Character. That’s pretty much like me (laughs).
You had the idea that producers are underappreciated... at least it seems that way to me.
LK: There is that. It’s a double-edged sword in Grand Canyon because he goes through a spiritual crisis and gets over it in a week. I do admire that kind of producing too, where you face the realities of Hollywood, which is a very rugged business, and continue to work by being enormously pragmatic, trying to instill some vision of your own, but at the same time, how do you get a movie complete? When I present the award to Anthony tonight I’d love to convey how difficult it is to get any movie produced.
AB: It’s true, it’s incredibly difficult and all forces are against you. But you’re in the business of enabling people like Larry and Meg to tell stories. That’s a pretty great thing. It’s worth it.
Does anybody mourn the death of 35mm film?
LK: I love the way celluloid looks. [...] Everybody has a feeling for film. We all grew up on it. Even a young man like [cinematographer] Michael [McDonough] grew up on film. There’s something that film does that digital cannot. Digital every day is making strides to emulate that look, even softening what could be sharper. He was telling us they’re trying to make pixels bigger.... So everybody loves film and the way it looks. Everybody is facing the reality ... you know how incredible it is that after 100 years, half the theaters still have a machine that takes a piece of plastic and goes like this (moves “film” with fingers)? with sprockets? In this world? It’s amazing.
(to Bregman): Do you say good riddance as a producer who has to watch the budget?
AB: It’s not “good riddance,” it’s that everything is a question of choice. You can have this or you can have that. You can have more days or you can have this location. You can have this type of machinery or you can have another two hours of working with your actors. The tradeoff that you get with digital in my mind is one of the easiest tradeoffs to make. On this film we shot a tremendous amount of footage. If we were shooting this film on film.... On this film we shot two cameras a day, every single day, we let the cameras roll all the time. I spent a lot of my earlier career working with films that are shot on film. I remember the sound of film going through... I’d just think “cut, cut! If you don’t cut we’re going to have to cut a week of editing off.” And you don’t have that anymore.