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Interview | Writer Benjamin Percy on Co-Writing Summering w/ James Ponsoldt, Working During Covid and Nods to Horror Classics

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At one point, we were all dreading the time of summer when the season is about to end and school is right around the corner. This small fragment of time is tackled by director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) in Summering. The film follows a group of four friends who discover a dead body in the woods. This kicks off one last adventure as the four face a looming separation once middle school begins due to going to different schools. This film has the likes of Stand by Me written all over it with the unique twist of putting four girls front and center, giving girls and women a chance to see themselves in a coming-of-age film.

I spoke with co-writer Benjamin Percy, who worked extensively with Ponsoldt to write the film, over Zoom as a part of the Summering junket. We talked about his relationship with Ponsoldt, some of the inspirations of Summering and the very unique way that he and Ponsoldt collaborated.

Warning: This interview features light spoilers for Summering.


Coastal House Media: Hi, Benjamin, it’s nice to meet you. Congratulations on the film! I was reading the director’s note and reading about your hope that audiences see a version of themselves in the film and I think you nailed that. How did you and James Ponsoldt meet and begin working collaboratively on Summering?

Benjamin Percy: So, James [Ponsoldt] and I met each other in 2003 when we were roommates at this Sewanee Writers’ Conference and we became friends. We are frequent collaborators and this is the first thing that we’ve worked on together that’s gone the distance.

CHM: I know this was a personal project for him, but what about you?

Percy: My daughter is the exact age as the girls in the film, and like every dork dad, I was really excited to share the stories I had grown up with. When I read her books like The Hobbit or The Outsiders or Where the Red Fern Grows or The Yearling [or] when I showed her movies like Stand by Me and The Goonies, in every instance, she was like, “That’s great, I love that. But where are the girls?” And every day when she comes home from school, she gets off the bus, bangs through the front door and drops her backpack, and usually storms down the stairs and grabs me from my desk and says, “Let’s go get a snack.” And, you know, we chat for a while about her day, but one day she came home and stayed upstairs so I went to investigate what was going on [and] I found her at the family computer writing and she had a novel underway called The Girl Hobbit. I’m butchering the first line, but it went something like this: “This story might seem familiar to you, but it’s about a girl Hobbit,” and it was in that spirit of revisionism that James and I began this conversation about Summering and in some ways, Madeline, my daughter, felt like a collaborator in the process.

CHM: Well, I should ask you then, down the line when your daughter is a little older, would you consider writing a script or a novel with her?

Percy: Well, we’re always talking stories. When we go on walks [or] when we’re driving to the ski hill late at night or just lying in bed and saying goodnight, we’ll just talk about different story possibilities. So one day, certainly, yeah, I can see that happening.

CHM: So since you’re friends with James, I imagine you’ve seen most of, if not all of his films. Which of your films is your favorite and why?

Percy: I love The End of the Tour. Not just because it’s a really profound and moving movie, but also because it’s about David Foster Wallace. So as a novelist myself, I always love movies [that are] “inside baseball” when it comes to the writing world.

CHM: I read that you guys kind of collaborated and communicated over email. What was it like writing a script this way?

Percy: It was a really egoless process. We know each other well [enough] that we can totally write over the top of one another without any hesitation. Usually, somebody would write a scene or two, they’d send the document on to the other person [who] would then write a scene or two or three and in doing so would also edit what had been handed in before. By the end of this whole process, it becomes really unclear [of] who wrote what because you achieved a kind of “Mindmeld,” or a singularity of voice.

A still from Summering. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

CHM: Now did you guys choose this way of collaborating because of you guys not being close in distance to each other or because of COVID?

Percy: Well, we do live in separate corners of the country — I’m in Minnesota — but I think even if I was down the block from him, the process would be the same. Usually, we have a Google document. That’s how we start things off.

And sometimes we’ll be in the Google Document at the same time — that’s usually [for] when we’re outlining or coming up with a “Bible” about a project —and then we move into the final draft and that’s when you have singular versions of the draft that you email back and forth. So usually we’ll text each other and say, “I’m working on the document right now, don’t touch it.”

This carries over to the way that we collaborated on Urban Cowboy, which we’re writing right now for a Paramount+ series.

CHM: Because of your close bond, is I know you guys are, is it hard to ever because you guys are so close, does that ever make it difficult to give constructive criticism?

Percy: We aren’t overly sensitive. In fact, we welcome brutal criticism, and that doesn’t just apply to the conversations that we have with each other, but with others.

With Summering, before we ever wrote a single word, I sat down with several moms, asking for their opinion on the project, [and] I talked to my daughter about it. As we began to script, we were sharing scenes and sharing drafts with a fifth-grade teacher, with a mother of a friend, and with girls who were approximately the same age as the ones in the film, just trying to get feedback and hopefully get things right. And we welcome them to be as brutally honest as possible.

CHM: I actually was just going to ask about that. Was it difficult at all to write from the perspective of these 11-year-old girls?

Percy: Given that I have a kid who’s that exact age, racing through that same gauntlet and going through this sort of liminal stage of life when there’s a lot that’s changing; when you’re moving from this safe little nest of elementary school into middle school and adult truths are looming. I’ve been eavesdropping on her friends, I’ve been asking her all these questions and as a result, it made that projection a lot easier. But at the same time, I recognize that I have a lot of blind spots and that’s why we introduced so many others to the conversation and to the editing process.

