“This is my worst nightmare,” Madelyn Deutch could be overheard saying en route to an interview, while conducting another from her car. It’s the afternoon just before the world premiere of her first lead in a film, in addition to being its author, and the calm voice of the GPS was doing nothing to sooth Deutch’s nerves as she was caught in between profusely apologizing for the interruption and scrambling to figure out where she was headed.
“Crisis averted! Another crisis averted!” shouted her mother Lea Thompson triumphantly from the next seat over, as if the two were still on the set of “The Year of Spectacular Men,” laying eyes on the next stop for a publicity blitz that has been at full speed all day. The two laugh heartily about it after, demonstrating the kind of teamwork, good humor, and grace under pressure that no doubt made their on-screen collaboration such a delight. However, just as the minor road hazard revealed this quality of character, “The Year of Spectacular Men” is the happy result born out of a period of chaos for Deutch, who endured a particularly treacherous bout of post-collegiate soul-searching, leading her to recognize the absurdity of her own struggles as inspiration for a comedy about a young woman who pins her hopes on finding the right partner with some direction to help her find her own.
Although it shouldn’t be spoiled if this actually happens onscreen as Deutch’s Izzy shuffles between various suitors (including Jesse Bradford, Cameron Monaghan, Brandon T. Jackson and Nicholas Braun) as she crashes on different couches from coast to coast with stops in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, the talented multihypenate couldn’t have found a better partner to direct the film than Thompson, who is making her feature directorial debut after being around the best as an actress and honing her helming skills on TV shows. Between Deutch’s fizzy energy and Thompson’s steady hand, “The Year of Spectacular Men” is refreshing in its candor and burns brightly, particularly when it turns into a full-on family affair including Deutch’s sister Zoey (“Before I Fall”) taking on the same role as Izzy’s spark-plug sis Sabrina.
After graciously making the time in the midst of a very busy day, Deutch and Thompson spoke about how professional and personal experience informed their first feature in different roles than they’ve taken before, rising to the challenge of filming in four different cities with the same crew, and seeing each other in a new light.
Was this always intended to be such a family affair?
Madelyn Deutch: It was. We planned it from the beginning that way. We were like, “Let’s come up with the craziest pipe dream ever and make it happen” and we did.
Lea Thompson: [laughs] “I’ll make the costumes! You write the script!” Maddie had this terrifically bad year and you know, what artists like to do is create lemonade out of lemons. So I said, “You’re a great writer,” and I inspired her to write the script, but really I was so impressed — I didn’t expect it to be so original and fun — so I felt super grateful that she let me direct it.
One of the things I love about the film is how it seems like there’s no preciousness about anything, either in the characters’ attitudes towards each other or how you shoot them. Was that possibly because as a family there was already a comfort level?
Lea Thompson: Maddie has a really specific voice a particular sense of humor and I just tried to honor that. I had really strong ideas about how I wanted it to look and luckily I had this great DP [Bryan Koss] that could do that. I wanted it to be lush and beautiful and each of the cities to have its own character. I also wanted all of the locations to be very specific, so that part was really fun, but all in the backdrop of Maddie’s sense of humor, which isn’t particularly precious.
Since Maddie’s a musician as well, did you know how you’d be scoring the film early on and if so, did it help as a guide?
Lea Thompson: It did help, and it was really exciting because [Maddie] got to write the last two songs [in the film] to continue writing – to continue to say more — after the movie was done.
Madelyn Deutch: Yeah, my mom’s favorite movie is “Harold and Maude” and Cat Stevens did all the music, so as a bit of an homage, I tried to be hyper-involved in every single piece of music in the film. I composed the score with my friend Denver Dalley, who’s an amazing rock musician, and I’m a jazz musician, so we come from really different worlds and that marriage was super gratifying. And almost every single song in the movie was done by either a friend of mine or a band that I know that’s about to blow up, so I really am proud of the music we have. It’s unique and I also feel it’s tonally right.
