Daydream Nation director Michael Goldbach discusses working with Kat Dennings, shooting in British Columbia, future projects, and much more.
Michael Goldbach is a writer-director that more people will surely start to take notice of in the very near future. He co-wrote the 2004 Sundance hit Childstar, and wrote for the TV series Odd Job Jack, although he could make a big splash with his latest movie Daydream Nation, which marks his directorial debut. The movie stars Kat Dennings as a big city girl forced to move to a tiny town and, when she discovers she has no interest in the younger kids of this town, she develops a crush on her teacher (Josh Lucas). Daydream Nation opens in limited release in New York and Los Angeles on May 6, and will arrive on Blu-ray and DVD on May 17.
I recently had the chance to speak with writer-director Michael Goldbach over the phone about his new drama, and here's what he had to say.
Can you talk a bit about where this overall idea first came from and how you ame to write it?
Michael Goldbach: Sure. I wrote this movie, about seven or eight years ago. I had co-written a movie that was made in Canada called Childstar, with a director named Don McKellar. Don is quite well-known in Canada, as a writer, director and an actor, so I felt I needed to write something that proved I had my own voice. I'm from a small town in Canada, and I wanted to explore small-town life in a way I wasn't used to seeing in films. I wanted to show small towns how I experienced them, as these oddball, drugged out, vibrant, sexy places, that feel a little bit dangerous, as opposed to the slow Norman Rockwell-style small towns that you often see.
That's very true. You see so many of these small towns in movies, and they just do not exist.
Michael Goldbach: Exactly! I went to high school in a small town and I really wanted to capture what it felt like for me. Obviously, Daydream Nation is heightened. It's got a lot of surreal aspects to it, but that's because that's how I felt during that period of time, that life did feel sort of heightened and surreal to me. One of the things I've talked about with people in the past is this idea that the killer and the industrial fire and these surreal touches, for me, those were all visual metaphors for a lot of the feelings that I had in high school. Often in films, like in a John Hughes film, you see teenagers talking a lot about how hard it is to be a teenager and what they're going through. I wanted to show it with these visual metaphors. You still get the same feeling of the anxiety of a teenager, but in my experience, teenagers don't actually talk about it all that much. They talk about other things, they talk about everything but that.
Are there really distinct experiences from your childhood that you threw in here? Did you know someone that had a weird love triangle with a teacher?
Michael Goldbach: It's funny. I went back to the small town I came from, in my mid-20s to visit. A bunch of my friends were teaching at my old high school. I just thought it was so odd. These guys were just 26 or 27 years old and they were already teaching at the same high school that I thought I had just barely graduated. I think I still had a bit of a chip on my shoulder from high school. Not that I had a bad time there, but I was still outgrowing it. Here are these people that had already returned there to become teachers. One of the things that interested me when I was talking to them, is they felt they were still so young that their peers were more the students than the other teachers. They got a lot of their identity from the idea of being the cool young teachers there. To me, that was funny and sweet and sad, this complex mix of emotions. As a writer, when you encounter that kind of complex mixture, you know it has a dramatic hold. Does that make sense?
Yeah, it totally does. It's weird they would want to be these cool young teachers in their hometown, though.
Michael Goldbach: Exactly. Then there are smaller parts in the film that are exaggerated versions of things. I remember in high school and in a friends kitchen, trying to find anything that might possibly get us high. Again, it's exaggerated in the film, but there's a tiny kernel of reality in everything.
I've been a big fan of both Kat Dennings and Josh Lucas for a long time now. Can you talk about the casting process and how you ended up landing these actors?
Michael Goldbach: This film has been in development for years, and it's been a real passion project of mine. Every few years, it would seem that it's about to happen, and then it would fall apart again. We went through a number of different actors through the course of the last eight years, but when Kat Dennings became involved, it really re-ignited things in a very serious way. She's such a respected actress that once she lent her name to the film. Kat Dennings is like actor bait. She lends such an air of legitimacy to things and they know it's going to be a quality project, once she lends her name to it. She allowed us to attract people like Reece Thompson and Andie MacDowell and, actually, Josh Lucas was one of the last people on board. I think he came on maybe two weeks before the shoot began. That was one of those things where it was just a miracle, where this actor just drops in your lap, and you know you can really make a great movie here.
You filmed this in Vancouver. Can you talk about the experience of shooting there, and were you considering actually shooting this in your hometown?
Michael Goldbach: There was a time when I was going to shoot this in Ontario, outside of Toronto. Over the years, it evolved and we ended up shooting this in British Columbia. We didn't even really shoot it in Vancouver. We shot about an hour and a half outside Vancouver, because we needed the maximum amount of tax breaks to make this movie. I loved it there. It's beautiful, it's cinematic, and the crews there are amazing. As a first-time filmmaker, you really come to rely on the people around you. In British Columbia, they shoot so many movies there. This is actually a low-budget movie, but it looks a lot bigger than it really is, because we had such a fantastic crew. I would love to make another movie there, because the people I worked with were so on top of their game.
