Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts recently spoke with Phoenix Movie Examiner about his new comedy “The Kings of Summer.”
In “The Kings of Summer” – which opens Friday, June 7 at movie theaters throughout the Valley – Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias play three teenage friends who, in the ultimate act of independence, decide to spend their summer building a house in the woods and living off the land.
Question: How did you become attached to this project?
Answer: I had made a short film called “Successful Alcoholics” that was at Sundance a couple of years ago. It balanced the really tricky tone of being funny and not being funny. Chris Galletta had written a script for this movie and the people at Big Beach Films were looking for a director. They sent me the script and my response was, “Why are you teasing me right now? This script is amazing! How can you not have a director on board?” I legitimately thought it was a joke. But the job was available and I fell in love with the script so I pitched my [butt] off.
Q: So then once you won the job, was it an easy road from there? And what were your priorities for the project?
A: Well, even when I won the job, it was a movie that people didn’t really want to make. Even though Big Beach loved it, it is not a movie that Hollywood is in the business of making because it is about kids but it is sort of for adults. On paper, this is a movie for nobody. But it is all about the execution. We wanted to ride those highs and lows. We wanted to be grounded enough where we could have stuff that was really goofy but also stuff that was kind of real raw. We have all seen variations of this story so it had to be something that felt fresh. The biggest thing was having a desire to push the envelope and tell the story in a new way.
Q: Speaking of Hollywood, how did the independent nature of the production benefit the film? And
do you think that it would have turned out any differently if it were made within the studio system?
A: We got a lot of freedom. I was able to really go and do my own thing. If I were to go to a studio and say, “I want to combine impressionistic elements and lyrical elements with a little bit of Terrence Malickwith and John Hughes,” they would have probably thought that I was crazy. But, to tell you the truth, I love the studio system and I want to work in it. Good movies do get made there. But I have no idea how this would have turned out in that system. If you work with the right executives and people who believe in it, that is all that matters. But that is a really interesting “what if” to think about. We probably would have just had a bunch of computer generated transforming cars in it.
Q: If there is one scene that stands out in my memory, it would be the one in which two of the kids bang on a large pipeline while the third dances on top of it. How did you happen upon that pipe? And did you know that it was going to be such a pinnacle moment while shooting said scene?
A: I found that pipe on my own one day while scouting. I thought that it was really cool and I wanted to do something there but it didn’t make sense for us to build any of our actual days around it. So, on our first off-day, Chris, my director of photography Ross Riege and I stole a camera, snuck the three kids away from their families and went out into the woods. That was the best day of the entire shoot because it was so pure. It was about kids being kids and teenagers acting like teenagers. It was one of those rare moments when you are watching something on set and you know that this is something special. I wanted the woods to feels warm and lived-in. I wanted the woods to be character in itself yet also be a backdrop to what these kids are going through.
Q: Finally, what did this project teach you? And what is your advice to other filmmakers?
A: Fail boldly and fail bravely. Look, ideally you train yourself well enough in your craft that when a curveball comes you adapt. My favorite part of filmmaking is when things go wrong. I love that moment when [crap] hits the fan because honestly, I think that if you have trained yourself well enough, those are the best things in movies – things that you didn’t plan on shooting that way and everything went wrong so you completely changed it up. I think that those make for the greatest scenes. I love improvising because it allows you to go after what is right in the moment as opposed to what you wrote, what you storyboarded and what is locked in. So fail boldly and fail bravely. You just have to go for it and not be afraid of [screwing] up.