by Luke Hickman
Just like his friend and collaborative screenwriter Christopher Ford, Jake Schreier is a first-timer at the Sundance film festival. He and Ford grew up in the same part of the bay area and became friends at NYU film school. 'Frank & Robot' is also his first fully produced feature length film. Just a day and a half after the world premiere, right before the film was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Samuel Goldwyn Films, Jake sat down with me to talk a little bit about 'Frank & Robot' and his filmmaking experience.
HDD – Luke Hickman: I was at the premiere of 'Frank & Robot' in Salt Lake City the other night – awesome movie.
Jake Schreier: Thanks!
HDD: This is your first feature, right?
Jake Schreier: Yeah. There are a lot of firsts here. It's my first feature film, [Christopher] Ford's first feature film, and the production company's first feature film. First-time cinematographer, first-time DP, and first-time composer.
HDD: For being a first, it's fantastic – especially when you look at the abbreviated time frame in which it was conceived.
Jake Schreier: Yeah, but that's probably true of a lot of other movies here at Sundance. We're probably not too unique in that regard. I actually think that 'Bachelorette' shot after us. They used a lot of our crew – and our James Marsden.
HDD: You crew is awesome at multitasking – now they can get double exposure during the same year at Sundance. There's a lot of folks doing that here this year.
Jake Schreier: From our movie, James Marsden has two movies here and Susan Sarandon has three here, even though she's not physically here in person.
HDD: Is she out filming?
Jake Schreier: I think she's shooting 'Cloud Atlas' with the Wachowskis. Have you heard anything about that one?
HDD: I just saw some concept art that went online that looked pretty amazing.
Jake Schreier: Right!
HDD: I like those guys. I even defended 'Speed Racer' when that came out. That's how much I enjoy their movies.
Jake Schreier: (laughs)
HDD: Back to 'Frank & Robot.' You and Christopher Ford have been buddies for a long time, how is it working together? Has it always been a working friendship?
Jake Schreier: Kind of. We became friends in film school and have always had fun making movies together. We had this big group of friends in college and we all worked together, so it wasn't always just about the work.
HDD: And you worked on the short film version of 'Frank & Robot' with Ford too, right?
Jake Schreier: (laughs) Yeah. I produced – which in film school doesn't mean very much. It basically means that it was my uncle's house that we filmed in. That was the big thing that I brought to that table. I had to earn my credit.
Jake Schreier: A lot of people have said, "You should put the short film on the DVD of the feature film." We say, "No, no, no, no, no! Let's not give the illusion that we were brilliant filmmakers in college. It's pretty bad to go back and watch the version that we made."
HDD: But some of us love seeing those types of special features – even if they are bad!
Jake Schreier: It would be very humbling to put that on there. Maybe we should just put it on YouTube so it's not completely attached to the feature film.
HDD: What's next for you now?
Jake Schreier: I've been so focused on getting this thing done – since it's been such a rushed film – that I don't have anything locked in yet. I have some ideas, but I'd like to get this finished before getting into my next project.
HDD: Do you write also?
Jake Schreier: Nope! That's why I have Ford.
HDD: Do you guys foresee a future of working together?
Jake Schreier: Yes! It was fun for me to be able to be there developing the script from the beginning and getting a sense of how it works. Ford, from what I hear, is much more involved in the production than other writers. He was on the set everyday. He was almost like my story-checker. He had this list of key moments in each of the scenes, and it's such a rush making a film this way that checking in with him about each moment kept us on track. He would let us know if he got the key story moments that we needed. Having him around was a huge help. But I guess it works different ways within the industry. You hear these stories of directors saying, "You gotta keep the writer off-set!" They'd push him away once they got the script out of his hands, but Ford and I worked together on the film the whole time. If only I could have gotten him away from the craft services more. (laughs) I got very skinny during production and he gained weight.
HDD: (laughs) You've got to take advantage of it when it's available to you. That's what I'm doing the whole time I'm up here at Sundance.
Jake Schreier: Oh, yeah.
HDD: Having lost weight, how stressful was the shoot on you? Were the days long?
Jake Schreier: No more than any other union production. We didn't really go into overtime but maybe by half an hour or an hour here and there. We pretty much kept to the schedule. We worked in a way that was pretty smart that allowed us to stick to the actual schedule rather than hoping for the best, trying to shoot too much and not getting everything that we needed. We took a smart hack-saw to the script and cut it down to the really just the minimum of what we needed because that's what we knew we could achieve properly in the limited time that we had. It's better to do that than miss out on some other things. If we'd stretched ourselves too thin, we could have missed out on some opportune moments.
HDD: How hard was that to cut it down?
Jake Schreier: It was really more of a writer's challenge, but it made things better. Too many times we want to strive for limitless freedom, as much freedom as possible. But there isn't necessarily a great track record for those who get to have that freedom. I think that there can be inherent problems in having no limitations because that lack of limitation can force you into a bad way of thinking. Film is such a compromised medium to begin with. Unlike writing a book, you have to compromise on everything because you have to do it all in real life. Everything – like rain in a shot or no rain in a shot – is all working on compromise. Finding a way to make things better it an important part of the process.