Will Gluck was close to being another TV vet who attempted to transition to movies when his first major movie – Fired Up – died at the box office. But as he says in the interview, he was already working on his second film. That was Easy A, and it turned Emma Stone into a star. Now he’s back a year later with Friends with Benefits, and Gluck is carving a nice corner for himself in business. Check out our talk…
With this film and with Easy A, you’re acting in a post-modern way with your cinema, where you have people referencing real movies – though here you have a fake film – and it seems intentional.
My dad’s an architect in New York, I remember being seven years old going to one of my dad’s sites. There’s a column, there’s three square columns. And the middle column, it was cut off, so you have a column that stops and starts again. And so he showed you that column is not structural. The other columns are structural, and everyone puts the extra column in, which he put in, and it blew my mind. I said “this is doing anything” and he said “no, it’s not, it’s showing you that not all architecture is structural, some of it is form instead of function.” And that blew my mind. By the way, it still worked, it looked like three columns. In my movies I like to do stories we all go through, but just showing you a little behind the scenes of it, I think it all stems from that post-modern thing.
When it comes to that, with the flash mob and things like that, are you embracing then that this is of its moment when you make a thing like this?
I think flash mobs are of its moment, I think if I put in a flash mob without deconstructing it, it wouldn’t be me. So they stumble on a flash mob, but my whole point is “flash mobs are great, but what if you’re in the middle of them and trying to speak?” They’re a pain in the ass. In the second flash mob, he’s trying to pour his heart out, but she can’t hear. To me that something magical, but just peering behind the curtain a little bit, and flash mobs, I think I deconstructed it a little bit. Hopefully.
I think it might be considered a cake and eat it too moment, where you’re putting in the grand romantic gesture, but then you’re – not necessarily pissing on it…
Just saying we’re aware of it. Not we, the filmmakers, but the characters are aware of it.
That seems to be a structural interest of yours, so that ties back in. How much did you shoot in New York? You’ve got the airport scene…
The only reason why we shot that in Los Angeles is because you can’t get a terminal in New York. So we shot New York for New York, we didn’t do that kind of nonsense.
I assume September 11 makes that hard.
Los Angeles as a filming town understands the need, but New York could not care less.
Can you talk about the movie within the movie?
It was fun.
It seems fun.
Because I’m making fun of all these movies, they watch When Harry Met Sally, Brokeback Mountain. They watched When Harry Met Sally and they say “Just F*ck already, just F*ck already, they watch Brokeback Mountain, they say “Just F*ck already, just F*ck already.” Then My big Fat Greek Wedding “Don’t F*ck!” Big joke, we cut it. We made a fake movie, because I wanted to make a fake movie where people would say “did we miss that movie? Did it come out in 2006?” So I wanted people who would play themselves, and it was fun to do it for sixteen hours.
It’s weird that Justin Timberlake has been acting a long time, but there’s still a sense with Justin that he’s a musician turned actor. How is he to work with?
He’s fantastic. Never ever do think he’s a musician turned actor, he’s just an actor period. And he’s such a good actor that he becomes the character, and it’s not just “oh Justin’s good.” I want people to forget he’s acting. He does such a good job and there’s so many times you’d stop, or that Kriss Kross scene, where he sings “Jump” the first time we did it, the whole crew – who’ve seen everything – couldn’t stop looking at him. And I forgot that this guy is Justin Timberlake, I forgot this guy is incredibly talent in the way he moves his body. But the testament to him as an actor is that you completely forget that he’s a singer. Even when he sings he’s goofy. He doesn’t have a moment where the lights come down and he sings a song.
I think he’s been smart in his career to not do the Eminem role, he’s called on to do the (Elvis voice) “oh, you just handed me a guitar, this is Hawaii, let’s sing a little”
“My bus broke down, if you can fix it I’ll sing you song.
“You come from a TV background, but I also saw something about doing a voice for a 1985…
God Damn IMDb.
Is that real, what is that?
I can’t believe that’s real. I grew up in New York and Japan – my dad’s an architect, and my mom’s a Japanese history professor. When we were in Japan we did voice overs, because we spoke English and Japanese, and I guess one of the ones I did was The Dagger of Kamui (Kamui no ken), and I was eight or something.
Was that the start of your interest in cinema?
I always like acting in high school and writing and stuff, the start was using comedy to bullshit my way out of situations. I realized I could BS my way out of things and skate away, and I think that’s why I like doing it. And doing emotional things but it’s funny so it doesn’t feel like you’re taking medicine. I like doing stuff like that.
It feels like a lot of creative types start with acting, and then have a moment where they think “I would rather be the puppeteer than the marionette.”
I never committed to being an actor, I knew I wasn’t going to do that. The answer to your question is unequivocally yes. I put a lot of director friends of mine, and non-actor friends of mine in my movies, and I do acting in their movies. And it’s so weird to go on other people’s sets to act, you forget how hard it is to be an actor, and the waiting, and ten hours and this and that, and then “go” and you come back and ask “how was I?” and no one tells you, it’s such a scary thing. And I forget that, how hard it to do what they do without any feedback. But in this movie, my dad’s in this movie, Andy Fleming, he directed Dick, he’s in all my movies. I just like making it fresh like that.
That reminds me that Martin Scorsese once said “I can act if I’m sitting down, I’m okay. But I can’t act if I have to walk. I can’t move on camera.”
