Written, directed and starring Josh Radnor (CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother”), “happythankyoumoreplease” tracks the lives of six New Yorkers grappling with the responsibilities that come with growing up. Following its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the ensemble comedy picked up the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. Radnor provided indieWIRE with an exclusive clip from the film along with a in-depth look at how the scene came together. “happythankyoumoreplease” opens in limited release this Friday, March 4th.
I knew how I wanted to start “happythankyoumoreplease” and I knew how I wanted to end it. Figuring out what was going to happen in between was the real challenge.
Years ago, I had written down an idea: “Guy late for meeting gets stuck with kid who’s been separated from his family on the subway.” This felt to me like a great inciting moment for a film. I loved the idea of a guy totally in his own world and own head having this kid thrust upon him, and watching how he would deal with it given the massive time constraint he was under. That guy became Sam Wexler, a charming, boozy aspiring novelist with little on his mind beyond selling his novel and bedding the next hot waitress who serves him a drink. It’s later revealed the lost boy, Rasheen, has been in seven different foster homes in his young life and Sam, sensing the kid might be better off with him, recklessly holds onto him for a few days. A friendship develops between them, and Sam, for the first time in his life, is forced to care for someone other than himself.
This is the sequence that sets the whole plot in motion. It’s kind of the “Why is this day different than all other days” moment. On some level, the movie is about people who are locked in their heads and their own experiences when circumstances conspire to bring them outside themselves a bit and into a deeper sense of connection with another person. The first part of the movie finds Sam’s life interrupted by the presence of this child and it’s initially an enormous drag. But Sam’s heart is ultimately too big to abandon the boy. This sequence illustrates one of the things I love about New York – you leave your apartment in the morning and you have no idea who you might bump into and how the course of your day (and life) might be altered as a result.
SHOOTING THE SCENE
The subway sequence was one of the more difficult scenes in the movie, mainly because we couldn’t shoot in the actual subway. Line producers and UPMs never love seeing INT. SUBWAY in scripts – a subway scene is pretty much a logistical nightmare if your budget is less than $100 million, which ours, um, was. We ended up shooting at Randall’s Island, which is the training site for the New York Fire Department. They have a single subway car that film productions can use, but you have to get creative. The doors don’t close automatically so two P.A.s had to crouch low and out-of-frame and close the doors manually. And the train obviously doesn’t move or enter any tunnels. We solved this by shooting the scene hand-held and draping black cloths over the windows when the train was supposed to be in the tunnel (sound design in post also helped this along considerably.) Getting unpaid extras out to Randall’s Island was also no picnic – all credit to our production team who rounded up seventy people to work background that day. We got a bit behind shooting another scene earlier that morning so from the get-go, it was kind of immediately a high-pressured situation. My D.P. Seamus Tierney lit the whole car so he could just roam around and pick up whatever was needed. We did a ton of shooting of Michael and I trading looks and I had Seamus grab a lot of inserts – people reading newspapers, tapping feet, looking bored, etc. It was important to me that the whole thing felt authentic.
The most difficult part of the sequence was getting the family off the train while Rasheen is left behind. My production designer, Jade Healy, had created all sorts of amazing fake ads for the train and we had Michael fixate on one of the more colorful ones, which subtly hints that he has a great eye for color (it’s later revealed Rasheen is a prodigiously talented artist) while also showing this to be why he doesn’t notice his family has left. Coordinating the timing of the doors closing was not easy. I wanted the doors to close right as Rasheen got to them, but in take after take, one door would close and another would get stuck. Or Michael would be blocked by extras streaming into the train and couldn’t get to the door in time. On one of the last takes we had, the movie gods smiled on us and the two doors came together perfectly on cue right as Michael was about to exit. I remember lifting my arms in the air like I’d just won Olympic gold.
The next big chunk of the sequence is outside the police station. This was shot in Harlem on our second day. I was still getting my directing legs under me and we had to do a lot of tweaking in editing to find the right energy for the scene. Taxis and police cars were the big problems when we shot this. It’s illegal in New York City to film outside a police station if you show the precinct number so we had to shoot across the street. We wanted the fleet of police cars to be in evidence, but there weren’t many out front that day and then an enormous FedEx truck moved in front of the building obscuring the few squad cars that were there. We needed a taxi, as well, as it would be an integral part of the scene. Luckily, we tracked down a cabbie who happened to be an enormous “How I Met Your Mother” fan and we paid him a few bucks and he stayed with us until we got the shots we needed. Again, timing was tough on this one. We needed the cab to go in reverse and hit a pretty specific mark so when I opened the door, Michael would be right there. This ate up some serious time that day and we ended up having to drop a scene and push it to another day, which alarmed my producers no end (that scene was actually the only scene we ended up dropping the rest of the shoot). We shot Michael getting into the cab with me and the cab driving away, but my editor, Michael Miller, and I found that the joke of seeing Sam and Rasheen get off the elevator together in the next scene played better if we cut to it from Sam opening the taxi door and he and Rasheen staring at each other rather than seeing Rasheen climb in the car.
Making a film was full of seemingly small decisions like that that end up having a big impact on the larger story.