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I Give It A Year - Dan Mazer interview

I Give It A Year

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Dan Mazer talks about some of the challenges of bringing I Give It A Year to the big screen and why he always viewed it as an anti rom-com.

He also talks about his admiration for leading man Rafe Spall, how he always draws from truth in creating his comedic situations and why he welcomes improvisation. He was speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. This is very much an anti rom-com. Is that how the film started?
Dan Mazer: Yeah. I sort of wanted to do something that was a reaction to the traditional route of British romantic comedies. Basically, it was sort of a slightly violent reaction to being forced to write those sort of things for a lot of years. Every script I did was like: “Well, can’t you make it more of a rom-com and make it a bit more traditional and a bit more… nice.” I thought it would be nice to do a sort of anti rom-com but one that didn’t feel too bitter and cruel… that didn’t reflect my bitter and cruel personality [laughs]. So, that’s sort of where this came from. And the germ really almost came from the last scene and working backwards – what if somebody ran into a restaurant and instead of proposing to his girlfriend, it was all about their last date.

Q. Did you see Rafe Spall as a kind of anti Hugh Grant?
Dan Mazer: Well, it’s interesting to hear Rafe talk about this. I’ve worked with Hugh a bit and what you see on-screen is sort of an extension of Hugh. He’s a very bright, very funny, very sharp and articulate man and the same, may I say, is true for Rafe. So, in the casting process it was very important to me to have somebody who was naturally very funny and very sharp and bright, who had a character and didn’t have to act it too much. In the process, you’re often asked to see actors who are brilliant actors – and Rafe is a brilliant actor. But you see actors who aren’t necessarily who aren’t naturally brilliantly funny or sharp or who necessarily think on their feet that well. And what’s brilliant about Rafe is that he came in and he is naturally funny, naturally sharp and could take what was on the page and enhance it; not just do what was on the page. So, from the moment I met him I knew he would do the perfect job.

Q. So, naturally you took this to Working Title…
Dan Mazer: [Laughs] Exactly, yeah! Like I said, it was sort of a weird reaction because I had written a film for them sort of a year before that was a real struggle to make and, in the end, ended up not being made just because it was a bit too alternative and slightly kind of edgy. And so I thought it would be nice to go into ‘the crucible’ of romantic comedy and breach the citadel and destroy from within [laughs]. But actually they’ve been incredibly kind and supportive and, in a really interesting way, leant their expertise about rom-coms to this. So, in the end there was no better place to go and have a pop at the genre than the place that has kind of excelled at making probably the finest versions of rom-coms.

Q. Your script is packed with a lot of really mortifying in-law experiences. How did you magnify those experiences but still make them plausible?
Dan Mazer: In terms of magnifying it and making it plausible, I’m a great believer in truth in comedy. My background with Sacha [Baron Cohen] is almost a sort of kind of underlining of that because we go out and do things with real people as much as possible. I sort of thin it’s about taking something that could happen and twisting it 10% really. I think we’ve probably all had… I had a go at a kind of name in the hat game with my wife a couple of years ago round at my family’s. I’m a Jew and my wife is not. And she had Adolf Hitler in the name in the hat game. And her mime… no actually it wasn’t Hitler, I think it was Goebbels and her mime for him was [gestures Nazi salute]. So, it wasn’t a million miles away from something like that… and actually it’s probably a bit less because if I had put that in the script I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to shoot it! So, I think those things can be mortifying and real. Likewise, the photo frame [showing Rafe and Rose in compromising sexual positions] is based on something that happened to a very good friend of mine. They had a Mac Book slide show that he couldn’t stop [laughs] when he went to visit some family friends of his that he hadn’t seen for something like five years. It had photos of him and his girlfriend. So, hopefully this feels true and authentic because although it is stretched a little bit, it is based on truth.

I Give It A Year

Q. Can your actors improvise as well?
Dan Mazer: I think improvisation is really crucial in terms of making things feel real and authentic. Bizarrely, even though I am both the writer and the director on this, I’m not very precious about the words and if people on set can make them feel more honest and truthful and natural then I’m all for that because ultimately it makes me look better. And actually, during the casting process I was really keen that everybody was witty and bright and able to improvise. It was almost the most important part of the auditioning process was sitting down and having a chat with the actors rather than getting them to do stuff. Everybody in this film is brilliant and funny in their own right and a lot of the funniest stuff in the film comes from the actors. So, I’m very grateful.

Q. Aside from Rafe, there’s also an American [Anna Faris] and two Australians [Rose Byrne and Simon Baker] in the cast. Did that give you a good clue as to how everything would translate for global audiences? And were there any concessions you felt you needed to make?
Dan Mazer: I’m a great believer that funny pretty much is funny. And having worked with Sacha for a lot of years and having success with that all around the world and not really made any concessions ever to making it play in America or in Sweden… I didn’t really worry too much about that aspect of it. I think comedy is pretty universal. I think there are words that don’t work and there are definitely bits that work less well over there than here and vice versa. But the main thing is to make the funniest film you think you can make.

Q. But they all got it?
Dan Mazer: Yeah. I think they all felt the script was great and nicely set out and everybody that I wanted to be in it pretty much loved it and said: “Let’s do it!”

Q. It’s interesting as well that someone like Simon Baker’s character may ordinarily be the villain of the piece. But you don’t go down that route…
Dan Mazer: Yeah, and I think that’s the thing that attracted Simon to the role as well because he gets sent a lot of kind of ‘Dreamy McDreamington’ scripts all the time and is expected to come in and act a bit suave and sophisticated, or come in and be villainous like The Devil Wears Prada thing. But I think the point of this is that even though he’s incredibly suave and debonair, he’s also a bit of a doofus as well. All the characters kind of have flaws and it’s about everybody finding the right person for them, really, and not being textbook amazing and perfect.

Q. When you were writing what rubs couples up the wrong way, were you canvassing opinions from your partner?
Dan Mazer: I think it’s very apparent what rubs my wife up the wrong way. She makes it very clear what does that. And it is kind of accumulated from my now seven years if marriage. We’re very frank about what’s annoying. And I’m acutely aware of what’s annoying from her as well. So, I was basically transcribing a lot from real life to create those moments. And then when you sort of disseminate the script and show the people at Working Title, they’ll say ‘oh God, that happened to me as well’. So, some things fell by the wayside that were too Dan Mazer specific. There was one argument in the first draft of the script that was a verbatim argument that my wife and I had had about the way that I look round into the back of the car from the front. Apparently, I turned the wrong way and nobody turns that way to look into the back seat of the car [laughs]. I wrote it down because I thought it was hilarious but nobody else found it particularly funny.

I Give It A Year

Q. Did you preview this and was it frustrating, as both writer and director, to have to make any changes?
Dan Mazer: It’s a really interesting thing. Part of my process of editing comedies… and it has been with Sacha and was with this, is to preview them to death just because the great advantage of comedy above almost any other kind of art form, is that it’s sort of empirical. So, you can sit in a room and you can listen to where people are laughing, in a way that in a drama you can’t tell where people are being moved and touched by this scene. So, I’m a great believer in trusting the audience and where people laugh and not being egotistical and arrogant to the extent that says I am funnier than everybody else and I know what it is funny, so therefore I will leave this in. Actually, there’s nothing more kind of acutely horrific than listening to a joke fall on deaf ears. So, actually I’m a big fan of that kind of process and as painful as it was to lose some things, it’s sort of necessary. I did lose some of my favourite things… bits that I thought were peerless. But they’ll turn up in the next script I guess [laughs]

Read our review of I Give It A Year

Read our interview with Rafe Spall