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[Interview] ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ Writer & Director Talk Embracing Cliches and Crafting Aubrey Plaza’s Lead Role

Written by , on June 6, 2012 at 12:00 pm 

Safety Not Guaranteed isn’t for everyone, but those that click with it are going to have a wonderful time. The film enjoys messing with your expectations of where the story is going to go and how it gets there. There’s love, action, and a ton of humor. At SXSW I had the chance to sit down with director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly. We discussed how they built the character for Aubrey Plaza, nerves during a screening, avoiding clichés, and much more. Check it out below.

With this film coming to another festival, do you come in with an expectation of the kind of reaction, or are you sitting there biting your nails? Were you at the screening or do you step away and then comeback?

Colin Trevorrow (CT): No, we were there. We have screened it a lot, not at film festivals but I’ve probably seen 15, 16 different screenings now with audiences. I can tell how it’s going to play about two minutes in just hearing where the laughs come and how they’re laughing at different things so last night there was a laugh that came on something that was just huge, where it was at a ten and it’s normally at a six, so I knew that we were going to play really well. It was great, a great screening last night. The best we’ve had.

And what about you?

Derek Connolly (DC): Yes, he was saying we’re like vampires and we feed off the reaction to the audience. We can’t get enough of it. Anytime it’s being shown in front of an audience we want to be there. It’s awesome and last night it’s probably the best experience yet.

The film tiptoes around some cliches and at other times just directly jumps on top of them. Did you ever discuss which to focus on?

DC: I don’t think so. It just happens naturally, I think. I don’t even know what the cliches would be.

CT: I like going right up to the line and making people think they know what they’re about to see happen and then doing something differently and so we definitely do that a couple of times and I’m conscious of it when we do, but I think sometimes things are cliches because people like them and so we don’t ever…this movie very, very slowly drives you and so it’s navigating that and making sure people are staying with you and not rolling their eyes and we debating whether or not we were going to get a giant laugh in our face with that ending. A guy singing a song by a campfire, you know all this kind of stuff is dangerous territory for people who love movies and see a lot of movies. We were aware of that but we thought we would just do it anyway, rock ‘n’ roll.

A lot of people fill in the backstories for the characters, for the actors especially to get a feel for where that characters journey has ended up. Do you play around with the features of these characters beyond the screen, in your head, or do you talk with the actors about that, or is it just something you keep to yourself?

CT: Never, we never even think about what happens after the movie. The past, but I would hope that Jake [Johnston]‘s character seems like he is on a path toward rethinking some of the choices he’s made. And Karan [Soni]‘s character is headed towards maybe loosening up a bit and trying to enjoy his youth because it’s slipping away. I don’t know where the hell Kenneth and Darius are after this. [laughs] Maybe we’ll find out someday.

Aubrey Plaza is not necessarily typecast, but she’s a very specific actress right now, the roles that she portrays. Did you write with her in mind or did she come to the film later on and she’s going to take it and mold it in her way..

DC: It was written for her from scratch. She was the inspiration to beginning writing. I saw her in Funny People and started writing a week later, for her. I had to do a “find and replace” within the script because I would write “Aubrey” instead of “Darius” a couple times. It was written very specifically for her.

Did you have any hesitation bringing Mark [Duplass] on as an actor or did you look forward to that possible collaboration and get his insight on things?

CT: It was a very organic process. He came on initially, he and Jay [Duplass] were going to executive produce and just help get the movie made and as we started going out to other actors there was something about…and Mark was actually becoming a pretty well-known face even outside of the indie world now but as we were talking to other actors, at least on our side we were realizing that having somebody that has a persona that people are really familiar with already could really hurt that character.

We wanted him to be a mystery and kind of unknown and we also just thought Mark would make the coolest cast ever so there was kind of this moment where we like, “why don’t we just do this? This is cool and this feels right.” And luckily the movie being as inexpensive as it was, very low-budget film and you get to make different kinds of casting choices when you’re not beholden to some massive budget so we took advantage of that and just did what we wanted as opposed to what may have been more financially beneficial at the multiplex or any of those kinds of decisions that you sometimes have to make. And I’m really happy with it, I think it’s cool.

Safety Not Guaranteed hits theaters on Friday, June 8th.


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