Q&A with Producer-Director Will Gluck

“Easy A” Producer–Director Will Gluck

“Easy A” Producer–Director Will Gluck

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with leading filmmakers Martin Grove talks to producer–director Will Gluck about the romantic comedy “Easy A,” starring Emma Stone, opening Sept. 17 via Screen Gems.

Directed by Will Gluck (“Fired Up”), “Easy A” was written by Bert V. Royal and produced by Zanne Devine and Will Gluck. Also starring are Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Malcolm McDowell, Aly Michalka and Stanley Tucci.

The Story (no spoilers): After a little white lie about losing her virginity gets out, a clean cut high school girl (Emma Stone) sees her life paralleling Hester Prynne’s in “The Scarlet Letter,“ which she is studying in school — until she decides to use the rumor mill to advance her social and financial standing.

Will Gluck is a filmmaker with a uniquely authentic voice who aims to create projects that reflect popular culture and captivate audiences.

Gluck is currently in production on his next feature, also for Sony/Screen Gems, “Friends with Benefits,” starring Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins. He’s also lined up to direct “Rehab” for 20th Century Fox and has written the comedy “Taildraggers” for Participant Media. Gluck made his feature directorial debut with the 2009 dark comedy “Fired Up.”

A native of New York, Gluck started in television as a staff writer for NBC’s “The John Laroquette Show.” He went on to serve as writer–producer on “Working,” “Grosse Pointe” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” He created and executive produced the 2003 Fox television series “Luis,” starring Luis Guzman, and co–created and executive produced “The Loop,” also on Fox, from 2005–2007.

Q: “Easy A” is unusual in that it’s a sex comedy, but without sex.
A: I call it “a sexless sex comedy.”
Q: Well, that’s a new genre! How did it come about?
A: It was a script written by Bert Royal that I took and kind of ran with. It’s a movie about a girl who is falsely accused of being promiscuous in a small town and elevates her social status. Instead of denying it, she takes it on as a badge of honor — coincidentally, because in high school she’s reading “The Scarlet Letter.” So like Hester Prynne did, she decides to put the “A” on her wardrobe and play around with it. But it doesn’t end as easily as she thinks. It’s a lot about how sexuality is viewed in America these days.
Q: How did things move forward?
A: I was editing my last movie (Gluck’s first feature “Fired Up” for Screen Gems) and the studio head, Clint Culpepper, walked into the editing room, handed me the script and said, “Hey, what do you think about this?” I read it and said, “It’s pretty good. I like it a lot.” And he goes, “Good. We bought it.”

I said, “Oh, that’s great. I want to direct it.” He goes, “No. I didn’t give it to you to direct. I gave it to you just to read.’ I said, “Well, that’s too bad. You gave it to me. I win!” So I asked him if I could take my stab at it and he reluctantly agreed. Then we cast Emma Stone. We were literally in production within four or five months. He gave me the script in October or November of 2008. I started pre–production in March (of ‘09) and we started shooting in the summer. We shot all that summer.
Q: A sexless sex comedy is kind of daring, isn’t it?
A: Well, to me sex — especially when you’re younger — if you quantify the entire act it’s about 80 percent talking about the sexual act, 15 percent talking about it after it happens and about 1 percent actually having sex. Especially when you’re young, the actual sexual act is never fun. It’s quick. It’s ugly. It’s awkward. So to me, the most important part of actual sex, when you’re young — and, frankly, when you get older, too — is to kind of build up to it and the aftermath of it. So I wanted to show those aspects of it and leave the actual act to your imagination.
PK–01_DF–06893 Emma Stone as “Olive Penderghast” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. © 2010 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

