This might be a first for me, interviewing four people at once (big thanks to Muldoon for the unenviable task of transcribing this one), but I actually think it turned out really fun. For the upcoming film, FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…, the core creative team all came to Chicago for a few brief hours to do press. And since time did not permit me to talk to these people individually, or even in pairs, the next best thing was a verbal orgy.
Taking part in the discussion was lead actor and co-writer Lauren Miller (who married Seth Rogen about a year ago); her co-star Ari Graynor (best know for her work in NICK AND NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, YOUTH IN REVOLT, and CELESTE & JESSE FOREVER); co-writer Katie Anne Naylon; and first-time feature director (and token male of the group) Jamie Travis. I'll let them tell the story of how this film got made, but I will say that FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL… has a lot of really funny and well-observed elements to it, some great cameos, a colorful retro vibe (even though I'm pretty sure it's set in the present day), and a couple of charming lead performances. On top of that, this interview was a lot of fun. Please enjoy my talk with the folks that made FOR A GOOD TIME, CALL…
Jamie Travis: I’ve been excited for this interview. I love Ain’t It Cool News.
Capone: Do you?
Ari Graynor: Oh my God, that’s what this is? I love Ain’t It Cool too.
Lauren Miller: I wish we were in Austin doing a screening at the Drafthouse.
Capone: If I lived in Austin, I would be excited about that prospect. Katie, it sounds like you’re the instigator here. You’re the one who started the ball rolling on this whether you knew it or not. What for you was the most interesting part of being a phone sex operator when you were younger?
Katie Anne Naylon: Well for me the most interesting thing was that I was a virgin--I had never had sex before--so it was all sort of mind blowing to me, because my version of sex was stuff I had seen in PRETTY WOMAN and on TV. So the interesting part of the job was some of the stuff the callers would say would petrify any normal girlfriend, who is probably asleep already. Other times, they just wanted to talk, which I know is a cliché, but to me seemed very interesting at the time. Bob from Indiana didn’t even bring up sex for 30 minutes, and that seemed crazy to me.
It’s an interesting medium. It was my freshman year in college, and I was so uncomfortable with myself, and I found this confidence behind the phone line. Thinking about it now, these guys were feeling the same thing on the flipside of the phone line, which is why they could ask for what they want in a very clear way. I don’t know about you, but when I’m having sex with someone, I have a hard time saying “That hurts” or “I don’t like that thing.”
Capone: How did you and Lauren find each other and start the writing partnership?
Lauren Miller: We were a random roommate match at Florida State, and that’s how we found each other. I was in the film school, and Katie was in the writing program, but we didn’t write then. So after graduation, I moved to L.A., and Katie moved to New York, and we tried writing long distance, but that didn’t really work. So she moved out to L.A.
Katie Anne Naylon: Really just to be with Lauren. I saw what she was doing and I was really impressed, and this is our first script together.
Lauren Miller: So she moved out, and once she was settled in for a few weeks, we literally sat down at the computer and were like, “Alright, what are we writing?” We set out to write a female friendship story, because that’s what we know and we're really selfish, so we based it on ourselves very loosely.
Katie Anne Naylon: Because we didn’t get along at first, because Lauren is very different from me. We looked at the mechanics of the romantic comedy: “They don’t like each other. They fall in love. Something goes wrong. We root for them to come back together.” We thought, “What about girlfriends? It’s exactly the same thing. Your best friend might be right under your nose.” So we just ran with it.
Capone: You did name the characters Lauren and Katie. Was there a division of writing along those lines too?
Lauren Miller: No. the way we work is generally we brainstorm together sitting next to each other, we'll outline together and we'll start writing the pages together, and then for time’s sake, we will break stuff up, but then we always get back together and go through it together and then rewrite it. Things got to the point where we were in a time crunch, and it would be like, “You work on this. I’ll work on this. Then we'll will sit together.” It’s just sort of get it done and work together as much as you can.
Katie Anne Naylon: But the script really evolved over time, because it was originally more of a studio draft, and then when it became more independent, we kind of brought down the comedy and made it more grounded. When these guys [gestures to Graynor and Travis] got involved, we all sat around Lauren’s dining room table. Because Jamie is a writer-director, he had a lot of sense of story and because Ari’s been acting forever, she wanted her character to feel real, and we just worked the hell out of it knowing we would only have 16 days to shoot.
