First time director Colin Trevorrow sure loves the 80s. His debut film, Safety Not Guaranteed, features everything from jeans jackets, Star Wars references and a time travel plot to rival the seminal series of the period, Back to the Future. His film poignantly explores how adults deal with the past and that desire to reconnect with feelings and dreams long gone. It also has some neat special effects, the amazing Aubrey Plaza and the one-of-a-kind inventiveness born from a tiny budget. Trespass’ Sean Rom spoke to Colin about making his first film, his love of jeans jackets and the concept of the American idiot.
What attracted you to this script?
I saw an opportunity to make an iconic love story in a small way; a big movie, in a very small package. Partly that was out of necessity. I couldn’t direct a big movie in a big package; nobody would trust me to do that. And I thought it was an opportunity to demonstrate some of my instincts as a director and the kind of film that I want to make. And deal with some grander, more cinematic issues and yet also deal with some personal and emotional and quiet issues in the same film. That is something that I would like to continue to do.
The script is great. Mark and Jay’s presence [The Duplass brothers; Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives At Home] on the film- them saying “look, you can trust this guy, he’s not going to waste your money”- was a crucial factor. It enabled Big Beach to be ok with the amount of money they spent, which was a very little amount of money. I think it was a combination of it being a price that made sense for them and a cool, young cast that they could get into, and they took a leap of faith as well.
You said at the Sydney Film Festival screening that Safety Not Guaranteed is a quintessentially American film. I was wondering if you could expand a bit on that?
What I was saying there is that this character [Kenneth played by Mark Duplass] is one who has this really high confidence level without necessarily any evidence that he can do what he says he can do. And I think that is a pretty American kind-of thing. In a lot of ways, it almost reflected me as a director. There is not evidence that I can direct a film, and yet I’m saying give me hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that. I call it the confident idiot. The confident idiot is very American. I don’t remember what documentary it was but it pointed out how America is 15th in education and 20th in healthcare but we’re No. 1 in confidence. And that really stuck with me.
You also mentioned the “Jeans Jacket” as an American symbol?
Ever since the mid-80s I spent a long time with a jeans jacket in my closet waiting for it to become cool again. And it finally happened in 2000. And I was so excited!
Is it cool?
Well, it’s 2012 now. But there was a period where we were back [laughs]. And it was happening and I was so into it. But then I had to put it away again. It will stay in my closet until it is cool again. It represents a very specific era for me.
The script was written with Aubrey [Aubrey Plaza of Parks and Recreations] in mind. Jake [Johnson] came on really early. It started as me believing in him and wanting to give movie-goers the opportunity to see what he could do with a lead. And then, coincidentally, he happened to become hugely famous on this TV show [New Girl] after we shot the movie, which was great for us. Mark Duplass [who plays lead character Kenneth] actually came on board as an executive producer with his brother first, and then during that process, I saw a way he would be able to bring a really grounding presence to the lead role that the movie needed.
Watching the film, I imagined the shoot would have been a fun experience. Is that a correct assumption?
It was fun for me in that it was so challenging. I’ve been waiting all my life to direct a film, so to say it was not fun couldn’t be true. And yet, it was difficult in that we shot it in twenty-four days, in thirty locations. We were constantly moving around and had no rehearsal and very little money. And yet, I think because I’ve never directed a movie before I figured this is what it is, so I’m just going to do this. I think as a result, people are very surprised with what we put on screen, with what we had and how quickly we had to work. It’s almost my own ignorance and inexperience that led to us getting a lot for our dollar.
Safety Not Guaranteed is released in Australia on October 18th