Drake Doremus, director of Breathe In and Like Crazy

Discussing his newfilm, Breathe In, his next project, and favorite albums

Mar 26, 2014 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In Breathe In, Felicity Jones stars as Sophie, a troubled foreign exchange student who moves into the upstate New York home of Keith (Guy Pearce) and Megan (Amy Ryan) Reynolds. Keith is a talented musician who was forced to give up his artistic dreams when their daughter (Mackenzie Davis) was born 17 years earlier, and longs to move on from the suburban teaching job he’s held ever since. A chair opens up at the symphony, and Keith sees his shot at returning to his old, bohemian New York lifestyle. When he finds a kindred, listless soul in the young, musically-gifted Sophie, a romantic relationship forms and the life he has with his family begins to unravel.

Filmmaker Drake Doremus is well-known for his improvisational approach to directing, and his scripts—co-written with Ben York Jones—which focus on character backgrounds and emotional descriptions over traditional dialogue.  Breathe In is Doremus’ second collaboration with Felicity Jones and composer Dustin O’Halloran, both of whom he worked with on 2011's Like Crazy. The film opens March 28th.


Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Can you walk me through where the idea for Breathe In began, and how you and your co-writer approached the screenplay?

Drake Doremus: The idea really came from the world of Dustin’s music, the tone and what that is. We really wanted to set something outside of L.A. and do something totally foreign. My co-writer Ben spent so much time in upstate New York during his early years, going in the summers and staying with his dad. He had so many different memories of that world and its tone, so a lot of this formed out of that. But really, we wanted to custom-tailor something for Felicity, and the music really gave us a platform to create something.

For the actors, it seems like your directing approach, because you offer so much freedom, could seen equally as daunting as it is liberating.

Oh, yeah. Really.

Obviously, Felicity has been through that process before [in Like Crazy] and thrived in it, but is there any level of coaching necessary for actors working with you for the first time?

I think so. Amy [Ryan] for sure had an improvisational background, whereas Guy just came in and was totally the opposite. He’d never improvised before, let alone improvised in a foreign dialect. It was very foreign to him, and I think he was a little scared and needed some convincing. But once he got the hang of it, and once he really understood the character, he dove right into it and embraced it. I think he enjoyed that liberating process as an actor. He really began to explore, and it was exciting to watch him go from where he started at the beginning of the rehearsal process to where he ended up by the end of the film. It was really amazing.

Can you share a moment or element one of your actors brought to the film that perhaps wasn’t spelled out explicitly in your script treatment?

Oh, yeah. Felicity created so much of Sophie’s back story, and where she came from, and all of her different damaging elements. I mean, [my co-writer] Ben came up with a lot of her back story as well, and why she was damaged, and all of that. I wanted to put a lot on the actors to develop their characters’ back stories themselves, so that they could own them from the inside out, and so it wasn’t just them playing characters that we gave them. They really had to really be involved with me in collaborating on developing the characters. That way, we would essentially do it together, so they could live it and feel it.

This one was made in a similar way to Like Crazy. I’m wondering if there were things you took or learned from that earlier film, that perhaps you did differently while making this one?

I tried to get the story a little bit more clear. It’s almost like making a documentary, so you have to be very specific with the beats you want to achieve. You have to be careful it doesn’t veer off into places that don’t work. For me, it was really about focusing on what the story is and us making sure it works, and getting the beats we need to get. Every time I do this, I’m more and more wary of the story and making sure the time we’re using is as economical as possible.

How long did you have to shoot this one?

This one was four weeks. We shot for four weeks, edited for seven months, and then went back and shot three more days, where we picked up some stuff. That’s very normal for this process. Then we kept editing. It was actually a pretty short amount of shooting time.

Seven months in editing was a lot longer than you had on Like Crazy.

Oh, yeah. This was a much longer editing process.

With that extra time, was there anything you discovered in the editing room that maybe wasn’t obvious to you while shooting? 

Absolutely. I think when we started out the film it was much more of a thriller, and then we later discovered it was a much more delicate, romantic movie. That had developed over the course of taking their performances and developing the story.

You said it was at one point a thriller?

Yeah, I mean, the emotional suspense elements in the outline were a little more dramatized.

