Reporting from Long Island, N.Y. —
As he stood behind the camera on the set of his new movie, filmmaker Drake Doremus watched as actors Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan improvised a scene. In one take they discussed a fear of bugs, while in another they talked about a Peter Gabriel video, the conversation unfolding in unexpected ways each time the director asked them to try again.
The scene, part of an as-yet untitled drama that Doremus is shooting on Long Island, N.Y., represents the director's highly unorthodox approach. As he did with his upcoming romantic drama, "Like Crazy." Doremus didn't so much work off a full-length script as he did guide actors through larger moments and emotional beats, during an extensive rehearsal period and on set. Sometimes he'd even let an exchange that will wind up occupying just a few seconds in the finished movie go on for several minutes.
"Every day, I'm trying to find some things that are truthful, and the longer I let things go, the more likely I am to get that," he later said, describing his filmmaking philosophy.
That truthfulness is certainly realized in "Like Crazy," a tender, honest story about a long-distance relationship starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin. The collegiate couple falls in love over one summer and then largely spends the next few years separated by an ocean, owing to a mixture of a youthful indiscretion and INS bureaucracy. Jennifer Lawrence co-stars as Yelchin's other love interest.
Doremus, who at 28 has already completed three movies (including the romance-minded independent dramedies "Spooner" and "Douchebag"), broke out at the Sundance Film Festival this year with "Like Crazy," which opens in Los Angeles on Oct. 28.
Loosely basing the movie on his own experience, the director decided in part to make a romantic drama after seeing "Blue Valentine," which he admired for its emotional grittiness and authenticity. He ably followed in its footsteps: "Like Crazy," which garnered numerous prizes at Sundance and was snapped up by Paramount Pictures, was particularly lauded for the intimacy between Jones' Anna and Yelchin's Jacob. Filmgoers might feel like they're inches from the characters as they take their first awkward steps toward love and then later seem to let it slip away.
Although Doremus is rooted in comedy — in person he's a buoyant, even jokey presence, and his mother was a founder of the improv troupe the Groundlings — he decided to make something of a shift with "Like Crazy," importing the techniques of improvisation into drama.
"It's scary doing it this way," the director admitted. "There's a lot more room to fail. But you start to know when you're getting the balance right. The trick is trying to control things a little bit without stifling the moments that are real."