The Carroll News Asst. Editor Mitch Quataert sat down with director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and Cleveland-native producer, Tyler Davidson, to discuss CBS Films ‘The Kings of Summer’. The film hits theaters June 7th.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Why Cleveland, simply because of Tyler [Davidson]?
That was a lot of it. A lot of it was him coming in real hard and pitching Cleveland and he read the script and immediately knew it would be a great fit, but I’m from Detroit so I love the Midwest. I think about this all the time – in LA you pass someone on the street and you turn your head. In the Midwest it doesn’t matter if I pass someone at 3 AM in the morning in Michigan, they’ll say ‘Hey how ya doing’. And as soon as I got on the ground here and saw all of the locations I was like ‘Yes.’ The level of nature and character in each location, I don’t know where else we could have gotten that many different types of things to the point where people don’t even know Ohio looks like that. In LA people are very jaded about things. They want $10,000 to shoot on their street and will legitimately turn on their lawn mower and let it run until we go say, ‘Ok I’ll pay you $2,000 to turn that off.’ Whereas here there is still a genuine enthusiasm and wonder about filmmaking.
How did you do go about shooting a party scene that feels authentic to the audience?
I have a really big problem with movies about teenagers that don’t look real. I literally cut together a reel of parties from movies and showed it to our production designer and said, ‘Those aren’t real parties. There is nothing that looks like this ever in high school.’ Because the reality of the situation is that what you thought was crazy in high school is really three people sitting on a couch. I look at John Hughes’ movies and those are movies that had a core truth about what being a certain age was. Adults could look at it and be like, ‘Yeah, I can relate to this’ and teens were able to say, ‘This speaks to my generation’. Everything in our movie we wanted to approach that way and make it authentic, but it’s amped up enough where there is still an iconic element to it. I love the idea of trying to show teenagers that don’t know how to kiss, I didn’t want to cast 25-year-olds. I said, ‘If you have a pimple, it’s staying.’ So being able to break down the perceptions versus what the reality is.
How old are the kids in the film?
At the time they were between 17 and 18, we can only go so young before we have crazy union restrictions. I sent the kids through improv. training so they would feel comfortable enough in their own skin. I’m not 14 anymore and we had moments that they, as characters, we would say, ‘That, that right there. That’s what being that age is.’ The film lives and dies on the performance of these kids.
This movie does walk the tone of being a fantasy, but it also seems realistic and I imagine that’s a hard line to walk. How did you guide yourself to walk that line?
That is my favorite part of the movie – the tone. It’s funny and then it’s not and then it’s funny and then not again. Studios don’t want to make movies that play with tone these days and they want to put films in a box. With this movie you need to go to a different place. So much of being that age is about that awkwardness and thinking you have the world figured out and then you fall on your face – it’s about that stupidity.
Producer: Tyler Davidson
Where is the center of the universe, the clearing in the woods where the film takes place?
That was in North Royalton. It is at the private property of the brother-in-law of our producer. The first scout that we went on, that was the first place we looked because of the connection and you usually don’t end up at the first place you look but it really worked out.
Do you have kids?
So shooting this film about two different kinds of parents who are over-protective and not caring enough, did some of that come from your own experience in parenting?
Well you know, I hope that I haven’t become those parents yet, but that’s not to say it’s not possible in a few years. I really relate to the experience the kids have in the story because they are living out a fantasy in locations I grew up exploring as a kid, mostly in the Metroparks. To see these kids take on a fantasy that a lot of kids have but not a lot put in to action was a lot of fun. I grew up exploring the Chagrin Metroparks and so having the opportunity to share those locations with our film team when they came to town was great.
How did you get involved with this project?
It came to me in the summer of 2011. I read it for the first time at TIFF when I was there for ‘Take Shelter’. I was sitting with a co-producer at a Starbucks in Toronto and we were both reading it at the same time and laughing uproariously to the point where I thought we were going to be asked to leave. It got to the point where we were back and forth ‘What page are you on?’ and right away I wanted to be involved with it. I saw an opportunity to bring the film to Cleveland, even though the screenplay was originally written for Stanton Island, NY. There is something very relatable about the Midwest.
What do you suggest to kids in high school or college who want to leave a place where their parents control their lives?
Don’t run away but go to this movie! But yeah, it’s something that all kids think about – not necessarily building a house in the woods but being free from your restrictions in your home life or at school. It’s about growing up and when does that happen and what is that like. It’s something that is both joyous and painful and we thought it was important to capture both of those feelings in this film.
What were your thoughts about Biaggio’s character while reading the script and where you could take that?
I think we all saw the potential for that character to be larger than life. I think we saw there was a bit of a cultural-phenomenon, McLovin-potential there. Thinking that that is possible at the script stage is far from getting an actor to deliver a performance like that. Everyone comes out of the movie talking about that character. Because there is not a big pool of movie star actors in that age group, we went through dozens and dozens of auditions for these kids, but these three were the clear standouts.