By Lisa Minzey of The Reel Critic.com
Making serious or scary topics feel more relatable is a talent of Director Jonathan Levine. We were able to sit down with the gregarious director to chat about his new film “Warm Bodies”, his awesome taste in music and why he can relate to zombies.
PFF: I told Dave [Franco] this, but this is the first film within probably the past 18 months I can remember watching and getting so caught up in the story, unable to take my eyes off screen.
JL: Oh thank you! That’s part of what I like about it, is that it kept surprising me when I read the book. The screenplay didn’t because I wrote it.
PFF: Did you collaborate with the author on the screenplay?
JL: Yeah, a little bit. It wasn’t a true collaboration. The author [Isaac Marion] wrote an amazing book. I ran away and started messing with his book and then I would show him. I like him a lot. We’re super cool; and I would show him drafts, take his feedback, but it was important to me to have a degree of independence from him so I could interpret his work without hurting his feelings. I do think that it is really important, especially for me because I really care if people like me or not. I kind of had to protect myself and be like “I’m going to do what’s best for the movie”. To his credit he was very support of that.
PFF: It seems like this film is very philosophical as if it’s laced with many metaphors through out the movie. Was that a conscious element of your writing or something that just flows out?
JL: Definitely, definitely. It’s really important because, well much of that is from the book. I think it’s really important because it’s the metaphors that make me connect to it. You know? The metaphor, “what is it to be alive?” What is does it mean to live in the moment? I love that moment when everyone is on their cell phones and you’re like “These people are not really living; they’re almost as dead as the zombies”. I think about that some times because we’ve actually been at airports a lot on the press tour, and I look at airport completely differently now. But even the central message of tolerance, they’re not like super sophisticated, they’re nice; they’re good messages to put out there into the world. I think that the other message that they way these two come together and the fact that love can help both of them become better people, I think is really sweet. I’m allergic to sweet stuff, so I also like the violent stuff and the music; I like having that stuff there and undercutting it because I’m uncomfortable with nice sentiments.
PFF: I don’t think this should be even called a romantic comedy because it’s so different; it’s more of a guy’s romantic film.
JL: Yeah, I think it works for guys and girls. Hopefully it does… Are romantic comedies only for girls? Because I love romantic comedies -
PFF: No, not at all! It’s just that most guys tend to steer towards more of the comedy, horror or action types of films… but this film is so guy friendly, it’s almost like a guy’s love letter.
JL: Yeah, you know I totally identified with the guy in the movie [the zombie “R”]. I have felt like that person many times in my life. Trapped in your body, around a girl you’re really psyched to be around, unable to express it; thinking you are gross, you know? I’m saying it because a lot of guys feel that way, you know? So I found it very identifiable. That’s why zombies are such a smart and popular genre because the metaphors are really identifiable.
PFF: While watching I couldn’t help but notice some of the classical elements from Shakespeare thrown in the film and that you were able to create this fusion of genres, making it fresh and unique was incredible.
JL: Well that’s what I really loved about this story is that it had all these references an allusions of all these pop culture and literary elements but felt completely fresh.
PFF: The music used in the film felt like its own individual character. Did you have a difficult time getting any song that you really wanted? Was there any songs used in the script that didn’t make it into the final cut?
JL: Yes. There were definitely songs from the script that had to be cut. I didn’t write too many songs into the script, but I did write a few. When you get towards the end of filming and you start spending more money than you want, you sometime use money that would have been set aside for music. The producers and studio on this film were very careful to protect the music budget so that I could get whatever I wanted. That’s not to say that we didn’t have some financial restraints sometimes, but you know we were really able to think in broad terms about the music. One of the main reasons I wanted to do this movie was the opportunity to use so many kinds of music. o you know my favorite kind music is probably the 70’s album rock stuff, like the Bruce [Springsteen] and the [Bob] Dylan and then there’s the M83 and the National and these amazing contemporary artists and I love the way they just combine and create a certain level. They work together like the pop culture and literary references work; they all mash into each other and create a unique sound.
PFF: It felt more relatable when you have all those pop cultural references mentioned…
JL: I like having that short hand with the audience. I like playing and 80’s power ballad and allowing the audience to not only think about the song but to think about when they first heard that song on the radio. Did they think about a girl the first time they heard that song? There are so many nice little additional levels of meaning when you use a song people already know.
PFF: Did you have a favorite scene in the film?
JL: I love the beginning of the movie, a lot. Because it has a lot... the so much of the tone of the film is established there. I love the scene where he [the zombie R] plays Guns N’ Roses for Julie; that’s one of my favorite scenes. Not to like sound like I think I’m smart, but I like the way I shot it. I mean I go back and I agonize over mistakes I made in scenes, I’m kind of neurotic about those things, but there are very few scenes where I look at it where I don’t think about another way I should of shot it and that is one of those scenes where I don’t think that. I love the performances; I love the way it looks. I love the sort of sentiment that he’s using; the words of Axl Rose to get through to her. That is one of my favorite scenes.
PFF: It was a great exercise in communication –
JL: Yeah totally
PFF: Most girls think that’s how guys try to communicate with them anyway, grunts & shrugs…
JL: Well, the mixed tape is a good way to get – it’s a lost art. I mean, now a days it’s a Spotify playlist. If you want to get someone to fall in love with you, you need the right tape.
PFF: Back in the day you worked under Paul Schrader (screenwriter/ Director of films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Affliction, and American Gigalo). Was there any lessons or philosophies you picked up from working with him?
JL: I was his assistant, so any lesson I would pick up would be for me to get. Although he wasn’t imparting advice to me on a daily basis, he was super gracious. I would say the most stuff I learned to do from his was listening. Listening to him and his phone calls, the way he would speak to his collaborators. The way he kind of lived to me was kind of interesting because he would come in to the office and write and then he would take a nap. Then he would go to the movies and come back and write more. He was always thinking, Maybe he wasn’t even taking a nap but he was lying down with his eyes closed. He would go to museums a lot. It just taught me… he took being a creative person very seriously in the way he approached his life, and I never forgotten that. Another thing that would happen is like he would type up pages, he would only work on a type writer because he didn’t want to be on a computer because he thought he would end up just surfing the internet, which is what I do when I’m writing. So he would type on a typewriter and then hand them to me to enter into Final Draft, so I would get to see him come up with an idea, write it down, hand it to me and come up with another idea, write it down; hand it to me so I got to actually see his process in real time and that was invaluable. One of the most valuable things I learned from working with him was honestly that if you’re going to do something, you just do it. It motivated me to go film school; I went to the same film school he did, it motivated me to actually stop working for him, ironically, but I’m grateful to him for that.
Be sure to check out Jonathan’s new film “Warm Bodies” when it hits theaters starting Friday February 1, 2013!