CHM: Just curious, do either you or James have an older sibling? Because one of the characters has an older sibling and as an older sibling myself, I really thought that you nailed the dynamic between them.

Percy: You know, one of the things that we wanted to do is sort of show this progression. So we had the teenager, who is a little more hardened. That older sister is a truth-teller and is sort of calling them out on their more “fantastical,” or as she refers to them, “immature” mindsets, and they [the kids] sort of recognize where they’re going and they don’t like the look of it.

A still from Summering. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

And then we also have that next stage, the stage of motherhood. We wanted to have these different projected destinations and have the moms looking back and have the girls looking forward.

CHM: Was there any point where you guys hit writer’s block or a scene that was hard to finish?

Percy: The thing that we wanted to get just right was offering up just enough of a magical lens that we felt like we were inhabiting a kid’s perspective, but not go so far that it felt cartoonish, you know? And the idea is that as the film progresses, we sort of go from a state of fantasy to realism. By the end, summer is ending, they’ve gone through this quest together and things are going to be different from here on out.

And the magic of the movie, a door closes on it and you should be questioning at that juncture whether or not there ever was a body at all, or if they were engaged in storytelling. That was a tricky thing to do, to sort of finesse when we were writing, but also when we were editing.

Warning: light spoilers in the next question

CHM: I don’t know if you can say, but in your mind, was there a body?

Percy: I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say, but the body wasn’t real to me.

CHM: This might be an easy question for you, but what is it about James as a director that made you kind of trust him with making your guys’ screenplay? Because once you guys wrote this together, it was in his hands.

Percy: James is one of the most empathetic, generous people you’ll ever encounter. He’s incredibly smart, incredibly kind, and if you’ve ever been out in the world with him, I mean, just going to a coffee shop, walking into a grocery store, sitting down at a restaurant, he will talk to everyone and get them to open right up. He has this superpower [of] empathy and so that big-heartedness and that genuineness that he has, it carries over to all of his work.

CHM: So then was there any scene in your script that you were really excited to see on the big screen, one that may have come out as what you imagined?

Percy: I mean, the whole story feels like a dream realized in that what we put on the page is very much what I’m seeing on the screen. I was especially interested in these moments that were sort of revisionist hat tips to existing stories. Like if you look at the opening shots of the film, for instance, you think this is one thing, you have these kids they’re in the bathtub, they’re sort of hunched down, shallow-breathing, they’re obviously fearful, and then a shadow looms on the shower curtain. We think we know what this movie is, but then the shower curtain is ripped aside and it’s their friend [who’s] dressed up in her mom’s ridiculous pink bathrobe and the sleeping mask and has a dust buster in hand. But that moment is sort of a direct nod to Psycho, right? And instead of a situation in which women are victimized, we sort of pulled a rug out from under the audience and we’re making an announcement to them as to what sort of story is in store for them.

You see other moments like that throughout the story; there are hat tips to Halloween in the way that the specter is following them about, and so those moments of horror, that then you experience a reversal through, those were ones that I was especially interested in.

CHM: One last question for you: There’s a lot of voiceover at the beginning and the end and that’s where I really think the script really shines and is so profound. Is it tough to write a voiceover? Because I imagine it’s a tough line to navigate; not sounding cheesy.

A still from Summering. Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street.

Percy: Yeah, you don’t want voiceover to be clumsy with exposition, you know? You don’t want it to feel like you’re being guided too aggressively. What we wanted to do was anchor the story in Daisy [Lia Barnett]’s point of view. This is an ensemble story, but really the emotional linchpin of it all is Daisy. There’s something analogous between her journey, to sort of overcome the loss of her father and to seek out this lost figure in the man in the woods; those two mysteries are entwined and she achieves this sort of catharsis with the help of her friends. So we wanted to really cement that through the voiceover and we hope that it’s showing at the beginning and at the end and adds just enough of a flourish to the story [to] make that resonate.


Summering is in theaters now.

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Cinematographers Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins Talk Bringing Marcel the Shell with Shoes On to Life | Interview

‘Marcel the Shell’ cinematographers Bianca Cline (live-action) and Eric Adkins (stop-motion) discuss bringing the one-inch-tall shell to life in time for the film’s digital release.

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Very few films are as small (literally and figuratively) but pack the emotional punch that Marcel the Shell with Shoes On does. Dean Fleischer-Camp’s film is an extension of the web shorts that date back over a decade ago. The first short has over 32 million views as of July 2022, and what began as a three-minute short has now expanded into a 90-minute feature film.

Jenny Slate voices the adorable Marcel, a one-inch-tall shell that is being interviewed by Dean, played by Fleischer-Camp himself, a young filmmaker who I mistook for Cooper Raiff just by his voice. But like Raiff, who is an up-and-coming filmmaker himself, Fleischer-Camp has made a special film with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, and it’s a film that truly appeals to all audiences (bring tissues for a beautiful rendition of an Eagles classic).

A still from Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Photo courtesy of A24.