It also looks like you had quite a bit of fun with the production design.
Lea Thompson: It was a big deal.
Madelyn Deutch: Yeah, my mom was really heavily involved in [how] she wanted it to look. One of the things that’s brilliant about my mom is that she’s been in this business for so long that she knows when something is over-art-directed, so she tried to keep it feeling like real people’s living spaces. One thing we talked about a lot was our version of Hollywood and Zoey [Deutch], my sister, plays a movie star in the movie and we weren’t going to put her in a mansion. That’s not necessarily real life. So [her character] lives in a crappy old apartment in Beachwood Canyon. As far as art direction is concerned, we wanted it to be pretty and for the world to feel lush, but not unrealistic.
Lea Thompson: And we had so many locations! Oh my God, it’s so hard. The poor art directors! We would arrive [at a location] and we wouldn’t have time to load in — we wouldn’t have the money — so it was always a big, horrible scramble in the morning and they were champions. Luckily, I just kept fighting for the best locations because I really wanted each one of the boys’ apartments or living spaces to be really specific to them and be very different. But doing it on a very low budget, there’s a drinking game that could be played by my family [where] you’d take a drink each time you recognize a couch from my house. [laughs]
Madelyn Deutch: That’s good. That’s true.
Lea Thompson: We have a lot of couches, but they’re pretty beat up and now they’re even more beat up! I remember we showed up at the location for Cameron [Monaghan]’s place and there was a couch when we looked at it and then…
Madelyn Deutch: There was a moving van [when we came back] and we’re like, “Oh, we’re going to shoot in 30 minutes!” And they’re driving back!
Lea Thompson: And our production coordinators drove to the Valley, got my couch out of my house — broke into my house! — stole the couch and brought it back. [laughs] So…that’s what happened there.
It’s incredible that you shoot in four different cities as well, particularly on a lower-end budget. Was that baked into the script from the start?
Lea Thompson: Yeah, [Maddie] wrote all those locations. Especially the winter one [in Lake Tahoe], I never thought we’d be able to do, but we have this intrepid producer Damiano Tucci and Parkside Pictures and they were like “We can make it happen!” All the other producers were like, “No, I don’t think we can go to San Francisco and New York.” Most people were like, “We’ve got to shoot this in Vancouver.” But we wanted this to be a specific L.A. story and they were like, “We can figure out how to make this in L.A.,” and I am still amazed that we were able to get all those locations. I mean we even got Powell Street in San Francisco. I don’t know how we did that, and it was the same cast and crew [for all of it].
Was there a particularly crazy day of filming on this?
Maddie Deutch: The snowstorm scene in Tahoe, we got this amazing location and we were going to take all our gear up the lift and [capture] the view of Lake Tahoe [from the summit]. But we had to move the schedule one day and in that one day, Tahoe got hit with the worst blizzard in 20 years, so we were literally stuck in a massive blizzard 8,000 feet above sea level with C-stands and icicles in our first [assistant director]’s ears. It was bananas.
Did the experience of working together on something professionally like this make you notice or appreciate something about one another that you may not have before?
Madelyn Deutch: The thing that I discovered about my mom — and I respected and admired her before, but then having worked with her — [was] seeing how she has this unique empathy for the condition of being an actor and [how] she garnered this unique respect from the crew and that she has this unique perspective on the human condition. These are things that make me respect her even more, which is not BS. That’s really true.
Lea Thompson: [laughs] Yeah, it is really interesting getting to know your children as adults, but also as fellow professionals, and to watch a person go from zero [Madelyn laughs] to grow into this really impressive artist and person. You don’t really know someone in a lot of ways until you’ve been in the trenches, even today, [just] trying to make it [around town to do press]. Just being in the trenches with people reveals character and the thing I can say about Maddie is she’s got amazing character. She’s thoughtful, professional, interesting and kind and strong, so I’ve learned a lot from both my daughters professionally because they’ve got a strength that I didn’t have when I was young, just trying to get to now, so they’re helping me with that.