He was 28 years old, had just won the Grand Jury Prize for his fourth feature film and was the toast of indie film circles. But as per usual, all Drake Doremus wanted to do was get back to work.
“I didn’t want to dwell on ‘Like Crazy,’ I didn’t want to spend the year enjoying it and going around the world,” Doremus told TheWrap of the afterglow of his victory at 2011’s Sundance. “I did a little bit of that, but I really wanted to go back to work and continue to explore and try something … This movie was kind of an experiment in a way … we just kept going, (that) was the idea. Just keep moving.”
Now 31, Doremus has just released “Breathe In,” his fifth feature film. It is a significant and enviable accomplishment; for the most part, people his age are dreaming about getting even one movie made, much less several major releases.
So, how’d he do it?
First, he got started early, releasing his first feature, “Moonpie,” when he was just 23 years old.
“Make something really small with no money, because that’s where you’re going to learn the most,” Doremus said, outlining his personal filmmaking ethos. “I made a bunch of small movies that weren’t necessarily great films, but I learned a lot.”
Now, the boost that Doremus gets from technology allows the filmmaker to employ a similar philosophy while making each feature. Because he uses digital cameras, there’s no limit to the amount he can film. So he keeps recording for seemingly endless takes, allowing his actors space to find the right lines and tone, which they improvise after putting in extensive pre-production work devising their characters’ biographies.
Basically, once he gets an idea, he runs to make a film, instead of waiting around for years to develop a notion.
“The first takes are very vast and long and there’s tangents of things that don’t really work,” the filmmaker explained. “The second take, we distill it more, then more in the third take, and by the end, it’s usually just the beats we need. It starts out real broad and we explore so many different things, and then it eventually boils down to what it needs to be.”
“I love working in that way,” Felicity Jones, who starred in “Like Crazy” and now “Breathe In,” added. “I love the challenge of having to find the words for the characters, writing on the spot is something I quite enjoy.”
After playing a college student in “Like Crazy,” this time Jones turns back the clock as a British exchange student spending a semester of high school in the Hudson Valley and staying in the home of a couple played by Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan. Pearce, as a musician whose aspirations were interrupted by his wife’s early pregnancy, is drawn to the piano-prodigy Jones, who does little to discourage his advances.
“I think it’s just really, fully understanding the character and spending an enormous amount of time in the rehearsal process, creating backstory and creating a fully fledged character,” Doremus said. “In the rehearsal process, we’ll just spend a lot of time doing exercises for the characters to build the characters, and very little time on the scenes that we’re actually going to shoot in the movie. So by the time we get to those scenes, they have a full understanding of how the character would feel something or say something, based on all the work prior.”
It does, however, lead to some surprises.
“Because it’s shot on digital, you can roll for a long, long time and it’s not too expensive,” Jones explained. “So in many ways it’s like making a documentary in that there will be bits that he can use from different takes, and you’ll know when something hits, and you just hope that when you come to the edit, that they use it.”
Seriously, she’s not sure what is going to end up in the movie: “It is always a surprise because you shoot so much footage and don’t know what’s going to make it into the final edit,” Jones added, laughing.
In this case, at least, there was a more solid idea of the film’s story by the second time they went to production; after seven months of editing, Doremus and the gang actually scripted out six scenes that, as the director said, “really helped tie it together.”
Now, Doremus is moving on to his sixth film, a more scripted movie called “Equals,” which will star Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult. Still, he assures TheWrap, “there will definitely be some improv in there.”