I could go on about the film for hours, but because of the dense nature of this interview, I’ll introduce our subjects. I spoke with live-action and stop-motion cinematographers, Bianca Cline and Eric Adkins over Zoom. They were so generous with their time, and I had so much fun hearing them go into such detail about the process of making the film that you won’t get anywhere else. In this interview, they discuss what their unique working relationship was like, the differences in techniques filming live-action and stop-motion, and the way the two blend together.

Coastal House Media: Could you two describe what your working relationship on this project was like?

Bianca Cline: It’s a really unique film because it wasn’t one or the other [live-action or stop-motion] — the two overlap quite a bit. It wasn’t like there were sections that are stop-motion and sections that are live-action, it was a constant blending of the two. When I came on in pre-production, they hadn’t hired a stop-motion DP, and so I was like really excited when I met Eric [Adkins] because that collaboration was going to be so important but also unusual because it’s not like there were normal delegations the way you would [have them] with grip, electric, or the art department, so it was like we were developing a new thing and it was different for Eric because [he] doesn’t usually have to work with somebody like me.

We started the film like a live-action film. I think we filmed for 24 days, but there was so much more that went into it. We wanted Marcel and his grandmother and some of the other characters to always be made in stop-motion instead of doing them as CGI characters. But doing that isn’t as simple as just doing the character and putting it in because he’s constantly interacting with things that are in the real world, spoons, books, fruit and all of these other things including living things like grass and dirt — dirt’s not alive — but tangible, organic things. So it was a constant puzzle of [figuring out] which pieces need to be replicated in stop-motion, which parts need to be captured in the live-action portion of the film, and also [figuring out] what things can work for the stop-motion; like what kind of camera movement can work? What kind of lighting is going to be replicable [without] adding too much? If it’s going to make the film much better, we’d do it that way.

And Eric was there every day of the live-action [portion of filming], constantly watching what I was doing because we were creating the look of the film there, but it [also] needed to be replicated on a stage, which is a much different situation especially since we wanted it to feel like a documentary. Even though most of the lighting wasn’t natural, we had to make it feel natural and we were trying to push the envelope a bit with things that you might do in stop-motion because we had the opportunity. With live-action, you might film sunlight coming in the window with leaves which [are] constantly moving and is something that [is] very easy for me to film but then super difficult for Eric to replicate on stage.

Eric Adkins: Early on, I did some testings almost a year before the live-action [filming] and we were trying to figure out what would be the easiest way to do these interactions. And what came out of that was that the real high-tech way, which not only would be extremely expensive but also was the least successful way how to go, especially because the original production — the little web episodes — were done by this director [Dean Fleischer-Camp] who is an editor [and he] would essentially do a live take and then animate many different cuts and animate in post [production] and edit. So what was baked in was this beautiful movement of wind blowing, a branch or something, or light shifting because of the window. Traditionally, you don’t do that in stop-motion; you control that stuff and make that not happen, so the idea of working with this fluid live-action feel came down to trying to interact with what is captured as much as possible.

So while live-action is beautiful and sometimes you capture unique things, my part was to actually translate what was captured and actually lock it into something that is a reaction to what was given.

The fact that you’re dealing with live actors too was really kind of interesting because there were all [of] these focus issues: making sure you’re not too closely-focused, making sure it’s not a diopter situation where you ruin the background focus just for the sake of what’s up front. So it’s really a nice, collaborative scenario where each of us are doing our own jobs but [are] also working together to try to create a whole, and it was really fun to do that.

CHM: So neither of you worked on the original short films then?

Cline: Yeah, I think it was just Dean [Fleischer-Camp] and Jenny [Slate] that made those.

A still from the set of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: Whenever I interview a duo that worked together, I like to ask this. Could you guys complement each other and name one thing that the other brought to the table?

Cline: Going in, I was really worried. I thought that it would be very restrictive, that Eric [Adkins] would say, “Oh, that’s too hard for me to replicate,” or, “I can’t do that,” over a sustained period because it could take days to do one scene [and] we wanted it to feel spontaneous so that it would feel like a documentary [and] also so Marcel would feel more real. I thought that that would be really difficult, that it was going to be very restrictive, that we’d have to have the camera locked off a lot and that camera movement or having interactive lighting would be tricky, and Eric was just constantly pushing to make those things better. I’m like, “Oh, let’s film the scene with candles,” and sure, it’d [have] super unpredictable lighting, but Eric was like, “Yeah, we’ll find a way [and] we’ll make it work.”

He [Eric] was taking notes on everything; how the lighting was working and focal distance and lens and was never snobbish. I could just do my job [and] didn’t have to worry about all those things because Eric was just on top of it constantly.

Adkins: Well, thank you. I felt blessed in the sense that the spirit of Bianca and what she was trying to achieve and her relationship with the Dean [Fleischer-Camp] the director whom I knew a little bit about but I didn’t know as much about the project as a whole; that was probably a good thing [because] it was just nice to experience firsthand what was transpiring, what was being worked out, [and] not only Bianca was inclusive, but [the] entire crew was very helpful to me, too. It must have been weird [to have] this guy taking notes and eventually he’s going to take over the show, but yet, her whole crew was very supportive and giving me color temperature reports or distance to the main subject on [a given] take and we were all doing different things and because of that, I think we were able to just work well with each other.

