The writer-director talks with TheWrap about “Groundhog Day” and the challenges of filming the same scene over and over again
Losing your virginity can be traumatic enough the first time, but imagine having to suffer that humiliation over and over again?
That’s the premise of “Premature,” a teen sex comedy that marks the directorial debut of Dan Beers.
Like this summer’s Tom Cruise vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow,” the film employs a “Groundhog Day”-esque structure to tell the tale of a high school senior who, on the day of his college interview for top-choice Georgetown, is forced to relive his failed attempt at losing his virginity repeatedly until he gets it right.
Beers, who previously served as an associate producer on Wes Anderson‘s “The Life Aquatic,” spoke to TheWrap about the casting process, the challenge of shooting a movie set entirely in a single day, and the classic teen comedies of the ’80s that served as his inspiration.
Hello, Dan. You’re calling me a minute early. One might say you’re… “premature.”
(Laughing) It’s not the first time that’s happened!
This is no laughing matter, it’s supposed to be a serious interview. So this is your directorial debut, but you didn’t write it alone, correct?
Nope. Mathew Harawitz is my writing partner and we’ve written a couple of things together. This is actually our fourth thing. We do very well together as a team. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and I felt blessed to have him. Well, maybe not blessed… but fortunate.
So tell me where the idea for this movie, uh, came from.
I’m a big fan of ’80s teen movies. I was raised on those. There was one summer when I was 15 and I watched “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” on VHS every night. That’s the type of movie that inspired me, and John Hughes movies too, because I love the heart and the comedy there. “Some Kind of Wonderful” was another influence; we did a big look-book and that was in it. I felt very close to those movies, so this felt natural. One of our other favorite movies is “Groundhog Day,” which we owe a huge debt to.
We were thinking about how we failed the first time we had sex, and when the concept came about out of nowhere, I just thought it was so fun. We thought we could make it for a cost by going back to the same day over and over, and it was like nothing we’ve seen before in this way. There are no movies where you see the young lead have eight orgasms over the course of the movie. It’d be a great drinking game though — shots for every orgasm! White Russians, of course.
Talk to me about the casting, because that’s what all classic teen movies come down to, and I thought the actors in “Premature” had really strong chemistry together.
Trying to cast a teen movie is hard. I wanted to cast people you hadn’t seen as much, who were fresh and felt real. There are a lot of great teen actors but most seem very polished and some are so buff, it’s like… I just wanted someone who felt real, like a kid that I’d hang out with in high school. We read a ton of people, but no one seemed right. John [Karna] was in college at the time and he put himself on tape. The camera must have been an inch away from his face, but I was charmed by him right away.
I saw him before in “Bindlestiffs,” which was actually pretty good.
Yes, but this is his first real film and he was such a quick learner. He adapted so fast. He’s very quick-witted and good at improv, so by the fifth take, he was willing to try something new and come up with some things on his own.
What about Craig [Roberts] and Katie [Findlay] and Alan [Tudyk], all of whom brought something unique to this movie?
I’ve been aware of Craig since “Submarine.” We wrote the best friend character as very loud and aggressive but we wanted to cast someone who didn’t have that kind of energy. I love Craig’s eyes and face and his energy — he’s so different than the character on the page, but he was fantastic. The only trick for him was, he’s Welsh, so we had to change his accent and it was the first time he’d done that. He was worried about it, but worked on it a lot. He bonded with John very quickly.
Katie’s character is, on the page, a cute dork, for lack of a better word, and she’s a fangirl in real life. She’s a comic book fiend who loves “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” and when she found out Alan Tudyk from “Firefly” was in this movie, she was like, “Oh, my God!” You have to be able to fall in love with her character, and she reminded me of Ione Skye a bit.
Alan was shooting “42” [in which he plays a racist baseball player] so he was excited to play something a little bit lighter. He loves to know all the details of the character, so we just had a ton of fun with it. He had everyone in stitches during the Georgetown interview. We did it so many times, I was amazed at how easily he was able to cry.
And a personal thank you for casting Cara Mantella as John’s busty teacher.
Isn’t she beautiful? I think John was embarrassed in that scene [where his character grabs her chest].
As the captain of the volleyball team in high school, I also appreciated how you reinterpreted the stereotypical teenage “jock” in this movie.
Thank you! I mean, if you’re a volleyball player, you’re not allowed to pick on people. You’re tall and handsome but you don’t play football. Certain people just don’t have the right to be bullies, like golfers, fencers and tennis players.
What are the logistical challenges of making a movie like this, where one day just repeats itself and the characters are wearing the same clothes, etc.?
We thought this would be a great movie to make for a cost because you’re just going back to the same day over and over, but the logistics involved were [crazy]. The scene in the hallway plays out five or six times, and each time it’s different. We actually created a chart for John so he’d know where his character’s head was every day. For all the days, we’d shoot everything one way and then turn around, and it’s hard for an actor to chart everything that quickly. On top of the challenges of the actors’ psyche, there are other little details, but I had an easier time because I had a great A.D. who was in charge of keeping all that going.
How instrumental was FilmNation in getting this movie made?
I’d met the FilmNation people before because I almost made another movie they were involved with. They said, “If you have any ideas we can make for a cost, please come in and pitch it.” Movies tend to not want to get made but the process on this one was as quick as I could’ve hoped for. We had a one-liner in the spring of 2011 and we were in production by the summer of 2012, which is amazing. That never happens, so I owe everything to those guys.
And then you took it to a festival and landed distribution, right? When is it coming out?
Yes, we premiered at SXSW this past March. I was just praying that they’d like it and they did. IFC Midnight picked it up at the festival. The film opens in select theaters July 2 and will be expanding throughout July. It hits VOD and iTunes on July 1.
So what’s next for you? Seeing that Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow?”
Matt and I are writing another comedy script and there’s a TV show idea I’m finishing up. I haven’t seen “Edge of Tomorrow” yet, but I’m excited to see it.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t given you a chance to talk about?
I always love movies that have a lot of heart in them and that was the goal here, to take two teenagers and hope we earn the fact that Katie and John’s characters are in love. By the end, you’re really there with those two.
The movie debuts July 2 in theaters and on video on demand July 1. Watch the “Premature” trailer below.