Amongst this week’s Marvel and DC offerings, we also have the release of the quirky Nick Offerman-starring Hearts Beat Loud and, back at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, I got to sit down with its director Brett Haley to chat a little bit about the film.
Best known for I’ll See You In My Dreams, The Hero and the recently announced All the Bright Places, Haley’s latest is an endearing and heartfelt story of family, love and music and ranks amongst one the best films of the year; I got to chat with the indie director about his writing techniques, finding the story for Hearts Beat Loud and working with the awesome Nick Offerman.
I just wanted to start off by asking how the story sort of came about and what it was that made you and Marc [Basch] put pen to paper?
You know, it’s always an interesting question. I think what people are searching for is, like, “oh I tried to start a band with my dad” or “my dad tried starting a band with me when I was a kid” and that’s how this movie came about. But there is no such easy answer. It’s one of those things where I’m not really sure where it came from, other than – you know, you think, as a filmmaker and a storyteller, the kind of world you want to inhabit for a while and the subgenre and something about music and something that connects with me in personal ways beyond the plot itself and the idea, at some point, came to me, I’m not really sure how and when; then I just started throwing things at the wall with Marc then we suddenly thought, you know, maybe this is worth our time and energy and it just organically developed in that way.
And, of course, you’ve worked with Marc before; you guys have written a couple of films before. I’d imagine that you both have your own ideas about how you want to approach an idea so what’s that process like in the writer’s room and how do you get to a place where you’re both happy with something and develop it into that one screenplay?
Yeah, I mean it’s certainly an interesting dynamic; it’s a very personal thing yet we do it together. I’d say our taste levels our similar, we like the same sort of things and that goes a long way. We rarely actually write in the same room, even though we both live in Brooklyn. We write over email or we talk on phone or meet up for a couple of drinks to talk about everything then go back to the drawing; it’s sort of like I’ll write then he writes then I’ll write and we pass the pages back and forth and, for whatever reason, we’ve just found a rhythm that works for us. Like any intimate relationship, and that’s what a writing partnership is like, it’s very intimate and you see the best and worst of somebody I think. You make it work and so far we’ve been able to make it work and have a lot of fun doing it. We get a lot of joy from working with each other.
When I was watching it, it’s a very upbeat, feel-good film that brought to mind, for me anyway, the likes of Sing Street and Begin Again or Chef. I was just wondering, as a director, what kind of films you looked to for inspiration?
Well, it’s hard to make a movie about a band and not be compared to John Carney’s films because they’re so great and I think he brought them back recently in a way that was refreshing and honest and wonderful so I don’t mind being compared to Mr. Carney’s films, I think he’s brilliant. Certainly, I would say the movies closest to my heart for this film were High Fidelity and That Thing You Do, Inside Llewelyn Davis and a great Japanese film called Linda Linda. Those would be the biggest ones. And, of course, Carney’s films were on my mind in terms of what had been done well and how before. Because if you’re going to step into this genre, it’s sort of like making a gangster movie and not seeing what The Godfather or Goodfellas did, you’ve got to make sure you’re not treading the exact same ground as those films because you’re telling your own little slice of the band-creative-music subgenre if you will.
Yeah, totally. Another thing I picked up on was just how warm and witty a film this was but the situations that Frank, Nick Offerman’s character, is going through are quite intense for a father. He’s giving up his shop and, essentially, letting go of his daughter so what was it like trying to find that balance and not making it too silly but not too melodramatic either?
Tone is a difficult thing to balance. You have to know what movie you’re making and we weren’t making a straight comedy nor were we wanting to make a terribly heart-wrenching drama. We were telling a film that, I think, feels like a transitional period in someone’s life or a couple of character’s lives. That’s really what this film focuses on. The difficulties of that transition, of any transition in life. So, for us, the tone, it was important to keep it real and, in real life, days can be good and they can be bad. You can laugh, you can cry. There’s humour, tragedy, loss, grieving, there are moments of joy and creation and all of those things. So I think we try our best at every turn to make films that feel authentic and real.
And the cast for this is absolutely fantastic. You’ve got Nick Offerman, Toni Collette and Kiersey Clemons. I was wondering, it must have been quite a dream cast to get together and work with these talents. In particular, Kiersey has a great voice for the music. What was it like working with everyone and what was the on-set camaraderie with this cast like?
It was a joy! These are all, as you say, incredibly gifted and talented people and I feel so lucky to have had them agree to do my little movie. I’m super proud of all the work they put into the film and it was really fun. It really was a wonderful gift. I have zero drama to report on. We all had a really fun time collaborating and I feel really lucky to have had a cast like that.
And it must have been great to reunite with Nick Offerman too, who you worked with briefly on The Hero, especially because it’s a very different performance than we’re used to seeing from him as well.
Marc and I wrote the part with Nick in mind and we did that because we feel Nick can do anything. We really admire him, not only as an actor, but as a person; selfishly, as a fan of his, I wanted to see him in a role like this so that’s why we wrote it for him and we’re happy he responded to the role and the movie and did such a wonderful job with it. He really is the type of actor that can do anything.
He was great. And at singing too! And I loved the music in this film; the song have a very natural indie feel to them but they’re also just really catchy. I know Keegan [DeVitt] worked on the score but how involved were you in coming up the songs and the music with him?
I mean, I can only be as involved as much as my talents will allow me. I’m not a musician so I know nothing about song writing but I definitely, probably frustratingly so, would try to explain what I was wanting from the songs to Keegan but I give him and his writing partner Jeremy all the credit for how wonderful all the songs are and how catchy they are but also they help tell the story and, lyrically, musically, it’s all those guys. Mostly Keegan, being the brilliant musician he is.
He did a great job!
So the film is getting a UK release here in the late Summer; we’ve had a very oversaturated Summer with blockbusters, you know your Marvel films and Jurassic World. Is it important for you as a director to have these small films open at these sort of times, against all these big blockbusters, these very different, feel-good indie dramas?
I think it’s always important to have a bit of variety at the cinema. I mean, if every movie is big and about dinosaurs or robots or superheroes, if that’s the only thing at the cinema, I think that can get a little frustrating. I love those movies as much as anybody but it’s hard, you can’t just go off and say “oh I’m going to make the next Avengers on my own here” but what you can do is say “I’m going to make a film about real people” that audiences will hopefully find entertaining and sweet and charming and exciting in many films. You just have to kind of do what you think is within you. I don’t know what people want to or don’t want to see but I think it’s important to have that counter-programming where it’s like “hey, yesterday we saw the dinosaurs eat everybody so let’s go watch a movie about real people now and see a film about the real world we actually live in and see if there’s something there we can connect to”. I certainly like to see both. I like dinosaurs eating people as much as the next person but I also love films about real people.
Yeah, definitely. And, finally, I just wanted to ask you, what your go-to feel-good movie is?
Oh, that’s a good question. Hmmm, let’s see. A movie that always – let’s see, let’s see. You know what movie I can kind of watch over and over again and it does make me really good is Everybody Wants Some.
Oh, yeah! Richard Linklater is great for those films.
He is, and I love that film just because it’s just, everyone is- I love his films and that movie, for whatever reason, that one just brings me a lot of joy. It’s not really about anything other than that kind of excitement of being somewhere new and around new people and it’s so specific with its characterisations and I just love it. I think it’s wonderful.
It’s a great film, and so is Hearts Beat Loud and I can’t wait for everyone to see it!
Thank you so much for your support, I appreciate that and thank you for helping spread the word!
Hearts Beat Loud is now playing in UK cinemas.