Unless you make a habit of tracking behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealing in Hollywood, the name Tom Gormican probably isn't one you're familiar with, despite his being the writer-director of this week's big comedy release THAT AWKWARD MOMENT, starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan. The film is about three best friends, two of which fancy themselves first-rate lady killers, while the third is going through a painful separation from his wife and is being encouraged by the other two to enjoy the single life like they did in the old days.
But the big secret (not really) about THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is that guys are just as likely and capable of getting emotionally attached as women, and mere moments after the trio vow to stay single for the foreseeable future, they all get semi-seriously involved with great women (well, two of do; the married one starts sleeping with his wife again on the down low). Although this is Gormican's first released film as a writer and director, he has already sold another script called SAVE THE DATE, which is moving forward with Sony; and he's completed an adaptation of Emily Post's ETIQUETTE for Warner Bros., where he's also set to direct a heist movie of some sorts set in Macau. Give him a couple more years; you'll likely learn his name soon enough.
I recently has a chat with Gormican about getting THAT AWKWARD MOMENT off the black list and onto the big screen; the truths and lies it reveals; the great women (including Imogen Poots and relative newcomer Mackenzie Davis) in his cast; and how he got these three great young actors to be his stars. Please enjoy my talk with Tom Gormican…
Tom Gormican: Hey.
Capone: Hi, Tom. How are you?
TG: I’m good. How are you?
Capone: Great. So, you’ve been writing for a while, and this is one of those scripts that’s on the infamous black list. How did you get it off the black list and into Zac Efron’s hands. He’s a producer on the film, so I assume he was signed on pretty early on.
TG: Yeah, when you look back at it, it seems like a series of implausible events. And that is my background, actually. I started at an assistant at various production company in New York City when I was a kid, and came up that way, so you see how the various ways of these things come together. And this one was no different. There’s a company called Treehouse Pictures in Los Angeles that had just done Zac’s movie with Ramin Bahrani [AT ANY PRICE], and I had known Kevin [Turen, producer] from our days in New York City when we were both living there. I gave him the script and he said, “This sounds unorthodox, but I think Zac would be the right guy for this.” So we talked to Zac, who had just finished screening that movie at Cannes, and he called me. I had never met him before, and he said, “Hey look, I love this. I want to do it. I want to come on and help you make it.” And that was pretty cool, and then from there, we chased down the other guys, made them do it, beat them into it [laughs].
Capone: When I first heard about this film, it was called ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING?, which I think is a hilarious title, by the way.
TG: Thank you. I have so much love for that title, I can’t even tell you. But we ran into some issues.
Capone: It speaks most directly to the point of the film, that particular title.
TG: It does. It just turns out that that title was poison for dudes.
Capone: I can see that.
TG: We were test the movie at a big screening, and he was like, “I fucking love this movie, but how am I supposed to be like ‘Hey dude, let’s get a bunch of beers and see ARE WE OFFICIALLY DATING?' Not going to happen.” And I was like, “You sir, in our focus group, make very valid point.”
Capone: "You are sadly, exactly right."
TG: I’m like, “I’m a smart guy. I’ve thought about this for a couple of years. You somehow win.”
Capone: he interesting revelation in the film--and it’s a revelation not so much in the real world, but certainly in the movie world--is that men are just as capable of emotional attachment as women are. We know this in reality, but it’s rare that we see this in a film, and I think it’s a positive step. Where did that collective male idea come from that that men are, hard to get to commit and distant. And how do you break that down?
TG: Yeah, sure. I feel like that’s just been ingrained in our American, Teddy Roosevelt-ian mindset, where you’re not supposed to talk about your emotions. Maybe it’s a product of our English heritage or something, but it has made it’s way into popular culture. What I wanted to do was--and I don’t shy away from this term--a romantic comedy where the guys are actually normal dudes, and they have conversations about what to do in their relationships with women, especially when they really like them. I wanted to have guys that felt like guys that I know, and they’re still having these types of conversations. It’s changed the narrative on what that means. I feel like people have become more communicative, for better or worse, via their online social network and it forces you to do so.
