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Interview with 'Darling Companion' Filmmakers Lawrence Kasdan & Meg Kasdan

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Darling Companion is Lawrence Kasdan’s latest film offering; a relationship comedy centered around a family that loses their beloved dog Freeway while away for the weekend at their Rocky Mountain residence. Loosely inspired by Kasdan’s own canine search and rescue, Darling Companion is not only Lawrence’s first foray into independent film, but marks the first time he’s directed a film completely in digital format. A four time Oscar nominated filmmaker, Kasdan is best known for writing films such as Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Bodyguard, while writing and directing films such as Body Heat, The Big Chill, and Wyatt Earp.

With Colorado as the depicted backdrop and some scenes filmed here, the Darling Companion filmmakers returned to the Centennial state and stopped in Denver briefly before heading up to the Boulder International Film Festival. Your Denver Cinephile had a few moments to chat with Lawrence, his wife and co-writer Meg, and Anthony Bregman, one of the film’s producers. Read on for some snippets from the interview.

Although the film depicts Colorado, it was actually filmed in Utah. Was it the lack of incentives for CO that motivated you to film in Utah instead of CO?

LK: Absolutely. We wanted to shoot it in Colorado; we’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado and we explored it, but the rebates were about half of what we got in Utah. We didn’t have a lot of money so the rebates made a significant difference. We did shoot second unit in Telluride. There are a lot of shots in Telluride, in the San Juan mountains, in the movie. We would gladly have shot in Colorado if the rebates were better.

So is it safe to say that if the ballot initiative gets passed, you’ll come back to Colorado and film here?

Note: Ballot initiative HB12-1286 will be heard before the Business, Labor, and Technology committee this Monday April 30th.

LK: Absolutely. I'd love to. I love being here. I love shooting here.

AB: The way that financing is arranged now, it’s impossible to shoot someplace without a rebate. The more rebate you have changes the numbers and means you have more days to shoot, in terms of actors, and other things. Rebates make all the difference. It’s one of the first questions that you ask when you’re putting together a plan.

LK: You have some of the most incredible, unique scenery in the country, so people are desperate to come here to film.

AB: In fact, you could that say the movie is a calling card for the governor to create a [better] rebate program.

You’ve worked with Kevin Kline on six different films now. Is there anything we’d be surprised to learn about him?

LK: He’s a serious Shakespearian actor. He can play anything in the movies; cowboys, Hamlet on stage. He’s probably America’s greatest Shakespearian actor. And yet he can be this buffoon like he was in A Fish Called Wanda. In this movie we did called I Love You to Death, he played this crazy pizza guy.

MK: He can dance, he can sing, he can play the piano.

AB: Italian accent, French accent.

LK: He’s a very convincing Frenchman. He was a great horseback rider when I put him in Silverado; better than anyone really.

I understand Sam Shepard (also in the movie) has some rodeo experience as well.

LK: Sam is a professional horseman. We haven’t done a western together yet, but I’d love to.

Lawrence, how was doing this indie film different than your other films?

LK: Budget determines everything in terms of time and what you’re asking people to do when they’re being paid close to nothing… It takes an enormous commitment from actors who can make much more money, to say, “I’m going to leave my home in New York City and go to Utah for 6 weeks in the cold and wet, and work for you and get paid nothing. You’re always grateful when people show up to your movie, but you’re doubly grateful when they’re doing it for nothing. They’ve just committed to your story. It’s very heartening. That’s true of the craft men too; the camera men, the crew, everybody’s there because they want to do it.

Since you were dealing with factors such as the outdoors and animals, rather than just actors, did that pose any additional challenges for your team?

AB: There were scenes, in which we were shooting outdoors, and we had to clear away tons of snow and there were other scenes where we were shooting outdoors where we had to create our own snow. The weather doesn’t necessarily cooperate with the schedule in that way. Every film has its challenges.

The interesting thing was, at the very beginning of this movie, when I first started talking to Larry and Meg about it, and Larry said, “Do you want to do this?” and I said, “I want to do this. Do YOU want to do this?” because it’s a different movie. The economics are going to make it a completely different movie experience than you’ve had before. That’s my principal uncertainty, uncontrolled factor. It was remarkable how Larry and the actors and the crew and everyone completely adapted to what this film was in terms of how to shoot it, in terms of doing it digitally, which I think this was the first film that Larry directed digitally, on a condensed schedule, with lots of new parameters. It was one of the most seamless productions I’ve ever been on.

LK: It was great fun. Every movie has a lot of tension, but for me, I’ve been really lucky. This is the 11th movie I’ve directed and I’ve had a good time with every one of them. I really love doing this work. So the situation is always different. One thing that never changes is you never have enough time. It doesn’t matter how expensive the movie is, and I’ve done some expensive movies. You’re always rushed, you never get all the work done that day, and you always feel you need more days. That’s why if you have $10k, you can’t make a movie. You just say these are our parameters and we’re gonna get it done.

I think Ed Burns has done a great job of making indie films in the $10k range.

LK: He (Anthony) made one of his first films. [The Brothers McMullen]

AB: Yeah, he’s even more extreme now than he was then. He’s making these movies for like $10k, owning them, selling them on iTunes, and I think they do extremely well.

LK: There’s a thing going on, which is movies about characters. All the movies you see at Sundance and Toronto, they barely have a home in theaters anymore. The most effective way to get to your audience is probably television now. There’s so much niche audience targeting now. People know where to go on the tube to find the kind of movies they want. Those same people are very hard to get into a theater these days.

How has your writing style changed, if at all, over the years?

LK: I was counting the other day and I’ve written 27 screenplays. I haven’t made them all. Some never got made. Some were for other people and they did get made. I don’t think I’ve learned a damn thing.

Thirty years of writing, and every day I sit down and think, “How do you do this? What’s the most effective way?” You write a page-I did this the other night writing a screenplay-I wrote a whole page and thought, “Oh, that’s really good” and then I read it over and thought, “I used twice as many words here as I needed to. How can I make it shorter? How can I make it easier to read?” Because when a screenplay is sent to me, all I care about is how easy it is to read. And yet, after thirty years, I’m still making screenplays that are more difficult to read than they have to be.

MK: Yeah, but you know that. You know that immediately. I think he’s learned something.

Are there any challenges working together as a husband-wife team?

MK: We work really well together. We’ve done enough activities together that we like together. We get along really well. We have a way of doing it; we sit together and our general rule is the person who feels the most strongly about something, wins. That sort of works out well. We edit each other. We respond to each other in a pretty vigorous way.

LK: If we make each other laugh, that’s a good sign. We believe whatever makes us laugh, that’s sort of what we’re going for because we go to so many movies that are supposed to be funny but we don’t find funny. So we try to do this other thing that we think is funny, even if it turns out no one else thinks it’s funny. But we’re going to have to look at this thing for a year, so we want to think it’s funny every time we turn it on.

Meg, what would we be surprised to learn about Larry?

MK: He often runs about ten minutes late.

With the advent of the Golden Collar awards, do you think we will see any of the “Freeway” dogs in the movie this next go around?

LK: I hope so. The one main dog, Casey, he had an understudy but we didn’t use the understudy very much because Casey was so good. Of course, the trainers were fantastic on the movie. They were able to give us everything we wanted in not much time. As you can imagine, we had a very brief schedule. So you’re worried always, “Will the dog be cooperative?” as you are, like you said with animals or babies. But this dog was very good. I think he’s great in the movie, so I hope he gets some recognition.

Click here for Denver Metro showtimes for Darling Companion (opening exclusively at The Landmark Esquire).

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