Drake Doremus’s third film, Like Crazy, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2011. He returned this year with his fourth film, Breathe In, starring Felicity Jones as a foreign exchange student living with a music teacher (Guy Pearce) who longs to be a concert cellist himself. Created in the same style of improvisational scene work, Breathe In deals with all different themes than the long distance romantic drama Like Crazy. I got to catch up with Doremus in the Nintendo Lounge at Sundance to discuss the themes, while people played Wii Fit or watched football in the background. Mild spoiler warning for the ambiguous ending of Like Crazy, but only a spoiler if you feel it’s definitive which it very purposefully is not.
CraveOnline: Very important question: Are Jacob and Anna still together?
Drake Doremus: I know, I saw your tweet. If you think they are, yes.
I still do.
Good, then you’re right.
I have days where I’m like, “Oh no, they can’t, come on.” But then I feel better and I think, “Yeah, yeah, they’re working on it.”
Good, then that’s correct then.
So you really followed everything I tweeted.
Yeah, I always look at my tweets. I love hearing people talk and responding and interacting. Thanks.
The person who introduced Breathe In picked up on the same thing I did with your films, that you’re dealing with human behavior. Are other people picking up on that and was that your intention?
That’s fabulous. Yeah, the idea is just, the movies are so simple that it’s really all about characters and just feeling what’s going on and observing humans in normal or abnormal circumstances. I love hearing that. That’s great.
One theme I picked up on in Breathe In is being great at something doesn’t mean you love it, and people who long to be good at that talent don’t understand.
Is that something you’ve dealt with? How did you come up with that, or was it something Felicity or Guy brought?
We always knew we wanted for Felicity’s character to be the younger version of Guy. He kind of realizes this reawakening of creative potential that he’s sort of lost and the innocence is lost. So the idea that she didn’t want to do what he wants was just such an interesting dynamic in a way. That’s a great observational comment.
I relate because I find that if you’re good at something, people try to convince you to do it because they can’t understand why you wouldn’t like it. But if you’re good at lots of things, you won’t like them all. You have to find what you love.
Exactly. Absolutely, and at the end of the day, if you’re pushed to do something that you don’t want to do or you have an emotional attachment to that one thing, it can be really difficult sometimes to continue to push yourself.
You actually made Felicity younger than the college girl she played in your last movie.
I know, it’s so bizarre. I often ask myself what was I thinking? Originally I think it was going to be a little more taboo than it was, but I just wanted to have this against all odds thing blossoming in this very dangerous and strange context.
Was the intention to make it more of a taboo relationship, and did that change when the actors played it?
Well, I didn’t want it to be a movie about statutory rape. I didn’t ever want that to be part of the equation. So in essence, it didn’t really matter whether she was younger or not.
Well, she’d still be 18 so it wouldn’t be illegal. It would just be inappropriate.
In Like Crazy, all the characters were nice people even with their flaws. Did you want to explore people who were maybe more flawed?
Definitely. I think definitely it was an intention to make a darker film in that sense. Exploring the grayness of characters that were heavily flawed but still had hopes and dreams and were good hearted people. They just let their impulses get the best of them. But yeah, the intention was definitely to go darker with it.
Do you feel like you went as dark as you intended to?
That’s a really good question. I think originally the movie was maybe even darker and a little bit creepier, but I think my romantic sensibility really got the best of me and that’s what the movie ended up becoming was just this intuitive thing, that I can’t necessarily consciously decide, “Oh, I want it to be this, this or that.” At a certain point, decisions and instincts are just going to be what they are and the movie’s always going to be just what it wants to be almost.
How long did it take you to get the title?
Forever. We only came up with it four weeks ago, as I said in the Q&A. It was an awful, long time trying to come up with it. Just nothing felt right.
So how did you decide that “breathe in” was a line in the film and that would apply?
Gosh, we were just watching some of the crucial scenes in the film and I think after watching the scene that the line really actually generates from, I kind of realized that was the scene. It’s almost like the sex scene in the movie really at the end of the day. It takes on a lot of different meanings for what the film is, but specifically that scene. So I started thinking about it, started thinking about it and then was like okay, yeah, let’s go with that.
Is that scene at the piano even more intimate than a love scene would be?
I think so, yeah. I think what’s most interesting is what you don’t see as opposed to what you do see. So the idea that there’s just so much between them in the air is fascinating. But yeah, I do think there are a couple of love scenes in the movie really at the end of the day, even though they don’t really actually have sex.
You also avoided the adultery clichés with the stolen passionate moments. Was that something you were conscious of?
