‘Premature’ Director Dan Beers on Wooing Bill Murray, Lessons Learned from Wes Anderson and Finding Heart in Hard-On Jokes

'Premature' Director Dan Beers on Wooing Bill Murray, Lessons Learned from Wes Anderson and Finding Heart in Hard-On Jokes
'Premature' Director Dan Beers on Wooing Bill Murray, Lessons Learned from Wes Anderson and Finding Heart Hard-On Jokes

For teenage boys, the ubiquity of unexpected tumescence is a regular fact of life, but “Premature” may mark the first time that it serves as a trigger for time travel.

The “Groundhog’s Day”-esque comedy, directed by Dan Beers, premiered this year at SXSW and is now available on VOD and iTunes through IFC Midnight (it’s also playing in select theaters and expands to Los Angeles on July 25); Eric Kohn, in his review, said that “Beers’ giddy feature embraces the sophomoric tradition of ‘Porky’s’-era horny male humor with a warm, consistently funny attitude, like a scrappier version of ‘American Pie.'”

Below, Beers explains how he made sure his masturbation humor had a heart, how he enlisted a Joss Whedon fan favorite for the cast, and why he owes everything to Bill Murray.

How did you get your start in film?

Well, I graduated film school in the late 90s and was working in the indie film scene here in New York. Good Machine, I worked there for close to five years, which was an amazing place to work, especially at that time. Then I worked for Wes Anderson for five years, who was another amazing person to work for.

And at that point I had always been wanting to write my own movie and make my own stuff, and by the time I finished working for Wes I felt very prepared to do so. I had written a few scripts and I had an agent and I wanted to make this short film, which I did and which was in Sundance — Bill Murray got to be in it. Which was a huge coup obviously — and then from there I just tried to keep moving forward and make my own movie. As a kid I made my slew of terrible movies on my video camera trying to grab all my friends who were 12 or 13, and fortunately I think every movie I made got a little bit better.

Your first high-profile project was the short “Fact Checkers Unit” which premiered – when was it? 2008? 2007?

It premiered online on Funny or Die in 2007, then at Sundance in 2008… I had written a couple of pieces for Vanity Fair from time to time and the fact checkers would always call and ask these absurd questions and they’re so intense over the phone. I always had this vision in my head of who these people were. When we hatched that idea, Funny or Die wasn’t on the scene yet, but the idea was to create a web video, or short film that could play on the web. The question always was how do we get people to actually watch it? The clue to that was Bill — I mean Bill just did me a huge favor in saying ‘yes.’”

Did you go through the whole voicemail thing with him?

Bill I knew just from working with Wes. I knew him, but I wouldn’t call myself his friend. But Bill was always my hero. As a film fan I was just in awe of him. I ended up running into him at a bar near my apartment in Brooklyn one evening and we said hello and were talking for a minute and as he was leaving he was like, “Dan, what was that fax you sent me?” and I was like, “Oh, I don’t want to put you on the spot,” and he was like, “Oh, just tell me.” And I told him it’s this short film I want to do about these two fact checkers, and they’re doing a fact-checking on you and he was just like [nonchalant Bill Murray impression], “Alright, I’ll do it. Sounds cute. How’s March?”

He sounds so enthusiastic when you tell it.

[Laughs.] He’s a lovely guy. But seriously, and I don’t want to put any words into his mouth, but I think he always tries to help the underdog and he really did that for me. I really owe him a lot — everything, really, cause I don’t think anyone would’ve watched the short film without him.

Going back to “Premature” — for you, what does it mean to transition to longer form content?

Personally, story-wise it’s easier for me. Usually I tend to always think long form, as far as a long movie narrative-wise and character-wise. The challenge is obviously just the stamina of working on a feature film. I was very fortunate in that I worked for a person like Wes Anderson. I knew what had to be in order to do it, and Wes works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. So I knew what I had to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Things like getting your sleep and going home every day after wrap and getting your rest and being highly prepared for the next day and knowing everything inside and out. It’s a challenge everyday shooting on set — a problem will come every day — and you have to know the movie inside and out so you can have that plan so the plan can be tossed. If that makes sense.

