By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood September 30, 2013 at 2:00PM
Lucky Them tells the story of a stuck in place music writer played by the extraordinary Toni Collette. The film is directed by the wonderfully talented Megan Griffiths who directed the terrific film Eden. It's a story everyone can relate to, how do you move forward with you life, when something is holding you back? Toni Collette shows us a woman who has been stuck for a long time and the film joins her life at the moment where she has to make a change as everything comes crashing down around her.
THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS INTERVIEW ABOUT A CAST MEMBER.
Megan Griffiths and writer/producer Emily Wachtel spoke with Women and Hollywood at the Toronto Film Festival where the film had its world premiere.
Women and Hollywood: I thought I'd start with you Emily because the project begins with you. How long have you been working on this and what was it that made you write this? You had a co-writer on the project, I believe?
Emily Wachtel: Over a decade ago now. Huck Botko was my writing partner and he was going to direct. He came on three years after I started it when it was a potentially a television show. I had started it with another friend of mine who's a writer. We were going to do a television show. We sold it twice. We never got the check. It was called "Off the Record" about a rock journalist. He stuck around for seven years but he had other projects.
WaH: Were you a rock journalist?
EW: I did on-air hosting for Oxygen television, so I did interact with musicians. I wasn't very good at it. I'd interrupt celebrities and be like "that happened to me once" and then go on and on. I had to go to a coach to learn how not to do that. But I was also an unemployed actress, so I would see a lot of music. Music as you know invokes memory. It made me believe I was having a better life than I was having. It was romantic, it gives you a sense of future, it's memory--it's everything.
WaH: It's been a passion project for you for many years. I heard a little bit about how you two came together. The film seemed to come together quickly after you met. Did you have money ready?
EW: I did.
WaH: Was there another director attached?
EW: No. After Huck went on to do other projects, I started the search. I talked to a mutual friend of mine and Megan's , Colin Trevorrow, who directed Safety Not Guaranteed. He was "I love this movie and want to see it get made." He introduced me to a few people who said no. And then he called me about Megan and was very, very specific that she had to do it. And I spoke to her on the phone and she was fantastic. I felt an immediate, you know, yum. I got the other producers, Amy Hobby and Adam Gibbs and we got on a plane to Seattle. We started talking about how we were going to shoot this thing. We got the final piece of money and then we were rolling. It was fast. As soon as Megan and I came together, it was very quick.
Megan Griffiths: We talked on the phone for the first time in June 2012. And then we started collaborating on resetting the script in Seattle and customizing it with what we had talked about with the movie. That was in August. Then we were going out to actors and in pre-production in November. It was pretty fast.
WaH: And the Seattle piece of the puzzle, you work out of Seattle. Do you feel that was part of what makes you who you are as a director?
MG: I love working there. This is the first film that I've ever made that is actually set in Seattle. I shot Eden in Washington --Seattle and Central Washington. I shot Off Hours in Seattle. There's one shot that's supposed to be Seattle but the rest of it was supposed to be somewhere else. It was a great opportunity to really embrace that. I don't feel like it's the only place I could make a movie but it's the first choice of places I would want to make a movie. There's such an amazing group of people there. People who work in film in Seattle are in it for the right reasons because it's not a great place to make a living. It's not like Los Angeles or New York; it's a lot harder to come by the work that you get. There are a lot bigger lapses between the work that you get. When people sign onto something if they are sticking it out in Seattle, they love Seattle and they love film. That's the group we had and all the people who worked on this movie worked with me on Eden and on Off Hours. They worked on Safety Not Guaranteed and they've worked Lynn Shelton's movies.
EW: I've lived in New York and Los Angeles and you go to Seattle and she's right, they all do different jobs. If you love film, you work in film. And they just all do different things, wear several different hats -- they just love making movies. Honestly, I would move there. It's just this magical, loving --she calls it "crewtopia" -- it's apropos.
WaH: I feel like this movie is a big leap for you, you went to another level as a director. Do you feel that?
MG: Yes. I've been a fan of Oliver Platt, Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church for many, many years. I felt super, super blessed to be able to work with them. I think what it does is that everyone respects each other so much that everyone's game is up. My game is up. They are impressing each other. They are doing great stuff. It elevates the whole thing because everybody is surrounded by people they have been watching for years and want to bring out the best in each other. I think it's a completely different film than my last two films. I give Emily and the other producers a lot of credit for seeing that I could pull this off after watching Eden. Just because they could not be more different from a genre perspective. I've always wanted to do something in comedy and I loved this script and the characters. I was just really drawn to it. I really wanted it to happen. I was happy to be given the opportunity to do it.
EW: When I first spoke to her, she said "you've worked on this for so long, I know it must be hard to just suddenly have a new director go into it." I've really learned how to collaborate with Megan. With other people I've worked with it's been very much, what I bring, what they bring. Very separate. With her, I learned how to be in a band.
WaH: Is that a girl thing the way you connected?
EW: No. I think Megan has a way, and I think it's part of the reason why she's such an exceptional director, of hearing you, processing it and bringing what she has to it and melding it together in a very loving, supportive, unique way. It's not an easy thing to do and she does it better than anybody.
