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Michael Goro Takeuchi


Mike Goro Takeuchi is a professional journalist who has written on film and sports  for numerous outlets sincr 2000. An award-winning creative non-fiction writer, Tak also pens a weekly sports column for a newspaper based in Southern California.

 

He was the production manager for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival from 2006-2015. 

Twitter-@irontak


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The Filmmakers of THE WAY, WAY BACK Discuss Their Longtime Labor of Love


 

                                                            

THE WAY, WAY BACK a coming-of-age comedy/drama written and directed by Academy Award winning screenwriters (2011's THE DESCENDANTS) Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, was released theatrically on 19 screens in select cities this weekend.  The Fox Searchlight Pictures released film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, is the directorial debut for Rash and Faxon in a project that reunites LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE stars Steve Carell and Toni Collette and co-stars Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney, and 16-year-old newcomer Liam James.

 

One begat the other, which in turn realized the first.  In a causal chain of events, filmmakers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash brought their dream project from limbo into a long-awaited theatrical release thanks to the success of another project.  And now THE WAY, WAY BACK has enjoyed a relatively successful first weekend by grossing the highest amount per screen ($30,263 according to boxoffice.com) of any movie over the post Fourth of July weekend.

"We are really enjoying this time,” Rash told filmfestivals.com in a phone interview shortly before its July 5 release. "It's hard not to be nervous because even though we were well-received at film festivals, these people are actually paying to see just our film.  But whatever happens, we can appreciate what we have accomplished and enjoy the good fortune that we've had thus far."

Rash was alluding to a journey for a production that over the last few years seemingly had more stops and starts than traffic on the 405 Freeway during rush hour while riding in the third row or very back of an old station wagon-hence the film’s title.

 

The pair met in 1999 at the turned out to be appropriately named Los Angeles' Groundlings Theater-a known comedy troupe that developed the likes of Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. Along with sketches for the group, they wrote a screenplay for "Adopted" a television pilot starring Christine Baranski and Bernadette Peters.

  In 2007, they penned a comedy set in a water park on the East Coast based partially on Faxon's experiences on Massachusetts northeast coast and Rash's childhood in Michigan.   While it was not produced, the pair's first attempt at writing a feature film did gain notice via the Black List.

  The philosophical opposite of the Hollywood Blacklist of the 1940's and '50's, where actors, filmmakers and writers were systematically excluded and banned from their profession during the wave of anti-Communist hysteria, the screenplay Black List-which began in 2005- was a compilation list of the best unpublished screenplays of each year.  According to their Web site blcklst.com, over 200 films including Oscar best picture winners SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and THE KING'S SPEECH were plucked from this list to be made.

   It was from this list, director screenwriter Alexander Payne, who won an Oscar for penning 2005’s SIDEWAYS, read the screenplay for THE WAY, WAY BACK and was impressed enough to enlist Faxon and Rash to co-write a script with him based on Kaui Hart Hemmings acclaimed novel THE DESCENDANTS.

  It was a fortune altering move for Faxon and Rash.  Their script garnered the trio an Oscar for best adapted screenplay while the film was also nominated in four other categories including best picture, director for Payne and actor for George Clooney.

  "It really is ironic that our script gave us a calling card for THE DESCENDANTS," Faxon said. "But with the momentum of the success that movie, we were able to start the conversation about revisiting our movie."

 While acting, Rash (who can now be seen on NBC's COMMUNITY) and Faxon

 ( currently Fox's BEN AND KATE), the momentum for THE WAY, WAY BACK began in earnest as the two decided to direct the project on their own despite their lack of experience.

  "We spent so much time having moments where someone else might be making the film and resigning ourselves into thinking if this happens it happens, but we always felt that this was our baby," Rash said. "It would have been a great opportunity regardless, but it didn't happen that way so we decided to do it ourselves to complete the vision that we started eight years ago."

  Faxon and Rash brought on Kevin Walsh, who worked on THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS, MUNICH and THE HOURS, to produce with along with Tom Rice of the newly formed Sycamore Pictures.  They also brought on accomplished cinematographer John Bailey-who shot THE BIG CHILL, SILVERADO, IN THE LINE OF FIRE among his extensive film resume-` before turning toward casting.

  The filmmakers said casting nearly everyone from the scene-stealing Rockwell, who conjures up images of Bill Murray's character in1979's classic MEATBALLS to the young James, who plays the initially sad sack teen lead Duncan-was a fun challenge.  They also brought on Allison Janney in a key role while casting their good friend Rudolph as well.

  "It was important for us to populate the movie with not only this incredible talent but also good people," Faxon said. "Because that makes a big difference when you are shooting a small movie on a tight budget and tight timeframe.  You don't have the time to handle certain dramas or divas.”

  "Save for ourselves," the two said in unison while chuckling.

  They also acknowledged that their experience as actors came in handy when working with the cast, which included themselves in small roles.

 "I  think that we learned from the directors that we worked with how important it was to create a nurturing, safe environment for our actors and to give them a feeling of trust so that they would be willing to explore some things, especially in a short time frame," Rash said. 

