LA Film Festival Screenings:
Wednesday, June 20th at 7:10pm - Regal Cinemas L.A. Live - Public Screening #1 (Premiere)
Saturday, June 23rd at 9:40pm - Regal Cinemas L.A. Live - Public Screening #
In this doomsday comedy, four couples who meet for Sunday brunch find themselves stranded in a house together as the world may be about to end. When Tracy Scott (Julia Stiles) decides to introduce her new beau Glenn (David Cross) to her three friends Hedy (America Ferrera), Emma, and Lexi and their significant others, her biggest fear is whether or not her friends will approve of her new relationship, little does she realize that's the least of her worries. Before long the couples find themselves in the midst of an apocalyptic disaster, catching them all off guard. One thing is clear; these four couples aren't going to let the potential end of the world get in the way of the relationship issues they all need to work out.
IT'S A DISASTER is written and directed by to Todd Berger (THE SCENESTERS). The film stars Julia Stiles (SAVE THE LAST DANCE), David Cross ("Arrested Development"), and America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty").
We've all seen that movie. The one where a band of strangers must face the world head-on after some sort of cataclysmic event. Zombies. A deadly outbreak of disease. Nuclear war. There are countless ways a disaster can bring people together to fight for humanity and find themselves.
But how would they really act? And what if they weren't strangers?
It's a Disaster explores such an idea. How would real people approach a cataclysmic event? They're empathetic and worried yes - but they're also smart, funny, realistic, and much like most Americans they're wildly unprepared. Also they've seen disaster movies before and can take some cues, whether correct or incorrect, on how to behave.
Through a prism of relationships - four couples at four different stages to be precise – the film explores how a disaster would not only effect a person, but also how that person relates to friends and loved ones. How a disaster could take someone you think you really know and show them in a whole new light for better or worse. How would you act? Would you stay calm? Would you panic? Would you go into shock? Anger? Denial?
Mark Twain is my favorite author and a personal idol. A big inspiration for me on this film was reading what he once had to say about the human mind in a disaster situation…
Can you discuss what inspired you to make IT’S A DISASTER?
The idea originally came to me when I read an article about how George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was public domain because the original distributor neglected to place a copyright on it. I concocted this plan to shoot a bunch of a new footage, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID style, and plug it in to make a new movie about a group of couples that get together for board game night and find themselves stuck in the middle of a zombie apocalypse – but the invasion of the undead is secondary to their own personal problems. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like the zombie market had been oversaturated and other movies have satirically skewered them pretty well already. Still, I loved the idea of a comedy where a bunch of friends are trapped in some sort of horrible dramatic situation and have to cope with it, all the while dealing with their own problems. After seeing 2012, I decided that the disaster genre seemed ripe for the picking.
Did your approach to filmmaking change for this second feature, after THE SCENESTERS?
The film itself is shot very differently – THE SCENESTERS was a fake documentary run-and-gun guerilla affair where we’d steal shots at concerts or on the street and was meant to have a much rougher feel. I wanted this film to feel grander despite being limited to a single location, so every shot and movement was much more meticulously planned in order to let the camera breath in the confines of one house.
What was your writing process like? Did you find it to be challenging writing with a one setting constraint?
I always like to lock myself in a room and just write and write for days until I have a first draft, like Ewan McGregor kicking heroin in TRAINSPOTTING. Then I abandon the script for a while and come back to it for a rewrite, which to me is the fun part. I actually found it quite refreshing to be limited to one location, because it forced me to focus on making the characters and their relationships interesting enough that it could carry the film without having to rely on other elements like car chases and montage sequences, which are two of my favorite things.
Was it difficult to cast each of the characters? How did you decide to pair the couples together?
Casting actually went much smoother than I was expecting because folks really responded to the script - and some of the actors we ended up casting were those I imagined when I was writing. When it came time to pair up, it was very important to me to make sure the couples were 100% believable. I can’t stand it in movies when a couple shows up and you ask yourself “How one earth did those two ever end up together?” even if their purpose is to eventually break up.
How did you prepare the actors for their roles prior to shooting?
I met with the actors individually to flesh out backstories, discussing much information that they were to never reveal to the other actors including their own “significant other.” I then asked all the “couples” to pair off and go do something just the two of them. Go bowling, see a concert, etc. I wanted all the pairs to form a shorthand with each other before they had to work with everyone else.
How much did the script change once you started shooting? Was any improv implemented into the film?
After meeting with the actors and fleshing out the characters a bit more, I went back and made a few alterations. Once we started shooting, though, the script pretty much went unchanged. Improv was highly encouraged in the bigger scenes with many characters, because I really wanted the feeling that these are actual friends who talk to each other (and talk over each other) like actual friends do in real life.
Did you experience any challenges while shooting? How did you overcome them?
We were shooting on an incredibly tight schedule, having to knock out the entire film in just fourteen days. We also happened to be shooting during the hottest weeks on record in Los Angeles. It was pretty grueling, but everyone seemed to be having so much fun that it ended up flying by. Luckily, because we were limited to one location, it felt like we were at some bizarre summer camp.
How do you think your work has evolved since your last feature THE SCENESTERS?
Every film is a learning experience on some level, and making THE SCENESTERS taught me so much about how to tell a story that keeps people engaged for 90 minutes. We worked long and hard in the editing room to shape THE SCENESTERS into a tight film because we shot so much stuff just for the hell of it. So with IT’S A DISASTER I was able to approach both the writing process and filming with an editor’s mind - constantly asking myself “Do we really need to shoot this?” and “Will this ever really be in the move?” I think on THE SCENESTERS we had something like eleven deleted scenes, and on IT’S A DISASTER we have one.
You are in a comedy group called The Vacationeers with Kevin Brennan, Jeff Grace, and Blaise Miller who are all in IT’S A DISASTER. What was the process like collaborating with them on a film versus working with them on a sketch?
The biggest difference for us was making sure to keep a consistent tone over 90 minutes: what’s funny versus what makes sense. When you shoot a sketch, the most important thing is for it to just be damn hilarious. When you shoot a feature, you have to keep the big picture in mind because even if a joke or an idea seems great does it fit into this world we’ve created? Would that character ever say that? Does a guy falling down the stairs seem too broad in this universe? If you just aim for out-and-out hilarity, you might end up with a muddled mess.
Does IT’S A DISASTER draw from any personal experiences?
I’m from New Orleans and while I wasn’t there during Hurricane Katrina and the flood, I had several friends and family members who rode it out. I would ask them what it was like for days and days as they were waiting for the national guard to arrive – was it constant dread? Were people turning on each other? Panic in the streets? They said sure at times and it was absolutely terrible, but there was also a lot of magazine reading. You can only stay panicked in a disaster situation for so long – eventually you see if anyone wants to play cards.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
The eight characters in the film represent eight variations on the human response to a disaster situation. I’d love for audience members to wonder which character best represents how they themselves would react. Also, I’d love for them to laugh a lot.
What are you working on next?
I’ve got a bunch of writing gigs right now including WHERE’S WALDO for MGM and THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS for the Jim Henson Company, so hopefully you’ll soon be seeing those at a theater near you. I’ve also written another script that I plan to direct later this year– but that one I’m keeping a secret.