Interview: Mariko Munro and David Andalman for "American Milkshake"

Movie Description(Click Here To Hide)
In mid-90's America, bookish high-school student Jolie Johnson knows the only way to get in with the gangsta crowd is to make the varsity basketball team. Making the team not only means approval from the inner-city crew of Maple Avenue, but also gets him a step closer to being the one thing he is not – black.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
September 5th, 2013

The new comedy “American Milkshake” hits theaters in select cities and VOD on September 6th, and directors David Andalman and Mariko Munro will be excited for you to check out their film. “American Milkshake” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has caught the attention of audiences all over the country.  David and Mariko sat down with Movie Room Reviews to tell us all about it.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: David and Mariko what's going on? Your new film, American Milkshake comes out September 6th, correct?

Mariko Munro: It does.

David Andalman: Yup.

MRR: Well, I saw the film and I talked to Tyler Ross earlier and he was telling me all about the film, but why don't you guys give me a rundown on the film and tell me what you think about it.

Mariko Munro: Love to. What do you want to know?

[chuckle]

MRR: I wanna know all about the idea for the movie and how you came up with it, and what the film's all about.

David Andalman: Absolutely. I think growing up, one of the really tough things in adolescence is so simple in some ways, but so difficult and just finally realizing that race, and class, and sex, and these cards that you're dealt are gonna play into your life in major ways and it's definitely not gonna be equal for everyone. And so, that can be tough, especially growing up with your friends and it starts to kind of divide people a little bit. And so just dealing with that and what that was like was definitely some of the inspiration for the movie. And also just how difficult it was and it kind of in some ways, myself out there and Mariko putting herself out there might hopefully [chuckle] make it easier on someone else. Like, look what an idiot we were, so maybe you did the best you could.

[laughter]

David Andalman: Or might just be a way to at least make it easy to talk about these things 'cause it kind of dealt with in this lighter, funnier way. I mean, there's some undertones but hopefully it's the kind of movie when people leave the theater, they can be like, "What was that about? I can't believe someone did that." That, to me, is one of the fun part about going to the movie, just talking about them after.

MRR: It says the script was somewhat autobiographical and I started to laugh about that. Does that mean that part of your high school that you put into this film? 'Cause I know that it's in the '90s. I'm guessing that one of you went to school in the '90s. It's the same time that I went. It looks like around like '96 or '97 because of all the little cues that you guys put in.

Mariko Munro: Yeah, yeah. Dave is one year older than me. I graduated in '98, he graduated in '97 from high school. I think, we kind of set it a bit slightly earlier around 1995-ish, we say. There's some hints to that with the Million Men March and OJ Simpson trial verdict, and things like that.

MRR: Was that really tough to stay with? Or did you hope it would all work out or did you focus on every little detail for that?

David Andalman: I was gonna say I think we tried to work within the tone of the movie in that way, where like you can sort of stretch the boundaries a little bit. Its a little bit over the top at times. So, for example, in certain instances we played with the chronology of things so it's slightly out of order. It's a little mixed up. We even did a scene with Haroon where the teacher's upset of them because the things in his English paper were not in chronological order. And he's saying, "Well, that's the writer's prerogative." I think we worked within this sort of like humorous, slightly big tone in a way to allow us to squeeze in all the events of our memories that are kind of mashed up into what we became years later, yeah. Its definitely, now looking back on then.

MRR: In terms of making films in general, for a director, how hard is it to keep the tone of the film going?

David Andalman: I think it's one of the fun pieces of it. I think there's like kind of combining some very light mood with some very dark underlying themes. It's what creates that very inviting tone. So, we kept working with that. We wanted it to feel light and sad, and happy on the surface, and then underneath it is all the cutting, which all the cutting, sort of biting aspects. And that was not always easy, but it was fun. I think everyone got on the right page pretty early on. So, everyone knew kind of what we were going for. We had a ton of references. We looked at other movies. We had a short version of the film.

David Andalman: So, I think, people sunk up and got it pretty quickly, and then it's something you can easily continue to mold and post just through the use of ironic music. Okay, so we're looking at “Observe and Report” or “Bad Santa” and then how did the music contrast what we're seeing on the scene or emphasis to that. So it's just something you can easily play with all down the line.

Mariko Munro: I think that a lot of like the tone comes through in the writing and that combining the writing with like the music later as David mentioned, I think that's kind of where it came down to. We were lucky that VO was a really big part of the movie. And so as we were in post, we would experiment with different voice over, different jokes while it lends itself better to the themes of the movie, but also continues tonally. So yeah I think those were the two biggest factors, I think, the writing and the music to have a tonal through line.

David Andalman: Yeah, and that's a great point. I remember we looked specifically at movies like “Taxi Driver” where they have this great voice over and how they interwove it or “Goodfellas” We definitely were like, "This is a voice over movie." Oh, I remembered specifically this interview with Darren Aronofsky where he went and filmed “Pi” before the voice over was finalized. He hated his voice over. He loved the movie. He just wanted to do it and he knew he could of course tweak that later. Having worked at post, I have seen that a lot of times as well. So we kind of knew that the voice over was really strong at some parts, but at other parts we had always imagined trying things out. That's half the fun of it.