Capone: I would make the argument that with all the bevy of devices and means to communicate today that, in fact, communication breakdown is actually greater than ever before.
TG: Well, yeah. I think you’re talking about the quality of the communication.
Capone: Fair enough.
TG: I think there’s over communication, but I think often times the quality drops, especially when it’s online. I would agree with you in that sense. And that’s one of the things in relationships: one of the things that we talk about in this movie--and maybe this is off topic--is that there was a book a couple of years ago called “The Tyranny of Choice,” and the idea behind the book was essentially that the more choices you have, the less choices you make in aggregate, and the less satisfied you are with any choice that you ultimately make, right?
So we were talking about that a lot and trying to extrapolate that and apply it, because it’s very rational to relationships, and it’s the idea that if you’re fighting with me, and you’re a girl that I’m dating, there are 10 girls online who don't want to fight. They just want to have a drink that nigh. And so you think, the easy thing to do is not work through your issues and actually communicate, but communicate superficially with somebody else, and I felt that that’s the thing that guys struggle with quite a bit.
Capone: I actually would make the argument that Ellie and Chelsea are more fully-developed characters than the men are, because we meet their families, and we get involved in some of their personal dramas. You’ve almost made this equally about the women, and I know how the film is being marketed really doesn’t matter, but that was a great discovery. I especially like the Chelsea character [played by Mackenzie Davis], just because of her role in the group when we meet her. She’s great.
TG: You're absolutely right. And Mackenzie is awesome, and she’ll be a huge movie star. She has this Laura Dern-esque thing, but it’s more cool. I don’t know how to explain it really, but she’s rad. That was so important to me, because it’s being marketed as this movie that's about these "bros"--I hate that term. It vibes like this intentional jack-assery by these guys, and I just wanted it to be about guys who are making bad decisions because they're not fully adults yet. It’s a coming-of-age story in that way, and all of the girls that I have know and I have dated in New York City, they were much more developed, emotionally, and they were super smart and cool and had ideas about what they had wanted, even though they were trying to figure it out at the same time. So for me it was important to not have the girls just be cyphers for stories, but be people that you would say, “Oh, they’re awesome, and I really hope that these guys get it together enough to realize that.” And at least for Mackenzie and Imogen's characters, that was a thing that I worked on and worked on, and cast those girls and adapted it to them. So, these are real people, and they’re struggling with similar issues, and that’s a big thing we have. It’s great that you pointed it out, because it hasn't been talked out that much.
Capone: I think the most important scene in the film actually--and it sets the tone for the rest of the film--is that first meet up between Zac and Imogen, because you’re not really sure who’s picking who up in that scene. They’re on very equal footing, and it's a monologue that becomes a tag-team dialogue. Tell me about how important that scene was, and how long did it take to shoot?
TG: It’s exactly what you say: You don't know who’s picking each other up. And I hate the ideas in movies where it’s the girl who wants to be in the relationship, and he doesn't, and he picks her up, and she’s reluctant. And I thought, can we get rid of that paradigm? Can we make it successful not having that be the thing, and having these two people who realize there are moments where they understand that they have a thing because they?re just smart, and they're both on point in a moment? For me, that was a cool thing. "Wow, I’m surprised by this person in a scenario where otherwise I would be repelled by them." And for me that was a cool thing.
As far as how long it took to shoot, I think one of the things that people don’t know about this movie is that I shot it in 24 days in New York City for no money. I had an extraordinary DP, Brandon Trost, who is one of my best friends now. He shot THIS IS THE END, and he just shot Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s new movie [THE INTERVIEW] with James Franco; he was Rob Zombie’s DP; he shot some of the CRANK franchise. And I was like, "I want an action and horror DP come shoot a romantic comedy in New York, because that’s fucking awesome and it's going to look cool." And we shot it in anamorphic, and he was used to going fast. We made the movie look very big, but we shot it in so little time. The below the line on this movie is well under $4 million, and it’s getting a big marketing campaign.
