Garage Team Mazda and REVERSE director Johan Stahl on a wickedly humorous tale of a boy stuck in the middle of his parents' divorce
Our most powerful ideas can often come from our most emotionally challenging experiences. For the young boy in this film for the Newport Beach Film Festival, a lifestyle film festival in California's Orange County, it's the turmoil of being caught in the crosshairs of his parents' bitter divorce that leads him to retreat further into his imagination. What he doesn’t realise, though is the power that his ideas have on the world. We don't want to give away all the fun, but this sweet little boy unwittingly imparts quite severe pain on acquaintances of his bickering parents.
The film is a follow-up to last year's highly successful 'Quota' film for the festival. It was created by Garage Team Mazda, a WPP agency, and directed by REVERSE's Johan Stahl. LBB's Addison Capper spoke with director Johan and Melissa Webber, a creative director at Garage Team Mazda, to find out more.
LBB> What inspired the idea to set this world around a divorce?
Melissa> Our film is about the power of ideas. Some of the most powerful ideas come in a reaction to a bad circumstance, something painful or emotionally difficult. For this sweet little boy, his pain comes from his parents’ divorce. Creative people take that pain and turn it into art. Maybe this little boy is a future filmmaker.
LBB> Where did you look for inspiration for the scenes that unfold in the film?
Melissa> We started with the little boy’s tough situation, how he’s not being heard, and how he might process that pain. Then we imagined the toys he might carry with him. Then we just ran with it.
LBB> Why was Johan Stahl the perfect director to bring your idea to life?
Melissa> Not only does he have a great aesthetic, Johan is also a strong storyteller. He understood how to set up that sharp contrast in a way that you root for the boy, but completely enjoy the dark consequences of his actions. Johan understood the idea on every level.
LBB> Johan, what was the initial script like and why was it something you were keen to get involved in?
Johan> I instantly connected with the script - since I know what it feels like to be bickering with the ex-love of your life, and I also know what it feels like to be a little boy who retracts into an imaginary world to ignore parents bickering. So, I’ve been on both sides of the fence here.
Regarding the initial script, we had quite a few developing rounds and back-and-forths with the team from Garage Team Mazda. We spent a lot of time on finding the right balance of how directly to link between the kid’s playing and what went down in the real world.
LBB> What was the casting process like for the boy?
Johan> I knew right away that Django was the one for this. We saw a bunch of very talented kids – and played around with them at callbacks – but Django had that ability to just…play. And be absorbed in his own world, which was exactly what I wanted from the kid in this story. Actually, the whole casting process was one heck of a day. It’s rare that you get to spend a full day with puking bikini girls, wall-headbanging guys, kids playing, parents bickering, and surfers screaming on the floor pretending to have their lower leg being eaten by a shark.
LBB> And what kind of conversations were you having with him on set? His facial expressions are so subtle but perfect!
Johan> My main focus was to get Django to forget we were shooting. I’d spend some time with him during shoot breaks, walking around and playing at the diner, so he got very comfortable and took ownership of the location. That made him relax when we shot his scenes. I then did some very long takes where I talked him through all his reaction shots, and he was so responsive and natural in almost every single take we did.
LBB> Aesthetically and thematically, where did you look for inspiration and what were your main aims?
Johan> I re-watched ‘Kramer vs Kramer’, only to discover what a timeless masterpiece it is. And then I also looked through early Peter Jackson gore. I wanted it to have an early ‘70s sensibility (a period I absolutely love) but with a contemporary feel.
LBB> It's quite dark and sci-fi in many ways but also has a comedic edge to it to. How did you balance those themes?
Johan> One of the things I really loved about this project was the ability to push the limits a bit and allow it to be dark and unpleasant at times. I like that most people would think, ‘WTF did I just watch?’ after watching it the first time - and then connect the dots better when they re-watch it. It was also fun to find a balance in getting an honest laugh during something so over-the-top as when the mother’s new, hunky surfer boyfriend screams, ‘Fucking shark!’ when he’s bleeding to death on Venice Beach.
Melissa> The balance and humour comes from the fact that he has no idea the mayhem he is causing. The consequences are only seen by the audience. He doesn’t realise it until the last beat of the film. That’s when he discovers he has some special powers.
LBB> Where did you shoot and what was the shoot like as a whole?
Johan> After considering NYC, we decided to shoot everything in LA over two long days. We had several locations - downtown, beach, boardwalk, house with a pool, and our restaurant, which we shot at the mythic Pink Motel - but we decided to stay away from its iconic pink and blue theme, which was kind of funny. We had to move and shoot fast. REVERSE, who represents me in the US and produced this film, managed to get an A-list crew on board and supported the script and creative fully. Everyone was down to get it done and do it well. It felt like shooting a short film more than shooting a promo piece. All this was instrumental in the success of this film, I think.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Johan> When you have to shoot fast and are battling against the clock and daylight, you always wish you had more resources and more time to improvise or brainstorm / discuss shots on set. We managed to make some improvements to the script as we were shooting but we also lost a couple shots we wanted. We also made the film evolve in the edit. It was a challenging but extremely satisfying process overall.
Melissa> The trickiest part was that balance. Thanks to our editor, Erwin Fraterman, this piece really came together in the edit where we had control of that balance between the innocence and mayhem, and could dial it in perfectly.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Johan> Hmm… the ocean…don’t underestimate it!
It was a super fun and tough ride – and I was very happy to work so closely with the creative team from Garage Team Mazda, a process that just kept making the outcome better. I think REVERSE did an amazing job getting a stellar crew on a project like this and having a strong creative just makes it easier to get an entire team excited and behind a project like ‘The Power of Ideas’.
Melissa> Our film last year, ‘Quota’, and this year’s ‘Play’ had to pass this simple test: be as strong as the films that get accepted into the festival. That bar is high. Hopefully, we passed it.