“They know what they are doing": Victor Levin on directing Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder for 'Destination Wedding'
Levin says the casting process for 'Destination Wedding' was the easiest one he has ever been through in his life.
If deep and inspiring conversations about life, relationships, and happiness between two inherently flawed characters, is your cup of tea, then the upcoming ‘Destination Wedding’ should be in your must-watch list. Although a huge chunk of the film, starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, is about loss, pain, and inability to participate in life, in itself the film is a celebration of choosing to live over giving up on life.
Director Victor Levin tells Meaww that ‘Destination Wedding’ narrates the 'tale of the moment at which you decide to keep trying rather than giving up,” and for that was the "driving force.” “That was why I thought it was a good story,” he says.
Ryder plays the hopeless and embittered Lindsay and Reeves plays the eternally pessimistic Frank in the film, and essentially, they are the only two character in the films at least the speaking characters, except for whoever is talking on the TV.
The theme of ‘Destination Wedding,’ as Levin explains, is that these two characters “cannot participate in life and they can't participate in happiness and they certainly can't participate in the wedding weekend,” that they are both invited to. “Life, happiness, the activities of the wedding are all taking place over there somewhere just out of reach. So, the idea of having them being the only two speakers was meant to reinforce this notion of isolation,” elaborates Levin.
The whole movie is basically just dialogues, with the exception of a couple of scenes. “The story begins with characters, with the notion of these two people who are embittered and cynical, and were presented with an opportunity in which they might reclaim some of their idealism and hope. And then, that arena leads you naturally to a lot of conversations about how one might deal with this opportunity, with this environment, with the simple fact of meeting the other,” says Levin as an explanation as to why Lindsay and Frank, and only Lindsay and Frank talk throughout the movie.
And, to those who think a dialogue-heavy movie would have been better off as a play, Levin says there should not be a hard-and-fast rule about what qualifies as a movie and what does not. “I am not one of those people who believes that if something is dialogue-heavy it should be a play and if it's action-heavy it should be a movie,” he justifies, adding, “I don't like to work that way. I love the movies. I love the idea of getting something exactly the way you want it and cutting it together at exactly the pace that wants to run it and choosing the performances and showing it to people in a form that doesn't depend on the vagaries of the moment - what happens during the performance that night.”
Levin wanted ‘Destination Wedding’ to be a movie. "I wanted to see this beautiful world that my characters could not be a part of,” Levin states. “I think there is a pretty significant body of movies that are about weddings and I wanted to make mine different from one's expectations and also from one's experiences with other wedding movies.”
As per his wish, ‘Destination Wedding’ does stand out from other wedding movies. Frank and Lindsay’s disgruntlement and disdain for destination weddings, make it way too outlandish a movie for a wedding movie. And, despite his own lack of interest in them, Levin swears he is not as annoyed with them as his leading lady and man seem to be.
"… There is part of me that feels that they are a bit presumptuous and they ask a lot of the guests. On the other hand, I am delighted to go, but I like to complain. I am the person who likes to complain if only for the want of it, says Levin. “I wouldn't say I am as against destination weddings as Frank is.”
In fact, Levin promises us there are no humans that directly and wholly inspired the character of the very sad and very agonized Frank. In fact, the dark past that shaped the man that is Frank was inspired by the various stories he has heard from different people.
“It is hard to get to age 56 without a few bad experiences and you remember how they made you feel and you remember what questions you found yourself facing. You don't take the literal events and put it into the movie - that would be boring most of the time unless your events have extraordinarily dramatic and mine certainly hasn't been,” Levin reveals the secret behind mapping out the characters for his films. “You take the feelings and put them into the movie and then you find facts - at least that's the way I do it - and they sort of match up with the feelings and themes that you want to get at.”
Once you have the characters down, figuring out your dialogue is pretty easy, says Levin. When you do have brilliant performers like Reeves and Ryder on the team, the process gets simpler and way more interesting. So, how did these two huge stars join this Indie-ish project?
