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[Interview] Director Max Mayer on ‘Adam’

Written by on July 31, 2009 


(Max is on the left side)

While I did get to participate in a roundtable for Adam with Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy, I was also lucky enough to get to interview the film’s director Max Mayer. Max was nice enough to talk about the production process, sundance, and also casting. As a forewarning this interview does contain spoilers.

What was it like for you being at Sundance this year?

Max Mayer: Well for me it was fantastic! You know I went with pretty much zero expectations and I think I was vaguely annoying to my producers, because I felt like anything from here on in is great. We got into Sundance and thats cool, but they kept saying, “but we have to sell it for X amount of dollars!”. (laughs)

But you just cared whether people liked it.

Max Mayer: Yeah! Then there was this terrifying moment we had been calling the Adams Family when we arrived at the theater to show the film. We had only shown it to six people at a time before and this was like a packed theater with a lot of people. Hugh and I looked at each other and said, “is this going to work out?”.

Did Fox Searchlight pick up distribution at Sundance?

Max Mayer: They did.

How relieved were you that they picked up the film? Considering most of their films do well.

Read the rest of this interview below

Max Mayer: Beyond relief! Going into Sundance it felt like it may be the year that nothing sells, because of the economy. So don’t expect that and maybe we’ll sell it to somebody after Sundance. We didn’t expect it to sell to Searchlight, because thats the best company you could be at. So not only did I have that experience of the first screening, but then hearing a few hours later you get that mythic experience of getting the offer from Fox Searchlight.

They also put it at the end of July which has always been a big release date weekend for them.

Max Mayer: They just know what there doing and I can’t say I feel confident about its possible success, but they will definitely give it the best shot possible.

How happy have you been so far with seeing so many people embracing the film? Its getting a pretty good critical reaction.

Max Mayer: I just emailed my producer Leslie saying I can’t imagine things getting any better then this. I’m also aware as a filmmaker you get into a bubble where some people want to make you feel good (laughs). The whole process has been thrilling and I am very grateful.

There is this saying that a lot of directors use that they are their biggest critic, would you say that applies to you? Whenever you watch the movie do you ever think I should have done this or that instead?

Max Mayer: Yeah definitely and partly because I have seen the movie a lot since we finished it. For a while there I was very pleased with it and now I don’t really like watching it, because I just end up sitting there picking it apart.

How many times have you seen it?

Max Mayer: The amount of times I have seen the cut in its fullest form pales in comparison to the months that I saw every scene over and over again in editing (laughs). So, I have probably seen the whole movie straight through probably twenty times, but I’ve seen the footage we shot hundred of times (laughs).

Could you talk a little bit about how this story came about?

Max Mayer: Um, well I was listening to NPR one day and there was this young man who had Asperger’s Syndrome talking. He was talking about how life felt to him and not being able to decode people. It was really moving to me what he was talking about, so I thought I should do some more research on this.

How long ago did you write the script and how long was the process of getting it into production?

Max Mayer: Well, I guess I heard that interview around six years ago. I did research for about six to eight months and then I worked on an outline for another five months. It took me about three or four months to write the script then I started to pass it around and rewriting it. So probably about three and a half years of people being interested and people not being interested. People wanted me to change this or change that especially with the ending. Then there was money and then there wasn’t money. So I guess it was maybe four and a half years after I started that whole process before getting into production.

Did you actually change the ending? I heard it originally ended with Adam sitting in park.

Max Mayer: Yeah at Sundance thats how it ended. Originally in the script it was a somewhat bleaker ending and then when I was taking it around people were saying, “oh they have to get back together in the end”. I didn’t know whether I cared or not, but I wrote that [happy] ending. Fortunately, the producers weren’t crazy about that one either. In that process I found the book idea which was never originally in the script. I kind of found a way of keeping the integrity of the story, because I felt keeping them together in the end didn’t fit with the rest of the story.

What is it you think that Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy bring to their roles that no one else could have?

