mxdwn Movies was lucky enough to attend a screening during the opening weekend for The Kings of Summer after which was a Q&A with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and lead actors Nick Robinson, Gabe Basso, and Moises Arias. The movie is excellent, so go see it not only because it’s release is expanding somewhat this weekend, but also because the following transcript will make more sense if you’ve seen the film. If you haven’t, though, and just want some good film talk, fear not. There are no major spoilers in the following.
Unfortunately, we missed recording the very beginning of this Q&A, but we got most of it. Enjoy!
Jordan: Chris Galletta, who is a writer based out of New York, had written this script. It was his first – it’s both of our first features. And I just – when I got sent the script, I thought it was a joke. I thought someone was like playing a prank on me because I couldn’t believe that it didn’t have a director attached. I legitimately asked my agents, “Are you guys just trying to hurt me right now?” Like they would have brought up this script and just told me someone else was directing it. And thus began a very bizarre two year process, and here we are.
Moderator: And Chris, the writer, was on the set also, it was a real collaboration between you
Jordan: Yeah. Look, this was a real hard movie to make. We didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t have a lot of time, and I think that movies sort of go, there’s always a sort of naturally weird transition from script to screen. I think it started out as his movie when he wrote it, and then on set it was very much sort of our creation, and once we got into the edit, I was like, “This is mine now.” It was an, ah, interesting growing process. But, yeah, it was a really collaborative set. And not only just with him, but with everyone. I do a lot of improv with the actors, and, you know, the reason they’re all so great is not only because they’re wise beyond their years and incredibly talented, but I wanted them to be able to bring themselves to it, and they all stepped their game up individually, and I think they felt there was a sense of ownership and authorship to what they were doing as well.
Moderator: You guys really created a real bond, or at least it appeared that way on screen. I’m wondering what’s the prep for actors here with doing that and making it look like you’re all friends and you’ve gone off into the summer to build this house? Gabe, you did a lot of improv on this?
Moderator: What was your process, in other words?
Gabe: Oh. First of all, thank you for coming. Um, I didn’t really have a specific process that I went through. But as far as bonding with these guys, we had a lot of free time. We were staying at a retirement home. As hard as those people party…[laughter] You know it’s a lot of down time. I think we found when we had off time we just hung out. That’s all there was to do.
Jordan: They really got dropped into it, you know. We didn’t do a lot of rehearsal, I don’t like doing rehearsals in general. And because it’s an indie we didn’t have that luxury. I sent them to improv classes out here [Los Angeles] where they met a couple times.
Nick: Once. I met him [Gabe] once, and him [Moises] maybe once, cuz the both showed up to one-
Nick: Oh, they showed up to two classes. So my first impression was these guys are real assholes. It changed, it changed drastically when we got to set.
Jordan: Yeah, the story we sort of consistently tell, and I think for me, the story of the time that it all clicked for everyone, was after our first week of shooting, we wanted to create an environment where, like I said, they were able to bring themselves to it and really step up, and not just be actors showing up, and not just, like, the kids on the set, but collaborators. And I think showing up to set, for the, was fun hopefully, even though it was hard. But that entire thing of them banging on the pipe, that whole montage, on one of our off days, me and the DP and the camera guy went out to the woods with the boys – which sounds real creepy – but went out to the woods, and we just shot a bunch of stuff, just of boys being boys. And it was just, like, real and raw and earnest, and then that whole pipe thing just sort of developed organically. I’d found that, but we didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We had Moises get up on that pipe and start dancing –
Moises: Great craft, of course.
Jordan: And it just happened, you know, and I think that it was one of those rare moments on set when you actually felt like you were watching something special. I don’t know, for me, at least, I felt like that was a turning point of the shoot. Everyone sort of saw that if you step up, and like if you bring something besides just reading the lines, you know, you can create.
Moderator: Nick, can you relate to Joe, and is this something you would want to do at age 15 or whatever age he was? Clearly when you see their family life, it’s a whole other world there, and I think the audience has real empathy, and they say, “Yeah, get these guys out of that house. And out in the woods.”
