Director Andy Fickman discusses One True Loves | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Director Andy Fickman discusses One True Loves

Falling in Love

Apr 04, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

After 30 odd years in Hollywood Andy Fickman has just about seen and done it all. As a production executive, Fickman worked on the cult classic Hocus Pocus and on comedies like Another You. The latter starred two of the genre’s icons, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. He later directed Kevin Can Wait, Kevin James’ follow up sitcom to the widely watched King of Queens. Fickman also helped The Rock play against type while directing him in the family comedy The Game Plan.

On his new directorial effort, One True Loves, Fickman is helping another ascending star cut against the grain. Simu Liu, who broke through in the Marvel movie Shang Chi, heads up the cast of this romantic comedy adapted from the novel of the same name by New York Times bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid (also known for penning Daisy Jones & The Six, which was recently adapted into a hit TV series). It tells the story of Emma (played by Broadway sensation Phillipa Soo), a travel writer mourning her boyfriend (Luke Bracey, who played talent manager Jerry Schilling in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis). She reconnects with her high school pal (played Liu) who has long had a crush on her. When the presumed dead beau resurfaces, the ensuing love triangle is equal parts slapstick and sentimental.

But of course One True Loves is entering a market far removed from the one where Hocus Pocus and especially The Game Plan drew boffo box office. In this conversation, Finkman tells us about enduring the ongoing theatrical decline that not only makes rom-coms struggle but practically prevents them from getting funded. He also dishes on working with everyone from Wilder to The Rock to Liu, and how One True Loves’ leading lady is poised to rule Hollywood after conquering Broadway (and winning Grammys) as part of the Hamilton cast.

Under the Radar (Kyle Mullin): What drew you to this project?

Andy Fickman: I read this book [holds up a paperback copy of One True Loves] and fell in love. The journey from making it to what you see onscreen is quite a journey indeed. Hats off to anyone getting anything made, whether in film or theater. I’m proud that Taylor, who wrote the book, wrote our film alongside her husband Alex.

I’m also proud when we began casting. Because I felt we couldn’t start the film until we found our perfect Emma [the One True Loves novel’s protagonist]. I had the pleasure to meet many actors, all via Zoom. And when we met Phillipa we knew we’d met our Emma. When we also first met Simu and Luke, we had the same feeling. We didn’t feel we needed to search any further.

Aside from the cast, I’m proud of the amazing crew that we worked with in Wilmington, North Carolina. We traveled the world twice in the film without leaving that city. It gave us everything we needed.

How did Phillipa continue to impress you after that first promising meeting? I was surprised by her comedic timing in the scene where Emma meets her high school friend again as an adult, and is so taken with him she almost trips and falls.

You can show someone how to pratfall, but real comedy is character-based. And the more we were able to rehearse and see how Phillipa was around Simu and Luke, the more we could see that on film. More than slapstick moments, we set out to have awkwardness and comedy that came from that. Phillipa was so game for that. We never had to worry about how she’d pull things off. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with major comedic actors who you never had to worry about. But no two actors can play the same comedic notes, so you do wonder beforehand. But on this movie, we were laughing so much on set we’d have to bring that down a few notches to do serious scenes.

It’ll also be interesting for audiences to see Simu Liu in a romantic comedy after he broke through as Shang-Chi.

Shang-Chi actually hadn’t’ come out yet when we were working on One True Loves. I’d known of Simu from this series he was on called Kim’s Convenience. He was so brilliantly funny on that. So our casting director, Sarah Finn, who does all the Marvel films, asked if I wanted him, and I jumped. At first he couldn’t believe I was a Kim’s fan. Then I started going over my favorite character arcs from that show, and from that point we were like two old friends. We were in Wilmington when Shang-Chi opened and he was doing press. A bunch of us went to the theater to watch him in it. Then he showed up on set, and we were all like: “That’s Shang-Chi!” But those of us who’d been working with him for months also remembered how wonderfully grounded he is, and how right he is for this role in One True Loves.

You’ve overseen a few actors subvert public perceptions, like The Rock breaking into comedy in 2007’s The Game Plan. Did Simu remind you of that?

At that time Dwayne was still a big part of the wrestling community, something that is still part of his heart. We were able to use that in The Game Plan. Same with John Cena in Playing With Fire [which Fickman directed in 2019], because he’s such a showman from his amazing time in wrestling, and we were able to use that. So Simu came off filming that Marvel movie full of new information as an actor. He’d be like, “I can do that stunt.” And he had to carry that movie. So he could learn and deliver copious lines. When you’re working with an actor, their most recent project and life experiences get rolled into the package. I also got lucky with Luke because he was in the Point Break remake a few years back, along with just coming off a brilliant Baz Luhrmann movie. So everyone was coming off something big and felt they were on the same playing field.

What’s it like to work with these up and comers compared to some of the seasoned veterans you collaborated with in prior movie biz eras?

