Ron Howard Talks When You Find Me

The Oscar winning filmmaker is producing this short film for Canon's Project Imagin8ion and director Bryce Dallas Howard

Monday marked the last day of shooting on the upcoming short film When You Find Me, which is being produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard and directed by his daughter, actress Bryce Dallas Howard. The supernatural drama is the result of Canon's Project Imagin8ion, a user generated contest that culled over 96 thousand photos from across the globe. Eight photographs were chosen in various different categories, and each of those eight winning images were used to inspire an original story, with a script from Bryce and her partner, Dane Charbeneau.

When You Find Me tells the story of two sisters who find their carefree lives on a farm shattered by the sudden loss of their mother. Lisle, the younger and more imaginative of the two girls, becomes fixated on the idea of finding a spaceship in the woods that will transport them to heaven so they can reunite with their departed mom. Racked by a private guilt, Aurora, the older sister, is unable to share in the young girl's naive conviction. Their opposing beliefs lead to a rift, which continues to haunt them well into their adult lives.

Alternating between past and present, When You Find Me is an emotional fable of two people coping with tragedy in very different ways, and what it takes to find peace and reconciliation within yourself and the ones you love. We caught up with Ron Howard during a break in filming Monday night. We chatted about the Canon Project Imagin8ion short film, his upcoming directorial feature Rush, and got both a Dark Tower and an Arrested Development update.

Here is our conversation.

What can you tell me about this project? You took some sight-unseen photographs and then made a movie about them?

Ron Howard: Yes, that is the upshot. The photos came from 96 thousand applicants over the course of six weeks. The Photos were targeted towards eight different story categories, like mood, character, relationship, the unknown, setting, time... Inspired simply by those categories, people sent in their photos. Those got narrowed down to 35 in each category, by the Canon folks. People voted on the internet. That narrowed the selection down to ten. From that ten, I chose one. The idea was...Using the selected photos from each of the eight categories, the job was to build that into a short film. That's what happened. It wound up being very inspiring and interesting. I was pleasantly surprised by what impact those pictures had on the direction of the story.

I love looking at photographs, especially of people I don't know. I like finding strange photos, on the ground or in a thrift shop. Because you don't know the story that led up to that image. You only have what is in front of you, and you really get to make up your own story about it. Was it that aspect of this project that attracted you to it?

Ron Howard: It is a very personal, visceral reaction. It is a great creative exercise, which is why I wanted to get involved. Basically we decided...When I say we, I mean me, my daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, who is directing it, and her writing partner Dane Charbeneau, who wrote it...We didn't care how people labeled their photograph, or what they thought was behind it. We just took our inspiration from that, and linked the eight selected photographs. We created a story that was ultimately personal to both Bryce and Dane. This really is a case of an image, a work of art, inspiring someone else in a very personal way. Who then in turn, turns around and executes their own creative work. What I am really pleased by is, with a couple of these categories, I thought we would wind up putting the photograph in the background of a scene, and then say we pulled inspiration from it...We might have to cheat...Well, they didn't cheat at all. They were able to build a story that moved, and it was completely inspired by those images. I think all of the people from the contest are going to be at the premiere in New York. I believe that is on November 15th. They are going to be very pleased to see what kind of impact their photo had on the finished film.

How is the photo itself worked into the film? Will it be featured in the story? Will there be a scene that is completely derived from the photo that is a recreation of the image?

Ron Howard: There are eight images. Bryce and the cinematographer have kept those images on hand. When those turning points happen, when the inspiration from those photographs occur, they are not copied literally. But the people who sent in the photograph will very clearly see...Whether it is the mood, or the composition, or the feeling, or some visual element from their photograph...That will be front and center, and that is really driving the story. In some instances, it is a key setting. In other places, it is a moment where you gain insight into a character. There are a couple of plot twists that are inspired by certain images. The tone of it, too. One of things is, it is a very personal, humanistic story. At the same time, it has very visual elements. There are some supernatural elements. I don't think this story would have ever moved in that direction, being so outside of the box, having not been influenced by these photos.

How long do you think this film will be?

Ron Howard: Oh, it is a short film. Fifteen or twenty minutes, I suppose...

