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‘Before I Fall’ Director Ry Russo-Young on Capturing Human Kindness and High School

Written by on February 28, 2017 

before-i-fall

Certainly one of the friendliest, and one of the more forthcoming, interviews I’ve ever conducted, Before I Fall director Ry Russo Young and I knew we did not have much time to chat, so we jumped into it rather quick. In no time, we were discussing the early false starts of this film adaptation of the YA novel from Lauren Oliver, from it’s beginnings as a potential studio film at Fox to the eventual indie-styled production starring a fantastic Zoey Deutch.

So you’re meeting with Fox about Before I Fall

…I took a meeting at Fox. It’s just one meeting. It doesn’t seem to go well. To be honest, okay. Then a year later I get a call saying, ‘Do you still like that [Before I Fall] script?’ I say yes, because there are a very small handful of scripts that I like. And then I hear that Fox is no longer doing the movie, and they are going to go the indie route. Hire a cheaper, female filmmaker. [Laughs]

Where is she now?!

Where is that inexpensive woman?! [Laughs] And so that’s when I came on board. It was originally with a different company and we sort of went down the road a little bit with that company but they had cast issues. And then Awesomeness [Films] came on board and allowed me to cast…

So it was Awesomeness Films and then it became Open Road Films?

Yeah, so we made the movie with Awesomeness financing it and the great thing was they let me do my thing.

They let you do it.

And let it not have to be driven by, ‘This person’s a celebrity and you can only cast these two teenage women.’

It must’ve helped that Zoey [Deutch] was on the up a little bit, right?

She was on the up, yeah, and they liked her and they were down… but still, in a studio setting, they would never.

Which is a shame because she’s…

…the real thing.

The real thing. No question about it. She sells every moment [in the movie].

And there’s some excitement to seeing somebody who’s in the right age range and who’s an incredible talent. So anyways, then we made the movie with Awesomeness and once the film was pretty much finished they did buyer screenings and we sold to Open Road. We still made it like an indie film, though. Just to be clear.

It doesn’t look it. It looks good…

It was a lot of hard work to get it to look like that.

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Did you shoot on film? No?

No, we shot on a Alexa, anamorphic lenses. But it was, you know, 24 days.

24 days of filming? Really?

Yeah, it looks expensive but it was so brutal.

That’s really quick. I’m surprised to hear that. I would’ve guessed like 40 days or something like that.

No, no. And, like, I didn’t make any money on this movie, you know what I mean? I mean indie route, like brutal indie route.

So you’ve got the genre touches in here. There’s the John Hughes-ness. You have a Duckie [from Pretty in Pink] kind of character [in Kent, played by Logan Miller]. When you’re making a movie like this, you’ve got a good balance of those tropes and more modern elements that will work for this movie’s audience. When you’re developing this with the author and the writer [Maria Maggenti] how do you parse all the teen movie angles?

I think some of it was baked into the book and the script, in terms of those character tropes, shall I say. So a lot of that came to me preordained in the nature of the storytelling. But I think what I tried to do on the directing front was to make all those moments truthful and one of the things I liked about the script was to not play into the stereotype — to actually add complexity.

It’s not that Kent’s necessarily getting pushed around at school. It’s more of a nuanced thing. Like he’s the one throwing the party. He presumably has friends. Touches like that make it feel more like the high school I went to. From a production standpoint, you’re going full Groundhog Day with the narrative structure. What is that like? How is it different making a movie where you know, ‘Okay, we’ve got to cut this scene multiple different ways.’

Well, part of that was understanding from the beginning the arc that [Zoey Deutch’s character] Sam goes through. The emotional journey that she is on.

Sam and her group of friends are admirably mean at the start of the movie.

Yeah, I mean. The editor Joe Landauer and I tried to make them infectiously mean. That’s what we were trying to do. Create a world where you felt like you were kind of on board with it’s sinister evil and that that evil was kind of fun.

It sneaks up on you a little bit. Because you like Zoey and then you realize…

And then you as a viewer are complacent in that experience. So that you almost are empathizing with her in some way. Even from the beginning. It’s the journey that you go on. And it’s a little bit of a psych out because it’s maybe what you think this movie’s values are, at first. They are these vapid values in the very beginning.

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Pumping the pop music.

Yeah, and giving you this fun experience that a lot of these teen movies are.

But those movies don’t ever really go further.

Right. Which was so good about the script and the book. It was surprising. It’s so much more than that.

With the Juliet character, she’s in the movie and we don’t know a lot about her and then she’s so important at the end. But you don’t feel like you get to know her that much but you don’t want her to feel like just a tool to the plot. So when you’re doing that, what are those conversations like? On how much to reveal.

The editor Joe and I talked about that a lot. [Juliet] doesn’t really have a lot to say until literally three-fourths through the movie. So it’s really challenging to kind of bring the audience into her experience and to even make her experience relatable when she comes around late. Any character that shows up that far in, it’s tough. So part of it was, how did we deal with that? We made sure that we planted the seeds enough. It was a balance of sort of getting her in early enough and showing the audience that she was going to be an important factor. But not tipping our hat too much, and I think the audience knows she’s going to be important to the plot because of the way we cover her. And so, that you feel that but then I also think it’s a testimony to Elena [Kampouris‘] performance in that she is, when she does come in she’s so strong as an actress. And she has such a clear thing to say.

To finish up, what’s the next thing?

There’s a few different projects that I’m attached to, working on. Different sizes, you know? One is at Universal, and one is based on a book. And then one is a movie based on something in my background that’s way more personal and documentary elements. It’s like my Boyhood. So it’s kind of all over the place. And my approach has always been like you never know what’s going to happen.

And, like you said at the screening, it was cool to watch the movie the day of the Women’s March.

Yeah, well, also the movie being ultimately about basic human kindness feels kind of relevant to what we could all use a bit more of right now in our lives. And then with so many women behind the scenes makes a connection.

Before I Fall opens on Friday, March 3.


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