I believe the nickname for Vancouver now is Hollywood North.
Michael Goldbach: Absolutely. You can't control when the film is going to be made, so we ended up shooting it in winter, in January. My goal with that was to just embrace it. If it was going to be rainy, it will be a rain-soaked film and lets just go with that and use that to our advantage. It worked out for us because it gave the town a more haunted feeling, but at the same time, it was still beautiful.
The release platform, coming out in theaters and then coming out on DVD a few weeks later, is something that we're starting to see a lot more of these days. Can you talk a bit about that strategy, and if you think that's something we'll see a lot more of in the future?
Michael Goldbach: That's a good question. There are two answers to that. I would say the practical, hard answer to that is distributors know that indie films will make loads of their money back on DVD, and not on the theatrical. I think their attitude is that the theatrical, this limited theatrical release is like one big advertisement for the DVD. It just helps put it out on the radar, so that when the DVD comes out, people are aware about it and excited about it. For better or for worse, a lot of indie films are going to go in that direction. A lot of indie films, they will come out on video-on-demand the same day as the theatrical release, so at least we have a tiny window before that happens. That's just going to be the reality, until we can figure out how we can get people back into theaters again. As a filmmaker, I'm a little bit old-fashioned, and when I shot this movie, I really put my heart and soul into the idea of making it feel big and cinematic and visceral and beautiful. Of course, I want people to experience it on the big screen, so it's a little bit heartbreaking, from that point of view, to know that it's going to have a limited theatrical release. But, again, that's the way of the world right now, and I'm lucky to have it in theaters at all.
Yeah. There are so many that don't even get a theatrical release at all.
Michael Goldbach: Exactly. That's exactly it. This is a small, Canadian film that managed to attract some attention here so, for that reason alone, I'm thrilled.
Can you talk at all about the DVD release? Will you have a lot of special features on there?
Michael Goldbach: I'm not even 100% sure. I believe there's a making-of featurette, but I'm honestly not sure what else. I actually haven't seen a DVD yet. I'm a little bit sheltered from that right now, because I've been out promoting the theatrical.
Is there anything that you're currently writing now, or anything else that you're attached to, that you can talk about?
Michael Goldbach: Sure. Right now, I literally just handed in the first draft of a script to the director Mark Waters, who did Mean Girls and Freaky Friday and he's got Mr. Popper's Penguins coming out this summer. I'm doing a remake of a South Korean film for him, called Castaway on the Moon. I'm the writer and it's for him to direct, and it's a great project. I just love it. The original film is a really cool South Korean film. When you think of a South Korean film, you think of a horror film, but it's actually a very surreal, romantic comedy. That's been a joy to write, and I'm really excited about that. I've got a script called The Jaws of Life, which was on the Black List in 2009, and I'm really pushing hard to direct that film myself. I'm just trying to keep making films. Daydream Nation was a great film to come out of the gate with, and I hope it's a bit of a calling card, and I hope it allows me to have another shot. It's so funny, with a movie like this, that we shot the whole film in 22 days, on an HD camera with no toys. There's no cranes, we didn't even get a SteadiCam. The funny thing about directing it is, about 15 days in, I started to feel like, 'Hey, I'm really getting the hang of this. I'm really directing," then, all of the sudden, it's done, and I'm dying to direct again. I just want to use all the things that I've learned.
Are you in the process of casting that remake right now? Do you have this out to any actors right now?
Michael Goldbach: It's a little early for that just yet. I think, to be honest with you, there are a lot of people involved in the project and I think it will be a little bit before we get to that point.
Are you set up at a studio right now?
Michael Goldbach: Well, it's funny because the South Korean company, CJ, they're paying for it, so it's not set up at an American studio. CJ is like ginormous. They dwarf a lot of the American studios, in terms of their size and what they own, so it's a really interesting project that way. It's CJ's attempt to hold onto their project a bit longer, and actually develop it in the US, instead of just giving away the remake rights to a studio. It's a new paradigm for them, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
Michael Goldbach: I think if you like Kat Dennings, one of the exciting things about Daydream Nation is this is the first film where she's really carrying the whole movie. She's not playing second fiddle, she's the star of this thing, and she really gets to show off her acting chops in this. We see a lot of different sides of Kat. Not only is she funny, but she's sexy and she's smart and she's willing to go to a lot of scary places as an actress, and I think it's really thrilling to watch.
Cool. Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with your new projects.
Michael Goldbach: Cool. Thanks so much. Take care, Brian.