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'Safety Not Guaranteed' Director Colin Trevorrow Uses The Duplass Effect on TV Stars Plaza and Johnson

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 13, 2012 at 7:17AM

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 helped to produce as well as starring in "Safety Not Guaranteed," which launched at Sundance in January to gushes of praise (here's Time).
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'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.

Safety Not Guaranteed ad

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." 

This article is related to: Mark Duplass, Big Beach, FilmDistrict, Independents, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.