I recently had the opportunity to interview director, Adam Salky and writer David Brind, to talk about the release of their upcoming film Dare. A feature that’s actually based on a short the two worked on while in the graduate film program at Columbia University. Dare centers on three very different teenagers who form an unlikely friendship as they learn more about themselves and their sexuality.
It may sound like your typical high school-genre movie with the jock, the nerd, and the social reject, but it’s much more than that. The writer and director filled us in on the real life drama that happened behind the scenes while making the movie, the logic behind their casting choices, and revealed some of their upcoming projects.
Check out our interview…
How did Dare evolve from a film school short to a feature film?
Adam Salky: David and I met in film school at Columbia University, in the graduate program. Dare began as a short film as apart of a first year film project, where everyone directs a film that someone else wrote. I was fortunate enough to direct the short film called Dare.
David Brind: The short film really focused on the pool scene between the two boys where the loner, loser gives a ride home to the bad boy and an unexpected encounter ensues.
AS: Safe to say it is a sexual encounter?
DB: It is a sexual encounter. It is a charged encounter. I knew that was going to be the center around which I built the feature screenplay. The way into the screenplay was through the character of Alexa, played by Emmy Rossum in the feature, who was only a peripheral character in the short. There were moments where she had wordless communication with Ben, the closeted-gay best friend, and I was really interested in that and what their relationship was, and also how she felt about Johnny. You know, the center, not scene-wise, but emotionally, is Johnny.
DB:I always had a fascination with those sort of characters in films like Rebel Without a Cause, the James Dean character, and then kind of going through the John Hughes canon; these boys that seem untouchable and unaffected, and life seems really easy for them. Everything seems effortless from the way they move, the way they look, and the way they talk. For the people that feel like outsiders, even the ones that just have to try really hard to get to that level, it feels like they are untouchable. I wanted to explore what really goes on in that guy’s head. There is so much more going on beneath the surface and I wanted to expose and explore that.
Although this film fits into the high school genre, it’s much more than that. What drew you to those themes?
DB: A lot of it is drawn from my vision and experience from high school and also what I wished I had been able to see at that point in my life. I remember being really hungry for characters that I could relate to, and not characters that just seemed like something I would never experience. I really wanted to tell a story, for example Ben’s character, this closeted, figuring out his sexuality kid. He’s gay. I really wanted to have a character where you actually saw him go through that in a step-by-step way, as opposed to, “This is the gay kid. He’s going to be a little bit flamboyant. He is going to be the confidante and totally sexless.” That is just BS. That is just not how kids experience life and I wanted to create these three characters, and although they are all very different, are linked by their common emotions. They all have desires, shame, guilt, and loneliness.
AS: One of the things that was unique about the screenplay when I first read it, is that it showed a broad range of the high school experience. There is one character who is straight, one is gay, and there is one character who’s sexuality is maybe fluid and unclear. They are all completely different types that come from different sections of the high school social strata. The screenplay touched, organically, on all three of them.
How did you cast Zach Gilford to play Johnny?
DB: We had cast another actor in that role, when Zach had become interested in the film he sent in a tape, but we already had an offer out to another actor, who had accepted. About a week before shooting, the actor dropped out of the film.
AS: This is a very stressful moment in pre-production. A week away from shooting. We shot in Philadelphia and our whole crew was down there getting ready to shoot. David comes out of the office as I’m walking up to the production office and says, ‘Adam we lost Johnny.’ There was actually a funny side to this because a couple of weeks earlier when we were waiting to see if the actor we made the offer to was going to accept, it was April 1st, and I had called David and said, ‘David, he passed.’ David was like, ‘Oh my God! Really?’ And I said, ‘April Fools!’ He said, ‘I’m going to get you someday when you least expect it.’ So when he walked out of the office and told me Johnny had dropped out, for a second a thought he was screwing with me, but he wasn’t. I’m still waiting for that.
DB: That’s right, I forgot about it. I’m going to totally do it this week. [laughs]
AS: So, we hopped in the car and rushed back to New York, where in a whirlwind day, we saw several possible Johnny’s, including Zach Gilford, who fortunately happened to be in New York. We cast him, and the next day we had a reading between Emmy and Zach, and at that moment I think David and I knew he was going to be wonderful. Then five days later we were shooting.
How did the actor who played Ben differ in the short film as opposed the feature film?
DB: Totally different. It was completely different. It was different from in my head, and from how I wrote it. The actor who played Ben in the short is an actor named Adam Fleming, who is kind of a Broadway actor. He was really great in the short.
AS: He actually came in to read for Johnny.
DB: Yes. He came in originally for Johnny, and we ended up casting him for Ben. He is very good-looking in a very traditional way. We downplayed that a lot for the short film; we gave him a mousier hair color, a nerdy haircut, and dressed him. He played it in kind of a softer, shyer, more vulnerable, wide-eyed approach to the role of Ben. Ashley [Springer] was much more idiosyncratic. He was a little off-beat, quirky, and a little snarkier. He brought real uniqueness to that role of the outsider.
AS: One of the things that David and I always talked about was that the main characters were similar to archetypes from the high school genre. Alexa is the good girl, Ben is the outsider, and Johnny is the bad boy; so much of what Dare is about is unmasking these characters and seeing them in a three dimensional way that you had never expected. It kind of made sense and started to click when we saw Ashley do the reading for this film that he really seemed to embody the character of the outsider.
DB: He just got it.
The film is divided into three sections that dives into the emotions and mind of each character. How did you decide to film it so differently for each part?
AS: Throughout the course of the film, the characters are maturing. They are growing up, taking these risks, trying to figure out who they are, and who they aren’t. Visually, I started to think of it as an idea of maturity and how maturity could be represented visually. As a result, the first act begins in a very colorful, cotton-candy high school world. The second act transitions into a darker world, and a little more shadowed. Then by the time we hit the third act, Johnny’s act, it is almost entirely hand-held and even more drained of color as it starts feel much more like real life. So by the end of the film, as the characters are maturing, the audience sees a visual progression that lends itself to what the characters are going through.
What projects are you two currently working on? Will you continue working together?
AS: We do have plans to work again with each other. We have bounced around a few ideas and are looking for something to turn into a film, and we each have our own individual projects. I am writing a script and David is working on a few things as well.
DB: Yeah, I’m working on a TV show for teens right now. I am working on a bunch of different things. We are both being kind of put out there in a different way to try to work on projects that are already existing. I am definitely interested in telling more stories about teens that go a little bit below the surface and plan on continuing to do that.
Dare hits a limited amount of theaters on November 13th.
Watch the trailer below…