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Molly Green and James Leffler

2013 LA Film Fest Interview

Jun 17, 2013 Photography by Jennifer Nies Web Exclusive
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There’s a scene early in the romantic road-trip comedy, Forev, where Sophie (Noël Wells), an aspiring L.A. actress, invites herself into the apartment of her neighbor, Pete (Matt Mider), and plops down in the middle of the floor to ponder the status of her life. She’s just returned from a humiliating audition for a hot dog commercial, on the heels of an even worse date night out with a guy. The apartment scene stems from a time when Forev‘s co-writer/co-director Molly Green was going through a rough period and would come over to co-writer/co-director James Leffler’s place to do the same. In the film, Pete joins Sophie on the floor by her side. She tells him that she’s never getting up, and he jokes that they should get married if she’s going to stay in his apartment. She says, “OK.”

To remedy her funk, Sophie tags along with Pete on a six-hour drive to Phoenix to pick up his sister, Jess (Amanda Bauer), from her college. During the trip, Sophie and Pete convince themselves that the conveniences of marriagesplit rent, tax breakswould benefit them, and they commit to the plan without ever having been on a date. Jess, who’s just broken up with her longtime boyfriend, disapproves, and the three of them must chew on the decision, amid a cast of eccentric characters, after Pete’s Jeep breaks down in the desert.

In hearing Green and Leffler recount the development of Forev, their first feature, and trace their working relationship to their days as film students, you’d guess that they were a romantic couple. Not so. Still, more than a few scenes in Forev were inspired real-life occurrences: Sophie’s hot dog commercial audition, for instance, is based on one of Wells’ experiences.

Forev, which was accepted into the L.A. Film Fest‘s Narrative Competition, was shot on weekends while Green and Leffler held down day jobs. For the film, they wanted to utilize the comedic talents of their friends Wells and Mider, who have training in sketch comedy and improv, and have appeared in numerous comedy videos and commercials. All four talents studied some facet of filmmaking at the University of Texas, although not all of them knew each other while in school.

Under the Radar met with Green, Leffler, Wells, and Mider on the first day of June to discuss Forev prior to its world premiere at the fest.Here is the portion of the interview with Green and Leffler.

Chris Tinkham (Under the Radar): How did the story for Forev come about?

James Leffler: It was going off Matt and Noël‘s dynamic, like wouldn’t it be kind of ridiculous if they got married.

Molly Green: Then we realized we needed a third, and we had worked with Amanda before. We slowly started working on it, and then it was like, “Let’s get these guys in a room.” And that’s when it started coming together.

James: Then we also have a smart answer for this. We were thinking about how there’s no marriage police. You’re 25, and you start getting these engagement announcements, and all of a sudden these people that you went to high school and college with, who are idiots, you get these engagement photos and: “Oh, these people are adults now.”

Molly: It’s funny. No one gives you a license to be an adult. You can just be like, “Oh, I’m getting married. I just bought a house.” And all of a sudden, you’re an adult. So we thought that was a funny idea to make fun of—

James: Like this is a short cut to becoming a real person.

Molly: And we wanted to mix in the idea of sincerity, because it’s really tough for people to say something like, “Hey, I really like you.” It’s easier to be like, “We should just get married,” and joke about it and do something sort of rash and joke-y instead of being really honest with each other.

James: And a lot of the particulars came about from what we had. We knew that we wouldn’t have a big budget for lighting, so we’re like, “What’s interesting visually?” Well, it’s probably going to be daytime exteriors. We know we’re going to have to get usable sound, so we’re probably not going to be shooting in L.A. proper a lot. “What’s near L.A. proper? Oh, the desert.”

Molly: It was a little bit like a reality show challenge, but yeah, we sort of built it around that: the resources and the dynamic between these two.

Matt Mider (as Pete) and Noël Wells (as Sophie) in a scene from Forev.

You shot strictly on weekends?

James: We shot first over seven weekends, and then there was one weekit was Memorial Day weekwhere we knew that everyone had that Monday off, so we could take the other four days off, like convince our bosses, so we shot over a nine-day stretch in the desert, and then for some reason came back for two days and then went back to the desert.

Did the actors have to commit to those seven weekends?

James: Yeah, that was kind of a big thing. We were like, all right guys, “We hope you all are very successful and book every job you’re going out for,” but also having B plans for when someone books a commercial.

Molly: Yeah, we were SAG Ultra Low Budget, which contractually means that if any of our actors booked a better-paying job, which is literally anything, that would take precedence. So we were hoping that there would be a stretch where none of these guys were taken away. It worked. Somehow, it worked.