Nick: Well I think it’s kind of hard not to, I think he’s kind of an everyman. I mean, yeah, I saw a lot of myself in him. I think Joe is really just a version of myself. It reminded me so much of growing up. I grew up in Seattle, and grew up going camping and playing in the woods, and having this crazy imagination. That’s all died. I don’t have an imagination anymore, it’s just dead. [Laughter] But yeah, I saw a lot of myself in Joe, and I tried to bring as much of myself as I could, actually, because I felt that was most authentic….I kind of lost my train of thought, was there a second part to that question?
Moderator: No, just basically, could you see yourself doing this? I mean, this is a survivalist kind of idea.
Nick: Yeah, I mean I did – I have one memory of running away, and I was nine or ten, and I packed a sandwich, and that’s about it. Walked up the street. Was probably gone for an hour, my mom didn’t even know I was gone. And so, yeah, that was not nearly as successful as this. But yeah, I think everyone has that urge at some point. Run away from home, just be in a different environment than you are, because its not, you’re not vibing. So yeah, I did, I definitely empathize with Joe and his whole struggle.
Moderator: Now what about you, Moises, your character, Biaggio, is truly eccentric. That’s got to be a word for him. How did you relate to him, if you could?
Moises: In every way. Biaggio, I don’t know where he came from, I guess I just, you know, the thing I came up with him, he’s a person that’s completely comfortable with being uncomfortable. And it was going into the role knowing that I was bringing the sex appeal of movie…[Laughter]…and I had to step my game up. Yeah, no, that’s about it.
Moderator:You obviously have had a lot of experience doing comedy. For those who don’t know, you were on for five years on Hannah Montana.
Moises: Yeah. Six years, maybe, from when I was ten, eleven years old til about sixteen. That taught me everything I needed to know, believe it or not. Gave me a lot of – gave prop training, gave just knowing how to act on set, maturing me, and just, you know, even though it’s children’s, a children’s show, it was still challenging me every week to kind of bring a realness to the show and then when, you know, you go on to film and find those characters that will set you apart from that, finding those, that will really be memorable. And I think Biaggio, when I first read it and, you know, and the script was what got me interested in the part, and coming into work in Ohio I was ready to be the weirdest, stupidest person I could.
Jordan: And I also think to bear credit, we had incredible adult comedians in this movie, really really talented people who would know how to ride that line between being funny but also being real. But it was just really apparent from the beginning that the movie was going to live and die by these three because you needed that earnestness and that sense of nostalgia that they were going to elicit from you. And you don’t walk out of Stand By Me or Goonies and think to yourself, one of those kids is really good. You know, they’re all great. And it’s important for you that as an audience member you’re able to decide who you relate to, who you identify with, and I think that they all, they really brought it. And I think Biaggio in particular is a really tough character because not only if it didn’t work would you have jokes falling flat constantly, but we wanted to ride this line between not knowing much of anything about the character, but knowing everything you needed to know. At the end of the day he’s sort of like this loyal dog, you know, like this Sam/Frodo relationship starts developing, and he does become like an emotional thru-line. So you needed to have this character that really was like, bat-shit insane, but there was heart to it, and you were invested because you saw how important this journey, this friendship was to him. And I think the three of them, you know, the chemistry amongst them is what really makes the movie work.
Nick: Well I think Biaggio’s a genius. I think he, like, sees in the fourth dimension or something. He can see shit that none of us can see.
Jordan: We always did kind of view it as a very Kramer and Seinfeld relationship, you know, where they always talk about in that show where it was a real shift when he started playing the character from being dumber than everyone else to somehow smarter than everyone else. And you’re like, “Ok.”
Moderator: You mentioned the adult cast, too, and they’re great. I’m sure they [the audience] recognized Megan Mullally from Will & Grace, Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation and, I mean, they’re off the wall, too. When I see your parents [Gabe/Patrick], you’re the only child in this, and you’re completely smothered to the point that you’re, you know, getting hives and things like that. You go like, “Yeah, this guy’s got to get out of that house right now.”