Is this setting up a series that will continue to utilize this process after the film is completed? Does Canon plan on making more shorts inspired by other people's photographs?

Ron Howard: I don't think so. Not that I am aware of. I know that Canon was really overwhelmed by the number of people that contributed photos. It was 96 thousand in, I don't know...A matter of eight weeks, or something. I don't think they were expecting that kind of interest. And interest has continued in terms of traffic to their website. The movie will be premiered. It will also play in theaters a little bit. It will also be featured on the website. I think they will look at it and decide from there. Canon is a very interesting company. For marketing reasons, they have been very innovative about these kinds of programs. They have run contests like this in the past. This one is just a little more involved. It really sparked my creative curiosity. I wondered what it would yield. It is a creative high wire act. I wasn't sure that something cohesive and organic would be fashioned using this method. But I had a hunch that this would be interesting and fruitful. The film's not finished. This is the last day of shooting. But, the script is strong. The dailies are coming along. Bryce is doing a really great job. The acting is really good. I think it will be a very memorable short film.

With movies like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, where you are working with a true story, you must have utilized this same exercise, in looking at photographs, and then having to derive a story from those images...

Ron Howard: Often, when you are working with something that is based in fact, the photo records from the era it is set in, the individuals involved...They suggest all kinds of nuances and details. I definitely had experience with still photographs inspiring my approach to a movie. But not the basic storyline. This is a creative exercise. I really hope that film schools take this exercise on, and put it to use. It is really exciting to see how this does stimulate the imagination.

I think its an awesome, great idea. I know that Bryce produced Reckless, the Gus Van Sant movie that came out last month. Is this the natural progression for her as a Howard? Acting, then producing, and now she is following in your footsteps with directing...

Ron Howard: She did direct a short film. In the second year of the Glamour Magazine series; those short films that they have been doing. Where actresses get to direct movies. Jennifer Aniston has done one. Kate Hudson. Kirsten Dunst. There have been a few others. Bryce did that four or five years ago. She loved it. She has been doing a lot of work in her free time building towards the idea that she would direct a feature. She was looking to make another short film. When this came along, I knew I couldn't direct it, because I am preparing this movie, Rush, that I am doing in England. And in Germany. I didn't want to lie to people, and pretend that I had directed this. Or anything like that. I said, "I'm not sure I can direct it." They said, "Well, you can mentor somebody. You can supervise it, and represent the contest. You can be in the commercial for it. That would be fine." I thought about it. And I thought, "I would love to mentor somebody." I thought of Bryce, but I wasn't sure she would be available. It turned out that she could do it, because she got pregnant, and she couldn't act anyway. Then it was a great fit. Because she had been looking to make another short film. She is very visual. I knew that her aesthetic, which is actually quite different than mine, would be a very interesting combination with this idea.

Bryce is very interesting to me. I was on the set of Terminator 4 with her, and while I was there, she stayed very close to the director the entire time they were shooting, even though she wasn't acting in a lot of those scenes. She was very involved with what was going on with the project, and more interested in the mechanics of shooting it than, maybe, even the director was. Has she always been like that? Is that something that stems from her childhood, being on various sets with you?

Ron Howard: I think so. She used to come visit the sets. She later worked as a PA. She always enjoyed staying around the monitors. And she was always curious about it. In her experience as an actor, she has developed an easy rapport with the directors. And they have always included her, inviting her into their process. Whether it is M. Night Shyamalan, or Lars von Trier, or McG. Clint Eastwood. Sam Raimi. She has had this remarkable ten years exposed to these world-class filmmakers. Its fun for me to see her on the set now, making the creative choices that she is making. Because she has her own voice. She has her own aesthetic. Its not mine. Its nobody else's. Its hers. I think she is liable to wind up being a very interesting voice in cinema in the next decade or so.

I believe that's true as well. I spoke with Gus Van Sant last month about Reckless, and that is a very interesting story of how Bryce got him involved in making that movie. She seems to be making all the right choices in terms of evolving into a great film director. Has she expressed interest in solely doing that, as opposed to acting? Is she on the same path as you?

