Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to one of my idols Rob Reiner over the phone about his recently released (and unappreciated) film Flipped and his astounding career. Reiner took the 80′s by storm with The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, When Harry Meet Sally and has continued to impress over the years. His secret — creating his own film family that he’s worked with since the beginning and always focusing on the most important part of a film – the story.
In a cinematic world filled with violence and “edge” rules, it’s refreshing to see an upbeat story, with well rounded, rich characters, told by one of the best story-tellers in the business. In fact this film is one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year because it has the one thing almost all the other films are lacking — a solid plot and an interesting story.
Find out more about Flipped from Reiner below…
What interests you in the characters that you choose to bring to the screen?
RR: I look for something that I could relate to. I’ve never made a movie about what it feels like. I’ve made a lot of similar romantic comedies and exploring the relationship between men and women of different ages and usually I make the same movie, which is basically, the women is always more emotionally mature and she has a greater sense of herself and the boy is running around like an idiot trying to figure what’s going on. He’s usually dragged, kicking and screaming by the woman, which is the way it is. He discovers that what he’s been looking for is right there in front of him.
That’s what happens, but what got me on this thing, I never explored that feeling that you have when you first fall in love. The first feelings of very powerful confusing feeling that you have when your 12 going on 13, when you first experience those feelings. I never explored that.
What about the book “Flipped” made you want to make the film?
RR: When I read this book, it was actually introduced to me by my son Nick who was 11 at the time, he’s almost 17 now. He brought it home from school as an assignment, and we read it together and I literally ‘flipped’ over it. I said, “Wow. This writer Wendelin Van Draanen really captured what it actually feels like.” What kids actually go through when they’re wrestling with all those feelings. It was written in such as intelligent depth-full way and I loved the way that it went back and forth between the boy’s point of view and the girl’s point of view and how different their perspectives were. I just thought it was so uniquely done and so full of depth. Many times you read children’s books or books for juveniles, they’re kind of written in a very surfacey-way. This one was so much more in- depth. I just liked it. It reminded me of my teenage years and of what I first felt like when I first went through it.
Can you talk about casting the right kids for these roles?
RR: Callan McAuliffe is Australian. It was very hard to find the guy to play Bryce. To find somebody who is an attractive kid that girls would flip over and also has acting ability and intelligence. It was very hard to find. We were sent a tape through the internet and we saw this kid and he was perfect. I discovered that he was Australian, I thought, wow, he had this thick-Australian accent which he could turn on and off like a spigot. It was just amazing how talented he was.
And with Juli. Madeline Carroll was the first person I saw. I’d seen her in Swing Vote, the movie she made with Kevin Costner, playing his daughter, and I liked her in that and when she came and read, she was exactly what I was looking for. She was the first person who came into read and we had 30-40 other actors just to see and I basically said to Jane Jenkins, the casting director, I said, “we’ve got Julie, this is who I imagined.” She’s adorable, she’s got all this strength and she has developed an acting craft as any adult actor I’ve ever worked with.
So we flew Callan to read with her. They were perfect together. If you get the right story and it’s written right, and you cast it with the right people, you’re 90% home.
A lot of time directors have to make a big deal out of something or really shove it in your face, but you could just feel the tension so naturally around that. How do you create that climate?
RR: First you gotta have a script and a story that works. If you put those things in place where the story is playing out, in a way that the audience would get hooked into it, then you don’t have to do a lot. Carol (2:15) told me years ago you know about acting, he said, if you’ve got a good story and the writing is good, then you don’t have to do a lot as an actor. The audience will read in what they need to read in for the scene. You don’t have to do a lot of facial gymnastics and things like that to make it work.
The part I can really relate to is the scene around the dinner table when [he] asks, “you don’t like high school?” I remember my parents telling me, “people who enjoy high school never make it anywhere.”
RR: It’s true those are the kids that peek in high school, that was the best time for them because they really didn’t develop past that.
Do you enjoy working with kids on set?
RR: I do. I did with Stand By Me and this is almost like a companion to Stand By Me because they both take place around the same time period late 50s, early 60s. They both explore different aspects of the right of passage between 12 and 13. Stand By Me was harder because the kids were not experienced. They didn’t have as much acting experience and I had to almost conduct it like acting class for two weeks before we even started working on the script with them, but I do like it.
