ARRIVALS: Director Jamie Travis Leaps From Shorts To Phone Sex With For A Good Time, Call...

For A Good Time Jamie Travis

Worlds collide in the raunchy comedy For A Good Time, Call..., the sweet and salty tale of two reluctant roommates (Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller) tentatively building a friendship as they embark on a phone sex business venture together. It's a long-awaited starring vehicle for Graynor and Miller and a warmly funny offering in the current wave of raunchy R-rated female-driven comedies - and For A Good Time, Call... also marks the anticipated debut of shorts filmmaker Jamie Travis (The Patterns Trilogy, The Saddest Boy in the World), who here earns the distinction of inspiring Justin Long's performance in the film and getting to direct Kevin Smith jerking off in his feature debut.

All of the above may surprise those who've followed Travis's work over the past decade, during which time the Toronto-based filmmaker burst onto the film festival scene with award-winning, impeccably-crafted short films (highly recommended and viewable here) that dealt effectively in nostalgic sensibilities, a Wes Anderson-like mise en scene, and a stylistic formalism largely absent from his fast-talking lady comedy.

But after years of searching for the right project, Travis fell for the script by real life friends Miller and Katie Anne Naylon and subsequently launched into his first feature on an incredibly packed 16-day shooting schedule. After premiering at Sundance and debuting in limited release this weekend, For a Good Time, Call... expands to additional cities on September 7. "I honestly don’t know how to direct a movie unless I love it," Travis offered, looking back on the film. "I feel like that love needs to drive you, and without it what are you doing?"

I fell in love with your Patterns trilogy and your short films, so when I heard that you were directing For A Good Time, Call... I was very intrigued — I’d been wondering when we’d see a feature from you.
You must have been surprised that I was making what people will refer to as a “phone sex comedy!” It definitely wasn’t the kind of film I thought I was going to direct. I thought of myself as directing something I wrote myself because all of my short films, including the Patterns trilogy, are written from a personal place. So it was a great surprise when I read the script. Knowing it was a phone sex comedy, I didn’t know what to think. I was so pleasantly surprised by how sweet it is, and how it shows female friendship in a way I don’t think enough movies show. It took a vehicle like phone sex and hung female friendship on it in such a grounded way. I just loved it, so I couldn’t say no!

You must have been reading a lot of scripts over the years.
Yeah – I had been reading so many scripts, and had gotten a lot of interest from American agents and eventually signed with WME, all from my films being at the Toronto Film Festival and Sundance. And I found that in particular it was The Saddest Boy in the World that people could see how I could kind of go in a commercial direction from that. The Patterns Trilogy is pretty out there; I feel like that’s for a very specific kind of audience, which apparently is you, Jen Yamato.

It is!
But it’s funny, I had been reading scripts for five or six years and hadn’t taken a meeting on anything. There was nothing I was interested in, I was growing increasingly skeptical that I was ever going to direct someone else’s script, and then I read this one and fell in love with it. It was just so funny to me, it bounced off the page in a way that I hadn’t experienced reading other people’s scripts. I immediately knew that I was the right person to direct it. I felt like I got it, and I also could see a really bad version of the movie in the hands of the wrong person who didn’t really get it, and I felt like I got it. I immediately connected it to these great ‘80s movies with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn — Outrageous Fortune is a particular favorite of mine — and I loved that there’s a fine line of groundedness and also camp, a full-on female spirit.

There’s a tricky tone to nail here. It’s a very sweet story about friendship between women, but it’s also raunchy, and that so much better reflects what real women are like than historically most movies about or for women have been.
I mainly spend my time with girls — or more correctly, women — and my girlfriends talk dirty! They are brutally honest. And you’re right, I never see that in movies in a way that feels authentic to me. This script was written by two best friends, Lauren Miller and Katie Naylon, and they put so much of themselves into this script. You could really feel that, and it informed the whole project that it was loosely based on their real relationship.