To me it’s yelling at someone. You give a non-actor, even if it’s a joke or a plot point, it’s hard, but if you have them yell? Everyone can yell at someone. The part I did in Hamlet 2, I yell at Steve Coogan. When someone said “just yell at them.” Anyone can do that, because it’s really hard for non-actors to play small. Which tells you why Justin is so good He’s so disarming and witty and charming and light, and it’s so hard to be disarming and witty and charming and light in movies, and acting. It’s easy to be a mother*cker, which is why so many people play bad guys. Justin’s an incredible actor, so’s Mila.
How much room do leave in your production schedule for improv? Do you build it around that, knowing you want to have that freedom?
I’ve had the same crew for a while now, so they know scheduling-wise. To me, when you’re in a helicopter shooting the Hollywood sign, that’s math. You do it ten times. But when it’s a scene on a couch with two people talking they now know they’re going to need much more time with it. Because they know that I’m going to keep trying. I’ve been given the luxury of never having to move on when I didn’t think we had it acting wise, so we keep going.
Did that lead to shooting digitally?
Yes, because the first one I shot digitally, I didn’t want to shoot digitally, and then from then on it was my choice, and it was actually my DP who’s great cinematographer, who shoots on film all the time, said I had to shoot digitally. He said “Will you should never be worried about changing rolls, it should never roll out with you.” This one we shot digitally, and on this we rolled out. You know how hard it is to roll out? Digital is like forty eight minutes, and I would roll out. I’m glad I didn’t shoot film.
I talked to Roger Deakins, and he just shot his first film digitally, and he said that he’s never going back. The industry is changing…
And the cameras are so good now, it allows me to not cut, I literally go on the camera and talk to them, and what that does is that it doesn’t take the wind out of anyone’s sails, and we’re still going versus “cut” relight. I like to keep going.
David Lynch said the exact same thing.
My crew knows that I go through a scene once then they can come in with hair and lighting, and the second take, that’s it. And grips are falling asleep because it doesn’t matter, they’ve done their thing. It’s fine. If the grips have fallen asleep I know it’s a good take.
That’s an interesting standard to have.
It’s legitimate because they’re great workers. So if it’s good, they can doze off or play words with friends. Maybe Angry Birds.
Having come from Television, filmmaking is usually way more precise, television is more of a sprint, how did you change up when you did your first film, and do you feel that you’ve relaxed that now that you’ve done a couple movies?
I thought I did all my movies like a sprint, it still feels like “let’s go let’s go” because it helps the energy. But after wrapping this, this fall I directed a pilot for Fox, and it was a shock to me, having come from there not four years ago how fast it was. And I was shocked because I thought that’s how I shot my movies. So I’ve become used to the film schedule because it allows me more time to play with the actors. I had to ask “did I used to do this?” And they said “oh yeah, no problem.”
But moving into film did you think “I’ve got to have strong composition, and more dramatic lighting…
Well, even my TV shows we shot single camera, I wanted to make them to look like film, the only difference now is that no one is fighting it. I remember we built this huge set, and I have the same production designer – Marshall Hines – for everything, and we shot The Loop with my friend Pam Brady, and we build this gigantic terminal, it must have cost a fortune because I wanted depth, I wanted people to feel it, and the production people said “Will, comedy is here (does a close up hand gesture)” so they fought everything. And they were right, too, because you’d cut to the single, but in features no one fights you.
And is that why you went 2.35:1 for the film?
I did everything 2.35:1 except Easy A because of financial reasons, and I wish I had done that 2.35:1, so that was a mistake.
Is it harder to shot comedy in scope, do you think about that?
I do, the first movie was scope, but it is harder, I like to fill the backgrounds with stuff, so it is harder, there’s 25% more screen, and I’ve got to figure that out.
Well, growing up in the eighties with Spielberg and Lucas, widescreen has always had a very cinematic appeal. It’s unfortunate that J.J. Abrams has stolen the lens flare as his visual signature.
It’s funny, I hate lens flare. I’m the opposite. We spent so much money getting rid of lens flare, because in these movies “blue sky, no lens flare, don’t let them know you’re in a movie.”
You had Easy A last year, how quick did this come together for you?
I was shooting this while we were promoting Easy A. The night of the junket, we shot all night with Emma. I really rocked Easy A, shot it, cut it, moved on to this one.
The writers said they had a script five years ago, was there a rush because of No Strings Attached?
No. When you’re making a movie, you can’t think about other stuff. It’s not the second movie, it’s the thousandth. We know how it’s going to end, it may be a cliché story, but all lives are clichés. We meet a guy, we meet a girl, we break up, there’s death, there’s marriage, there’s six clichéd things we all go through. Not until Justin and Mila said yes did I start working on it, and writing it for them.
Was it nice to have a film in production while you were doing Easy A?
Listen, Fired Up did terribly and most people would be in movie jail for the rest of their life. Luckily Sony – they’re great – they gave me Easy A, and I said “I don’t want to go to movie jail ever again.” So I want to keep working.
When did Easy A come together after Fired Up?
Quick. I read that script when I was in post, and it was a huge leap of faith for Sony to say “yeah, you can make this one too.”
How scared were you after Fired Up?
Because I was doing Easy A, not scared. There was a couple weeks after it came out I sh*t my pants, but I realized they were giving me Easy A. You’re only as good as your last movie, unlike television, because you can fail miserably and your price goes up, because you can run a show. But in movies you can’t fail.
So, Volcano or Dante’s Peak?
I’ve never seen either of them.
Armageddon or Deep Impact?
I’ve never seen either of them.
Red Planet or Mission to Mars?
Never heard of either one of them. (laughs)
Friends with Benefits comes out July 22.