Ron Howard: No. This is a different generation. You talk to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you talk to Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Bryce...Anybody of that particular generation...They are really looking at their careers as artists, and has hyphenates. They don't categorize themselves so much. I think that is what Bryce is looking at. She probably takes direct inspiration from Jodie Foster.

You brought up Rush. Is this a return to your Eat My Dust roots with Roger Corman?

Ron Howard: Well, no...It's based on a true story. We've already made some jokes. Because one of the guys I'm working with was also on Grand Theft Auto, which was one of the first things I ever directed. Every once in a while, we will fall into Roger Corman speak in front of everybody. This is an entirely international crew, other than Todd and I. They don't know what the Hell we are talking about. We are throwing in terms like T-Bone and Speed Ramps. But this is going to be Formula 1 racing in the most authentic way we can present it. I think we are going to be able to use technology, including some of the work Canon does. Making a camera smaller, lighter, faster, easier to work with...I think we are going to get the cameras into really interesting, dynamic places to really give the audience a sense of what is going on in a race, at a really granular level. It will be really detailed. I am really excited about that. We will be using computer-generated imagery, so that we don't have to cheat so much. A lot of these tracks and grandstands aren't literally around anymore. Or they only partially exist. We will be able to extend to the full effect what it was like to be there. We will also be able to use archival footage. Repair it, manipulate it a little bit in ways that will be seamless. We will be mixing in footage from the time with footage that we create in camera, to footage that we've enhanced digitally, to really recreate this world. As always is the case with me, I love cinema...I love all the filmmaking tricks that you can conceive of...But there is nothing more exciting to me than a really well acting scene. Peter Morgan wrote this script. He is the same guy that wrote The Queen, and The Last King of Scotland, and Frost/Nixon, which I directed...He zeroed in on this story not because of racing, but because of these two characters, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both of them are very fascinating. That was a rich, interesting time. It was sexy, dangerous. And these individuals were remarkable. It's a strong character piece with really intense, cool action.

It sounds awesome. I can't wait for it. Now, I know you know what was said this weekend. Can you comment on the announcement by Mitchell Hurwitz? That Arrested Development is headed back to TV before the proposed feature film that has been talked about for years now?

Ron Howard: Yeah. He was very, very clear about it. If you read his entire quote about it...I wasn't there, but I was on the phone, present on the panel. I heard exactly what Mitch said. He explained that this is his intent. That this is what he wants to do. He added the fact that we do not control the material. There are studio executives with budgets. And schedules. They have line-ups, and slates to fill. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of business issues to be resolved before it can really happen. But, clearly, fans want it. The creator of the show wants it. The cast wants it. I believe...I would be shocked if we didn't get to do everything, creatively, with it that we want to do with it.

Do you think the film will serve as an on-screen reunion for you and Henry Winkler, and some of the other Happy Days cast members? I loved the Funny or Die short that you guys put together a couple years ago. It would be great to see you all together on the big screen...

Ron Howard: I think Mitch has that in mind. The script isn't done yet, so we'll see. It would be fun.

The last question I'll bug you with is...The Dark Tower? Is there an update? Are you guys still moving forward on that?

Ron Howard: We are still working towards it. There is no timetable. We are not fast-tracking the project as we were. We are continuing to develop it. We are analyzing ways that we could do it. We are trying to find a home for it.

I'm a fan of, pretty much, your entire family. Last night I watched Spooky Buddies, with Rance. What are your thoughts when your Dad shows you something of that nature?

Ron Howard: I haven't seen it. Did you watch that last night at Disney?

No, I actually rented it last night. My girlfriend wanted to watch it...

Ron Howard: There was a screening this weekend. I haven't gotten a chance to see it yet. My dad is a real animal guy. In fact, my step-mom was telling me that the trainers were worried about the dogs. And how they would react. They were giving my dad a lot of guidelines. He was nodding his head. He thought they were going to have to put some sweet stuff, or some syrup on his face, because they wanted the dogs to lick his face...They were running to the truck to get the syrup, and when they came back, the cameras were rolling. All of the little puppies were licking his face. He is pretty irresistible to animals. I think the director was able to take full of advantage of that.