Brandon and I took great pains to make it look like a much bigger movie, but it’s not. In terms of the time we had to shoot that scene, I had about the same amount of time I had for every other scene. I shot about six-plus pages a day on a film trying to cover it, and I had in total about three hours. If you break it down, it’s about 12 to 15 minutes an angle. So, you can do about three takes, maybe four if you set up very quickly. So I just basically had to know--which is tough as a first-time director--exactly the type of performance that I wanted. And for me, there’s a musicality to the thing, and I’m a former musician, so as soon as I hear the timing correctly, most of the time I’ll move on, as soon as I hear it right. That was all we had for that scene.
Capone: You mentioned a couple of things I wanted to ask you about, one is about the setting. To me, there is something uniquely New York about this story. If only because there are different ideas about dating in a city where there are so many top-shelf choices. Is there something uniquely New York about this movie?
TG: Oh, absolutely. But it goes back to our conversation about choice and the online aspect of that dating quality. New York is like the physical manifestation of that, but instead of logging onto Facebook, you just go outside and it’s the same thing. I lived in New York for a long time and was living there when I wrote it. It is specific to New York in that respect, or maybe easier to dramatize because you can see it instead of shooting a movie inside a Facebook page. But especially elsewhere in the county, obviously there are other big cities that are analogous to this, but people have that option to go online and have those choices. So, I think it can be relatable in that sense.
Capone: How did you end up directing this?
TG: I think it comes down to being a phenomenal liar [laughs]. I was really able to convince people to do things they shouldn't do. No, I think there are a couple of things. One is that it’s a comedy, and there are--I don't wanna put a number on it--six or seven people that really matter to people in comedy when making movies movies, and all of them write their own material. So the people that you and I might love from the Noah Baumbachs of the world to the Judd Apatows, they’re not going to direct my scripts. They’re just not. They have all of their own projects that they’re writing and want to get off the ground.
Then you get down to people who have done movies you may or may not like, or you’re not sure, but you thought there are good things about it, or maybe not good things about it, or maybe younger directors. Then you can make the case of "I wrote this thing, you put me in a room with these actors, and I will convince them to do it and give me a shot." And I happen to have Scott Aversano and Andrew O’Connor were my producers. Scott Aversano ran Scott Rudin’s company for over seven years, president of Rudin Films and then ran a studio at MTV Films, and he backed me. He said, “I know that you can do this.” And I said, “I’d love to do it.” And then we found Treehouse Pictures, Justin Nappi and Kevin Turen, and they just bought in.
Capone: How do you think you did, especially on that a tight schedule?
TG: On a tight schedule, I have to say I’m very happy with the product. I think I did a good job, but you don't make movies alone, and I think one of the best things I did was get amazing people around me who were both supportive and creative and able to solve problems that I was not able to. And the final piece is getting great actors. I got a great piece of advice from one of our premiere actors in the U.S., one of our favorites, and I’m not going to say who it is but I said, “What’s the key to directing actors and getting great performances?” And he said, “Get great actors, and let them do their own thing.” Coming from an actor, of course.
Capone: What would you expect him to say? "Hire the best actors and dominate them."
TG: Dominate them, exactly. But to some extent I did just what he said, I got guys and girls who are awesome and managed the tone and let them do their thing.
Capone: Zac is an obvious choice I think to be a part of something like this, but Miles and Michael, you caught them at the exact right moment where they had just both come off of these incredible films from last year [THE SPECTACULAR NOW and FRUITVALE STATION], and they’re about to be in even more incredible films ahead.
TG: They are, and I hope that I can be like a big part of derailing that. That's my goal. I want to fuck their careers up. And you've got to feel like I got a shot with this one [laughs].
Capone: I think you might have failed, sorry.
TG: I'm happy to hear you say that. They’re awesome. I met these guys and I cast actors a lot off of interviews that I watch on YouTube, because I can see who they actually are as people. I watched both of them and I thought they were amazing, then I was able to see their movies a little later on and knew they were going to be hits. They’re just too good to not get that kind of recognition, and Miles’ movie WHIPLASH just opened up at Sundance.
Capone: It just got picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.
TG: Yeah, he’s having a great year, and deservedly so. These guys, they can do anything. They made my job super pleasurable.
Capone: Tom, thank you so much for talking, and best of luck with this.
TG: Thanks so much, I love you’re site. I can't wait to see how this comes out. Thanks for your support.