I think when you work with stop-motion people, they’re working so tight that you really have to have a good spirit in life, and so going into a live-action world, I knew I wasn’t going to be a problem but I also was really happy that I was included and [that I] had a good time.

Cline: I didn’t even know that that was happening, Eric. [There’s] a whole world of numbers and problems that I just didn’t even have to think about or worry about [and it was] so nice that it was taken care of without me having to think about it. 

CHM: We’ve talked a lot about stop-motion, but was there any CGI in the film or is it all stop-motion?

A still from Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Photo courtesy of A24.

Adkins: Well, we had puppet people there to not only move characters around if Kirsten [Lepore], the animation director, didn’t do it, but things like the worm going through the box were practical puppetry in real live-action and then we had some puppets that were oversized that we were going to use for the bee or the spider and all that. But they decided to actually photograph those objects because the bee was going to be so small and the spiders’ part grew. But [because] they’re so detailed, the spiders ended up being CGI. Some of the mannerisms were based out of some puppetry and some design work that [would have] been done had they been stop-motion puppets, and they would put them on a Lazy Susan, a rotisserie gear, getting a 360º of them so they could actually scan them so [that] they could actually play with them. [While] they were authentic to the puppet creation, they ended up being sourced-out CGI. But everything else, all the shells, all [of] the other products that were used, were stop-motion. They weren’t real shells; some of them were, but the lead characters were not because they had to be exactly the same, [though] they were designed after a real shell. We had like a dozen Marcel’s on set.

CHM: I heard that Bianca, you have some stories about creating the look of the film and the landscape, for Eric to do the stop-motion work. Would you be able to share any of those?

Cline: I mean, we wanted the film to feel a little bit homemade, so we wanted there to be some amount of the film feeling kind of “off the cuff,” a little bit thrown away in certain ways because it’s meant to just be impromptu. Not every scene, but for the majority of the film is meant to be this filmmaker named Dean who’ll [see] Marcel has something to say and film, so we wanted everything to feel very spontaneous but obviously it doesn’t work that way, especially with feature films in general. But [we] also knew that it had to be replicated, so everything was very planned but had to feel like it wasn’t, which is a really difficult thing to do. It’s like trying to make something [that is] super controlled but make it feel like it’s a little bit chaotic and out of control.

We filmed almost the entire thing in one house — I think it was 18 days in this one house —so the house was also our production office for pre-production so we were basically there every day. I’d spend 12 hours a day at this house and when I came on the film there, actually I didn’t see a script and they sent me locked audio; it was like sound effects, dialogue, music, everything was fairly locked and they had storyboards to go with it.

And then what we did during prep was Dean and I kind of went around the house and found locations in the house that would work for the different scenes. And [if] we would find [that] we had too many scenes in the kitchen [we’d] try to find somewhere else and look to spread it out and so by the time we started production, we had locked audio with photo boards that you could watch. They’re all stills, but you could just watch, see this is happening here, this is happening here, which was really great for inter-departmental work, especially [as] everything becomes very complicated.

Usually, when you’re filming a live-action with human actors, it would just be like, “Okay, the art department will dress this room and it’s fine and we’ll put the lights outside the windows,” but it just didn’t work that way because, if he [Marcel] is interacting with certain things cannot be replicated or cannot be removed from the house [like] a hundred-year-old wood floor [that you] can’t pull out and take it to the stage. So [we’d] set him [Marcel] on a book or something that can be taken to the end; [we would] like constantly [have to do] that.

The other thing that was really tricky was Marcel is very, very tiny and [while] he comes across as small, when you’re thinking about it, I think he’s less than one-inch [tall]. Trying to film somebody that small is difficult without looking down on him all the time, and we wanted to have depth and feel things and other characters in the film as well as we wanted to be at Marcel’s eye level just so he could be in his world.

We ended up doing a lot of testing for the scenes that were going to be on the actual floor or on surfaces where we couldn’t lift him up. We got prisms and we would film him; so the lens was all the way to the floor and then we were just trying to incorporate a lot of things that you would into a documentary like filming near windows and filming near lamps and light sources and as well as what Marcel [would] do, what’s going to be really cute [and asking] What does he do in that world?

We sat with a couple of people, I can’t remember their names; [one] developed all of the treehouses and there was another woman who was developing props, little chairs and little things that Marcel would live in and that a one-inch-tall character would create. So we were constantly trying to do that, repurposing candles; birthday candles become this thing that lights the entire room if you’re one-inch-tall, that was kind of our theme, that’s the world we want and then we’ll see how we can make it work on a stop-motion stage.

A still from Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: This is probably going to sound like a stupid question, but you mentioned some of those shots where you’re looking at him on the ground, whether he is being chased around or running around or whatever the case is, is Marcel CGI in those scenes, or is that all stop-motion?

Adkins: You know, the live-action unit shot reference footage of the character in the route, but we also put tracking dots on the floor: one that represented another character, one that represented the Marcel in the route that they were going to take and the focus defined where the contact was going to be. But if it was a wide shot of Marcel running down the floor, it was still stop-motion. We would actually cheat the scale of it and shoot it closer, but as long as we had the measure distance that they ran and we were at the right tilt angle and the right lens, everything could just be placed in there and tracked with it.

