EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
Director: Jac Schaeffer
Screenwriter: Jac Schaeffer
Cast: Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, John Patrick Amedori, Desmond Harrington, JoBeth Williams, Kali Rocha
Synopsis: Finding true love is easier than ever thanks to a revolutionary bio-technological wrist implant called the TiMER, which counts down to the exact moment when people will lay eyes on their soul mates. Heartbreak is a malady of the past. Except that love-starved, pushin’-30 Oona’s (Emma Caulfield, TV’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) TiMER hasn’t even started counting down—her destined “one” hasn’t gotten himself hooked in just yet. All the people around her are literally set on their unshakable paths to true love, from her mom (who broke up with Oona’s dad because he wasn’t the “one”), her younger sister, and even her 13-year-old brother (who has to wait only a day). What’s worse, Oona’s falling for a barely twentysomething rocker (John Patrick Amedori, “Gossip Girl”) who is set to meet his true love in only four months. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]
Please introduce yourself.
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I’m Jac Schaeffer, writer/director/producer of “TiMER.”
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
My love for movies originated with my dad. Throughout my childhood he showed me all his favorites: the screwball comedies, the noir films, the musicals, anything with Cary Grant. He let me watch “The Birds” at a truly inappropriate age and I remember being shaken to my core that (*spoiler alert*) there wasn’t a definitive reason why the birds all freaked out! Movies routinely rocked my world.
When I was twelve, I was watching a movie that shall remain nameless with my dad and after a particularly poorly staged scene, he commented on the bad direction. I asked him what a director was. He explained and said he thought I’d be good at it. Up to that point I had been heavy into theater and wanted to be an actress. The idea of telling all the other actors what to do was infinitely more appealing.
I started making my own shorts when I was in my teens and quickly discovered the difficulty of taking something in my brain and turning it into reality. My friends were nice and memorized my lines but something was always missing. I asked my dad how I could tell when an actor delivers a good performance. He said, “Do you believe it?” The question applies to every aspect of filmmaking. He helped me understand that no matter the genre, storytelling is about capturing emotional truth. That’s what I wanted to do with my life.
To sum up: whether he realized it or not, my dad orchestrated most of the circumstances that lead to me becoming a filmmaker. Thanks, Dad.
What prompted the idea for your film?
A few years ago my brother was getting married and my mom had a “Time-to-Go” clock to keep track of the remaining days before the wedding. I was super single at the time and I thought that if I had a “Time-to-Go” clock that counted down to the day I would meet my soul mate, then I might be a little less bitter and a slightly more pleasant during all the wedding hoopla. Since a guarantee wasn’t available in my real life, I delighted in exploring the fantasy in a script.
I considered the range of potential countdowns. What if you found out you were going to meet your soul mate in 10 years? Would you forfeit other dating experiences until then? How about you’re supposed to meet him/her in 10 days? Ready for that? The possibilities for heart-in-your-throat drama and totally relatable comedy seemed endless. But most of all, I was thrilled by the notion that the idea might capture people’s imaginations the way it did mine.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
The premise of my film had the potential to overwhelm the emotional heart of the story. I didn’t want it to just be a gimmick. My first decision was to set the story present day, rather than in the future. I can’t lie; budget was big motivator. But I also worried that fancy sci-fi production design would keep my audience at a distance. I hoped that placing the story in a recognizable setting would encourage the audience to think more directly about their own lives and loves.
The next step was explaining the technology in a manner that was both brief and believable. Likening the TiMER to cell phones was a way to create a shorthand when introducing the concept. We developed a brand, a store and means to administer the device – all established in the first five minutes of the film. My intent was to move quickly through the exposition so that we could focus on the good stuff.
For me the good stuff is working with actors. It’s my favorite part of filmmaking. Casting is vital and terrifying. You have to find that one actor who proves that you’re not a crappy writer. We got very lucky with our excellent cast. I made rehearsal a priority, most of which I used to map the arc of the love story and lay a foundation for the sisters’ camaraderie. But the best part is making it all happen on set. I try to be clear, enthusiastic, and flexible. There is nothing like finding the exact right thing to say to unlock a terrific performance.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
I think writing the script was the biggest challenge. I wanted to make a romantic comedy that was as thought provoking as it was entertaining. I tried to retain the fun, humor and dreaminess of the genre, jettison some of the cliché and gender stereotypes and inject a little depth. It was a tall order and there are successes and failures within the film. Really it came down to balancing my lofty artistic goals with the task of telling a good story. It’s something I’m still learning and I imagine it will always be the greatest challenge.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
There’s the success of a film and there’s career success. I think a film is successful if A) the audience is invested in the story and B) it stays with them after they leave the theater. As far as career success, the filmmakers I admire are the ones whose films are distinctive and recognizable as their own. I strive to create work that is unique, entertaining and socially responsible.
What are your future projects?
I’m working on two scripts: a sci-fi action/adventure and another romantic comedy with a weird fantasy twist. Fun!