Ry Russo-Young Talks Her Latest Movie ‘Before I Fall,’ The Stressful 24 Day Shoot & Why Kathryn Bigelow Is So Important [Interview]

Here's my original write-up for The Playlist. You can find of my archived stuff for them HERE. A good bunch of folks over there, a highly addictive site as well. Here's my latest chat with "Before I Fall" director Ry Russo-Young.

Ry Russo-Young‘s “Before I Fall” really caught people by surprise at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Usually the term YA (Young Adult) gets a bad rap from filmgoers, but “Before I Fall” draws on various film influences and makes them seem fresh.
Based on Lauren Oliver’s book of the same name, “Before I Fall” tells the story of Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), a popular and beautiful high-school girl completely oblivious to the good fortunes she has in her life. It all comes crashing down on February 12th, which happens to be her last day on earth. The fact that she is stuck reliving that day over and over again makes Sam reassess every single person in her life in new and unexpected ways.
It sounds like a cliché-filled romp waiting to happen, but Russo-Young and her DP Michael Fimognari conjure up a world of dread, where nothing is as it seems and everything starts to happen unexpectedly. Deutch, the highlight of Richard Linklater’s boys-club movie “Everybody Wants Some!!,” is a star in the making and she proves, once again, that her incredible screen presence is something look out for in the years to come.
I spoke to Russo-Young about the film, the frustrating 24-day shoot and her influences.

What's your take on YA novels and YA movies?

I thank the terms YA has a bad name, it's a term that came more from marketing. The questions that I sort of say is "Is The Breakfast Club a YA movie? Is Ordinary People a YA movie?" Today if they were made we would probably call them that. Movies about the teenage Prince have been really incredible and unified that they spoke to us all in the past. I was tapping more into that tradition than, say, more off the current fare, I think.

There have been great recent ones as well, especially "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

Yeah, 100% I'm not saying that all YA movies are bad, but movies about teenagers have been a longstanding thing that is pretty incredible.

What drew you to this story?

What drew me to the story was how it worked on multiple levels. It ad sort of profound affiliations with deeper questions about time and about coming into self-awareness. These age old questions we should always be asking ourselves. These age-old questions. But also that it surprised me that you think it's one kind of movie, the first thirty pages of the film I wasn't sure if I was into it, I was like "I don't know about these girls, do I like them? Am I on-board? what is it with this superficial film?" but I found the movie surprisingly moving and unexpectedly emotional. It was one of the few movies that I read where it got better as it went along and that I didn't see where it was going.

The time loop device you use in your film is an "age-old thing." Its been used in films such as "Groundhog Day" and "Source Code" how did you try to make it your own?

One of the things that I liked about the film was that it used the time loop device to an emotional and psychological end, which I hadn't seen before in any of these time loop movies. This is a really subjective version of a time-loop movie and I was attracted to that subjectivity which is something a book can do so well, you can be so much into the head of a character, but in film it's far more challenging. I wanted to put the audience inside Sam's perspective. The movie had lent itself to that because it had dramatic irony in it, the audience is in on this joke with Sam, in a way, this private purgatory of her reliving the same day and nobody else in the movie is aware of that. Groundhog Day is a comedy and this is a darker, more existential exploration of self, which is so important to what happens to the melodrama and angst of being a teenager.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
This is something Zoey (Deutch) says sometimes about the movie it's that the irony of shooting a movie about time is that you just don't have enough time to shoot it. I'm sure I'm not the only person to tell you this, but certainly the challenge of the movie was tat we actually shot it on a very small budget. We shot this movie in 24 days, we were racing in terms of getting the level, the sort of production value level and getting the performances where we needed them to be. So it was a really challenging, physical production.

Some people tend to be at their most creative when they have short shoots

Executives will say that and that is true to a certain extent, but also to create a certain quality you need a certain amount of time and I have worked on plenty of Indie films, this is my fourth film, I've worked on budgets where you are working with people who give you the time needed. I'm not even saying time to sit down and smoke a cigarette, I'm saying a basic level of really working really hard and then there's expectations that are impossible, like humanely impossible, like everybody knows it and when you're expected to do it's kind of unfair.

24 days of shooting is pretty skimp I have to say

Well, when you're talking about two car crashes that need to be shot, it's not actually 24 days, it's 17 days. It was really challenging. What saved me was insane amounts of obsessive preps.

Did you storyboard a lot?

Yeah, I storyboarded, I basically storyboarded every single scene they would let me storyboard. That they would afford to let me storyboard.

Tell me about some of technical decisions you made to make it look so good. I mean this film is stunning to look at.

The DP was Michael Fimognari who had shot a lot of horror films. That was his background and I found was to our advantage in he wasn't afraid of darkness. Often films have a lot of light and a colorful aesthetic and we really wanted this to be very moody and use natural light and a lot of wet downs. Also, the location, shooting in Vancouver, the landscape had a kind of drama and angst and moodiness, we decided their world was going to be completely wet all the time which created almost the tears for Sam. For a character that's between life and death, that landscape felt very appropriate.

It even looked like there were visual differences as the film went along with the repeated loops.

We did that on purpose, there are a lot of things that are different. From the lensing at times to the sizes of the framings devices as well as the editing. For example on day one the party scene is very cutty and on day two it is mainly one continuous shot. It's all taken from Sam's experience.

What's the overall message you want people to leave the theater with after watching this movie?

One thing that I always wanted people to think about was I wanted people to have an appreciation for those they love. For me it took itself in a very tangible idea that when you're watching the end of the movie you're say with your husband or friend or sister or mother and that you kind of want to reach down and hold their hand and squeeze them tight and that it sort of reminds you of your mortality and therefore the fact that you actually have to hold and express to those around you how much you love them because our lives are so short we're on this earth for a very brief amount of time and to be aware of that and to kind of recognize the good, you know it could be cheesy, but it's actually quite true and I think that in our moments of the most profound truths it's a good reminder.

I try to ask this question to every female director I get a chance to talk to. Name your favorite female-directed film and why?

Oh man, it's such a hard call. I have so many. Well, I think Kathryn Bigelow is kind of my hero. She's such a badass. Her filmmaking is so vivid and visceral. I just remember the day that she won the Oscar being such a big day for me because as people we look for examples of what we want to be in the world and when we don't see them we think maybe we can't be that thing. So she to me was the person who won the Oscar and I thought "oh it's possible to be a female director, successful and accepted  by the academy, that's the most mainstream form of acceptance. It's really sad that just one woman has ever gotten that honor, but that's sadly how accepted women are actually, one of out of, you know, hundreds of years has been let in, in that sense, but that's everything to me.
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