Very much so, very, very much so. I mean, it’s a simple story and it’s not the most original story by any means, but what I wanted to do was take something really simple and do something really unique with it and derive a lot of complexities from that as opposed to do what everyone’s seen before. It was always the goal to stay away from that stuff. I was very conscious about it.
I maybe haven’t thought about it long enough yet, but did you intend this to have as ambiguous an ending, open to interpretation, as Like Crazy did?
Yeah, a little bit but I think this one is a little more specific. I think this one, he’s going to be living inside the pain and loss of getting this close to something that really means something to him and losing it. I think he’s going to have to live with it forever.
Maybe it’s my own judgments about Keith, but I’m not as concerned about his future as I am about Jacob and Anna.
Yeah, yeah, I feel you. I understand.
I am totally in the minority on Like Crazy, aren’t I?
I think so, yeah. But no, there’s a good amount that are with you. You’d be surprised.
Really? I think it was half and half at Sundance, but by now I’m the 1% and they’re the 99.
Interesting. I don’t know. That’s interesting. I’d love to poll the same people and see how they feel.
Of the three people I talked to at the screening today, they all thought they broke up.
Uh-huh, so there you go. Everyone’s right. That’s the good news.
Did you get to use a bigger camera than the D5 this time?
Yeah, we used the Alexa.
How’d you like that?
Loved it. It was great. It was still versatile but allowed us to do some more cinematic things.
There’s a whole film versus digital debate going on right now. Are you on the side of digital because you couldn’t make movies the way you do with film?
I think so, yes, and I’ve never used film. I kind of missed it so I think I got so used to the digital aspects of filmmaking but it really does allow me to take the time and not be limited by changing mags and all that good stuff.
There are three F-words in the movie so that automatically gets you an R. Were you comfortable letting that stay in?
Yeah, I don’t see this as a movie that teenagers would necessarily go to see anyway so I think it’s okay.
But it’s the only thing that would get you an R.
Yeah, I know. That’s a good point. I never think about that. I just think about what feels natural but the two f*cks that are in the one scene before she plays where they’re talking, I can’t imagine the movie without them.
There’s still time, if a very generous distributor wants to put the film on 3000 screens but only if it’s PG-13.
Yes, like we did with the last one.
Oh, what did you take out of Like Crazy?
It was R and we took out a couple f***s in the fight scene when they’re yelling at each other and made it PG-13.
Does the unrated cut exist anywhere?
I don’t think so. We went in and changed it. I probably have a DVD of it somewhere.
I certainly didn’t notice when I saw it again.
How was the Paramount experience?
It was great and it was also a little scary because I think people maybe put expectations on the film that the film didn’t need going into its release. I think for a movie that was made for as little as it was, it was a really successful film. I think when you’re distributed by Paramount, the expectations are so big, it’s hard to achieve them but they were great. I really think they believed in the film and they never gave up on it and it gave a lot of people all over the world a chance to see it and for that I’ll always be grateful to them.
Could you imagine doing something like the Before Sunrise movies and revisit Like Crazy every 10 years?
It’s funny, I thought about it. Maybe. I guess the more time that passes, the more I’ll be able to answer that.
The only problem is once you do that, you give a definitive ending to the first movie.
Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know. I feel like Like Crazy is a one-off and it’s impossible to revisit it.
Is the next step to do an improv action movie?
Totally. That would be amazing. I think I’m going to try something in the future, like a futuristic love story. Maybe delving into it a little bit.
Would that be your next movie?
Possibly, yeah. There’s a couple things that are bouncing around that I’m thinking about but right now I’m just trying to enjoy this and take a minute and think about what I’m interested in next but yeah, possibly. Very possibly.
Will they all be relationship dramas in some sense?
I guess so. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’d venture into a different kind of realm but right now I’m still really fascinated with exploring relationships and love, having love, losing love, finding love, maintaining it. All those difficult things.
Will there be more Felicity Jones in your films?
I hope so. At some point, yeah, absolutely. She’s been so amazing.
Would there be a role for her in the future love story?
Possibly, I don’t know yet.
Is that as far as you’ve gotten on that idea?
Yeah, it’s just in its infancy stages at this point. There’s no script yet so it’s still just an idea.
Do you have a sense of what would be the conflict in a futuristic romance?
Yeah, a little bit, yeah.
Would it be something as polarizing or potentially ambiguous in the end as Like Crazy?
I hope so. I think some of my favorite films are polarizing. I think if you make an audience really passionate about disliking a movie or really, really loving a movie, I think you’ve made something that’s really specific and that speaks to people. The last thing I would like is for people to be indifferent.
Photo Credit: Sundance Institute
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.