Interview with Director D.J. Caruso about "Standing Up"
Director D.J. Caruso is well known for doing blockbuster hits like “I Am Number Four” with Teresa Palmer, “Disturbia” with Shia LaBeouf, and many more. D.J.’s latest film though is the new family friendly film called “Standing Up” and D.J was nice enough to talk with Movie Room Reviews about his new movie that is on VOD August 20th.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Hi D.J. thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Movie Room Reviews.
D.J. Caruso: Oh, no, thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it.
MRR: Hey, I saw your new film today, "Standing Up", and it's a great film. I enjoyed it. I've seen some of your other work and it's a little bit different than your other work than I'm used to.
D.J.: Yeah, it is a little different. This is a little bit more in the family... Well, it is in the family genre. That and a little bit more but, yeah, I had it in my soul that I just wanted to make kind of a simple coming-of-age story that basically, the whole family can go to. Being a father of five, I find it frustrating that I felt like my kids were not getting exposed to some of the movies that I was exposed to, the type of movies I was exposed to in the '80s, that every kind of family, children's film usually has a spectacle or 3D glasses nowadays.
D.J.: I kind of felt like, alright, I want to be like Truffaut in “400 Blows”. I was always envious of those guys because they got to make some of these great little movies. David Seltzer made a movie called "Lucas" in the '80s that I just loved and I wanted to make a film like that and I got the opportunity to do it, so I did.
MRR: It kind of reminded me almost of movies that were made in the '70s a little bit, for some reason.
D.J.: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think you could probably feel that because I think probably to me, again, '70s cinema was a little bit more French Connectiony, the Frankenheimers were kinda working on the Freakings, and you were getting some kind of cool American movies where movie stars like Roy Scheider was the lead in the movie. That's kind of where my '70s film brain goes, but I can see maybe feeling like it might be one of those in the '70s or something like that, yeah.
MRR: When I was a kid, watching those films where there was a boy and a girl as the star, and a lot of those films like... I mean, it wasn't the same as films like "Escape from Witch Mountain" and stuff like that, but it kind of gave me the same kind of vibe a little bit.
D.J.: Yeah, I can definitely see that.
MRR: So the film was based on Brock Cole's novel, "The Goats". What's kind of the relation between the two?
D.J.: Between the film and the novel? Well, I think it’s a fairly faithful adaptation. I read the book in the '80s and it's just one of those books that kind of stuck with me because particularly for me, Howie was a character that I really, really related to and like I said, that's what kind of kept me revisiting this whenever I had the opportunity, I thought I could try to jump on it. But it's a pretty faithful adaptation. There are some things that I've changed. In order to make any movie work, I think, obviously, the filmmaker has to put himself or herself into it so much that there's a reason that he or she makes it. So, I found myself putting a lot of some of the things and feelings that I had in my childhood and particularly like the dance. I don't know, you remember the slow dancing scene?
MRR: Yes I do.
D.J.: I remember my first slow dance and that was something that wasn't in the book, but I just added some of me, sort of sprinkled in a little bit of my childhood around the beautiful story that Brock had written. I think if you read the book and you saw the film, you'd feel like it's fairly close but you can see where I've put a little bit of myself in the film.
MRR: Well, the film focuses on these two kids who are ostracized by their peers and they get left on this island. I think, of all the horrible things that are portrayed in movies these days that everybody gets desensitized to, that's the one topic that I will never get desensitized to, I don't think. How about you?
D.J.: Yeah. The fact that it's this traditional thing and they picked your kids, it's really interesting because when you break it down, like Howie really had no idea what has happening, but Grace at the time thought that maybe they were taking someone else out there so she felt like she was part of this crowd, this cool crowd, and ultimately what they did is they turned the tables on her. So, they're both out there for different reasons. One is sort of the pure victim and the other one out there thinking that someone else is the victim. And yeah, it's a pretty horrible, sort of traditional thing that they do to these kids. But obviously, in a bizarre way, that scene with the counselor, and Radha Mitchell, Grace's mom, it's kind of a frustrating parental thing where it's sort of accepted that these two have been labeled "the goats". That's why, I don't know if you noticed it or if you did notice it, we don't even really bring up the kids' names until they introduce themselves in the hotel.
MRR: I did.
D.J.: The reason for that was I thought because they're labeled "the goats" and everyone treated them that way, I wanted the audience to be the first to understand like you've spent this time with them and you know how special they are, so you're actually meeting them for who they are, not for the group they've been labeled.
MRR: Well, the two young stars are played by Chandler Canterbury and Annalise Basso. How was working with them?