Gabe: Yeah, I think I would probably run away if I had parents like that.
Moderator: What was it like working with them, though? These are all great comic actors.
Gabe: It was extremely difficult working with them just because they’re so flipping hilarious. Just to be completely honest, you have Jordan telling you to keep a straight face, and then you’re sitting across from, like, two of the funniest people that I’ve ever met, and they’re just riffing for about thirty minutes, and you’re just told to keep a straight face. It was really challenging, but they were great.
Jordan: Well that dinner table scene, really, like you don’t even have that many lines, I don’t think. It’s just the parents bombarded him. So, like, we do a lot of long takes, and we do a lot of improv, so it’s just, “Gabe, keep a straight face. Megan, Mark go nuts.”
Gabe: At like four in the morning, when everything is funny. So I was just sitting there like, “Oh my god.”
Moderator: I gotta ask, and then I’m going to turn this over to the audience, but I’ve got to ask about you with the snake, guys, and was that real or was that a fake snake?
Moises: Oh, that bit me, that was real.
Nick: He’s method.
Moises: Everything else was fake.
Nick: That was a real snake, for the most part. He was real prick, first of all, like he did not like the camera, he would, like, slither away and hide in different parts of the house. He wouldn’t bite the food we would put in front of him, he was just…a total diva. So that part kinda sucked. But he was a gopher snake, so non-venomous.
Jordan: Non venomous, no fangs.
Jordan: He really was kind of an asshole. That was a weird day where on an action sequence like that normally you’d want to show up, have everything boarded, know exactly the pieces you need. But I specifically showed up that day not doing that, because I just knew, I was like, there is no way that snake is ever going to do what I want it to do. And so we even like – this is not unheard of, that the snakes can survive a really long time without eating. We specifically didn’t feed the snakes for weeks before hand so they would be aggressive. And we had an animal trainer, his name was Jungle Terry.
Nick: And he had a zebra printed Range Rover. Yeah, I actually don’t notice, was that message even –
Nick: Yeah, we don’t have that. Sorry –
Jordan: Yeah, but basically in that snake scene there’s a bunch of different behind the scenes photos of me holding this, like, the tail of the snake, trying to prod it into the frame. So that’s how that snake scene was shot.
Moderator: All right, let’s see if you guys have some questions.
Audience 1: I noticed a lot of your scenes were filmed during early morning or at sunset. What was, like, the choice of that to film in the afternoon?
Jordan: Well we, the writer and I – this is a moment that’s completely missing from the script, but something that the writer and I were really interested in doing, which was this question to ourselves of saying, can we make the dumbest Terrence Malick movie ever? Like can we combine really weird, ethereal, lyrical, impressionistic images with real bizarre slapstick comedy. And pushing things visually was a really important part of this movie to us. Like I don’t know when the last time you guys walked out of a comedy and thought to yourself, wow. That was really beautiful. That doesn’t happen, and that sucks, there’s no reason that can’t happen. And just the quality of light is better. The quality of light, it naturally sort of is softer and warm, and so we did sort of take a Malick approach to it.
Moderator: And you shot this in Ohio?
Jordan: In wonderful Ohio. Which is, we had beautiful locations, but the best thing that comes out of Ohio is when you need a dead rabbit you can post it on Craigslist and a bunch of people will come out and be like, I’ve got a dead rabbit. [Laughter] So yeah, we shot in Ohio, and as you can tell, it’s beautiful.
Moderator: You really spent – this is obviously an independent film – but you spent so much money, you put them up in a senior citizens’ home.
Jordan: We were all staying in the senior citizens’ home. I was, too, don’t think I wasn’t.
Audience 2: I read somewhere that you filmed in 23 days, is that true?
