‘August: Osage County’ director John Wells on family dynamics

Most families aren’t as fractious or dysfunctional as the Weston clan of the upcoming drama “August: Osage County” (adapted from the Tracy Letts play), who gather for an explosive few days at the home of their matriarch in rural Oklahoma. But according to director John Wells, part of what makes “August: Osage County” so compelling is that just about everyone can relate to the underlying family dynamics.

Speaking at the Envelope Screening Series, Wells said that on set, “Everybody, I think, ended up talking about their own families.”

He continued: “I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the piece, and it’s what struck me when I saw it — I saw it on Broadway a couple of times before I knew I’d have anything to do with it. At the end, people sort of stood up around me and were talking about their aunt and uncle and their brother. It’s not that it’s exactly your family, but I can’t tell you how many people at the test screenings, when we were testing the film, said, ‘Yeah, that’s my dad,’ and ‘Yeah, Mom had a little bit of a trouble with drink’ — those kinds of conversations. And then talking about just the difficulties of being a family.”

VIDEO: Watch ‘August: Osage County’ cast, crew discuss film


While shooting the film, Wells said, “We would finish takes and the prop guy would come over and start telling us a story about what happened with his dad last year. I think that’s a bit of the quality that Tracy has tapped so beautifully in this film.”

During the aforementioned test screenings, Wells also re-examined the film’s tone, which treads a thin line between cutting comedy and turbulent drama.

“I think people who aren’t familiar with the piece are surprised that it’s funny,” he said. “And so a lot of the process — through the editorial process, the testing process — was finding ways to make certain that the humor was actually working because the audience wasn’t as familiar with it. … In the early going, there was a stretch at the beginning where people really didn’t know if they were supposed to laugh or not. It took a while.”

For more from the cast and crew of “August: Osage County,” watch the full video above.


A turn, a snap, a fall: Signatures of the stars

Films inspired by true events walk a tricky line

N.Y. Film Critics name ‘American Hustle’ best film of the year