Seeking A Friend For The End of The World… Procrastinate.
Okay… we procrastinated about seeing the film Seeking A Friend For The End of The World… which is probably PRECISELY what we would do if we were faced with this dilemna… put it off… think about Douglas Adams and why we we weren’t blessed with an alien friend to allow us to hitchhike our way out of it all. But, here we are, all the better for having seen this film because… it gave us a tremendous insight into the human mind’s inability to just “accept and be”… for now. It is indeed a speculative little film that provides plenty of psychological enigmas. But it also allows each of us to stare a tad bit longer a the oncoming stranger we might have never bothered to notice. So this is our answer to the film… procrastinate. But do it for all of the reasons you use to put things off. You see, when take the time to procrastinate, you wallow about in that which you never usually stop to notice. Seeking a Friend For The End of The World provides a charming, emotional and thought-provoking ride through a somewhat confused apathetic society facing certain death; a beautiful story told with exceptional confidence by Scafaria.
And with any Carell movie, awkward humor is never far away. What’s more, the Mayans aren’t mentioned once— so… no ancient mesoamerican culture’s thought was abused in the making of this film. Seeking Friend for the End of the World takes place sometime in the future— but not too far away. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria explains, “I always intended to be vague about it in the telling. The only time we see a date is on a bottle of cough syrup, and we don’t know if the expiration date is coming up or it’s already come and gone. “By being only relatively in the future, I had options to play with the look of the film. [Production designer] Chris Spellman and [director of photography] Tim Orr helped create the aesthetic for the movie.” Spellman remembers, “When Lorene and I first met up, we talked about some films that she wanted me to see.”
“I was inspired by films like Defending Your Life and Songs from the Second Floor, movies which created their own world,” says Scafaria, who also discussed with Spellman how the design, sets and set dressing should not overpower the story and characters— as in many an end-of-the-world tale— but instead inform them. “Chris and I figured out the tiny little stories within our story, whether it was for an object or for a person you see only fleetingly.” Producer Mark Roybal found that “the aesthetic that’s been achieved is that of a future which is recognizable. Since things are not over-designed, there is no detracting from the heart of the story. “Chris was so good at doing research when it was needed; for example, the plot point, of if a small plane could in fact transport someone overseas was something that he ratified.”
Spellman notes, “We went with what the script dictated. Tim— whom I’ve worked with before— and Lorene and I went through it page by page, and discussed what the mood might be in terms of lighting, for instance.” Scafaria reveals, “I had had high hopes we would get Tim for Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; I’d seen and loved his work. When that didn’t pan out, I became obsessed with working with him some day, and I felt so fortunate when we landed him for this— my first time out as director. “We mapped out the entire shot list well before production started, then revised it as we went along, and certainly improvised when we had to on a given day. It was a very symbiotic collaboration. We agreed on our process together out of the gate, coordinating on shot composition. I come from a theater background, so I had to keep reminding myself to try to get as much coverage as possible. I learned more from Tim than from anyone else, and often referred to our time together as ‘my film school with Tim Orr.’”
The writer/director also worked closely with Orr’s actual film school classmate and longtime collaborator, film editor Zene Baker; during filming, Scafaria would watch all of the dailies as she went along and then discuss them with Baker, which in turn made the post-production phase progress that much more efficiently. Like Spellman, costume designer Kristin Burke was tasked with anticipating the near future. She notes, “When a script ventures even a little bit into the future, you naturally wonder, ‘Okay, what are we going to be wearing? What fabric are we going to have that we don’t have now?’ “But Lorene wanted to make the clothing as classic as possible, so that the film doesn’t date itself and also so it wouldn’t be implausible. For example, where were we 10 years ago and how much is the fashion sensibility different from today’s? Well, it’s not that far; between 1972 and 1962, now there was a huge gap.”