PK–01_DF–06893 Emma Stone as “Olive Penderghast” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. © 2010 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Q: How do you approach directing a screenplay you haven’t written yourself?
A: It’s new for me because I write all my own stuff. This is the first thing that I didn’t write. But I did do a lot of re–writing and kind of making it my own. Bert wrote an amazing script, created an amazing character and a great story. Just the whole tone is great. As we cast every actor and actress, I kind of crafted it toward them. And then on the day of shooting, I’d constantly rewrite on the set. So by the time we’re done and by the amount of stuff I’ve shot, it’s kind of in my tone.
Q: It sounds like you were busy on set. Do you storyboard or shotlist ahead?
A: Yes. Before I shoot, everything is shotlist and the harder scenes are storyboarded. And I have a great cinematographer (Michael Grady, whose credits include “Hotel For Dogs” and Gluck’s now in production comedy “Friends With Benefits”). So by the time we actually get to the shooting I can just concentrate on the acting and writing of it.
Q: Do you rehearse with your actors?
A: Yes. We rehearse beforehand. In fact, for the movie I’m doing right now, “Friends With Benefits,” we have five or six weeks of rehearsal. With “Easy A” because the actors came in for short periods of time, we didn’t rehearse that much. But Emma and I spent a lot of time beforehand rehearsing.
Q: A lot of directors I talk to say they love to rehearse, but many of them make great arguments about why they don't like rehearsing.
A: I like rehearsing for two reasons. One, so the actors can get comfortable with their characters. But also so we can all get comfortable with each other — so we have a shorthand before we get in front of the camera. By the time we actually start shooting we know each other very well. So it makes that process easier for me.
Q: Where did you shoot?
A: In Ojai. It was quick — six or seven weeks.
Q: What sort of budget did you have?
A: It was a micro–budget.
Q: Can you characterize micro?
A: Between $4 million and $100 million. (Laughs) I’ll be honest with you — closer to $4 million than $100 million.
Q: How did production go?
A: We took over the town, which is really nice. We shot in the real high school and the real main street and we shot in all the stores. It’s nice shooting a town for a town instead of changing it. But this movie was primarily Emma Stone in every frame of the movie. So most of the movie was just me and Emma in the trenches together for the whole summer. She’s amazing! She’s very funny and she’s about to become a gigantic star.
PK–08_DF–03491 Emma Stone as “Olive Penderghast” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. © 2010 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

PK–08_DF–03491 Emma Stone as “Olive Penderghast” in Screen Gems’ EASY A. © 2010 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in production?
A: We had to move very quickly. From a production standpoint, there are these shots where I show how rumors travel at the speed of Twitter. It’s this gigantic steadicam shot that circles throughout the entire school. It goes all the way around and comes all the way back to Emma Stone’s character. The steadicam operator had to travel half a mile or three quarters of a mile and that’s heavy (equipment to carry).

And it’s hot in Ojai. It was the dead of summer — so physical props to our steadicam operator, Geoff Haley, that he could do that. That was a challenging one from a production standpoint. And there was the fatigue factor because we were doing so much stuff in such a short period of time. It was Ojai hot so it got to be a hundred degrees. Then when we shot at night it was in the high 40’s. So it was a big swing in temperature.
Q: Any good stories, looking back at production?
A: How about Emma’s asthma attack? In the movie Emma and a character played by Dan Byrd fake having sex behind closed doors at a party so everyone can hear that they have sex. Because they think they have sex, they raise their social status. The whole sex thing is a fake. They’re just jumping on the bed and pretending to have sex. They had to jump on the bed for seven or eight hours that day and then Emma claimed of having had asthma. We had to call the doctor and he gave her oxygen and she relaxed. Then the doctor went away. At the very end I said, “Do you really have asthma?” And she goes, “No. I don’t have asthma.” She was just tired. It was a lot of work.
Q: You’re working with Emma again now on “Friends With Benefits.”
A: Yes. She has a small role in the movie. “Friends With Benefits” is Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis and Patricia Clarkson again and Richard Jenkins.
Q: How is that going?
A: It’s going well. It’s a big movie. Half of it was shot in New York and the rest we’re shooting in L.A. now. If “Easy A” was small and limber, this one is big and slow. This is for Screen Gems and Castle Rock. We are seven or eight weeks in (and still have) four or four–and–a–half (weeks to shoot).