Capone: I didn’t realize it was that short. Just a couple of weeks ago, Rashida Jones was in town, and she mentioned with CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, that the big reason she wrote that was because she was not getting roles or offers that she liked. Was that a part of why you wanted to write something, so that you could be front and center to really show what you can do as an actor?
Lauren Miller: When we wrote it, I was never going to play Lauren. We wrote it to sell it and make it at a studio and cast a known actress, someone who was established who a studio would make a movie with, and that’s how we were attempting to make it for the first year and a half that it was ours after it was written.
Katie Anne Naylon: It didn’t even occur to us in a sense. Although Lauren is an actor and wanted a lead role, it’s just like it seemed so far from being able to happen.
Lauren Miller: I didn’t want a lead role; I wanted any role. [laughs] I couldn’t even get auditions, like a lead role couldn’t have been further from my mind. But I had this moment where I was traveling and I was in a hotel room and wondering, “What am I doing with my life? If this were going to happen for me without me making it happen for myself, it would have already happened, so I might as well make it happen.”
So I sent her an email saying, “We have to make it on our own. This is the only way it’s going to happen for me. We have to do it. Maybe we'll cast Ari Graynor. Maybe she will say yes, and we'll be at Sundance next year.” It all just came to fruition. Too bad I didn’t say, “And we will make a $100 million at the box office and we'll beat out TED.”
Ari Graynor: But it is one of those incredible things, with all four of us involved, we became this really amazing collaborative unit that we all have so much at stake in this in our own ways. Lauren doing that, Katie’s first time producing on a movie set, Jamie’s first time feature, and for me similarly to Rashida I've been around forever but hadn’t had the chance to be a lead, which I’ve been aching to do for a while and wanting to prove to people that I can do it. All of us in our own unique way sort of have this thing like “Okay, we have to do this to prove ourselves for ourselves to make this happen,” and I think that’s why we've gotten a lot of luck--it’s been amazing how things have fallen into place, but because we didn’t say no. We wouldn’t take no for an answer all along the way.
Jamie Travis: Even though we all had our own incentive, I think we were just so clearly on the same page when the four of us got together, so our motives have been very united. We all wanted to tell the same story, and that month when I first came down to LA and we really did spend a month at Lauren’s…
Katie Anne Naylon: You lived at Lauren’s house.
Jamie Travis: I lived at Lauren’s house. I was really scratching my head eating breakfast in the morning, and that month the movie just really came together in such a beautiful way with the four of us.
Katie Anne Naylon: I feel bad for anyone who used the term “passion project” before this movie, because this really was a labor of love. And also because no one really got paid, we made it for a $1 million. And the people that came on board came on board--Justin Long wanted to work with Ari again, even though he works with her like every day. He’s worked with her on many movies, but he was like, “I want to work with Ari.” Our production designer, who was outstanding, was like “I want to work with Jamie,” and our friend from film school, the DP, was like, “I want to do it for Lauren.” Everyone jumped on, because they were inspired by either the script or someone else, and we just lucked out that it was kind of a little ballet.
Ari Graynor: It’s so exciting when you find people, like I remember having these certain highs leaving Lauren’s dining room table feeling like this incredible alchemy when a group of people feed off of each other creatively and this amazing sense of sitting there and one person having this idea and then somebody else riffing on it and saying, “That’s great. We should do it like this.” There was so much support, like Jamie was saying, of really being on the same page about what we wanted to do and say and the subjectivity of humor and how hard that can be. To just keep building with each other’s ideas was such an invigorating and inspiring process, and I think that’s what this whole year has been.
Capone: You were talking about people who kind of came in an almost volunteered, but I’m curious about Mark Webber [who plays Graynor's would-be boyfriend]. He’s a really interesting choice. I’m a huge fan of his and I’ve never seen him do anything quite like this before. Why did you single out him?
Lauren Miller: We had these amazing casting directors, and they were so smart with the people they submitted to us, and when they suggested Mark for the role of Sean, we were just like, “Wow, that could be really interesting.”
Katie Anne Naylon: It was so funny, because we actually offered that role to Justin Long before we had sent him the script, and he had said “I want to play Jessie,” and we were like “Well then by all means.” So then we had that role open, and Mark came on. One of the best things about Mark is he is so great on set and he had such a great chemistry with Ari, but he loves the finished movie. He loves it. He was the hugest fan.
Jamie Travis: He loves it more than anyone.
