'Safety Not Guaranteed'
'Safety Not Guaranteed'

Want to make a good movie? Think Seattle and serial collaborators Mark and Jay Duplass.

Colin Trevorrow does not pull back on his praise of Mark Duplass, who executive produced and starred in "Safety Not Guaranteed," which launched at Sundance in January to gushes of praise (here's Time). FilmDistrict opened the low-budget sci-fi comedy last weekend, exceeding expectations.

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The movie's roots are bizarre, to say the least. The story of a newspaper reporter and two interns who track down the source of a strange newspaper ad about time travel was inspired by a 1997 classified ad in a backwoods survivalist magazine in Northern Oregon, which became an internet meme. 

Trevorrow's writing partner Derek Connolly saw a glimmer of an idea for a larger story, and the two worked up a draft for an emotional time travel comedy. They brought in as exec producers the Duplasses. Mark, especially, helped to develop the character that he eventually played. "Mark made awesome choices that helped to ground that character," says Trevorrow. "It was a tonal tightrope walk."

A child of the 80s, of Donner and Zemeckis and Spielberg, Trevorrow wanted to infuse his movie with "the same kind naturalism that Mark and Jay are so good at. Where I come from is where they come from: hybrid, honest real and intimate but you also have cinematic moments."

The role of the girlish newspaper intern who pulls a jaded reporter into the plot was written for "Funny People" star Aubrey Plaza, with whom the co-writers share a manager. They lined up Plaza and the director's friend of ten years, Jake M. Johnson, and "hit a lot of resistance at a lot places," admits Trevorrow. "They were not close to being movie stars." I said, 'We can't do this,' and Mark said, 'You can do this but for a certain amount money.' We figured out we could make it for under $1 million. We didn't want an audience to feel they were watching something cheap or chintzy."

They sent the script to "Little Miss Sunshine" backer Big Beach because their films had a "consistent tone," says Trevorrow. "They make films that are interesting and dark and in the end uplifting. The first one they read is the one we shot. No changes. We were given complete freedom."