Michael Mohan (Sundance 2010, "One Too Many Mornings") and his wife have a very peculiar -- one might even say psychic -- connection with graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown ("Clumsy").
"Before I was going to get married to my wife, I really wanted to get her an incredibly special wedding present," said Mohan. "So I wrote to our favorite graphic novelist, Jeffrey Brown, to see if he would draw something of my wife and I. I didn't know him at all, but just had the email address from the back cover of one of his books. He graciously agreed to draw something and it turned out super sweet."
When Mohan went to his rehearsal dinner he noticed that his wife's gift to him was about the same size as the package he was carrying. When he opened his, he was surprised to see another Jeffrey Brown drawing -- the couple had both bought each other drawings commissioned by the same artist.
Flash forward: Mohan had just finished "One Too Many Mornings" and was wondering what to do next. He had earlier read a script co-written by Jeffrey Brown with Egan Reich, "Save the Date," and he heard that producer Jordan Horowitz was looking for a director. He'd met Horowitz when both men had films at Sundance (Jordan produced "The Kids Are All Right").
Mohan asked Horowitz to "be at the very bottom of the list of people to consider for the film," but after a series of creative discussions Mohan was asked to rewrite and direct the script.
"I took an extremely long time, primarily because I had sort of fallen into directing music videos full time for Dangerbird Records," Mohan said. "It was ridiculously fun, and I got to work with a bunch of my favorite bands, but it shifted my focus away from the film.
And then ("Fortuitously," Mohan said), he was laid off toward the end of last year and in November he traveled to Poland for the inaugural American Film Festival.
"I was really energized by the audiences there," Mohan said." On my way back, I stopped by my parents' house in rural Massachusetts and canceled my flight back to LA. I holed up in my childhood bedroom trying to keep myself so tired that my internal critic wouldn't get in the way, rewarding myself with internet breaks only for good conduct. Two weeks later I had a draft and booked my flight home."
The film deals with the troubles people of Mohan's generation have in confronting the challenges of entering into a long-term relationship. "Something our generation is dealing with specifically is the fact that half of our parents' marriages have crumbled," he said. "And as we ourselves are entering long-term relationships, we're dealing with that -- the grey cloud hovers over us. We know there's a 50% chance it'll work out."
The sisters in "Save the Date" represent two ways of looking at the issue. "For Sarah, Lizzy Caplan's character, she's stubbornly independent, and doesn't believe in marriage at all," said Mohan. "And while she thinks she's so open minded, it actually causes her to be much more guarded and closed. And for Beth, Alison Brie's character, she's engaged to be married and overwhelmed in a way that causes her to lose sight of who she is and what's important to her.
"I feel like whenever you see a film with characters that you can relate to, who are acting in unhealthy ways that feel familiar, like with Jeffrey's books, it makes you feel less crazy. Because you're not alone in the fact that other similarly damaged people have felt the same way as you have."
Taking a certain tonal inspiration from the 90's anti-romance film "Reality Bites," Mohan describes his take on love with two observations. "The first is that love is absolutely terrifying because it forces you to be in your most vulnerable state, but as long as you don't change who you are, you'll be fine. And the second is that this notion of "the one" -- as if there's literally only one other person on this planet that's meant for you -- that notion is total bullshit, and we'll all be happier in our relationships (and our breakups) if we understand this."
DP Elisha Christian's camera work is inspired by Mike Nichols and early Woody Allen -- close to the characters, realist but cinematic. "[We're] studying the emotional impact of zooms; there are a LOT of zooms in this film. And really just trying to move the camera in the way that fits the story without having to rely on the standard traditional coverage that most modern romantic comedies adhere to. The work he and I did really paid off during the shoot. We made some really bold choices."
The film is now wrapped and Mohan said he's editing as he always has: On a laptop, in his bedroom. "Technically, it's under my lofted bed," he said, "with support from my longtime post-collaborator Christian Masini. It's been a remarkably easy edit so far, and I really couldn't be more excited about sharing this one. Preferably in the dark, and on a big screen."
"Save the Date"
Director: Michael Mohan
Writers: Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich, Michael Mohan
Cinematographer: Elisha Christian
Editor: Christian Masini
Producers: Jordan Horowitz, Michael Huffington, Michael Roiff
Co-Producers: Rachel Berk, Shauna Bogetz, Maileen Williams
Executive Producer: Gary Gilbert
Cast: Lizzy Caplan ("Cloverfield"), Alison Brie ("Community"), Martin Starr ("Freaks and Geeks"), Geoffrey Arend ("(500) Days of Summer"), Mark Webber ("Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World"), Melonie Diaz ("Be Kind Rewind")