A conversation with 'First Time' director Jon Kasdan - East Valley Tribune: Movies

A conversation with 'First Time' director Jon Kasdan

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Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2012 3:45 pm

Director Jon Kasdan comes from a family of filmmakers. His father served as screenwriter for classic motion pictures such as “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. His brother has directed star-studded, raunchy comedies like “Bad Teacher” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”.

Kasdan has racked up quite the impressive resume himself – serving as writer for television series such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Freaks and Geeks”, and debuting his first full-length feature, “In the Land of Women”, in 2007.

“The First Time”, Kasdan’s sophomore effort, follows two teenagers (played by Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson) over the course of one weekend: From the instant they meet at a party to the moment they begin dating. Small in its ambitions but rewarding in its payoff, “The First Time” was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and rolls out in Valley theaters this weekend.

The East Valley Tribune recently sat down with Kasdan to talk about “The First Time”, how he thinks “In the Land of Women” holds up and what movies he’s recently enjoyed in theaters.

So I guess to begin with, my personal favorite part of the movie was actually the opening scene…

Oh, well that’s great! In a way, that’s the trickiest thing in a movie, too, because it’s very rare these days that you see a movie that sort of starts that way. You know, it certainly is with a teen movie that sort of launches you into a long dialogue scene like that. It’s one of the things that I think makes it unusual and unique and it’s also one of the things that makes it a little trickier piece of movie marketing. Certainly, whenever it works for somebody, I’m thrilled to hear it.

Yeah! I just really loved the dialogue and the great chemistry between Britt and Dylan. I was just wondering if you could tell me a little bit about writing that scene and what it was like to shoot it?

You know, the movie was sort of born out of that scene, and it’s sort of, two things. To a certain extent, some version of that scene has been dancing in my mind for many years. It’s not literally things that happened to me in high school, but it certainly has the feeling of high school, which is going to these parties and looking to meet girls and never sort of having it happen in the way that you hoped it would. When I got down to the bottom of what my fantasy really was, it was that I would be able to meet someone and talk to them alone, you know? That was sort of the hardest thing to find in high school: the feeling that you could just have a conversation with a cute girl that you didn’t know. It was always a challenge.

Certainly, in a very weird way, there’s a wish fulfillment fantasy, you know? There’s an element of that. Also, when I set out to write this movie, I wanted to write something that I could make very simply, and if need be, something I could make with a video camera in my back yard behind my apartment and just shoot. I wanted to do something that had virtually no production challenge at all, and even if I had to do it as a short film or a staged reading on a stage somewhere, I could just make it happen. So that’s how I sort of started writing this thing.

Then, you know, the movie sort of grew out of it and this notion to make a movie where you sort of track two people from the moment they meet through the moment they decide maybe they’re going to start dating. I wanted to see every second of that relationship through that that point, and the movie sort of is that. Even though it sort of skips forward after that, you’re seeing every moment that they’re together of that first weekend so not only does the movie start there, it grew out of there.

When we went to make it, I was, as I naturally would be, a little nervous about directing a scene that long and took place in one space. I had sort of been looking at “Before Sunrise”, certainly as a template for the kind of movie that had long scenes but one of the things about “Before Sunrise” is that it’s all in Vienna and beautiful and European in scenery, and I was going to do this in an alley behind a house in San Fernando Valley. I was trying to figure out a way to sort of keep it moving and keep the visual energy of it alive and create that feeling of a living, moving play.

Once we cast Dylan and Britt in the movie we immediately started working on that and dividing it into sections and seeing if we could create some kind of visual flow to the way they moved and really this idea that it’d be like a dance, between two people – one of them would move closer and one of them would move back and they would sort of be pushing each other’s boundaries and testing each other’s limits. When we actually went to shoot it, I made sure that the editor of the movie and the cinematographer of the movie and I really came up with a plan that we could see through to the staging to the shooting to the cutting, where the whole thing sort of felt like an organic piece.

I was reading an interview where you mentioned how you felt challenged by time constraints while shooting this film. How long did the shoot last and what were some other challenges you faced making this movie?