Max Mayer: Well, I got incredibly lucky with them. I think Hugh gives an extraordinary performance in the film. He’s incredibly smart, dedicated, committed, and he loved this character the same way I did. We sort of had this remarkable ESP thing going on during the set and it was a joyful experience working with him. For Rose, I didn’t have anytime to work with her before so in a way the beginning of the shoot felt awkward. Hugh and I felt the same way about Adam then she had to come in having to deal with this guy who wouldn’t look at her or normal response to people due to the way Adam is suppose to interact. She was amazing that she was able to respond from herself. I got really lucky with the two temperaments. Hugh is kind an emotional man and Rose is kind  of a spontaneous actor which is what I needed for the story. She blew open the doors and windows to give some light to this character.

Its generally pretty expensive to shoot in New York so how much were you able to shoot there?

Max Mayer: All of it except for the last scene that its California. Plus, the thing about expensive is that we didn’t have enough money for it to be expensive. We shot this movie for about seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Once you have more money then that it becomes expensive to shoot in New York, you need to rely on favors and friends to help you out.

How much of the film did you story board? I thought some of the shots felt very pre-composed especially that one great crane shot in the park.

Max Mayer: We story boarded some scenes and we actually got to that one shot at a slightly different time then we thought we would. We actually turned that whole shot around on the day so we did something that wasn’t planned. Best laid plans of mice and man, so I was happy it turned out that way.

Yeah that shot was great.

Max Mayer: Yeah, I love that shot! That was actually the wrap shot of New York too.

Is it tough shooting a growing relationship without being able to shoot in sequence?

Max Mayer: Yeah its my job to provide the actors for each scene where there coming from, but they already know that. A lot of that responsibility also goes to the actors, but they knew what they were doing.

One of the things I liked a lot about the relationship is that it never felt contrived or manipulative where it played on your own feelings and past relationships. Was it important to make sure that this relationship didn’t come off manipulative to the audience?

Max Mayer: Yeah, but all films are manipulative. I always I hope to manipulate people to make them not feel as if there being manipulated by making generally honest choices about the story and the characters. Its an art form, its just always manipulative (laughs). In film there aren’t any real moments. I’m going to take a picture of you then put that thing together and make it seem like something else. I thank you though for not seeing the film that way, because that was my intention.

Was there ever much pressure to make the film be more upbeat or to have more comedy?

Max Mayer: Not really, I was working with my lead producer Leslie who is a long time friend. We started working on theater together and we’ve worked together for a long time, so we get each other. I think she’s a bit more sentimental then I am and she kept pushing us to make sure we root for the relationship which I think is a good thing. I don’t think there was an agenda like that.

What would you say makes Adam different from any other movie we’ve seen this year?

Max Mayer: Well I think the performances are spectacular and I think there’s a certain amount of honesty to the relationship. There’s also a good amount of humor and people seem to have a good time while watching the film.

Do you have any idea on what your working on next?

Max Mayer: I know what I am working on now, but it probably wont be the next film I make. I’m working on a script that I got interested in thats set in Chicago during the eighteen-eighties.

Could you talk a little more about that?

Max Mayer: Yeah, its attached to the incident of the hay market riot which was essentially the first bombing on U.S. soil. It takes place shortly after dynamite was invented which everyone thought was going to be a real game changer. The thing that really hooked me was the main character who is one of the main defendants from the hay market trial. Its like a ten year story and its been told in a few books before.

Is that at a studio right now?

Max Mayer: No, its in terrible first draft form right now (laughs). Somethings you gotta write badly before you can fix them (laughs).

As a director how do you take criticism? Do you read a lot of reviews?

Max Mayer: Do I (laughs)! I do read critics reviews even though it doesn’t help me a whole lot. You tend to give over importance to the bad ones and under-importance to the good ones. There’s occasionally when someone makes an intelligent account of something and you say oh they got it! I always do look at the negatives though.

Adam is now in theaters in NY/LA and expanding in the coming weeks. Check out my interview with the stars of the film Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy.

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