Katie Anne Naylon: Literally, we showed him the first cut scene, and he was jumping up and down. He was like “This is going to be amazing.” At Sundance, I thought I saw a tear in his eye; I’m not going to talk about it.
Ari Graynor: The thing that was really important about the Sean character--and that was the place where we weren’t quite sure what direction he was going to go in. It’s funny, it’s often the way a girl role is in a boy movie, where there’s sort of a sketch of a girl. It was like the male romantic lead was sort of like, “Eh, we’ll figure it out along the way.”
So we did a lot of work on it and also we wanted that character to be surprising and not fall into the stereotype of, “Oh, it’s somebody who is calling phone sex lines with somebody super nerdy and awkward and creepy.” We wanted to stay away from that and more of somebody that was really sweet and charming, but is really shy and lacks that confidence in life that maybe the safety that they feel over the phone gives them. I feel like Mark has such subtleties as an actor and really great comedic timing.
Jamie Travis: I’ve always been a fan of Mark Webber and I love that this film in some ways represents a balance of commercial filmmaking and more art-driven filmmaking, or a personal story combined with commercial filmmaking. I like the idea of bringing in people that are unexpected. On one hand, we have Kevin Smith who’s such an independent pioneer, and Mark just seemed to kind of straddle the world
Capone: Plus he has no baggage, especially in the romantic comedy area, where no one knows what’s going to happen with him, so you really can go in any direction. If I missed a title card or something in this movie that told us when it was set, I apologize, but it’s got a real retro vibe to it, beginning with the fact that it’s about phone sex and then the pink corded phones.
Jamie Travis: You missed nothing. [Laughs]
Capone: The whole time I’m thinking “Is this set in the '80s or '90s?”
Katie Anne Naylon: I love that you said that, because that was sort of the vibe that we were going for.
Lauren Miller: I mean Jamie was the one that really brought the look and feel to the movie and was so smart to really give it that. It is its own little universe, and everyone says “Do people do phone sex nowadays?” I see phone sex ads on TV all of the time.
Katie Anne Naylon: She has insomnia.
Lauren Miller: It’s true, but I think phone sex represents this anonymous world that people can do, and it’s very much still around for someone who doesn’t necessarily want a [web] camera in their face when they are talking to a stranger, you know?
Ari Graynor: It is interesting how a script can have a certain quality or vibe, and there was nothing explicit in what they wrote that ever suggested tonally that it would have a throwback nostalgic feel. But certainly you go that sense from it, and obviously Jamie picked up on that right away too.
Jamie Travis: Well because it’s such a strong female friendship story, and we haven’t seen those movies since the '80s really. If you think about like OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE, which is one of my favorites, it's two strong women and it’s about their friendship and it’s not about them getting men. There’s something innately throwback to that type of narrative.
Capone: There are a couple of different love stories going on in this movie, but it was really surprising to me to see such a strong emphasis toward the end of the film on the female relationship. The saying “I love you” issue and the argument that sparks from that, where did you get that idea to go in that direction?
Lauren Miller: The way girls feel about their friends is really strong and really powerful. You have sleepovers and tell each other you love each other all of the time and you touch each other, and that’s how girls are, and it was really important to us to really convey what is real in a female friendship. I’m not saying I've made this official declaration of the first time I ever said “I love you” to my best friend, but that is how girls are to each other.
Katie Anne Naylon: We definitely played with the idea that it’s an intimate relationship, like when she says, “About last night, I’m emotional but…,” we didn’t mean that they were having a sexual relationship, but just a close relationship. I can’t remember the day I said, “I love you,” but sometimes when you say “I love you” to a friend you’re like “Love ya’. Mean it. XOXO.” Because you don’t want to say like “I love you,” and that’s hard to say that to anyone, because if they don’t say it back, you’re like “I’m dying inside right now. It’s over. I’m the worst.” It’s scary to be that intimate and it was about two people like letting their guards down with each other and putting everything on the line and then what can happen.
Capone: Because of the subject matter, was there any interest or any attempt at making the act of going through a phone sex conversation sexy? Or were they always meant to be more funny?
Jamie Travis: Our emphasis has always been on comedy over sexiness.
Lauren Miller: Our intentions were never to turn people on in that way, but to turn them on comedically.
Ari Graynor: We purposefully wanted the first phone sex call between Katie and Sean to feel more real than some of the others, not that the other ones couldn’t be real, but to have a certain amount of intimacy to them, and ironically that was the only time when we found ourselves blushing or giggling nervously. It’s funny, the things that feel more real and intimate, especially sexually speaking, are the things that I think make people feel more nervous than the really outlandish big stuff. But yeah it was always supposed to be funny.