Jordan: 26 days. Yeah, we did four, that’s what it was, four six-day weeks. We were working six days a week, which is real tough, and then honestly, you know, me and my DP were working every single day. The first off day we, we all, that’s when we shot the pipe sequence. So we all shot six days, then we went out together without a real crew, which is illegal, and then we immediately went into the next day of shooting. And then we had another day off. The majority of them went to a theme park and Erin Moriarty, who plays Kelly, I shot with her, all the stuff with her in the field, and then we went back to schedule, and then we had another day off, and these two [Gabe and Nick] just did their own thing and Moises and I shot more stuff, and so we shot every single day. It was rough.
Audience 3: One of my favorite scenes was when Biaggio was with the dad, and the dad was shaving. What was the reasoning behind not showing his face? I thought that was fantastic.
Moderator: Ok, with Biaggio going in with the subtitles, and speaking in –
Moises: In Spanish.
Moderator: In Spanish, which is that a natural language?
Moises: Yeah, that was my first language. My name is Biaggio, I don’t know, that’s definitely not a Hispanic name…should be speaking Italian, but…
Jordan: That scene was actually written to take place in English, and Moises is, ah, not very subtle about the fact that he has Columbian roots. You get a lot of, “Hey, did you know I’m Columbian?” “Yeah, you told me.” Next day, “Hey, you know I’m Columbian?” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.” And so that was written as an English thing, and I was like, alright, man, put it to the test, do this whole scene in Spanish, and then in the last line, say it in English. But the reason that we shot the dad like that was just ’cause I – A, it reminded me of like…it just reinforced this idea of like, almost in like a “Peanuts” or “Muppets” way, the way that the kids perceive the world, and they’re sort of like cut off, you know mumbled out. But more specifically – with Biaggio, I didn’t want to reveal the species. It would take so much away, unless it was like John Turturro or somebody, I feel like it would take so much away to even know who that dad was, you know? Like it just wasn’t important. Moises and I joke about it. Like, I don’t think that kid’s dad even knew he was gone.
mxdwn Movies: There are a lot of sort of teen-angsty films out there, what was it about this script or this production that really set this one apart for you?
Jordan: It treated the characters with respect. It didn’t pander or patronize to people of that age. It’s also one of those rare movies that, while it is about teenagers, I think that it is primarily for adults who have passed that age and are able to look back and remember what it was, what it once – what they wished they had done. But it also really, to me, viscerally, reminded me of movies I grew up on and made me want to be a filmmaker, which were old [unintelligible] movies, and Stand By Me and John Hughes movies, and things like that. And I just knew with Chris’s script that we could push even further, we could take those influences and combine them with Malick and then, you know, pepper in this really bizarre alt comedy. And it was such a wonderful base, and his voice was so wonderful, and these kids could then come in, and really have it feel real even though this whole world is very left of center and bizarre.
Moderator: While I’d say that adults clearly like the movie and everything, I think this is going to have real appeal to the same age group as the actors playing it here because this is like a fantasy for kids. And you don’t see it, I mean, the movies that Hollywood turns out are sort of, you know, the same cookie cutter kind of thing.
Jordan: Look, ideally it is like a John Hughes movie where different generations can approach it for different reasons, you know, and get different things out of it. What I always think is interesting is when sometimes we screen it for younger audiences, the core emotion sort of turn when Kelly chooses the other boy, we screened it for some teen girls once and they were like, “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would she choose Patrick and not Joe?” And I was like, alright teen girls, you probably did that to some kid yesterday and don’t realize it. And there is a certain element of the movie that I do feel like you legitimately need to be past in order to appreciate. But I do think that there’s a lot of stuff in the movie that I certainly – like I said, I think that different generations, ideally, appreciate different things about it.
Moderator: Why did you change the name, by the way? It was Toy’s House, and now it’s Kings of Summer.
Jordan: Well I didn’t change the name. Just market research. They found that Toy’s House was sort of a confusing title, and if Kings of Summer helps get people into theaters, then great. I think that still to this day when I talk to the writer he refers to it as Toy’s House. I mean, you gotta let go. You need to let go. But yeah, I actually think Kings of Summer‘s a pretty great title. But it’s just about – they did a bunch of studies and people were more interested just in the title of Kings of Summer than Toy’s House.
Audience 4: Talk to me about the symbolism of the facial hair.