You know, the thing is, it’s funny because I had made one other movie before. It was on a much bigger budget, but the budget of that movie wasn’t as big as that of major studio movies. This movie was a whole stage smaller and the way that that really affects you, you know in a movie like this that doesn’t require any effects or anything like that, is that you’re just crunched for time all day, every day and you’re really worried about getting it all to work. Shooting a full-length feature in 23 days or whatever, it is is a real challenge, particularly in something like this when you’re really trying to get some performances.

Between the balancing of trying to get the performances you want and sort of getting all the work done, I think the thing that you sacrifice and the thing that I feel I most did sacrifice, was that some of the filmmaking you’d like to attempt – the sort of more creative, visual ideas or sort of more elaborate pieces of choreography – you just can’t do because you don’t have time. You find yourself just struggling to get all of the lines on film and making sure that the performances are there and you find that there’s a lot of stuff you’d like to do that you just didn’t have the time to do. For me, that’s always the hardest part. I always view a movie in terms of what I didn’t get, it’s just what my personality is like and each scene is like, “Ah, I didn’t get that shot” or “I could’ve added this little moment to it but didn’t because we were two hours over that day and we just couldn’t keep people there any longer.”

So for me, absolutely the hardest part of something like this is that you just don’t have the time you want. Also, with bigger studio movies, I think you often have the opportunity to test the movie and go back and shoot for a couple more days. With a movie this small, that’s just not something we could do and I think that often, and certainly in this case, I think there’s benefits to be had in being able to go back and do things slightly differently. I was reading something about Paul Thomas Anderson and how he reshoots almost every scene he does and you can’t help but be jealous of that because it allows you to get everything that you hoped. At the same time, with the sort of scale of this film, it gives the movie the sort of energy and authenticity that it benefits from.

I was also reading that, in your opinion, your previous film, “In The Land of Women”, didn’t really work as a complete entity. How did that change how you approached “The First Time” and how you do you feel about the finished product?

The thing about “In The Land of Women” is that I felt it was a script that I was proud of and it was a script that read well, I think, and it was a very ambitious project, in a way, because it dealt with some very heavy stuff. It dealt with my experiences having cancer, having survived cancer, and it dealt with, you know, adolescent issues that are in this movie, too. It also dealt with issues of manhood and what it meant to be a man and what it meant to grow up, and there’s three very distinct stories happening in “In The Land of Women”.

As a first time director, sort of dealing with a lot of different levels of actors, it was more stuff than I was able to make cohesive. There are moments in the movie that I’m very proud of and I’m certainly proud of all the performances, but I just don’t feel like as a story you’re invested in from beginning to end, it works even for me. Another thing that this movie sort of comes out of is I wanted to create a very small film, not just in its scale but also in its ambitions. I wanted to write a movie that was simply romantic and honest to my experience of being a teenager – sort of reconciling my romantic aspirations with the realities of a relationship. That was all I hoped this movie would be.

I just hoped it would take two people from meeting to actually what it means to start dating somebody. It’s not that far a journey, it’s a pretty short trip, and I thought if I could just focus on that story, maybe I could at least get that part right and that would be the movie. Certainly, I think it’s way more successful, for me, than the other one was, partly because of its scale and partly because with each successful movie, I think you get more comfortable and you learn from each one and you get better at it, at least to a point. There’s certainly a few instances of directors who do their best work and then they never do that well again, but I do feel, at least at this point, I’m still getting better.

I think we’re just about out of time, but any movies that you’ve seen recently that you’ve really enjoyed and would like to share with our readers?

Last week I saw “Looper” and I was so impressed, and I always have been by Rian (Johnson)’s work. It’s an incredibly written and directed movie that’s just a joy to watch that has a great energy and pace to it. I also just saw “The Master” and that’s a more difficult movie, certainly, but equally impressive. It’s a substantial piece of work in acting and filmmaking, and Paul Thomas Anderson, love him or hate him, he’s just a unique and visionary guy. Both those guys, it’s great to see these directors with such clear visions and are able to execute them on large canvases like that. I’m a great admirer, you know?

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