The “very brilliant and very experienced” casting director Pam Dixon, who was associated with ‘Destination Wedding’ apparently suggested Ryder’s name as soon as she was asked who comes to mind after reading the script.
"I thought that was a wonderful idea. She sent it to Winona who said yes, and Winona said, 'I know who should play Frank and it's Keanu Reeves,'" Levin recollects the conversation, wherein Ryder claimed that she has known Reeves for about 30 years and that he was a very brilliant guy, who was also very verbal. "'People haven't seen him do this,'" she continued, adding that she thought he would be very happy upon being offered a film like 'Destination Wedding' and would want to take on the role of Frank. She was, in fact, so sure of this that she sent the script to him herself and he did, in fact, say yes to the movie.
"It was the easiest casting process that I have ever been through in my life," claims Levin, who also said it was a pleasure directing the duo. “You don't get to be a movie star for decades unless you know what you're doing. They really know what they're doing. It would take me all day to sum up the skill moves that they have - just the understanding of how movies are made or what lights do or what cameras do or what camera movement does. Understanding of shooting schedules, understanding of the amount of work that needs to be done the night before to make sure that the da goes the right way, the amount of shooting that needs to be done before shooting even starts.”
It certainly was a group effort, seeing as the cast and crew had only nine-and-a-half days to finish the project. While a less experienced actor would need more direction and hence would have required more time to learn on the job. When you have the people with talent and experience, you draw upon all that with pleasure, but with Reeves and Ryder, as Levin says, “They know what they are doing.”
“I mean they had to learn a tonne of material in nine-and-a-half days... So, in addition to being famous, which is great for your movie, they are really, really talented and smart and skilled,” elaborates Levin.
The ‘Destination Wedding’ director is best known for his work in TV, specifically shows such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Survivor’s Remorse.’ He debuted as a film director with 2014’s ‘5 to 7’ starring the late Anton Yelchin, Bérénice Marlohe, Olivia Thirlby and Lambert Wilson. The one thing he is happy about, in this transition from TV to features is the freedom to explore storylines without worrying about what happens next week.
"There are many stories that you can't tell [on a TV show]. For example, I couldn't tell a story on which one of my leads were killed. Else, I can bring them back next week in flashback. I couldn't tell a story in which one of my leads went to Greenland if the expectation was that they would be together in the following week's show unless I took the other one to Greenland. In which case I am now shooting in Greenland,” Levin explains. “So, there are certain stories that you cannot tell. Also, you have the advantage of being able to explore the characters in depth for long period of time - sometimes as long as seven years, as we did in 'Mad About You.' I was only there for five, but it's still a lot of exploration of character.”
“Sometimes the story needs to be told once and placed in the record books. Sometimes the story doesn't benefit from repeat examinations from new twists on old ideas. Sometimes it's better to tell it once and move on and that's what I thought was the case here. If the story is about them reclaiming their optimism to some degree and investing in each other and deciding that to be cynical and uninvolved is not an option is one is to lead a happy life - one must gamble, one must try. Of course, there is a story in the future about what happens then, I suppose. Maybe there could be a few and for a sitcom with these characters, you could do it.”
However, Levin is not interested in doing that for Frank and Lindsay. As he reiterates, it is that moment of choosing to fight for happiness that interests him and he is “satisfied to have told that story once.”
In the end, there is only one thing that Levin wants the potential audience to know, “[Destination Wedding really is an indie film. It has a big studio title. You can imagine that there would be refrigerators flying out of the window at a guy and another guy at a wedding is causing trouble. But it really isn't that. It is about Winona and it's about Keanu and it's about their characters. There is an awful lot of talking and I hope the talking is enjoyable an I hope it means something to people but the whole idea was to put these thoughts out there and raise these questions and have people chew them over.”
‘Destination Wedding’ hits theatres on August 31, 2018.