There’s this great quote from you, where the story goes that as you were lobbying for the directing job, you told Katie and Lauren, “You cannot let a straight man direct this movie.”
[Laughs] I mean, certainly there are other people who could have directed this movie, I’m sure. But I did feel that as a gay man, and I don’t want to speak for all gay men, I have a certain reverence for women that is completely uncomplicated by sexuality or sexual tension. And I felt like that’s the spirit the film needed. It’s funny, because all the girls in this film — Ari, Lauren, and Katie, the writer — they all have their gay BFFs, and I felt like that perspective of reverence for women and for the kind of truthful aspects of female relationships — and I feel like I really get female relationships — I feel like a lot of that access comes because I am a gay man.

You’re right — watching the film, I realized how so many of these scenes of phone sex or even just Katie and Lauren becoming close could easily have gone in another direction.
That was my fear. This whole film was kind of a high wire act in tone. How do we have fun and keep it funny and keep it light and raunchy, but also find a way to keep the focus on the friendship between the girls? When I read the script I could see that someone, maybe a straight man, could read it in a whole other way, and could aim to titillate the audience or objectify the girls in their phone sex calls, and I hated that version of the movie in my mind. So I think I used this whole “a gay man must direct this movie” as a bit of a ploy to get the job, but at the same time it was my way of saying you guys have a sensitive tone here, and it would be very easy for it to go off the grid. But I’m sure there are many straight men out there who have great insight into female relationships. For me, it’s something I see among the gay men that I know; we just love women in a way that’s really uncomplicated.

Speaking of which, I love the story of how Justin Long “found” his character. He plays Katie and Lauren’s mutual best friend, and after a conversation with you he decided he’d like to model the character on… you. How did you feel about that?
Are you kidding me, I felt great about it! I basically wanted that, deep down in my subconscious mind. When that was the direction he wanted to take it in, I was very pleased. We had been talking about how to keep the character away from the stereotypical gay character that we see, and for me the most important part was not sexualizing the character as the lascivious gay man who’s chasing tail — because I’ve never been that guy, and those are not the gay men that I’m attracted to as friends or otherwise. I like the wholesomeness of [the character] — he has his own thing, he’s a budding comedian, and his real thrust in the film is trying to get his two best friends to be friends, which is a very human impulse to me. I remember we were having our first phone conversation and we were talking about the character and he might have mentioned hair extensions at one point and I was like, “Oh my God dear, no!” I think as soon as I responded to whatever he said about hair extensions he caught onto my voice and told me he liked the quality of my voice. And from then on he was following me around on set on the first day kind of mimicking my physical behavior, which was a little uncomfortable but I was also so busy making the film in the scenes that he was not in that I didn’t have enough time to feel terribly weird. But I think deep down in my subconscious it was very healthy for my ego. [Laughs]

When you watch Justin’s scenes, do you recognize something familiar?
It’s funny because I do see some of myself onscreen in him, and how could you not like that as a director?

That calls to mind another tidbit about the production, which is that you shot it on an insanely fast schedule — something like 16 days?
I know! It’s crazy. It was 16 days. My first short film, Why the Anderson Children Didn’t Come To Dinner, is on Vimeo, and that was a 16 minute film that I shot in 16 days. So here I am shooting a 90-minute feature in 16 days – I have never worked that quickly, but you do what you need to do to tell the story. I knew that my usual style of filmmaking, which is very visual and the directorial voice is very present — I knew that I couldn’t just plunk my so-called trademark aesthetic on this movie. It had to be looser, and the strength of the movie was going to be on the performances and the comedy so we had to take a really simplified style to it because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie!

You may notice there aren’t so many wide shots in the movie, and that’s because when you have a scene between two people and you have 20 minutes to shoot it, the close-ups, in a comedy like this where it’s all about engaging the audience with the characters, are important. So there were a lot of sacrifices made to make this film in 16 days, but at the same time the 16-day schedule forced us to have this indie spirit. We were making this film which, based on its synopsis, is really a commercial comedy but it was made in a very indie way and I think that informs our approach and our spirit. I see that everyone was loving what they were doing in this film and I think that’s important. That separates it from the average studio comedy.

