Oscar winning writers, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash sat down for a bit to chat about their directorial debut, “The Way, Way Back,” channeling their childhood pain into writing gold and what’s coming up next for the two.
Can you talk about your creative process since you’ve worked together for so long. How does it work for both of you? When you’re writing or when you’re on set, is one of you pacing while the other one writes, or do you take separate scenes to write-
Rash: We aren’t a divide and conquer style, we’re more together, but yes, walking around, sitting, standing, whatever it takes… me talking with my hands. For the most part, certainly when we’re breaking the story and the treatment is pretty much there. We write together, maybe every now and then I’ll go off and write myself, but that’s more just to save him the horrible journey through my mind and he can go see his family.
Faxon: I’m always the benefactor of that, because Jim will come back in and he has to have time to solve problems. So a lot of times he’ll come to me and have solved the problem and beautifully and so oftentimes, yes, a great thing when he does that.
Rash: The directing, obviously this is our first time out, so we were sort of learning together as we did it. But I think it’s because we already operated as friends and writing partners beforehand, it was sort of a natural segue. I think we kept it as a consensus, we’d confer together. One of us would go speak to the actors, take turns doing that so we didn’t thrust both of our nasal-y voices on them. It really was a team effort.
What did you enjoy the most about the process of directing, what did you learn or was there something that you didn’t see coming or wish hadn’t happened.
Faxon: I look at the whole experience as a lesson and an incredible experience. I feel so fortunate- you know, this started eight years ago, and with different studios and different people directing it at different points. I feel so gratified to say that we did it ourselves. It’s very emotional in that sense because we were able to see the vision from start to finish. I look back on the whole experience as just, a blessing. I found that what we could control and where we excelled I think, was being able to communicate what we wanted and being able to talk to the actors about the character, any of that creative vision that we had for it, we could speak confidently about that. Really a lot of what we’ve learned is probably more of the technical aspects, where we hadn’t experienced, DP, John Bailey, sort of held our hand through a lot of that. We leaned on our department heads and we hired a people that had a ton of experience for that reason. I think it’s something we would feel so lucky to be able to continue doing because we certainly have a fondness for it. That was a very general answer, but that’s the way I feel (laughs).
Rash: Well, that’s out there now so-
Can you talk about some of the challenges, and the inspiration since it was such a long process for you two to get the movie made.
Rash: The inspiration was one, just a fondness for water parks and the east coast and growing up and the type of characters you’d meet there and the kind of independence that came with that. The sort of autobiographical would be the first scene, that actually happened to me, so, that first scene in the car was actually a conversation that happened between my stepfather and I at the time when I was fourteen, going to our summer vacation in Michigan. So, we had that conversation of what he thought I was, and I said six and he said three and then he followed it up with his sort of lesson. So, we knew we had that and then what was going to be our Oz, so, and then we went from there. As far as the long journey, it did, we wrote it eight years ago and it was going to happen really fast and they told us this never happens and then it was true, it doesn’t happen this way, it fell apart, we went to other directors, it was shifted to a different studio…It was just one of those things, you know, the economy hit hard for a small movie to get made. Then a few years ago, we were at a place where they said, if you want to make it, it’s with this group of actors, in other words, they gave us a list of approved people and none of it seemed to fit with our vision, so we said, we’re not going to do it. We’ll wait until there’s a turnaround, if it’s three years, it doesn’t matter. In that time, this script got us the descendants job, the script did and so the descendants write so of let us approach the way, way back the way we wanted to. So we sort of went grass roots.
Now you both also acted in the film-
Faxon: It was fun to be a part of this, while it was at times stressful and you’re faced with so many decisions when you’re directing a movie and asked so many questions and you’re trying to solve as much as you can and then somebody’s like, you’re in this scene, by the way…oh, really, oh okay. So there were certainly crazy moments like that but I think that we started writing together at the groundlings and we wrote a TV. pilot one summer that sort of launched this other career and that was really born out of our frustration of the roles we were going in for and wanting to do more and have more responsibility and play interesting things. So, I think we’re always looking to quench that desire that we have to be in front of the camera as well and this seemed to offer a small, somewhat safe way to do that.
Rash: And I wanted to look as ugly as possible, so that was my goal.
Rash: I think sometimes the benefit of being a director and actor is that we know what we react well to as actors when dealing with directors. We just tried to utilize the best of those in our process.
Faxon: Yeah, keeping a fun, loosest set as we could, under the conditions and making sure everyone felt comfortable and at liberty to try new things and to open to all of those things. I think we also tried not to inundate people with notes, you know…like Jim said, I think there are a few things we’ve picked up as actors that have informed us as directors, things that we’ve had the most fun on set or been the most comfortable, to utilize those things.
Did you have to give yourselves notes?
Rash: Yes, he needed extensive notes, because for the longest time he was doing accents, which bothered me but he wanted to show off his resume.
Faxon: I have a range, I have a lot of special skills and I wanted to show some of those off.
Rash: I think we were good with directing each other, because I think we could tell when one of us was in our head about, because one of us was at the monitor watching the other one, so I think you could tell when one of us was not in the moment. We just had to ease each other’s minds that when John and I, or he and John were looking at was good. So, you just do what you need to do.
What are you both working on next?
Rash: We’re working on an action comedy for Kristn Wigg, who’s a friend of ours from our days at the groundlings.
Faxon: And then we’re working with Fox Searchlight on a family dysfunction comedy. Mining more-
Rash: Mining more of our pain. Why not?
Faxon: And our tears.
Rash: When you can use your family, why not? My phone is filled with things that they’ve said, that’s all I do at the table, just wait for my mom to say some god-awful thing.