In retrospect, it’s fitting that Molly Green and James Leffler’s creative partnership began one night at El Coyote in Los Angeles roughly five years ago, not long after they had witnessed another union at the Mexican restaurant take place.
“That was for a completely different script, we didn’t talk about this idea until years later,” Leffler says of their first film “Forev,” which debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week. “But that night someone proposed to someone else.”
“No, it was different night,” Green quickly interjects. “But you’re right, we did see someone propose to someone at El Coyote drunk and she said yes.”
Although the writing/directing duo have their doubts about whether that couple lasted, the prospects for Green and Leffler are far brighter to go by their first film, a flirty, fluttering comedy in which a pair of neighbors, Sophie and Pete (Noël Wells and Matt Mider), hit the road and decide spontaneously en route to pick up Pete’s sister (Amanda Bauer) from college in Phoenix to get married. However, their sudden engagement is not a result of realizing that their true love has been living right next door to them all along in the dilapidated apartment complex they share in L.A., but rather that such an arrangement might bring order to their unruly lives, which Green and Leffler take great pleasure in mining for laughs.
Between the mortifying auditions Sophie endures in her quest to become a working actress and Pete’s stifling hesitation when it comes to anything serious, “Forev” speaks to that time when securing a plan – any plan – seems like one step forward, even if it’s two steps back. As a result, there are many pratfalls in Green and Leffler’s debut, but none committed in the making of it by the writing/directing duo who braved the desert heat in Joshua Tree over the course of a seven-weekend shoot whenever their day jobs would allow. Fortunately, the pair, who first met while attending the University of Texas at Austin, hardly broke a sweat and shared shortly after “Forev”‘s successful premiere at LAFF how the process of making their film mirrored the story they were telling and how they first became a team.
How did the seeds of this come about?
JL: We met in school and when we finished, we came out here we’ve been writing and making music videos together. Making a feature really crystallized when Matt, who we knew from college, moved back to L.A. and then introduced us to Noël. It was kind of finally like “Wait a minute, we have two leads for a movie.”
MG: That was the beginning of making movies. Psychologically, it begins when you start getting the first wave of wedding invitations from people you went to college with. Going to school in Texas, a lot of people do get married younger than they do in LA, so you start to see your friends getting married and you think, “Wait a second, I thought you need to be an adult to get married,” then you realized “Oh wait, what is an adult?”
JL: Especially in LA, where everyone’s job is not what they want to do eventually. Everyone seems to be an assistant or working in retail or at a burger place. There’s no benchmarks that make you seem like an adult.
MG: Coming to terms with that is one of the things that started the idea.
JL: And as we started, the process of us making the movie was parallel to the process of [the characters in the script] deciding to get married. We were like, “We can’t tell anyone that we’re making a movie because once we do that, it’s actually like we have to do it because otherwise we’ll look like jerks.” Once we did it, we were like “All right.”
Did that course through the production? Because as the film reflects, the pressure to be indecisive is so bad that you’d rather commit to something you haven’t thought through and yet directing is all about making choices.
MG: One hundred percent. I think we said to each other when we were deciding [to make the film], “If we don’t do this now, we’re just going to know better and as we get older, [we’ll think] this is probably a dumb thing to do.”
JL: We have to do it now while we’re stupid enough to try.
MG: That’s reflected in the script — people deciding to do something which may or may not be a good idea and then see what happens.
At least during the making of “Forev,” you had a little bit of time to reflect since I read you shot this over the course of several weekends. Did having that space to think about what you did from week to week help the film?
JL: Sure. Since everybody had a day job, that’s where that came from, but it was actually really nice to have those weeks in between to fret and get our logistics organized and just rehearse and think about the scenes that way. On the weekend, we would all meet up at Molly’s place at 5 a.m., make sure the actors put on enough SPF. It was weird because we’d have a bunch of mini “Home Alone” moments when you’re [wondering], “What are we forgetting?”
MG: We didn’t have an assistant director, so we needed those weeks in the middle to [figure out] all of the different things that we needed to piece together. Friday nights we would get everything, load it in the car and we’d have the moments when it’s like “Are we okay, can we do this this weekend? Will all these work out?” But it went pretty smoothly.
JL: We did have one nine-day stretch where it was like “go, go, go, go go.”
MG: Nine days with no breaks starts to drive people crazy when you’re in the middle of nowhere, too.
Because you’re a duo and this film is about a duo, did you take on the perspectives of the two main characters when hashing out the script?
MG: We did. We read everything out loud to each other when we write. I always read the girl part and James always reads the guy part. That helps us into the characters and gives us an inside perspective.
JL: We did a lot of improv with the actors. From an outline, we took that back from the little thing and wrote it together but when we write, we’re like, we kind of ask the people around and there would be some scenes that I would write something and then Molly would like “Girls don’t talk this way” and then vice versa. Like Molly would write something, and I’d be like “I’m just going to phrase it the way it actually is.” [laughs]
MG: And you’ll see there’s a couple of scenes where the two girls are alone together talking and there’s stuff where Julian’s in the bathroom being like a bro, so it’s good to have a guy and a girl to have a different side of it.
Now you have the final product in front of you, is this what you thought it would be from when you first started out?
MG: Surprisingly, it’s really close to what we pictured. It’s pretty much everything you see on the page, things that our actors improvised ahead of time. The shots, thanks to our wonderful cinematographer Rob [Edgecomb], turned out pretty much exactly as we have wanted them.
JL: The one thing I hadn’t really thought about in my mind was the music and that turned out better than I thought.
MG: That turned out great. Yeah, we found a great composer named Mychal Cohen. It was his first feature score and he knocked it out of the park.
You’ve got some really great songs in there as well, such as Jenny Owen Youngs’ cover of “Ring of Fire.” Did your work in music videos help make that possible?
MG: She’s a close friend of ours and she had this unreleased track that we have heard her covering “Ring of Fire.” We just dropped it in the temp score and we were like, “We can’t change this. It’s so perfect for that moment.” Our music supervisor was like, “You guys know there’s no way you’ll get ‘Ring of Fire.’” We said, “But will you try?” and she did it, she pulled it off, which was amazing, so thank God we got to keep it and we got to feature music from one of our good friends.
JL: Another good friend of ours is David Thomas Jones. He’s an Austin guy. He has this band Watch Out for Rockets and we met through Noel and Watch Out for Rockets does all the songs you hear in the car when we’re driving, like that’s Pete’s favorite band that he listens to.
How did you two actually meet?
MG: At the Dobie [Theater in Austin], for my professor Andrew Shea’s movie “Forfeit.” We were in line for that and a friend who both of us had classes with introduced us. I started telling James about these two projects that I was working on and that we were having a little trouble with the title [of one of them], but here’s what I think it should be and James told me that was wrong.
JL: I gave you a much better suggestion. [laughs] I was very constructive with that. I said, “I like where you’re going, but this is how it could be better.”
MG: He was right. The title that he suggested is now the title of a Taylor Swift album. Clearly, a better title.
So was coming up with the title for “Forev” difficult? It might seem odd on the page, but once you see the film, it’s perfect.
MG: It’s a funny story. We had a bunch of dumb joke titles for a while…
JL: We got into the habit of texting jokes back and forth to us about the title and [with “Forev,”] it was like “wait, that’s actually kind of good.”
MG: One of us texted “Forev” to the other and [thought] “Let’s just call it that for a little while.” We both slowly fell in love with it. It’s short and punchy and thematically, it really works.