Whether you’re talking about “The Greatest” or “Country Strong,” director Shana Feste’s movies tend to deal with people who have lost something so important to them in their lives and are trying to move on. Her latest effort, the remake of “Endless Love,” is no different as it deals with parents (played by Bruce Greenwood and Joely Richardson) who lost a son to cancer and are trying their best to keep their intelligent but awkwardly shy daughter Jade (Gabriella Wilde) safe from harm. But then into the picture comes David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) who falls head over heels in love with Jade, and they soon find their daughter out of their control to where the father desperately tries to control her future which includes becoming a premed student at Brown University.
We got to speak with Feste when she appeared at the “Endless Love” press junket which was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California. While there, she explained why her version (which is also based on the novel by Scott Spencer) goes in a different direction than Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 film, what it was like making a movie while eight months pregnant, and the difference between making studio movies and independent films.
On the surface, this “Endless Love” is an old-fashioned American love story about a girl from a wealthy family who falls for a boy from the wrong side of town. We have seen this story played out in so many ways throughout cinematic history. But as American as this story is, we can’t help but be amused by the fact that Feste ended up hiring a mostly international cast for this movie. Pettyfer, Wilde and Richardson are English, and Greenwood himself is from Canada. Feste described what the casting process was like.
“It was a real bummer,” Feste joked. “In casting I was like, ‘Oh really, another Brit, another Aussie that I’m falling in love with?’ But it just kept happening that way and the accents were a little bit… It’s always funny when you’re watching dailies and you were hearing them doing the scene in this perfect American accent and then they’re using their British (accent), and then they are going back and forth that it was just kind of like a little bit crazy. But I think they all bonded, especially Gabriella and Alex. I think they bonded because they had that similar background, so that was nice”
One of the things that stunned everyone at the press conference was discovering just how pregnant Feste was while she was making this movie. But furthermore, we all wondered if being pregnant during shooting ended up having an effect on the story’s themes.
“I think my husband and I had a really honest conversation because I was 38 weeks pregnant when the film ended, and I thought if I’m directing any movie, this should be the one that I do when I’m pregnant because I was surrounded by conversations of love,” Feste explained. “All my heads of department, we were always talking about where we fell in love first and what does love look like and how are we going to make people want to fall in love in our film. So those were all good conversations and I could not have directed ‘Robocop’ pregnant, you know? ‘Endless Love’ was the right movie for me to do pregnant.”
People were wondering why Feste’s film is lighter than and not as dark as Spencer’s novel or the 1981 film. For those familiar with either, the character of David was a much more volatile individual and there was even a tragic death. With this remake, much of the edge has been taken out, but Feste made it clear as to why that was the case.
“I really wanted to make a movie about being brave and putting love first, and I wanted that love to win in the end,” Feste explained. “That was just me. That’s where I am in my life. I wanted to make a real love story, I wanted it to be released on Valentine’s Day and I want to celebrate love, and I wanted everybody walking out of the theater to be able to celebrate love.”
“‘Endless Love,’ the first movie and the book, obviously did take some darker turns, and that wasn’t the story that I wanted to tell,” Feste continued. “I wanted young girls to fall in love during the movie and make that look like something that was going to be the best thing in the world because I think now in this day people aren’t putting love first. We put our jobs and careers first, our iPhone, anything we can before love. I think it was amazing that Universal is putting this out wide, a movie with a message of love, and I wanted to just be part of that and tell a true old-fashioned love story.”
Another big topic of discussion was Gabriella Wilde who plays Jade. She is best known for her roles in “The Three Musketeers” and last year’s remake of “Carrie,” and many cannot understand how she could convincingly play a character who is so beautiful and yet socially awkward. Feste explained why she decided to cast Wilde in the role that was originally made famous by Brooke Shields.
“Well Brooke Shields, those are tough shoes to fill and I wanted someone with that beauty that just kind of takes your breath away,” Feste said. “I also wanted someone that you would believe that she was going to Brown (University), so she had to have an intelligence about her and she also had to have an innocence about her. She wasn’t going to high school parties every weekend. She wasn’t living that life, she had been kind of sheltered, and Gabriella is very quiet and she’s very introverted and she doesn’t realize how beautiful she is which is kind of amazing because you’re thinking, how in the world do you not know how beautiful you are? But she really carries herself with so much grace and poise. She had all these qualities that I find are really hard to find in one person, and she kind of had them all.”
We again come back to the theme of a rich girl falling in love with a poor boy, something we see in almost every romantic movie ever made. Whether it’s “Romeo & Juliet” or “Love Story,” these unlikely couplings in real life seem a lot more possible at the movies. Even Feste agreed with that by saying that David and Jade come from two different worlds that would never coexist, but she saw the story as dealing with something more than just economic differences.
“I think it’s less about the money and it’s more about a young girl that was just terrified of letting go and feeling all these feelings that she was having that was constantly shushing herself and telling her to be quiet and keep her voice really low,” Feste said. “And here is Alex, a guy who is living out loud and living and enjoying life and living every moment to the fullest whether it is punching a guy out. He’s taking risks and he’s going up and down and he’s living life, and here is a girl who is almost like a princess locked away in her castle. Those are just two completely different people, so for those two people to come together, economics aside, I think is a good start for a love story.”
Until making “Endless Love,” Feste had worked mostly in the world of independent films. Since this remake is a studio film, we could help but ask her what the difference was between making an independent film and a studio movie, and which one affords her the most freedom as a director. It’s no surprise that there is a huge difference in promotion when it comes to a studio movie.
“The way they (Universal Pictures) are promoting this movie and all that television spots, I would’ve killed for one spot to play on ‘The Bachelor’ for my first movie,” Feste said. “I just would have killed for that. So it’s this embarrassment of riches how they are promoting this movie; it’s so amazing, but with all the promotion comes more restrictions. My first movie, I could make a mistake and it was just me and my editor in the room.”
“I had a shot that lasted for four minutes long in ‘The Greatest,’ and it held on three characters, (played by) Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan, as they were riding in the back of a limousine,” Feste continued. “I could never get away with that in a studio film. It was hard for me to get away with that in an independent film, but I was able to do it because I didn’t have anybody telling me that I couldn’t, and I had no idea how incredible that freedom is for an artist. Luckily on this project I had a lot of producers and they were very supportive of me as a writer and director, but that freedom is something that I really would love to get back to.”
Hearing Shana Feste talk about her experience remaking “Endless Love” makes one wonder why there are not more female directors in Hollywood. She succeeds in putting a positive spin on love at a time where cynicism rules, she made the film while on the verge of giving birth, and she continues to work with a lot of great actors who have come to appreciate the way she directs them. Whether or not this “Endless Love” is a success, it’s more than likely that we will be seeing more of Shana Feste in the near future.
Of course, we had to ask about the theme song Lionel Richie and Diana Ross made famous in the 1981 movie. To our surprise, we never heard it once in the remake, but Feste told us why that was the case.
“We had it in at one point. We had it in the dancing scene but it didn’t go over well.”