As far as my knowledge, none of Marcel or Connie was CGI, but the concept of a wide-shot, like the bee who was a non-supporting character [doesn’t] make ground contact so why not have it be an object just floating around? As far as Marcel and the contact, we had different surfaces whether it was a wood floor or a metal enamel on top of the washer machine, there were always different reflections. There were always different things that helped make Marcel feel attached to that surface, even on the glass table where the dog was interacting [with it]; there was the puppeteer flicking water up in the dog’s face and there was the glass top surface and we got the natural reflection of that table. It was a nice blend and yet they were shot in two separate worlds.

Cline: My kids were asking me about that shot last night. They were like, “How did you get the dog to do that? And the water?” and I was [like], “Well, it’s actually a bunch of different shots composed together.”

Adkins: I think it’s even confusing for me sometimes, and I was glad I watched it the other day again because sometimes there were things that were completely replaced and sometimes they were just applied onto the existing surface that was in the actual plate. It was easy for them to roto the coffee table and have the background be in there, but when there was an elaborate camera move or something that, the dynamics and the layout were changed.

It’s all about interactivity and making it believable. Sometimes the animators would use sticky wax or things that would’ve fixed the character and then the cleanup artist has to paint all that out because that wouldn’t be there or how shiny the map ended up becoming because the wax kind of bored into the paper pulp of it and then all of a sudden the lights got a lot more contrasting, but “Hey!,” we said, “it’s GoPro footage — it’s going be a little bit hot,” you know?

CHM: There’s a scene where Marcel is trying to launch a fruit onto a shelf, was that done with the same process you guys just talked about?

Cline: No, I mean, we did it fairly practically on set. Our puppeteer had a stick with an actual Marcel on it and he [was] trying to drop down into frame, hit the spoon and make the berry fly for real. Other than [that], we’d replace the black stick that he was holding and the Marcel and replace him with a stop-motion Marcel, right? That was at least the plan on set, I don’t know how it actually went.

Adkins: Yeah, I looked at that shot again because it was a sequence of shots and I think that there were some shots that were practical that were left like Marcel [was] flicked over and just laid there and didn’t move and then there were shots where Marcel hit it and then walked away.

I know we lined up the spoons exactly the way it was and tried to create reflections within the spoon that felt like they were in that environment. I don’t know because I wasn’t part of the composite layer of how much of that was actually reused from the plates and how much was over-shot because the animator physically had to animate the spoon to copy the movement of the spoon of each take. So it was rapid-fire recreation and whether or not they just used the reflection of the spoon or the whole spoon, it’s a mystery to us, too. 

Cline: There are two more people on this team: Kirsten Lepore, the animation director, and Zdravko Stoitchkov, the visual effect supervisor. The four of us together had a really symbiotic relationship.

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is still in select theaters now and available for rental on digital platforms. For information about showtimes, click here.


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Alex Lehmann Discusses Tackling the Rom-Com Genre with Meet Cute, Filming in New York City and Working with Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco | Interview

The ‘Meet Cute’ director sheds light on bringing something new to the rom-com table.

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2022 has been a big year for the rom-com. In the first quarter of the year, we got the J-Lo and Owen Wilson-led Marry Me, The Lost City starring Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock and next month we have George Clooney and Julia Roberts starring in Ticket to Paradise. But Meet Cute is set to take the rom-com genre by storm. It follows Sheila (Kaley Cuoco), who discovers a time machine and uses it to relive the same date that spawns from a “meet cute” with Gary (Pete Davidson). It’s like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets Palm Springs from a few years back, and it’s truly something special and unique. 

In this interview, I talked with director Alex Lehmann about approaching the rom-com genre, filming in New York City and working with Couco and Davidson. Thank you to those at Peacock and Brigade Marketing for allowing me the chance to speak with Lehmann and seeing the film early. You can watch Meet Cute on Peacock on September 21.


Coastal House Media: Congratulations on Meet Cute! I’m not a big rom-com fan, but I really enjoyed your film. 

Alex Lehmann: I’m not a rom-com fan either [smiles].  

CHM: Oh, good [laughs], we’ll get right into that in a second, but I just wanna ask you because I haven’t seen any of your other films, could you pitch me one of your films to watch?

Lehmann: Sure, there’s a film called Paddleton and it’s [about] two older men, one of them has terminal cancer and he asks his friend to help him do [the] “death with dignity” thing — you know, die on his own terms — and it’s a comedy, [which] is the best part, but it’s not like a gallows comedy.

So yeah, it’s another two-hander and that was with Ray Ramano. But kind of like Meet Cute, I think it’s about finding the more honest version of a film that we’ve maybe seen before and using that honesty as an entry point for humor and for a little more humanity than, you know, like the more commercial film we’ve seen before [that] glosses over [it]

CHM: So you kind of answered my next question earlier, I guess you’re not a big rom-com fan, so I’m then curious why you decided to kind of dive into that genre. Was it that it just happened to be a rom-com? You just liked the script? Or did you think that maybe you could add something new to the genre?

Lehmann: Well, I’m there are some rom-coms that I love. They’re maybe not what everybody would call a rom-com, but I’m a huge romance fan, and I guess that’s the bigger thing: I love love, and I love relationships. And I loved the relationship between Gary (Davidson) and Sheila (Cuoco). 

