'Like Crazy' director talks about independent filmmaking with alumnus

By Michael Sugerman

Four-time Oscar nominated director Jason Reitman ’95 interviewed independent film director Drake Doremus in Ahmanson Lecture Hall on Dec. 1.

The sit-down was conducted as part of a four-year running series with Reitman called “Speaking of Movies,” where he interviews current figures in the film industry. The series is hosted by Harvard-Westlake Video Art and the Harvard-Westlake Entertainment Network.

Doremus recently directed and co-wrote Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Like Crazy,” a story of two lovers whose affection continues despite having a long distance relationship.

Doremus is known for his rapid filming — 80 hours of footage for “Like Crazy” was shot in only 22 days on what he called a small budget of $250,000.

The movie was shot on a Canon 7D, a handheld digital single-lens reflex camera. Doremus said this camera was similar to those that video art students use, and while professional, not nearly comparable in size to the larger movie cameras that a director like Reitman would use.

“Doremus established clearly that you can make a film with store-bought equipment,” Reitman said. “Kids today are making films like we would draw on paper as kids.”

Doremus, who grew up surrounded by a family that loved improvisation, has always appreciated cinematographic ad libbing. His childhood background inspired him to become part of the American Film Institute after he graduated high school.

One of the defining parts of his films, including “Like Crazy,” is that Doremus rarely uses a script — he makes outlines and speculates on the moods of certain scenes, but most of the dialogue is off the cuff. Reitman said he admired this style of film.

“The actors have to understand fundamentally the beginning, middle and end,” he said. “The in-between bits naturally come to fruition.”

Doremus also chose to film his actors from a natural distance, rarely shooting close-up scenes to preserve their integrity.

“The acting is about the moment,” Doremus said. “I like to let the actors feel and interpret the scene for themselves. If they know the camera is close to them, they might put on an act rather than really understanding the moment on a personal level.”

Reitman, however, said bringing his cameras close to the actors was a good thing.

“I need my actors to know where the camera is,” he said. “The angle allows them to really interpret the moment.”   

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