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the insider: sam levinson

the writer-director of the sundance hit another happy day fills us in.

by: liza darwin

November 07 2011

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It's a big deal if your first-ever movie shows at Sundance Film Festival. It's an even bigger deal if it has an heavyweight cast, starring everyone-and we mean everyone- from Ellen Barkin to Kate Bosworth to Demi Moore. But arguably one of the most interesting parts about Sam Levinson's debut Another Happy Day is the fact that he's just 26 years old. The New York writer and director wrote the drama about 4 years ago, and now it's about to show in select theaters. Levinson filled us in on his "writing frenzy" that led to the film, its major cast, and the secret to making a movie in only 3 weeks.

Why did you decide to make a family-centered story as your first film?
I never really see it as a family story in a way, I feel more like it's a story about communication. I decided to make a film about the gap that exists between what we intend to say versus what we openly say. It's a very strange thing, because people often have such good intentions but their actions don't always reflect that. Within a family it's very difficult to deal with, because everyone is stuck with their family.

How did the whole project come about?
I was about 22 when I wrote the script and I didn't have an agent or manager at the time. I wrote the script in 3 weeks in a sort of frenzy, and after that I didn't really know what to do with it. I had a friend in LA and I sent it to him, and he said that he liked it, but first he asked me if I could do a rewrite on an action movie that he was working on.

So then what happened?
Well, at the time, I was thinking about who could play the character of Lynn, and Ellen Barkin is an actor that I've always admired and loved. So I start working on this action movie and one of the actors happened to be Ellen Barkin. After about a week of talking to her, I was like, "Okay, I feel comfortable enough to give her my script." She called me a few hours later and told me she was in. From that point on she spearheaded this film in terms of who I wanted to cast next. For the part of the new wife, I told Ellen [Barkin], "I wanted to find a good formidable opponent for you, and the only person I could think of- if I were to arrange a boxing match and wasn't sure who to put money on- is Demi Moore." She's the only person I could think of who could potentially kick the shit out of her.  She has the emotional life to walk the fine line between tough and heartbroken. She signed on, and then the rest of the cast fell into place.

What was the toughest part about directing your first film?
Ironically, the most difficult part seems to be the part that comes after the creative process. It's like you delivered a baby or something, and then all of a sudden there are 80 people commenting on it, prodding it and saying stuff like "They have red toes, they have a crooked smile," you know.

How long did it take to shoot?
We shot in Rochester, Michigan and the entire process took about 3 weeks. It was a hectic schedule, but it didn't feel that way because the cast and crew were all in this together. It was a closed set, which was a protective, beautiful environment. It was was surprisingly easily.

Did you look specifically to any other films while writing Another Happy Day?
Scenes From a Marriage was probably the greatest influence in terms of its rawness and back-and-forth of it all. You're constantly questioning, "Did I make the right decision?" It's not always clear.

Find out more about Another Happy Day here.
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