(L-R): Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco in Meet Cute. Photo courtesy of Peacock.

The reason I usually don’t like romcoms is we root for these people to do really crazy things to fall in love with each other — kind of messed up things. Oftentimes we just pretend it’s all okay — even though it’s a little weird — and then by the end of it, we’re like, Thank goodness she got together with him! [and] the credits role. And then the next summer we’d go see a movie where she’s now falling in love with another guy, and I’ll [be] like: What happened to this relationship? We were so invested [and] what happened to the other guy? Like, we just don’t care anymore.

And so what’s great about Meet Cute is, through Noga [Pnueli]’s really smart writing, there’s this device where we get to look at more of a relationship than the typical rom-com. And we get to see what happens when you see the things that you fall in love with someone start to be the things that annoy you about them or that you’re like critical of. And then it [the film] really does explore those next couple years in a relationship where you’re like: Can I change them? Can I make them the person I want them to be? That spoke to me as a really honest rom-com [and] I think this is an honest rom-com even though it’s got a tanning bed time machine [laughs]. 

CHM: Where did the idea for the time machine being a tanning bed come from? Was that in the script already, or was that something you added? 

Lehmann: No, the tanning bed was in the script already, and it’s brilliant. You know, more important than the tanning bed is the person operating the tanning bed [which] is the June character who was written brilliantly and performed even more brilliantly by Deborah S. Craig.

I think [in] most of the movies that I would see with this device and that character, I would roll my eyes [at] because that character is usually really trope-y and is kind of like the genie that’s just there to serve everybody and doesn’t have any attitude and doesn’t have a complete story. 

(L-R): Deborah S. Craig and Kaley Cuoco as Sheila in Meet Cute. Photo courtesy of Peacock.

Honestly, June really was one of the selling points to me for the film because she was a full character and she added really a lot of meaning to what the story is, which is the whole concept of your scars and [how] your trauma is a part of who you are. You can’t just erase that without erasing, your identity, essentially. She was really cool and she makes the tanning bed cool. The tanning bed’s funny but not gonna take us on a whole ride unless you have the best operator.

CHM: There are plenty film references that are sprinkled in the film ranging from Blade Runner to The Terminator to Sophie’s Choice. Were all those already in the script or did you have any input on which films were mentioned? 

Lehmann: So I do a lot of dramatic and comedic improv on my films, especially when you’re working with Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco, like, why not see what you can do? So we improv’d a lot of that stuff. I think we discovered one day on set [that] Gary should be a cinephile because that’s all Pete Davidson did, was watch movies as a kid in the basement of his house.

And I was like, “Let’s just lean into that and hear him go on a rant about all his favorite movies,” which is both lovable and also makes him sound like a total film dork, which he is. 

CHM: I wanna get into the time-loop of it all. I would say that despite some flashbacks and other locations, most of the film repeats the same night with the same actors and the same outfits. How do you go about filming these sequences? Do you knock out X amount of takes in the bar before moving onto a new location?

Lehmann: Yeah, there’s really two ways, I guess, that we could have gone and there have been a few time-loop, time-travel movies — especially recently — and I think we stand apart from them and part of the reason is we’re not really obsessive about the intricacies of like, you know, “the phone needs to ring at this point,” and then “this person drops their glass,” there’s that version where our whole production office would’ve been [covered in] a bunch of red yarn and whiteboards [saying] like, “Okay, this happens at this [point].” 

Or, we just say, “You know what, this is an emotional time-travel movie and the audience is really smart and the audience wants to have fun. We’re gonna write a couple of really good jokes, mostly for June, but also for the other characters where we basically dismiss and joke, like the owner going back to sell the time machine.” You write a couple of those and then the audience is totally on board with it without them playing detective and trying to like catch stuff because, you know, life is messy — that’s the whole point, and I would like to think that time-travel is not as clean as “everything happens exactly the same time every day.”

But yeah, the way we filmed it was called “block shooting,” where we’re in the bar for three days and then we’re on the street for three days and then we’re in the Indian restaurant for three days. That could have gotten old if it wasn’t for the fact that Pete and Kaley are so funny. 

The hardest thing for me was when Pete would just start making us all laugh because he’d just go on these tangents that were hilarious — not usable at all for the movie — but so funny that we just kind of had to, for five minutes, just sit back and enjoy [his] comedic style.

Pete Davidson in Meet Cute. Photo courtesy of Peacock.

CHM: Speaking of your lead actors, I noticed that both of them are executive producers on the film. In your estimation, what do you think it was about this particular project that got them to really show their faith in it? 

Lehmann: I think it was giving them the power to be able to fire me at any moment. That’s really the reason they signed on. I promised them that they could literally fire me at any point. Kaley never did, Pete fired me every single morning but then would hire me right before we would start shooting again [laughs].  No, they were great collaborators.

I mean, you get actors of their level, their talent, their fame to do something like this because it excites them. Nobody’s showing up for this gritty New York City tight schedule shoot unless they absolutely love the characters and they think that there’s a lot of room to play. 

And that’s what shooting was. I felt like I was just playing with Pete and Kaley on camera for a month straight. 