D.J.: It was a lot of fun because it was, for me, I knew we had 18 days to do it. I knew we only had the kids for five hours a day because of their age, so I got to operate one of the cameras so I was always there, not at the monitors, so I can always talk to them and direct them even as the camera's rolling. But they were great. They're old-souled children which I really love. They kind of understood and understood the circumstances, understood some of the complexities in some of the scenes, but they still had this really quirky, odd, innocent quality. And for me it was important that the dialog being spoken was true to that of an 11 or 12-year-old.
We tend to write all-knowing children because we have the wisdom beyond their years. They're kind of odd and their communication is weird and they're just quirky and it doesn't have a normal film rhythm, it's sort of musical in their speak until they get a little bit later in the movie. So I thought they did a really nice job. And it was fun for me to kind of have young actors who don't really have any styles yet, they haven't developed style, so there's not a comfort level they fall into. So it was kind of fun to explore their styles and see how it evolved over the course of the film.
MRR: Speaking of kind of odd scenes, how about Val Kilmer's role? That reminds me of something that I would have seen in the '70s or '80s, that weird random character that just comes in and kind of confuses the hell out of you, you're like, "What just happened?"
D.J.: Yeah, that's why I really felt Val would be great for that 'cause I feel like he's one of these misunderstood people, misunderstood actors, and you know it was the scene where Hofstadter is one of those guys who he's actually trying to do the right thing, he's just doing it in a very bizarre, odd way because he's not your normal guy. And so I think what he was for me too was he was a representation of, "Alright, kids you think you can hang out here and run in the wild, and go all over the country-side and the lake but the world is scary out there and it is, there is things to fear and you can't just do this forever."
Perry is that reminder, and Val's character is that reminder of like, "Hey, you're lucky this wasn't the guy that you really thought he was," because he is creepy and scary and the kids feel like they're trapped. But it was kind of that reminder, "Okay, this thing has to end now. We can't just keep running, running like this across the country for days and days and days because the reality of it is the world can be a dangerous place, and these are innocent children." So it just kind of worked out both ways and Val came in for a day and a half and I hadn't directed him. We've seen each other a few times since "Salton Sea", and it was kind of fun to just go back and have a good time for 36 hours.
MRR: The scenery is beautiful. Where did you shoot the film?
D.J.: We were based in Clayton, Georgia and we were down in the Smokey Mountains, we were kind of along the Georgia/North Carolina border. There is a couple different campsites along there and lakes and stuff. But it's a really beautiful part of the country.
Believe it or not, Clayton, Georgia and that gorge where you see them is the exact place and the exact gorge where they shot "The Deliverance" so different types of films, but at the same time, we were going into the local cleaners or supermarket and they'd all talk about, "Wow, we haven't had a film crew here since Deliverance." And we were like, "Wow!" If you look at some of the locations you can probably figure it out but when the kids jump down into the water off of the rock and all that stuff, all of those places are where The Deliverance was shot. It's been so many years that I don't think people recognize it.
MRR: As a director, how do you deal with having a movie that's completely reliant on nature, and is it something that's harder to deal with, with all the natural light and all of the variables that could happen?
D.J.: Yes. Definitely something to do, but what I did was because I knew we were so limited I did a lot of homework and knowing when obviously for me as a filmmaker and for most filmmakers you don't wanna shoot between 11:30 and 2:00 because you got that top light coming down on you, and we all hate top light. So basically, it was finding places within those parameters that you know you want to shoot this scene between this time and this time and so you try to stay true to that. You knock some other stuff off and carrying tree branches and all the sort of greenery with us so we can dapple light and block things.
But what happens is you embrace it in such a way 'cause you know you only have the kids for a certain amount of time, you know you're out in the country side, sometimes it's raining and you can't do much about it, so you just kind of embrace it and you go with it. But again, there's something kind of pure and fun about it. Because for me "Salton Sea" was basically an independent movie but I haven't really done this in a long time so it was kind of liberating in a way to have to fight all these elements and be creative on the fly.
MRR: Well, it's a fun film and I appreciate your time. It came out in theaters on August 16th and it's available August 20th on Blu-ray at Walmart, right, and then VOD on the 20th?
D.J.: Yes, VOD and DVD in Walmart on the 20th and in theaters in Los Angeles on the 16th. So I hope we can get some eyes on it and hopefully people will enjoy it. And I really appreciate you taking the time out for me.
MRR: Anytime. Hopefully I can talk to you about your future movies too.
D.J.: Alright, no problem.