Has it been tempting to make a feature that is more in the voice of your short films, the style that had become your signature?
The thing is, I’m also bored with my own voice! I’m still doing what I love and what feels natural to me, and I do see a lot of my voice in For A Good Time, Call... — but every project is different. For example, there’s a project that I’m in love with right now where there’s a lot of room for my voice and it is kind of a perfect balance between a formal, stylized world and we’re inside the head of a really interesting, very special teenage character. Is it tempting to do something like I’ve done in the past? I feel like I want to meet in the middle. I want to write it myself, and writing is the hardest and most emotional part of the process for me. I’ve really found a comfortable nook in directing; my confidence has really grown and if I love a project and know how I want to execute it, it feels very natural to me. So I’m not at a point where I want to write right now. I’m getting a lot of opportunities, reading really great scripts, and had such a good experience working with collaborators so I’m following that path. But on the other hand I would never choose a project for money or do a completely broad studio comedy. If it doesn’t engage me on the page, I don’t consider it. And I don’t really consider what I do a job; I’m able to make a living in commercials and I love making commercials, and it enables me to not have to make my filmmaking decisions based on money. Five years from now I’ll probably be directing Mission to Mars 5 or something and maybe we’ll talk again, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. [Laughs] I honestly don’t know how to direct a movie unless I love it. I feel like that love needs to drive you, and without it what are you doing?

That said, Jamie Travis’s Mission to Mars 5 would be the most beautiful installment of the franchise.
[Laughs] That’s the thing — I do get to jump outside my own style in commercials, and if I got a 30-second commercial that was Mission to Mars-esque I would take it on and be so excited about it. But films are different; you put yourself into it so much, and I think there are only so many film projects that a director can make in their life. You have to be careful about your decisions. After Sundance, there were opportunities for sex comedies and it was like, well, hold on — I’m not a sex comedy director. I’m just a director. And while I see myself directing horror films or comedies or thrillers in the future, I really do love the idea of exploring different genres, it’s all about the first experience of reading the script. If it’s not the equivalent of reading a piece of literature, I’m not even going to consider it.

It’s fun, as a longtime Jamie Travis fan, to see your world and the raunchy Judd Apatowian R-rated comedy world collide as it does particularly in your cameos.
The cameos were a combination of our amazing casting directors in LA and our personal relationships. Obviously we got Seth because he is Lauren’s husband, and Kevin has a relationship with Lauren and Seth. To give you a sense, when I first came down to LA I was living with Lauren and Seth. This was a low-budget movie — I was the house guest who wouldn’t leave, so there was a real spirit there of everyone helping each other out and figuring out this movie.

What was it like, in your big first feature, to direct Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen jerking off?
Everyone was jerking off in this movie! Working with Seth was amazing — the cameos in particular were very much improvised. A lot of this movie, because we shot in 16 days, is not as improvised as you’d think. But the cameos were very much so. Seth is a brilliant comedic actor and you never know what he’s going to say. He always says something better than you could possibly imagine and takes it to places you didn’t see it going. And Kevin Smith, he came to set for I think three hours one day — we sat him down in the car and Ari was in the back seat saying her lines and I was talking to him through a walkie.

What notes do you possibly give Kevin Smith as he’s, shall we say, in flagrante?
He just invented it on the spot! In those situations where you’re working with comedic minds like that, it’s more like taking the elements of what they said and trying to refine it or combine the great thing they said here with the great thing they said there. But really with them and Ken Marino and Martha MacIsaac, it’s really about letting them go and shooting and shooting. That’s what we did, and it worked out for us.

For A Good Time, Call... is in limited release.

Watch Jamie Travis's Patterns 3, via Vimeo:

Patterns 3 from Jamie Travis on Vimeo.

Follow Jen Yamato on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.



Post a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s