You have a talent for finding actors just before their careers explode. You had Jennifer Lawrence in Like Crazy back when all anyone had seen her in at that point was Winter’s Bone. And when you look at Felicity Jones’ current slate of projects, it appears her career is about to skyrocket. That has to be something you’re proud of, right? Being able to identify these great talents, and help put them on the map?

I feel that way about Mackenzie [Davis] as well. She’d never been in anything before and had just graduated from school. This was the first thing she’d ever done, and now she’s in lots of different projects. I love that. I love to think about how there are so many talented people out there who haven’t been discovered. The idea that any of these films can help shed some light on how talented these young women are is just a pleasure to me. And because they make me look good.

What’s your secret to casting? What qualities are you looking for in your actors?

That’s an interesting question. It’s the ability to not have to perform: to be still, and let the moment be as little as it needs to be, and nothing else. I think a lot of actors are trained to perform and to try to do something special, but in a sense all the women we were talking about have the ability to sit, and be, and do nothing. It’s really exciting and liberating to be around that sort of confidence. You can let the moment just be, and you don’t have to overdo it.

Were there any moments or scenes in this film that were particularly difficult for your cast?

I think the scene in the hospital with Amy and Guy was a very tricky, difficult emotional scene. So many different things were going into it. We wanted to do the scene without dialogue, and so much needed to be conveyed between the two of them. On set, it was tricky to navigate those emotional beats and contours, and to understand the intensity of it.

I know we’re here to talk about Breathe In, but I’m pretty pumped about the little details I’ve heard about your upcoming sci-fi film, Equals. What can you share about that film so far?

I think it’s more futuristic than it is sci-fi. I think it’s a tangible version of the future, anyway. It’s a completely different experience for me, and it’s a little scary, but also very exciting. I’m working from a script written by Nathan Parker, who’s an incredibly talented writer. It’s a very different animal for me, but I’m still going to explore a lot of the same performance aspects I’m interested in. It’s an opportunity to do something totally different, with a different crew and a different cast. I feel like it’s going to bring out something different in me.

Nathan Parker wrote Moon, which I loved, so I’m sure you’re working from a great screenplay. How do you see your directing style potentially changing for this project, beyond the script phase?

I think it will be exciting to be able to work in a bigger space, and have the opportunity to work on a much grander idea. I hope to say something even more profound about love, and about us as human beings, and where we’re going and where we’ve been. That, to me, makes this a really exciting opportunity to make something that’s relatable to everybody.

You’ve made a heavily music-focused film in Breathe In. Can you tell us about some of your favorite albums?

Oh, gosh. I don’t even know where to start. As in the last year when I was making the film, or…?

Recent favorite or all-time. Either’s fine.

All time? Oh, gosh. [Laughs] How much time do you have? My favorite albums of all time... I’d have to start with Paul Simon’s Graceland. I’d also have to go with Depeche Mode’s Violator, and Peter Gabriel’s So. Those are my all-time ones. In the last year, I’ve really liked the new Wild Beasts album. And I really like this new band, Arthur Beatrice. I’ve been really obsessed with them, I think they’re amazing.

Arthur Beatrice just played our SXSW party a few days ago.

Fucking A, man! They’re great, huh?

Oh, yeah. They put on an amazing show.

That’s so cool. That’s my favorite album of the year so far. It’s amazing. Really inspiring. But I have to say as well that this electronic artist, Apparat, is someone whose work I really love, and I’ll be working with in the future. I really like the last album that he put out.

Have any of these albums rubbed off in any way on your filmmaking?

Yeah, very much. I mean, Paul Simon was in Like Crazy, and was a big part of it. Graceland, especially. His music really invokes certain feelings, and there’s something so romantic about that album to me when I think about it.

Breathe In opens March 28th. 


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March 29th 2014

I lol’ed when I saw Doremus say that with Equals he “wanted to make something that’s relatable to everybody.” If that was true, then casting Kristen Stewart was a huge mistake. She’s not only not relatable, she’s one of the most divisive people ever. She split the Twilight fandom in half, and then she got caught having an affair with a married director, which means anyone who’s ever been cheated on is side-eying her like crazy. No pun intended.

Ugly Hater
March 29th 2014

Go get a life “skeptical”  it’s not Kristen’s fault someone cheated on you.  Everyone does relate to her now and it’s becoz of haters like you who don’t leave her live in peace.  Looking forward to all the great movies she’s done lately.