If you get kids that have really good instincts they have a certain naturalness that you can’t fake. It just comes out. Then it’s just a matter of getting them to hit their marks because they don’t have a lot of craft. In this case, I had actors who were experienced as any adult actors I’ve ever worked with so it was a real pleasure.
Can you talk about what you enjoy about the era (the same as in Stand By Me) that attracts you as a filmmaker?
RR: It’s just the time when I came of age. It was when I was 12 going on 13. It’s when I started going on through that right of passage. It happens to every kid and it’s the same for every kid regardless of whether or not it takes places that time period or now, it is a very powerful and confusing time when your hormones are changing. You’ve got the last messages of childhood and you’ve got a little toe in the adult world. It’s just very overwhelming. I only set it during that period because that’s when I came of age.
So it’s kind of a reliving-it kind of way?
RR: Yeah. I think for adults they’ll think back to the time when they went through it and for kids seeing it, they’re experiencing it now and they can hopefully relate to the characters. What’s great about the film is you can go with your kids or grandparents can take their grandchildren. All can enjoy the film on different levels. Like when I made Princess Bride, the adults are getting it on one level, the kids are enjoying it on another level. I think that is what will happen here. We’ve had almost, across the board, the same response.
I just re-watched Princess Bride and it was such a different experience.
RR: When you’re a kid you’re never going to get “never get involved in the land war in Asia,” you’re not going to understand those jokes. And that’s the same here. Kids and adults will get a complete different thing out of this movie.
What’s your favorite part of bringing a screenplay to the big screen?
RR: You never know when you’re writing. You think you have something that can be played by actors and they can realize it and you don’t know it until you actually cast them and see it come to life. It’s very exciting when your instinct is that this is going to be an honest exploration of some aspect of the human condition and all of a sudden it comes to life and you go, yes, it’s exactly what I imagined, and I can totally relate to it.
I can feel those same feelings that the characters are going through, that’s, to me, the fun part of it, and then seeing the audience react to it. That to me is a fun part too. As I get older, I find out that the whole process is fun. This is something I use to give lip-service to when I was young, that “the doing that is more important than the results” and all that, and now as I get older it really is true. You have to enjoy the process of doing something because ultimately that’s the life experience that you’re having.
Do you still get nervous or exciting when you first start at a project?
RR: Yeah I always do. I always get nervous when I first show it to an audience. That’s when I really get nervous because that’s when the truth comes out. You can kind of sit in your room writing or you caught up when you’re directing something, you’re caught up in the day to day. It’s a bit of a war going on in the day to day decisions you have to make in order to get it done. And then in the editing room, it’s a confessional where you see what you actually shot and you try to put it together, but the first moment of truth is when you play it for an audience. Hopefully you’re going to be validated. What you thought was good, they’re also going to like too.
In this case, I couldn’t have been happier. To see the audience react to this thing. It’s a tough sell, for the studio. They’re having a hard time trying to figure out how to sell it, but I know it works because we’ve already played it for a bunch of audiences and they went crazy for it. That makes me feel really good. Something that I thought was good and that I thought would work, the audience reacting is a tremendous validation.
Do you still see all the mistakes that nobody else sees and do they bug you?
RR: Yeah. I see plenty of them. We’re human. We make mistakes. We’re all flawed. It’s part of the process. You have to let those things go, you can’t let those things torture you because otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy.
You’ve worked with a number of the same people over the years, is it nice to have a grouped of people that you can rely on and trust?
RR: It really is. In the case of Bob Leighton, we’ve worked on every single film I’ve done together. He’s edited every single film that I’ve done, 15 of them now. I’ve often said that I spent more time in a dark room with him than I have with my wife. It’s true because we spend a lot of time together. You really do have to enjoy the people you work with. I’ve had not just Marc Shaiman and Bob, but my script supervisor, and many other — all these people have been in my life for a long, long time and that’s part of it. You create a family and then you go to work and you’re happy to see them everyday. It’s part of the life experience. You want to be around people that you enjoy and that you’re happy to see everyday. That’s a big part of it for me. I couldn’t have a better relationship that I have with Bob, we love each other, we’re really close. We have such a short hand now, we know. We’re like in each others heads. We know exactly what each other is thinking. It’s really fun.
Thank you Rob for your time!
Flipped is based oft the novel by Wendelin Van Draanen and stars Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller, Aidan Quinn and Kevin Weisman.
It’s in select theaters now and it’s probably one of the sweetest and well-made films currently in theaters!