You’re delving into a genre here — I hate to put it into terms of “male teenage masturbation comedy”…

I guess that’s a genre I fell into. No, but thinking back to 80s movies like “Porky’s” and “Hardbodies,” like those kind of early 80s movies, than I think the hope for this is that there is a lot of heart in the movie that you don’t expect to be there.

Thinking of something recent would be the Apatow movies, especially the “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I kind of went into that movie thinking it was going to be one thing and was really surprised, by the end, about how much I cared about our two lead characters — Catherine Keener and Steve Carell. John Hughes movies too, where you really fall in love with these characters. I really wanted you to fall in love with the characters played by John [Karna] and Katie [Findlay]. By the end, hopefully through all the ups and downs, you realize they really are sweet and they are real. That’s what I was hoping by casting two actors who felt like real people, and didn’t seem like polished actors.

READ MORE: Awkward Orgasms in Exclusive Clip from IFC Midnight Comedy ‘Premature’

I found the female lead to be really sweet and engaging, which is hard. A lot of times you see this genre and, “Oh, she’s just the girl.” But your girl had a lot of personality.

Well that’s Katie. I have to say that Katie is a beautiful young lady, but she’s also a total utter dork. She’s a complete dork. She loves comic books and “Firefly.” When Katie found out that the movie also had Alan Tudyk in it, she got so excited — like, “Holy shit, Alan Tudyk is in this movie? I’m going to meet Alan Tudyk?” I think she was more excited for that than actually having the part. [Laughs]

How did you bring in Alan Tudyk?

Alan was shooting a movie right in the same city where we were — Atlanta. He was shooting the movie “42” and was wrapping up. He had gotten hold of the script and wanted to come in to meet, while we were still trying to figure out that part. He just came in and had us on the floor. We weren’t prepared for how good Alan was going to come in and be. When he left the room we knew he was the one.

So he auditioned?

Yeah. He came in and read for it.

That’s amazing.

Yeah, it was shocking. I loved Alan and I knew he was a really funny, well-rounded, awesome actor. Actors blow my mind everyday, and the fact that he was able to just come in and perform for four people in a small room and have them on the floor is a gift.

“Premature” is not a long movie — just an hour and a half — but you spend a lot time setting up not just the premise but the world of the film. It’s about a half an hour in before you actually get to the whole time travel aspect. Was that a deliberate twist on your part or kind of just how things evolved?

Well I guess it was deliberate. When we wrote it we wrote the first act as being the first day, and we carefully set up everything that happens in that one day so that we could go back to it and to different elements. We wanted to have all the elements in the day so we could go back to them. Once we finished the movie and put it together, I was a little nervous that day one was a little too long, but you had to be boxed in to a certain degree because we needed everything in there. Personally, I think it plays OK. But that definitely is a worry, whether we did put too many things in the first day.

That kind of set up is necessary, because it supports the whole film.

Yeah. Part of the fun is that you know what’s going to happen, but it’s the paths in which he gets there. It’s a ticking bomb in any movie — you know the bomb is under the table, but when is it going to go off? For Rob, it’s the orgasms in his pants. When are they going to happen?

This is the first time I’ve ever done an interview where someone said “the orgasms in his pants.”

Well, you know, thank you.

Generationally, you’ve got “Porky’s” in the 80s and you’ve got “American Pie” in the 90s, but is there an ‘oughts equivalent?

I think “Superbad” is definitely one. For me, what that movie did so well was that it really captured the essence of being a male teenager so well. What I also love about that movie too is that the filmmaking is so great and the direction is so great. I don’t aspire to just point the camera and shoot and have the characters talk. In theory, I’d hope to be able to tell a story a little bit with a camera. It’s tougher when you’re on an indie and don’t have a lot of days, but that was definitely a goal — to have the movie look and feel a certain way. 

It’s a fascinating filmmaking challenge – how much material can you get out of this one basic time period of a young man’s life?

Yeah, all in one day. Maybe in a next life, if you come back as a teenage boy, you’ll understand it. 

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