by Luke Hickman
Each year there seems to be a reoccurring theme that pops up in films at the Sundance Film Festival. 2011 was all about fanatics and 2012 seems to have been heavily influenced by 'Bridesmaids.' 'Save the Date' is one of the many great R-rated female-centric comedic dramas at Sundance this year. Lizzy Caplan stars as an aspiring artist who has to take life in small steps. As if moving in with her boyfriend wasn't traumatic enough, when he proposes to her in front of a large crowd she freaks out and ends the relationship right there. Alison Brie plays her sister, the encouraging and supporting figure in her life. Halfway through the festival, director Michael Mohan sat down with me to talk about the film, it's evolution, and film in general.
HDD – Luke Hickman: Congrats on the movie! It's awesome.
Michael Mohan: Thank you!
HDD: For what it's worth, the response from the Press & Industry screening I attended yesterday was great. How's your Sundance experience been so far?
Michael Mohan: Really good. We had our premiere two days ago and the second screening is later today. The Q&A was great and the reaction was great. I don't think we could have asked for a better response.
HDD: Do you usually watch your movies with the general audiences?
Michael Mohan: I did this time. You can't not watch it when it's at the Eccles (the largest theater at the festival with 1,270 seats). I'll be there.
HDD: Did the audience respond the way you expected them, laughing in the right spots, etc.?
Michael Mohan: Yeah. I honestly can't think of it going any better. And I give credit to [the cast].
HDD: I really enjoyed the Martin Starr character because I felt like he represented the audience – he's outside the conflict looking in and, aside from one part at the end of the movie, he's keeps out of it. It's really easy to connect with him.
Michael Mohan: Thank you!
HDD: I hope that's what you were going for!
Michael Mohan: Absolutely!
HDD: Your film is based around two female leads. Being a guy, was it hard writing them?
Michael Mohan: You know what's funny? People have been asking me that, but it wasn't like we made a decision, "I'm a man and I'm going to write a movie about girls." The script was originally written by graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown and a playwright Egan Reich and I originally came on-board years after and sort of re-wrote the script with them. The characters already existed and I remember when I read the script for the first time, even though the characters were girls, I totally related to what they were going through. It's funny because that's a hot-button issue now – movies at Sundance with leading female characters. It's almost turning into a political sort of thing, like "Why are female character so en vogue right now?" - but that's how it should be! I think it's awesome. I'm excited for the next year because there are so many strong films here. If I can't see them here, I know they're going to come out and I can see them. A lot of us filmmakers here are friends too – like James Ponsoldt, the director of 'Smashed,' we've worked together. It's a good community. Even though we're in competition, I don't feel like we're going head to head.
HDD: How much does being in competition play into the experience? Is that in the back of your head the whole time?
Michael Mohan: For me, I'm just excited that the film is getting such great exposure. I was here a couple years ago. My film was in the Next category. It was great, nice to have this little baby step. Last year I was here with a short, so this year is my chance to be in competition. It feels like the natural step. In terms of the actual awards, being here is remarkable and I'm glad that the film gets to be seen.
HDD: So the question is – what are you bringing next year? Lizzy Caplan told me how recently you shot 'Save the Date,' so you can crank out another feature by next year, right?
Michael Mohan: Our producers have actually been working on 'Save the Date' for six years. I came on-board two years ago when I was here with my first film and [producer Jordan Horowitz] was here with his film. So I worked on the script for a year and we shot during the second year. As for next year, I've wanted to write some stuff, but I haven't had too much time.
HDD: Instead of going the route of serious drama or tradition comedy, your film blends the two. There's a sense of realism at the core of 'Save the Date.'
Michael Mohan: Absolutely. I think that was the goal. On-set, that's all we worked on. That was the thing – challenging the script to be as truthful as possible, even if that meant changing lines around or changing scenes around. [We did] exactly what the characters would do in that moment. It's a process. You write the script and try to make it as truthful as possible, but then while shooting it you have to adjust it to make it even more so.
HDD: Can you talk at all about the budget you were working with?
Michael Mohan: Our official statement is, "More than a little and less than a lot." (laughs) We got what we needed. To be specific, we shot over 21 days and it never felt like we had to compromise. We worked long hours, but not crazy long. And we shot the film specifically - like a lot of one-take scenes.