Moderator: That’s a pretty great question actually, because it’s constant throughout this movie.
Nick: Gabe’s got a little bit of peach fuzz right now.
Jordan: Which he couldn’t grow last year.
Gabe: I haven’t shaved in a couple minutes.
Moderator: And both of you, you know, it’s back, it’s on, it’s off, it’s on, it’s off…
Jordan: All of the facial hair in the movie is fake. None of these kids can grow facial hair. Look, I think so much of the movie is about masculinity, and to me the movie was always a sort of postmodern Stand By Me, which is to say, the kids in that movie, it was a generation raised by men, and they were going to grow up and be self-sufficient people. And my generation, the video game generation, is one where, we wouldn’t go out into the woods. What we would do is smoke weed and talk about going out into the woods. We’re a generation of wusses. And I think the writer and I are both very obsessed with what masculinity is in 2013. And that’s why it was always really intimidating having someone amazing like Nick Offerman around who is a man through and through. I just feel even when you’re around a bunch of teenagers you’re just like, well I’m a boy. Compared to Nick Offerman I am not a man. But I think the facial hair is just inevitably tied to masculinity.
Nick: Yes. [Laughter]
Jordan: And I think, if anything, the facial hair in the movie is a little – I think the whole movie has like a fable vibe to it, and you’ll actually notice when Patrick leaves the house for the last time, he has facial hair, and when he wakes up in the morning he’s entirely clean shaven. And I would like to think that – the whole movie to me is sort of a perception thing. And I think that even the facial hair itself is an amped up idealization in the kids’ minds of how that looks as opposed to how it actually looks.
Nick: You guys had no idea. Facial hair is deep as shit. [Laughter] I though it was just facial hair, this is all news…
Jordan: I like to keep you in the dark about things.
Audience 5: So this beautiful, life-affirming movie, I loved it. Nick, I want to know what it was like to work with Nick Offerman, especially in the Monopoly scene and the 9-1-1. All that was so weird, and so well done, and then of course at the end, too.
Nick: Yeah, like Jordan said, Nick is just like a constant reminder that you’re never going to be as much of a man. Like he is the man, he kind of is like Ron Swanson in his real life, and he’s very very, very talented, like you don’t understand, he just had me rolling the whole time. Like his delivery, his wit is so quick, and then he could turn it and be very grounded, very real, very dramatic. Yeah, that Monopoly scene, that was so much fun to shoot, that was great. Just to watch Nick and Eugene and Alison all just riff off one another was so much – I just sat back and watched, I didn’t even say a line. I’d try and improv as much as I could throw in a joke here and there, but it was great just to watch them work. It was very, very cool. And the funkyness I contribute to Jordan because his whole style is very, you know, it’s cool, it’s – [to Jordan] well done. Good Job.
Jordan: Also, one of my favorite moments personally, speaking about Nick and Nick, was one of the last scenes we shot with the two of them was the hospital scene, which was really the culmination of their relationship, and for me, there are a few moments where I definitely pulled Nick aside on set and was like, “Hey man, I’m really proud of you,” and you’re like, “Yeah, whatever.” But it really was, it was just really endearing to watch, because at that point it was just the two of them going toe to toe, and it was fun watching Nick actually like geek out and want to be able to zing him and step up and totally be able to compete and not just be obviously carried by the other person in that scene. You know they’re both so fantastic, and for me as a director it was really fun just watching him sort of geek out for that, and actually get excited to go toe to toe like that.
Nick: Also, if you’re interested, since we’re both named Nick we had nicknames on set.
Jordan: Everyone had a nickname.
Nick: Yeah everyone had a nickname, but we started it, because we were both named Nick.
Jordan: Nighthawk was his [Nick’s} nickname. Nick Offerman was named Meadowlark.
Jordan: Titmouse. And Condor [ref. Gabe]. And for a while those nicknames, legitimately, for like two or three weeks that’s what we were calling everyone.
Nick: I’ll still respond to Nighthawk if anyone wants to call me Nighthawk.