FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL... goes from screenplay to Sundance hit.
Making Connections with Jamie Travers as the Director
Jim Sheldon / Focus Features
(l to r.) Actress Ari Graynor, director Jamie Travis and actress / co-writer Lauren Anne Miller on the set of For A Good Time, Call…, a Focus Features release.
The director, stars, and writers of FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL... remember how they all connected, creating the energy needed to gather the team and talent necessary to craft a comedy that also connects to audiences.
Katie Anne Naylon (screenwriter/producer): Producing is so fulfilling. Why give up quality control over something that is so personal to you, that you’ve worked hard on? Lauren and I stayed a part of it instead of selling it off, working on the film from beginning to end. That was a blessing, and it’s something I’m sure we’re going to want to do in the future. When Lauren and I closed our eyes, other than Lauren picturing her own face, we couldn’t quite picture what the movie looked like. We knew that it didn’t look like “mumblecore,” and it didn’t feel gritty, and the camera didn’t hang too long. I like to say I found Jamie in the paper, because I read about him in The New York Times and became interested. Then we saw Jamie’s short films, which really moved me. We thought maybe there was a way to bring his world to ours, and then that’s what the movie would look like – and that’s what it does look like.
Jamie Travis (director): I had always written and directed my own short films. This is the first time I’ve directed a feature and the first time I’ve directed from someone else’s script. When I made this movie, it actually felt freeing. I’d been reading others’ scripts, sent from my agents, for about four years while writing my own projects up in Canada and directing commercials. I was doubting that I would even be capable of directing someone else’s script; I was always skeptical when a new script would be in my In Box. This was the first one I read that I loved. I laughed out loud, and I was really attracted to how female-driven it was. I’ve always found the male-driven sensibility difficult to get my head around. Like Lauren & Katie, I saw FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL... as a romantic comedy between two women as friends. There aren’t enough female-driven films, especially comedies; there were in the 1980s. I’m a child of the ‘80s, and I don’t know why these went away for so long. I went after this with real confidence. It’s funny; people at Sundance asked me what my sales pitch was, what my angle was. Well, I didn’t have one. This was the one time when I’d read a script and thought, “I know I’m right for this.” I could also see how it could go in a bad direction, with a filmmaker objectifying the leads and making them more sexual. I wanted the great and relatable friendship story.
Ari Graynor (executive producer; plays Katie in the movie): Finding Jamie was a gift. I watched literally 30 seconds of [his short film] The Saddest Boy in the World, and immediately e-mailed the rest of the team; ‘This guy has to be our director, no question.’ His visuals, his creativity…you could tell right off the bat that he understood the balance between reality and humor. The comedy I respond to, and I think that most people respond to, feels real and character-based.
JT: My first meeting, the initial conversation, was with Lauren & Katie, over Skype; I fell in love with them as soon as I saw their faces on Skype. They were full of energy, and responsive in all the best ways towards my work.
Lauren Anne Miller (screenwriter/producer; plays Lauren in the movie): He was also like, “You cannot let a straight man direct this movie.” [Laughs] We clicked with him.
JT: We connected. Then I came down to L.A. and met them and Ari in person, and met with our producers. We were all on the same page.
LAM: Very adorably, after Jamie was gone, Ari stood up and said, “I’m not saying I’m going to leave the project if we don’t hire him, but, I’m going to leave the project if we don’t hire him.” [Laughs] “OK, Jamie it is!”
KAN: It was so clear that, going forward, this guy was going to be one of the most talented directors and we should jump at working with him. He had a vision of what the movie would look like. We took a chance, because we felt people were finally taking a chance on us.
AG: The four of us developed this collaborative working dynamic that was arguably the most special part of making FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL...
JT: Not once did anyone turn to me and ask for “the male perspective.” [Laughs]
I think that my prioritizing their friendship over the gags was probably the thing that bonded us the best. Making this movie was intensely collaborative, more than the other films I’ve done. My short films had a more visual kind of humor. Here, I was working with actors as real, live human beings. I always knew this movie would register as commercial because of the script; these women coming together, going through these experiences, and becoming friends was a three-act structure. There wasn’t, say, a loose indie-film mentality.
KAN: In the weeks before we shot, we wisely spent time sitting around Lauren’s dining room table and going through the script aloud several times. It was a tune-up. As a screenwriter himself, Jamie helped us get the story tighter. We tweaked the dialogue, because I found that the girls couldn’t say the lines if they didn’t like them. [Laughs] We went through it so everyone would be comfortable with every line, every scene. After we were apart, it was, “I miss the dining room table!”
JT: I have very fond memories of that time.
AG: We referred to it as “the dining room table in our hearts.” The four of us spent a lot of time fine-tuning the characters. We went a little deeper; I wanted to make sure that we kept it as real as possible. We had kind of a hard time cracking Sean [played in the film by Mark Webber], so he got worked on. We’d read a scene and than talk about it, rework it. Doing this for the entire script would take a week, and then we’d read the whole thing out loud again and take other notes.
KAN: The script finally had to be cut down by 15 pages because we didn’t have enough money for the locations and we didn’t have enough time. And our AD – who is an all-star, he got three other movies into Sundance this year! – said this was the only way we could possibly do it, so we sat down with Jamie and cut pages, scenes, lines. I don’t even know that there’s a shooting draft.
JT: There was a rehearsal process with Ari and Lauren. It wasn’t formal –
AG: We’d step away from the dining room table and sit on the couch –
JT: -- because we really wanted to keep things fresh for the shoot.
AG: I come from a theater background, where rehearsal is everything. In filmmaking, rehearsal comes down to time spent with each other, so that there’s comfort and safety and ease. On this movie, we were doing a comedy and focusing on a friendship, so it was important that Lauren and I felt comfortable with each other. I wanted to make sure that she felt supported, and that we could communicate.
JT: I didn’t have much time to rehearse with the supporting actors.
AG: For the first week of shooting, we needed to know how we would block a few things. Mark Webber came over one day, and we rehearsed with Mimi Rogers and Don McManus [who portray Lauren’s parents] a little bit. But we had a pretty tight schedule, both on-set and in pre-production. The most important thing was getting the script in the best, tightest shape possible since we knew we were going to have such limited time when we were shooting. Among all the actors, the most character study came from Justin Long with Jamie Travis; as soon as they spoke on the phone, Justin asked for when they met if he could record their conversation.
JT: At one point on the call, there was this silence and then Justin said, “I like your voice.” He wanted to meet up and have me read lines from the script. This was his process.
AG: On-set, he’d shadow Jamie. In the movie, you’re seeing an homage.
KAN: The way he stands, the way he dresses, the way he gestures…It was very “meta.”
JT: As a gay director, I didn’t want Justin to take the character into stereotypical territory – as a caricature of me, or of gay men. But he took it seriously and it worked out so well.
AG: I tried to take what Lauren & Katie had created and make it come to life in my own way. I didn’t try to imitate the sound of Katie’s voice – her and Lauren’s voices are innately in the script in a strong way, including Katie’s sense of humor and the way that she talks.
KAN: Ari didn’t need to come to me too much. I have quite a big personality, so she got it right away. On the set she’d ask, “Would Katie do this?”