James: It wasn’t just those seven weekends. We were rehearsing every week for the months leading up to that. We would do it at Molly’s place. At that point, ‘cause the script was already written, sometimes Matt and Noël would come in and do something, sometimes Matt and Amanda, or Noël and Amanda, just break it off and dig into the scenes that way.

What was that seventh weekend like? Had you gotten everything you needed up to that point?

Molly: We did. We didn’t have to do any reshoots or anything. The seventh weekend, we had to add an extra half-day, ‘cause we had had a camera malfunctionthe seventh weekend was supposed to be a half weekend. But yeah, it felt good. It wasn’t like, “Oh God, what have we done?” when we finished. We finished strong.

James: Yeah, not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, and a lot of the credit is to our producers, but this was a pretty well planned shoot, ‘cause we knew that of all the resources that we had, the only thing we really had was time to plan it all out, and then, what, brains?

Molly: Brains, yeah. Shooting on weekends helped too, because we had the whole week to plan. So, on the weekend, when we went into it, we had spent the previous five days going through every detail of it. So, it made it run smoother for sure.

James: And just not trying to fall asleep on our desks and trying to explain why we’re sunburned.

Matt Mider, Noël Wells, and Amanda Bauer (as Jess) in Forev.

You two met while in line for a movie?

James: We did. It was one of our professor’s movies at SXSW.

Molly: We were standing in line, and we had a mutual friend there, and he’s like, “Oh, you guys don’t know each other? Here you go.” And we started talking, and I was telling James about the short film I was making for class, and I told him I was still figuring out the title, but here’s what I thought it should be.

James: And I gave you a better version of it.

Molly: James told me it’s a stupid title, said I should change it.

James: I gave you constructive criticism and a solid replacement.

Molly: I’m now willing to admit that James is right, because the title that he suggested has been stolen by Taylor Swift for one of her albums since then.

Which album?

Molly: Speak Now. It’s another movie about marriage. It’s called Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace. I didn’t write it, I just directed it. So that was how we met, and then we just started working together pretty much right after college.

James: Like the day you moved out here. I worked in development for a long time for this guy at Warner Bros., and I was in this zone where I was reading all of my friends’ scripts and, at the time, I was learning the note process, and I was like, “Molly, what are you writing? What can I give you notes on?” And we just ended up writing.

Molly: We had gone to college, and I went back to Austin, made this movie with Matt and then came back here and basically the day I got here, we had dinner and started talking about this idea we wanted to write, we wrote it and then things sort of went from there, and we ended up writing Forev afterwards.

That initial idea didn’t pan out?

Molly: No, we both really like that idea.

James: It’ll be something someday. It was a script that we worked on for a while.

How long did you work on the film before shooting?

James: We took about a year to write the script and did revisions and stuff. We had to have a tight script before we went in, because we were in the middle of the desert with a camera that was going to overheat in minutes, so we had a limited amount of takes.

Molly: But a lot of the really funny stuff in the movie came from improv that we did beforehand. They would say something, and we’re like, “Ah, it’s too good,” and make the scene fit that line in. That was basically a concern of, we didn’t want to spend too much time ad-libbing or figuring things once we were shooting. We had to sort of do it all in advance.

James: Like a real script.

Molly: Like a real script. [Laughs]

What got you into filmmaking?

Molly: It was something I always did as a kid and didn’t think it was a job until I got a little bit older and started looking around and realizing, “Oh, wait, I could make money at this. This could be a career.” I always thought it was just the thing that I really loved to do.

What kind of movies were you making as a kid?

Molly: Like music videos and stuff. I was obsessed with the family camcorder. There are a lot of very embarrassing tapes in a drawer at my house. My parents owned an ad agency when I was a kid, and so I was always on commercial sets and stuff, and then started pursuing it career-wise right after graduating high school.

James: I started making skateboarding videos because I would skate with my older brothers, and I was always the worst, so they’d make me run the camera—my older brother and his friends. But also my little brother who was much better than me. So like, “You do this.” I think that’s where started. That was my youth.

You direct music videos too, right?

Molly: Yeah, we did a bunch of the lowest-budget music videos you’ve ever seen in your life, like a hundred dollars a day with an eight-person crew, feeding them meals for that, and we sort of figured after that, “Oh, if we can do this, we could make a feature for however much it needs to be made for. We can pull this off if we can do that.” I think making music videos gave us the confidence to be like, “Let’s make a movie, and it doesn’t matter what the budget is. We can figure it out.”

Forev had its world premiere at the LA Film Fest on Saturday night. It screens again at the fest on Wednesday night at 9:50 p.m. at the Regal Cinemas L.A. Live Stadium 14. Click here for more info on the festival screenings.


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