The writer/director talks about working with the cast, his writing process and how his work as a fashion executive has informed his work as a director
Thomas Bezucha is living proof of the idea that if you write a good screenplay, top talent will beat down your door. This is never more evident than in his dysfunctional, family dramedy, The Family Stone. In this film, we see up close what happens when different people clash for the holidays.
Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) returns home with his uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) for Christmas. Here she meets his eclectic family headed by Sybil Stone (Diane Keaton), Amy Stone (Rachel McAdams), Ben Stone (Luke Wilson) and Kelly Stone (Craig T. Nelson) among others. Naturally, Meredith has problems with the family, and things get even more interesting when Meredith calls on her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to help her through this ordeal.
It is this disparity between character types that lays at the root of Bezucha's intricately crafted film.
What was it about The Family Stone that made you want to tell this story?
Thomas Bezucha: Interesting... I think it's having grown up in an academic community in New England. I always say it's not my family but these are my people.
So growing up in that environment informed your desire to write and direct this film?
Thomas Bezucha: Yeah, I think so. It's just sort of the kids I grew up, the kinds of families I grew up with. Sort of exploring how incredibly intolerant the most progressive people can be.
Did casting come together easily for this film? It seems like the main and even supporting characters could be stars in their own movies, yet you've gathered everyone together here?
Thomas Bezucha: I know, it's that embarrassment of riches thing. What happened was, Michael London, the producer and I, made an offer to Diane Keaton before it was set up at a studio. All we had was the script and Michael's credibility based on Sideways. Diane really loved the script and committed herself to it. Which I will forever be indebted to her for. Once that happened, she's just a magnet for other talent. So, Sarah Jessica came on and Rachel, and we got Luke and Dermot. It was just fantastic.
In a movie like this where the characters are so rich, did you start off with overly long drafts and then whittle the screenplay down or was that not a problem?
Thomas Bezucha: I started off, actually the way I work, I do an incredibly long treatment. The treatment is like 300 pages and from that I work a screenplay. I sort of feel like I need to know everything about these characters but I don't feel like the actors necessarily do. I'm always interested in what they want to bring to it.
Does a lot of that 300 page treatment make it into the script? Or, is that just for you as part of your process?
Thomas Bezucha: I'd say about a fourth of it.
This film has a mix of comedy and drama, what do you think is the key to pulling that off on the page and on the screen? Because I am sure, as you know, what works on the page doesn't always work on the screen and vice versa?
Thomas Bezucha: I don't know, I think the things I would talk to the cast about a lot was just trying to keep it real. The more these characters didn't know they were in a movie, the more we had a chance of pulling it off. I think where you get into trouble is the second an audience sees you reaching for a laugh, you're sunk.
With a cast as strong as you had was there a lot of improvisation? Or, did you feel strongly that they should stick to what you had written?
Thomas Bezucha: No, I feel like I was the least reverent member of the crew about the script. The cast was very protective of the script. (Laughs) It's funny, it depends on who you talk to. I feel like it was really improvisational but Sarah Jessica goes on and on about how not a comma, or a word changed in the script. I feel like if you're lucky enough to hit it rich with a cast like that, and you're not coming to play on the set, you're doing something wrong.
If you're not having fun with all those people, definitely.
Thomas Bezucha: If you're not coming to play you're missing it.
Having written and directed two movies of your own, would you like to keep doing that or do you think you might one day direct something by someone else?
Thomas Bezucha: No, the big fantasy is that I would find a script that I liked. Just because the writing is my least favorite part of the process. So far that hasn't happened.
Really? Even though you've written your first two movies and you write those elaborate treatments? The writing is really the least fun for you?
Thomas Bezucha: I feel like it's the hardest element of the work, because I'm doing it in complete isolation. It's a lonely art. And I'm doing it again, so...
Do you think your years spent as a fashion executive have helped you as a director? That you might have an intrinsic understanding of how things should look on the screen?
Thomas Bezucha: I think, I worked for fashion houses but I wasn't sort of involved with the fashions of the brand. It was much more about environment than brand image. I think I definitely have a visual background, so that helps, but I also think ten years at Ralph Loren is invaluable to me. In that I restructured divisions, that I've had to hire and fire people before in my life. I'm not sure that people coming right out of film school have that experience.
So the capacity you were working in before prepared you for the nuts and bolts aspects of being a director?
Thomas Bezucha: Yeah, yeah, definitely. A lot of it is about delegation and you find the best possible people for the jobs, and then you let them do their jobs.
You mentioned that you are currently "doing it again" as far as writing, what are you currently working on?
Thomas Bezucha: I'm working on another piece that I'll write and direct. I'm working with Michael London again and it's actually for 20th Century Fox. They were so supportive of this quirky, little film. As much as we were sort of a real family on set, I really feel like I found a family at this studio.
Does this new project have a title?
Thomas Bezucha: It doesn't. Just count on it being funny and sad and funny and sad and funny and sad.
The Family Stone is currently available on DVD through Fox Home Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Family Stone