Early on, when I was an executive, I did development for Gene Wilder and Bette Midler. I even got to direct her in Parental Guidance [in 2012]. I also loved working with Kevin James on Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Adam Sandler was our producer on that one. Whenever you’re’ surrounded by raw comedic talent like that, you have to rise up every step of the way, because it’s a master class in what they do.

A big part of it is understanding no two comedic actors are the same, and none are able to do the exact same comedic beat. It’s better to think of movie comedies like sports— everyone is riffing and counting on each other to pass and catch the ball. And not only is each performer and team different, but each film has its unique challenges. For Phillipa in this movie, it was hard because Simu and Luke aren’t really on camera together. So when we finished Luke’s scenes and Simu came in, it was amazing how quickly she and the crew adjusted to that different energy. It took all of 30 seconds.

You mentioned Gene Wilder a moment ago. Can you tell us more about your fondest memories of working with him?

I just saw a video going around online of an old interview he did with Conan back in the day. I got misty-eyed watching him. He was so gentle and so smart. I remember once when I was starting to direct a lot of theater in LA, and I asked him about a play I was directing. He asked me to explain the scene, then suggested: “Why don’t you have this actor take a drink mid-scene?” It wasn’t in the script, so I thought “Why would I?” But sure enough, that change led to hysteria.

Gene had that brilliant mind. He was an incredibly gifted performer, and writer, and director, and fencer [mimics the motion of thrusting and parrying]. Every day I was with him — and his producing partner Susan Ruskin, who runs AFI— I felt I was in the best film school ever. I was this kid from Texas. I did not have a wide knowledge of classic or foreign films. So Gene would ask if I’d seen a movie, and I’d run down to Blockbuster and get it. Or Gene would have it in his collection. It was a fascinating education through the world of comedy.

When you mention Blockbuster Video, it makes me think of how much the movie industry has changed. Sometimes I worry that comedies and rom-coms are on the verge of extinction just like video rentals, considering how much they struggle to get funding, let alone succeed at the box office.

You know, I direct theater a lot [among Fickman’s stage successes: the musical premiere of Reefer Madness!, Jewtopia’s first Los Angeles production, not to mention the Los Angeles, Off-Broadway and London productions of Heathers: The Musical]. Theater is where I started, and where I still am much of the time.

And in theater, we’re used to not knowing if we’ll have an audience of a hundred people or a thousand. So I’ve always taken the attitude that our job is to put on a show for the audience that we find. Our mindsets have to change, because we used to just think about how many screens our films would be coming out on. Now that window has shrunk, and we can be day and date or on VOD [video on demand] a week later. For me it’s about eyeballs. Who can see it.

I think we learned a lot from the height of the pandemic. Every day my wife and I, mother in law, and two of my nieces who were staying with us to ride lockdown out, we would all have movie night. I would pull up a classic movie and ask: “Who’s seen Die Hard? Nobody? We’re watching Die Hard then!” And you found that you were able to have that communal experience at home as well. I will forever love when you can hear audiences roar together at a comedy in a theater. But I don’t believe that train is going to go backwards, and we can’t just hope things will be 100 percent how they were pre-pandemic. So I don’t mind adjusting to it. As long as I find an audience for the work we’ve done, that’s what makes me the most happy.

But what’s it like to try and get things greenlit in that environment, or to watch once big budgets shrink?

Yes, you don’t get any of that anymore [laughs]. The model was to do the math on releasing the movie, hopefully break even in two weeks, and then everything else would be profit. DVD, VOD, streamers— those were secondary incomes on top of what you could make. That’s all gone now. Most of the studios are in the blockbuster business now, the high IP of comic books or sequels from some of their bigger hits, which I totally understand. So the risk factor of doing a $10 or $20 million movie isn’t what interests them. That then falls on the streamers. It falls on the indies. It falls on the VOD market. So in order to get that movie made, I’ll have to keep coming down and down in my budget, because there will be a sweet spot where everyone is happy. But you don’t have the reliability anymore. And the classic setup of spending $20 million to market a $20 million budgeted movie no longer exists either. Now you hope someone in your cast has 20 million fans on Instagram.

You know, I have kids, and they are more likely to see a movie trailer online than in the theatre like I used to. They’re more likely to watch something on their phone. There’s so many different ways to watch something now. But I realize those communication systems we had in place to get the word out have changed. We’re all just having to adapt to it. And the reality is, from silent movies to talkies, black and white to color, from network television to HBO— the entertainment industry has always found a way to reinvent itself. My son has a Blockbuster Video t-shirt he loves to wear. And he still remembers as a kid going to Blockbuster. But now those Blockbusters have all become banks. Now he’ll grow up and tell his kids “There was a thing called videos and DVDs!” And they’ll look at him like he’s ancient. So we’re all finding new ways to connect.

ONE TRUE LOVES will be in theaters on April 7th and on digital April 14th.


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