CHM: And they have great chemistry, which is vital to a movie like this. Did they just show up on set and it was natural, or did you have them do anything together before shooting?

Lehmann: Actually, the first time that we met, they both happened to be in LA — I was flying back from New York, I had just done some location scouting — and the three of us went to an escape room and that was an absolute blast.

We did horribly, like, we did not escape. We would’ve died in that room if it was like a Saw-type situation, thank God it was just, a game [smiles]. But yeah, we bonded a lot in that escape room session and got some lunch and I remember [that] I called the producers afterward, I was like, “These guys have so much chemistry, it’s just great.”

CHM: I also read that you’ve known your cinematographer on this film, John [Matysiak], for a long time, right? I think since college? 

Lehmann: That’s impressive. Yes, I’ve known him since college. 

(L-R): Kaley Cuoco and Deborah S. Craig in Meet Cute. Photo courtesy of Peacock.

CHM: So I’m speaking to him next week and I’m just curious, are there any fun college memories that I can bring up to him when I talk to him next week?

Lehmann: [laughs] Well, we were in film school when we met, you know? And so what does every film student have in common? They think they know a lot more than they actually do and so I think what’s awesome is when we were making student films, we were these cocky kids and maybe a little too arrogant and not as collaborative because we all needed to prove ourselves. And I love that 20 years later, he and I reunite — we had just done another movie of mine, Acidman, and then we’re doing this movie [Meet Cute] — and I think we’ve been humbled enough in what it’s taken to get to where we are. Ego’s [have] just gone out the window and we’re so excited to work with each other. And we’re so excited to like both fail and succeed and just to explore everything. So it’s been really cool seeing him and myself grow up, right? It’s just a window to tear past, which I’m obviously a very nostalgic person, so that’s always an enjoyable collaboration. 

CHM: And going back to New York, you talked about location scouting, what did that look like for you? Did you go in with any expectations or you were just open to everything? 

Lehmann: Well, a couple of things happened. First of all, I started walking around the streets and it was so loud. I remember calling a friend of mine who just made a movie in New York and I was like, “How do you record dialogue anywhere? It’s so loud,” [and] I couldn’t even hear him on the phone. I was like: What am I gonna do? 

The other thing is, I didn’t wanna go looking for the New York that I see in other movies. I wanted to film the New York that I saw just walking around, the experience that I actually got. So, for example, walking down a certain section of New York, hearing a lot of Latin music, Cumbia music — which is in the film — or seeing guys play checkers on the street, the multicultural aspect of New York, I felt was really cool and I wanted it to show that — I wanted to capture that. 

And then I also love the fact that there’s a bunch of trash on the sidewalks everywhere. My production designers, they kept asking my production team, they’d be like, “We gotta remove the trash from that sidewalk,” I was like, “Don’t touch it — that’s New York.” You know, the scaffolding, that’s New York. Like I don’t need that beautiful, curated New York that doesn’t exist. I want the New York that I actually experienced walking around and scouted.

(L-R): Pete Davidson and Kaley Cuoco in Meet Cute. Photo courtesy of Peacock.

CHM: So was the plan always to have the film set in New York or were other states ever considered? 

Lehmann: It was always written as, [New York City]. I mean, New York City, man, that is the place to tell a love story. The fact that there are so many people in that city and you can feel so alone walking — I felt so alone walking [while] scouting. I remember I would try to make eye contact with people. I’m an LA dude, I like to smile at people [while] walking, looking for locations [laughs] and they were freaked out, they thought I was gonna like mug them or stab them [and were] like, Why is this guy smiling at me? It really taught me immediately that like, you can feel so alone in a city of so many people, which is the best backdrop for telling a love story, let alone a “meet cute” love story. 

CHM: My last question for you before I gotta let you go is, the film’s coming out next week and you know, I feel like there’s so much content out there, right? There’s always stuff coming out on streaming, there’s something new every day. I know I had you pitch one of your movies to me earlier, but could you give one last pitch for Meet Cute to anybody who doesn’t know what it is?

Lehmann: I would say, if you like rom-coms, you should definitely watch this. If you’re not feeling so sure that you like rom-coms, you should definitely watch this. It’s a more honest version of a rom-com and it’s funny. Who doesn’t wanna go on a date with Pete and Kaley?


Meet Cute will be available to stream on Peacock on September 21. 

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Petr Jákl Talks About Medieval, Casting Michael Caine and Having the Film in the Can for Four Years | Interview

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Films set in the medieval era feel like a lost art. Sure, I guess the House of the Dragon could quench that thirst, but historical films set in The Middle Ages feel like such a rarity. Luckily, Petr Jákl’s film which also happens to be the most expensive film in Czech history, Medieval, is here to buck the trend with a gritty and gruesome historical epic. Featuring an all-star cast with the likes of Ben Foster, Matthew Goode and the legendary Micahel Caine, Medieval is a fascinating watch and released in theaters this past weekend.

In this interview, I spoke with Jákl about the challenges of making a historical epic, the casting process and securing Michael Caine.


Coastal House Media: Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you! How’s your day going so far?

Petr Jákl: Hi, good, good. I’m in Prague, where are you?