Capone: I think this movie might also have the most dildo screen time I've ever seen.
Lauren Miller: Thank you. [laughs]
Capone: They’re just funny. For different reasons for men and women. I think for men it’s funny, because we don’t even want to look at themTell me about having that be the center piece of so many scenes of this movie.
Lauren Miller: One of the things is that the dildo, or just sex talk in general, became so normal on set. So it was like, “Do you want dildos in, dildos out?” “No, didlos in!”
Jamie Travis: “Want the large dildo? Want the black dildo? Want the small dildo?”
Katie Anne Naylon: “Bring in the dual dildo.” It’s so much like everything else in the movie; we weren’t making any political statements about sex toys or dildos, it's just a very funny gag, and why it’s funny I don’t know. It’s hard to put labels on why certain things are funny.
Jamie Travis: I totally forgot, but we actually had a didlo-washing station on set one day. Remember that scene where Lauren and Ari had to put the dildos in their mouths as a sort of phone sex demonstration? The props guys had a soaping tub and a cleaning tub.
Ari Graynor: A dildo-washing station. [Laughs]
Katie Anne Naylon: That was funny. I forgot about that. A friend of mine bejeweled that dildo, the pink one in the movie, but we had a joke originally in the movie that got cut--it was the big giant dildo was “Earl,” but the medium one was “Kevin,” and then the pink one was “Susan.” The idea that women are naming their dildos was just a hoot for us.
Capone: That doesn’t surprise me actually.
Katie Anne Naylon: Yeah, you’re right. Why wouldn’t you be like “Hey, I’m going to go get Larry out. I’ll be down in 10. I’ve got a date with John tonight”?
Capone: Katie, did doing phone sex sour your attitude toward men?
Katie Anne Naylon: Yes actually. Not sour my attitude towards men, but it was true for me that I had older sisters that wanted me to be in love the first time, and that took a lot longer than it took for other people. But yeah the things I heard on the phone lines sort of scared me. I thought that when we got back to somebody’s apartment and the lights were out that they would start to urinate all over me or something. [Everybody laughs] I had these two versions of sex: I had the version that I had seen on sitcoms where they cut away, and I had this version that I’ve heard on the phone and I just didn’t know what was where, and I stayed back for a while and definitely gave me some issues--"Hello, Dr. Goldman"--that we worked through.
Capone: Nia Vardalos has a small role in the film, and I could see her being an inspiration to you in terms of how she puts her movie together and how you put your movie together, I also was thinking of how Jennifer Westfeldt, and she did the same thing, just pulled some people together.
Lauren Miller: Well for sure, Jennifer Westfeldt. I’m a huge KISSING JESSICA STEIN fan and I love that she did that, and she made it happen for herself there and Nia too. A few months before we shot the movie, we saw Nia get an award at a charity event, and while she accepted this award, she told her story about how she couldn’t get an audition because she “wasn’t attractive” “too attractive” “too ethnic” “not ethnic enough,” and there was always an excuse. So she wrote MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING as a play, played every part, and the rest is history. We saw her get this award and we are like, “Oh my God, that’s what we are doing,” and so we wrote her a letter and just said, “We think you’re great. Will you come on board?” She was on board right away.
Katie Anne Naylon: She was so supportive and proud. She’s amazing.
Lauren Miller: Every time we talk, she's like “I’m so excited for you guys.”
Katie Anne Naylon: Her and Mimi Rogers [who plays Lauren's mother] too, the people who got on board were just… there’s nobody who's half in on this movie. It was all in.
Capone: Ari, I know around the same time the film was at Sundance, you were wrapping up the one-act play with Woody Allen. Was that the life-altering experience that it had to be?
Ari Graynor: It was pretty incredible. I'd heard so much before about how withdrawn Woody can be, and that he can say so few words to you over the course of shooting movie. But he was more present for this play than ostensibly many other people who have done multiple movies with him said they had never had so much time with him. He was at every preview for a month with notes after every show, backstage rewriting jokes before he’d run out on stage. It was incredible. He’s a spectacular man, and I learned so much about comedy and technicality and writing and structure. It was like a master class in comedy. It was incredible.
Capone: Alright, well thank you guys so much. It was great meeting you all.