MRR: Do you go crazy with things that you could do or things that you should have done? Do you go nuts until everything is perfect? Are you able to let things go as directors?

Mariko Munro: Well we were lucky enough to get into Sundance Film Festival,  and we began the project in January 2012 and Sundance was in January 2013, so in some ways we were lucky enough that we weren't given the liberty to tweak it endlessly. We were on a really strict deadline. We found out about Sundance in November. I think at that point we were maybe 60% through with the edit and then we kicked it into high gear and we just we were like forced to make choices at that point.

And there was some music cues that we really wanted to include in the movie, some hip-hop tracks and R&B tracks, but we weren't sure if we could get the license rights for it and at that point we had this really great composer, Kieran Magzul, working with us. And we're like, "You know what? Let's just commit to using Kieran's music," and we had a couple of tracks from friends to have like hip-hop on the radio and things like that. So we just kind of committed to those things and just went for it which was great.

MRR: Let's talk a little bit about the cast here. Tyler Ross plays Jolie in the film. How did he end up portraying your version of Jolie, you feel like?

David Andalman: Oh, he was amazing. I think he did a phenomenal job.

Mariko Munro: Yeah. We were so lucky to find him.

David Andalman: Yeah. It was amazing. We had this wonderful casting director, Anne Davison, who did a far and wide search. I would just to making short films post on Craigslist, Go out to some friends kind of thing, and she went out to all of the agencies and we had all these YouTube videos. I think we were in New York and watching Tyler in LA on a private YouTube link. It was really funny too 'cause we were doing the movie no matter what. I mean we were two weeks out of production still searching for our Jolie. I mean we had some that we were like, "Okay," you know, "Maybe." But we were still worried you know.

And when we saw him it was like we both knew immediately. He brought so much to the role as far as the wheel spinning. You can see the wheels turning in his head like between the lines. So he gave this extra layer to everything and that's what it needed because obviously the character is such a jerk on the surface and you kind of really have to understand underneath this level of naiveté and where his real desires lie. He wants to fit in. It's not that he wants to be an asshole.

[chuckle]

MRR: I feel like Tyler is nothing like that real life.

Mariko Munro: Yeah, yeah.

David Andalman: Yeah. Exactly.

Mariko Munro: Yeah, I think he's actually like the sweetest kid.

[chuckle]

MRR: After talking to him, I was like, "You are nothing like your character."

[chuckle]

Mariko Munro:  But what he does bring from real life is that kind of innocence that Jolie has and that's why he worked so well on the role.

David Andalman: Yeah. That innocence was the key. I mean he had the part that wasn't him at all is of course the side of Jolie that's a total jerk, you know.

Mariko Munro: Yeah. The actual actions are not Tyler's, but I think some of the kind of the intentions are all so sincere. Jolie's intentions are always so sincere even if his actions are really terrible and I think that the sincerity is something that Tyler has. As a human being, I don't ever question what he does as not being kind of from the heart.

MRR: Well, as I was watching it, I was laughing because there's all these other actors and I'm thinking to myself, "How difficult would it be to work with a bunch teenagers on the set running around”.

[laughter]

Was it just a wild mess, or what?

Mariko Munro: It wasn't as messy as you would think, actually. It was almost, in some ways, like summer camp because most of the casting crew were from out of state. We did hire a number of people from the town and it was so wonderful to collaborate with them. But in some ways it was like summer camp, but people were on their best behavior. I think there wasn't a lot time to mess around because we did a 22-day shoot with six-day weeks and the hours were very long, and I think everybody was too exhausted to do anything naughty after-hours.

[laughter]

David Andalman: There was also this summer quality where we were like renting movies for them. I mean we were just kind of very excited to give them sort of our childhood experience.

 Mariko Munro: Yeah. Dave and I baked cookies like every weekend and we all watched movies.

David Andalman: They watched Smiley Face and other... Just classic comedies.

Mariko Munro: That we like.

David Andalman: It was fun.

Mariko Munro: Yeah.

MRR: Well how about you two, how did you two end up working together?

Mariko Munro: We started working together. I had seen Dave's short, “Tacoma Park”, and I knew that it had come out of his idea doing a feature. And I just quit working at an art gallery. I've worked there for 10 years almost and I was looking for a new project and I knew he had written this feature, and after reading lots of scripts, I approached him and I was like, "Would you be willing to collaborate on this?" And he was.

MRR: Well, it's a fun film and I had a lot of fun watching it and I hope audiences get to see it. It comes out September 6th on VOD and what select cities?

Mariko Munro: Yes, it is. It'll be in Los Angeles at the Downtown Independent from the 6th to the 12th. It'll be in New York on the 5th at Brooklyn Heights Cinemas. It'll be in New Orleans on the 20th, and in Columbus, Ohio at the Gateway Film Center on the 6th.

MRR: Well thank you guys so much for speaking with us. I know you're probably really busy right now, but we appreciate your time and good luck.

Mariko Munro: Thank you for talking to us.

David Andalman: Thank you.