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Interview with Drake Doremus, co-writer, director of the new film, 'Breathe In'

"Breathe In."
"Breathe In."
2014 Cohen Media Group

Drake Doremus is the co-writer and director of the new film Breathe In, which opens locally this Friday, March 28. The young filmmaker made a series of well-received independent films (Moonpie, Spooner, Douchebag) before really gaining notice with his 2011 film, Like Crazy, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance that year. In that film, he directed break-out performances for both of its leads, Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, putting not only them, but himself, on the buzz map. I recently spoke with Drake Doremus about his newest project.

His latest film, Breathe In, re-teams him with Felicity Jones as his lead, also re-teaming him with his screenwriting partner, Ben York Jones. It's a story about a young foreign exchange student (Felicity Jones) who, according to the synopsis, "challenges the dynamics of her host family's relationships and alters their lives forever." In other words, she mutually falls for the dad (Guy Pearce) whom she shares some very unique bonds with. Amy Ryan and Mackenzie Davis also star.

Here is my interview with co-writer and director of Breathe In, Drake Doremus:

Tom Santilli, Detroit Movie Examiner: So Breathe In marks the second straight film that you've worked with Felicity Jones. What does she bring to the table for you, as an actress and as a collaborator?

Drake Doremus: Well she's really the full package. She brings everything. She's just a real pleasure to be around. She's just so committed to getting to the bottom of what's going on and to portray as much truth as possible. So it's really exciting to work with someone who pushes me as well, to try to be my best and to try to think as deep as I can about the scene.

Tom Santilli: I noticed some similarities in Breathe In to your previous film, Like Crazy, it being a sort of soulful romantic story with each couple having to overcome what seem like insurmountable obstacles in between them. Do you feel like there are any thematic similarities between the films, or what are the biggest differences?

Drake Doremus: Gosh, there are similarities in the sense that I am examining the idea of the momentary feeling of love, how fleeting it is, and if it's real or not. Other than that, I really wanted to try to take on a much darker subject and something that was very different. We like to refer to Breathe In as a darker cousin to Like Crazy, but the more I think about it and the more time that passes, the more I feel that it's just a very different film.

Tom Santilli: This is a love story between an older, married man and a student much younger than him. I'd imagine there is a very fine line you have to walk in making that relationship feel like more dangerous and less creepy.

Drake Doremus: It's funny you bring that up, because yeah, he's older and she's younger, but the way I see it actually is that he is actually younger and more adolescent in a way, in his growth, and she is much older. So in a way, they are sort of meeting at the same point. They're at the apex of the spectrum of where they're at in their lives. Momentarily at this point in their life, it's sort of let's meet in the middle. So for me, it was never a story about an older man and a younger woman, it was more about two people that were at the right place at the wrong time.

Tom Santilli: I have to ask you about Amy Ryan's character (who plays Guy Pearce's wife). In the film, she talks about being an avid cookie jar collector and attending cookie jar expos and whatnot. My stepmom was a humongous cookie jar collector, but I've never really heard or seen any one in the history of film have this hobby, so it was very interesting to me! Where did that bit of backstory come from for her character?

Drake Doremus: That's awesome! Yeah, my co-writer, Ben York Jones, grew up spending a lot of time in upstate New York and knew someone who was into the cookie jars. So he was very familiar with that world, which I found very fascinating when he described it to me and I was totally down with putting that in the movie.

Tom Santilli: Maybe that's your next film, an exploration into the world of cookie jar collecting...

Drake Doremus: Exactly (laughs).

Tom Santilli: Speaking of Ben York Jones, what is your process in writing a screenplay together?

Drake Doremus: On the last two films, I started with an idea for something and sketched out some ideas on paper, and then he sort of takes it and fleshes it out and writes it, essentially, on the page. Then he'll give it back to me and we'll develop it a little bit. Then when we're on the set shooting I sort of take it from there, writing things on set, dialogue, and that sort of thing.

Tom Santilli: In this film particularly, do you give your actors a lot of leeway to improvise interactions and/or dialogue?

Drake Doremus: Absolutely. The rule is, there are no rules. There are no boundaries. If anyone feels or thinks anything they must say it and they must act on it. It's a very spontaneity-based, impulsive format and style where it's very safe to fail. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't, but by virtue of that, you get really honest performances.

Tom Santilli: Any specific moments in the film that you can think of off-hand, where your actors improvised something that you feel enhanced the movie?

Drake Doremus: So many things. Guy's understanding of music really brought a lot to the movie. There's a scene where he's teaching piano to this kid after school. In this scene, unless you play piano and understood what he was talking about, there's no way he could have immersed himself in that scene the way he did. So that scene to me, he really lived that, he was really giving a lesson to that kid, it was really happening. We were just shooting it. So for me, that was exciting to really honestly achieve something.

Tom Santilli: Do you feel there are any disadvantages to being both the writer and the director on a project? If you direct something you didn't write, do you feel less attached to it, or less pressure?

Drake Doremus: Yeah, it's tricky. I feel like there is much more personal and attached to it if from the beginning I've been developing it or if it was my idea. But at the same time, I don't really have the patience or the time to really sit down and write a screenplay. So for me, it's really just about finding great artists to work with who can achieve my vision of the story and can really help flesh it out.

Tom Santilli: At the end of the day, who do you think this movie is for and what can the audience expect to get out of it?

Drake Doremus: I definitely think it's a tone poem in a way, or a mood piece. If you just want to come and let your auditory and visual senses just be overwhelmed by mood and tone and world, it just seeps into you and hopefully will create a powerful emotional response.

Tom Santilli: What's next for you?

Drake Doremus: I'm working on a scripted movie, by Nathan Parker, called Equals, which I'm going to direct. I'm really excited about it, I'll be working in a very different way with a different crew and it's an opportunity for me to stretch and to try something brand new.

Tom Santilli: For those interested in finding out more about you or your film, Breathe In, where can they go?

Drake Doremus: I'm on Twitter, @drakedoremus, and the movie opens in about five or six markets on March 28, before expanding throughout the country throughout April.

"Breathe In" opens locally on Friday, March 28, 2014 (check for show times).

Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment, airing at 10:30 p.m. EST every Sunday, on MYTV20 in Detroit.

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