CHM: I’m in Pennsylvania, so quite a ways away. But congratulations on Medieval, I really love any sort of film in this kind of time period and it’s amazing. I want to talk to you about setting a film in that time period. What kind of goes into recreating that time period and were there any specific challenges with doing that?

Jákl: One of the biggest challenges always [is] to find perfect locations for this kind of movie, but luckily in the Czech Republic, we’ve got a lot of castles, a lot of beautiful nature [and] downtown Prague is pretty similar to those times. Of course, you have to replace some commercial signs [or stuff] like that and we also have over 600 VFX shots. We have Charles Bridge, which is the most famous bridge in Prague — every tourist wants to go there and take pictures — so we recreated it to make it look [like it’s] from [the] 15th century.

Overall, it was not that difficult. If we were shooting somewhere else, like in the U.S., it would cost five times more to make it look this big, you know?

CHM: If you’re shooting around a kind of historical bridge or a castle, how delicate do you have to be with your production?

Jákl: Yeah, you have to be very delicate and you cannot do everything. [There are] some rules [and] they can tell you, “You cannot replace this window,” “You cannot touch that,” “You cannot touch the walls,” “You cannot use fire,” many things [that] you cannot do, but you always find a way to do what you need — and that’s great. It’s always about talking to the people who take care of the castle and [they] don’t want [you] to destroy anything, but, for example, you can create your own throne, which is what we did for the movie.

CHM: I think I read that the filming finished in 2018, is that correct?

Jákl: Yes.

CHM: To put that into perspective, your film wrapped when I was a freshman in college and I’ve since graduated. So that’s a long period of time but can I ask you why there was such a long delay and how does it feel for you now to finally have the film come out nearly four years later? Is there any relief or are you just ready to get it out there at this point?

Jákl: I already have [had it] ready two years ago, but there was [the] pandemic, you know? And you couldn’t do anything, you couldn’t release it theatrically. This film was made for theaters so it was frustrating. But on the other side, I’m actually glad that it happened because we are close to the war in Ukraine and they are fighting for freedom in the war. Suddenly we all see [that] there could be a war in these days close to us, which is very scary. And Medieval is [about] fighting for freedom and about hope, [which is a] big element of the movie. I think this is absolutely [the] perfect time for people to watch this movie and to remember what was happening before, what is happening now and what is going to be happening again because it comes in circles.

CHM: You have such a loaded cast in your film ranging from Michael Caine to Matthew Goode among many others. Do you remember who the first person was that you got on board with the film? And then do you also remember who was maybe the hardest actor to secure?

Jákl: The hardest part was securing the lead because everybody told me, “You have to secure the lead first and then you can hire the others. Otherwise if you have another supporting actor who is famous, he will first ask you, ‘Who is the lead?'” and if you don’t have the answer, it doesn’t make sense to approach it. So I was trying to get Ben Foster, and that was the toughest call [but] once I got him and he said, “Yes,” then I said, “Okay, now I want to try Michael Caine.”

A still from Medieval. Photo courtesy of Biocop.

And they told me, “It doesn’t make sense — he’s not gonna do it. It’s not going to happen.” I produced it with Cassian Elwes, who has done many movies and he’s British and he told me, “Hey, Petr, I’ve done over a hundred movies and I always wanted to do a movie with Michael Caine [but] it never happened. And then I said, “Okay, let’s try,” [and] he said, “Yeah, you can try it,” and then [I] tried. Michael Caine called me [at] my cottage [from an] unknown number and he [said], “Hello, it’s Michael Caine here. You’ve got a lovely script, I wanna do it,” and I was like, “Oh my God,” and this producer called me and he sent me a picture [from] when he was 13 and Michael Caine is next to him when they were in Great Britain and he said, “It took me 50 years to make my dream [a] reality. And I didn’t believe that it could happen with you, a guy from Eastern Europe. ” Once we had Michael Caine it was very simple because everybody wanted to be in a movie with Michael Caine. Til Schweiger, he’s [a] German star, said, “Oh my God, sure! I wanna be in this movie.”

CHM: You’re met of many hats, you’ve done everything from acting to stunts to producing and directing. Do you have a favorite of those and then kind of an extra question on that: Did any of the three outside of directing, prep you for directing?

Jákl: I love directing the most, but I also love producing and writing. [Directing is] something [where] I feel I know what I’m doing and it’s just like all [of the] things come together in my head and I know why I’m doing this.

I was prepping the most for, uh, video because that was like, you know, the biggest movie [I’ve done] and I wanted to make sure that it was gonna be done as I wanted. But once we got to the set, many things were different. Actors couldn’t train with stunt men, so some fights were not rehearsed and I couldn’t do them as I wanted. So I had to create some other things like smoke, which actually made it better in the end. So something [that] wasn’t exactly as I wanted was better in the end because of that, you know?

CHM: Can you give me an elevator pitch for your film for someone who has no idea what this is about and they’re trying to decide what to see in theaters?

Jákl: It’s a movie about the most famous Czech hero who is one of seven [that is] undefeated generals of all time in history. There is also a strong love story, and it’s [about] fighting for freedom, people helping each other and coming together and I hope that by the end of the film, people will see the hope of the future.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LwGVKbje38

Medieval will be released in theaters on September 9.

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