  The final piece of the puzzle was who would play Collette's husband and Duncan's not-so-nice stepfather Trent. In a departure from his usually straight forward good guy roles, Carell, who was the one the directors wanted from the start, was enthusiastic about the role.

 "We knew we wanted to go against type with Trent and Steve came to mind in that capacity early on," Rash said. "As an actor Steve presented a likability that would help us make the audience realize the Trent wasn't just a demon and to understand why Toni's character was attracted to him at that time in her life and to realize this tragic male character that we had sort of designed.

  "Steve embraced the idea of shocking the audience with this side of him and it showed. His process was nice because he would often want to chat while shooting to go over who this guy is and what his intentions were.   He was very intellectual about it."

  Carell's positive presence was infectious.

 "Truthfully when Steve Carell came aboard, that catapulted us forward into thinking that we might actually pull this off," Faxon said.

 Still, there were a few moments of nervousness.. To combat this, they sought out informal advice from a myriad of sources.

  "We sat down with quite a few friends that have directed us and also a few friends that just directed their first feature," Faxon said.  "And we tried to glean as much advice as we possibly could.

   "But really nothing completely prepared us for what we walked into.  It was truly an experienced best learned by doing because you are just constantly faced with more questions than you've asked and then faced with some challenges and obstacles that you didn't foresee or are out of your control.”

 

  Among the challenges were a 24-day shooting schedule and rain that bookended the first and last day of filming-resulting in the two paying for an extra day out of their own pockets.

  "It was tough to be in a water park to shoot a lot of exterior scenes and having it rain," Faxon said. "But it was manageable thanks in large part to a warm Marshfield community that embraced us and the cooperation of the Water Wiz water park. I really applaud everyone, especially the cast and crew. These people were very collaborative and warm and caring people that made it much easier and fun for us."

  "And looking back, there came a time where we found a rhythm and saw what works and what was helping the film along.  While it was very challenging, reaching this point was incredibly rewarding and gratifying."

  The latter feeling reached its peak when THE WAY, WAY BACK debuted at Sundance on January 21.

  "Up to that point, 20 people had seen the movie and Eccles Theatre holds close to 1300, so we were really anxious, scared, and nervous on what the reaction was going to be," Faxon said. “We sat through slightly covering our eyes in the beginning. But when the laughs started coming, we saw that people were enjoying the film."

  The audience showed their appreciation by giving the filmmakers and cast a standing ovation as they took the stage for the Q and A.

  "Standing up on that stage looking out into the audience while getting the great reception was  where I sort of lost it a little bit,” Rash said. “I was thinking about all that went into it and then sharing that moment with my creative partner and being with the cast that hadn't seen the movie until then...  It was a different feeling than at the Oscars where I felt like I was floating above my own body.  At Eccles, I felt more connected because it was real and I could be in a moment."

  That moment was heightened even more when their longtime friend Rudolph shared some heartfelt words onstage with Rash and Faxon.

  “I’m so proud of you,” Rudolph reportedly said onstage.  “Oh my God, I’m really crying.”

“To have the cast with us saying such nice things, particularly Maya Rudolph, who has been a friend for so many years, was unforgettable," Rash said.

  Then there was this matter of a distribution deal.

  "We had barely left the theatre and things were already starting to heat up aggressively," Faxon said. "We were told that soon we were going to have to meet with our sales reps to really start hashing things out and that to keep our phones close so that they can keep us updated.  While we knew that it was important, all we wanted to do was celebrate the screening with the cast and our family and friends."

  "So there I was holding my phone in one hand and a cocktail in the other and they literally call us at 2:30 in the morning and said that they were sending us a car because we need to come in. And I was like whaaaat?   We had to drink coffee to try and get our shit together so we could talk with them for the next several hours about a deal."

  "I was better off than Nat was by design," Rash said. "I was a little more paced than he was. But that's not to say I wasn't exhausted from drinking, dancing and celebrating the completion of something we were very proud of. So we sat in that room and did our best to focus."

  At 5:30 a.m. the morning after their world premiere, THE WAY, WAY BACK received a $9.75 million distribution deal from Fox Searchlight Pictures. 

  “We were hoping it would be Fox because they were our first choice, but up to the point of signing, you just don’t know,” Rash said.

  Since then, it has been non-stop for the film as it played at the Newport Beach International Film Festival in April and closed the Los Angeles Film Festival in late June. Now, Faxon and Rash have taken to pumping up their film on the East Coast via a bus not unlike that of a political campaign. 

  "Just getting to this point when we are getting a theatrical release and then being able to talk about it with you, the media while sharing this movie with audiences has been an incredible journey," Rash said. "We have hopes that the whole country will enjoy the movie because there have been great reactions to it. But that said we know that it is always going to play differently in each screening because some rooms have different energy than the others.

“But when we look at the whole picture, it's such a great feeling to be able to see it all through. Whether Nat and I succeed or fail I'm satisfied knowing that we took a stab at taking this journey as both writers and directors and were able to see our creative vision from beginning to end."

  "There is something very emotional about it even right now," Faxon said.  "We felt all the joys and frustrations along the way.  When it was happening and not happening and then finally happening again was like being on a roller coaster.  But looking back we realize that everything happened for a reason and that all the effort and passion we put into it was worth it."

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