WaH: I have seen four movies so far, that are a woman-in-crisis moment. And they are middle-aged women and that's so refreshing. This felt like a mature look at a woman's life and what happens when you are 20 years into your career and are at a loss for many reasons. Did you feel that?
MG: I always thought that the central theme of this movie was reconciling yourself with your past and being able to accept what it has made you and then take that forward instead of getting mired in it and not being able to move beyond it. I feel like thematically it spans a lot of things in the movie like Ellie's life and also the career she's in--the journalism field. The magazine she works at is a print publication and they have to embrace change. Music is changing completely right now. Film is changing. Every industry that is covered in this movie is going through these changes.
EW: You chose your career and when that's going away too, it's like what do you do. Charlie, I feel like, was the same way. It's about people who aren't quite in the main groove of things who people perceive as in the main groove of things. Outliers.
WaH: You got a very high profile cameo with Johnny Depp how did it happen?
EW: I had written it with him in mind. I always thought of him, pictured him doing it. And then, yet I've seen the movie a 150 times, and every time I see it I can't believe he did it. And he's so darn good. He never met Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward but obviously was fans. Paul had sent him a drawing on a salad dressing bottle that his grandson had done of him as a pirate and he was a big Johnny Depp fan. And they had a bit of correspondence. Paul got sick and passed away and Joanne had written to him about the film and followed up and followed up. Much like the character, he's a hard to reach guy. My friend in their office, we talked about this seven years of continually calling until he finally said yes.
WaH: Was he the person who was cast before you came on to the movie?
MG: No, Tom [Thomas Hayden Church] was. When I read the script I knew he was attached for Charlie and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. I heard every line in his voice.
EW: We wrote it for him.
MG: It's so right for him. Just reading it, laughing, thinking about him being that character.
WaH: How'd you get Toni Collette?
MG: We basically just approached her.
EW: We talked about it and we were like it has to be her.
MG: I've been such a fan of hers for so many years.
WaH: She's not on the top of most people's heads for a 40 year old Seattle rock journalist.
MG: It was funny because as soon as her name came up, we were all like, yes! Definitely! She's great for this. I've been fan since Muriel's Wedding. I've just always loved her as an actress. I think I've seen most of the things she's done. My respect for her is greater now than it was before. Infinitely greater, I think she's a genius.
WaH: What's the process for you now? Your movie has premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, you're trying to sell it, you have a sales agent attached. The next step for you is for them to meet buyers and hopefully that's the process.
MG: That is the process basically as you laid out. It's all mysterious still for us in how it's going to play out. The hope is that people respond to it and want to distribute it to a lot of people and show it to a lot of people.
WaH: It took Eden a year to come out after it premiered. They take time. You had a small release on that. I would imagine that this would be a significantly larger conversation.
MG: You want your film to get seen by as many people as possible. I mean nobody makes movies for themselves. At least, I'm not doing it that way. You want it to get out to people. I feel this film has broader appeal. It's a movie I would go see if I had nothing to do with it. I'd see it opening weekend. It's something I think is going to have an audience. I hope somebody recognizes that and puts some effort out there.
WaH: What's it like coming to a massive festival like this?
MG: I love this festival. I've never been before and have been so impressed by everything here. I'm not going to lie, I was nervous about the premiere but not more nervous than I've been before. You are showing your film to the world for the first time and opening it up for judgment.
EW: We also did many test screenings. I felt, being involved in it for so long, like a moth sort of hovering over it. My biggest fear was that I wouldn't like it, that it wasn't a movie I would see. But it is a movie I would see. So the test screenings were pretty positive--no one was like I hate this.
WaH: Did you tweak it after the screenings?
MG: Oh yeah. I mean that's the whole point. I'm really interested in what people say. I've been asked did you have to do test screenings? I pushed to do test screenings. I always want to do test screenings. I'm all about feedback. I'd rather hear it in a room of 20 people when I can still do something about it than read about it in a Variety review when the movie is done. I want to hear all the bad stuff early and then try to fix it. It's funny because a lot of Emily's family and friends came to some of these feedback screenings and then they came to the premiere. And they were like you guys fixed all the stuff that wasn't working.
WaH: What advice would you have for women writers/producers and directors?
EW: I would say it's not something you choose to do. For me, honestly, I didn't have a choice. When you listen to an album and hear that favorite song and you listen to it over and over again, I had to get it out. It was never choice no matter what went wrong and a lot went wrong. You have to keep hitting. I don't know about Megan, but you can't quite. They call me "Tenacious E" for a reason.
MG: I gave Emily that nickname because she's got more tenacity than anyone I've ever met in terms of going after something. She's worked on this movie for 11 years, so that goes to show you. And Johnny Depp for 7 years.
EW: You have to get it done.
MG: I have to agree with that. I spent seven years trying to get The Off Hours made, so I can relate. If nothing ever really gets handed to you, you have to look for your opportunities and always be with eyes on the prize and have a goal and work towards that. Whether it's The Off Hours for me or Lucky Them for Emily, it is many many years of single-mindedness. Even going onto Eden or Lucky Them, for me it's like seeing this project that I feel like I can bring something to, then connecting with it and just jumping at the opportunity. Seize it while it's there.
We have been told that a sales deal is imminent.