She elaborates, “What we were trying to do overall was ‘retro future,’ and as accessibly as possible for the viewer. As apocalyptic as this story might seem, it’s not depressing, and our costuming reflects that.” Burke was particularly pleased to be able to costume Knightley for a rare non-”costume” role. The designer says, “Penny is eclectically minded; we were looking to create a look for Keira which spoke to that. The way Penny dresses incorporates vintage elements and something of that mindset. “While there were no corsets for Keira on this movie, Penny is accessorized with something from the past— vinyl record albums.” The Next and Last Songs You Hear— While Dodge totes along Sorry, Penny hand-carries vinyl albums from her coveted record collection.
As Lorene Scafaria muses, “There’s always that ‘what if’ question; in case of a fire, what are you going to grab when you’re on your way out the door? What can you in fact physically carry? “Dodge by then feels responsible for the dog, but for Penny these albums have long had meaning to her; her record collection is something that she’s taken care of for years and years— in part because it is a connection to her parents.”
Scafaria reveals, “Music is important to me, so I felt that this story wouldn’t be complete without it. Part of showing Penny’s journey was through what— if not who— she has.” Production designer Chris Spellman and his team didn’t have to search far for the record albums that Keira Knightley would be clutching; Penny’s urgently streamlined collection is curated from Scafaria’s own. Specific songs, albums, and artists had been written into the script from the earliest drafts. When asked which albums she would rescue in case of fire— or worse— the writer/director says, “Lou Reed’s ‘Coney Island Baby,’ some Gene Clark, The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds,’ The Beatles.” Knightley states that her top music picks would have to be, “Supertramp and Talking Heads. Also, if in fact the world were ending, I would get on the road to North Devon.”
Steve Carell would not take “albums because my car lacks a turntable. My family would go to Disney World, with a steady stream of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez; what the kids are listening to these days— “‘What the kids are listening to these days?’ I just sounded about an 85 year old would eat… a lot of junk food, but I wouldn’t steal it; I would purchase cupcakes and brownies. Chinese food and pizza, too.” Scafaria muses, “I might stay put; I’m happy in L.A. I might drive north. I do have a ‘what if’ box ready to grab, plus my dogs and the person I’m with. I would want to be with friends and family as much as possible.”
Producer Mark Roybal says, “There would have to be one serious camper with full entertainment, and a limitless supply of gas so we could go anywhere we wanted. There would be debaucherous eating and drinking— within the confines of safety, since I have kids. But I do think there would be hot dogs for breakfast. “Our family road trip’s soundtrack would include ‘Harvest Moon,’ by Neil Young. That was our wedding song. Also, U2′s ‘Joshua Tree,’ The Band, and lots of Adele, because my kids love to belt out her songs.” Producer Joy Gorman Wettels demurs, “I’d do anything within reason that’s under a good rationale. If the idea of living on an island in Greece is moot, I would just try to relax.” For everyone on the set, variations on these questions and answers were invariably put forth and debated on a daily basis. What Scafaria had described as the “wonderful group of actors,” many of whom were on-set for just a couple of days, proved eager to chat with each other and the crew between takes, comparing notes on ultimate musical collections and cities of their final destinations. Actor Derek Luke offers, “I’d go and find people to help, or friends that I need to apologize to.” Actress Connie Britton reflects, “I would probably drive across the country and I would listen to every single kind of music, especially music from my childhood and Prince’s ’1999,’ even though he was off with the year by just a little bit.”
Expanding on Britton’s playlist, Scafaria’s assistant Virginia Shearer “would take ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘Sign o’ the Times,’ ‘Dirty Mind,’ and ‘Controversy.’ And, Prince himself.” Actress Melanie Lynskey comments, “My husband and our dog and I would hopefully go to Savannah. I’d bring The Cure and The Smiths and Pavement, and just listen and feel comforted.” Camera loader/production assistant Josh Novak picks “anything by Otis Redding— let’s just say ‘Greatest Hits,’ for the sake of not carrying bulk on the road trip to somewhere peaceful and tropical.” Opting for neither peaceful nor tropical, actress Gillian Jacobs enthuses, “I’ve never really broken any laws in my life, so I’d probably break a lot of them. I would probably destroy a lot of buildings using heavy equipment from construction sites. Maybe crash cars into medians on the highway, firebomb empty buildings— standard stuff.” Actor Patton Oswalt states, “I would have the theme to the TV show The Facts of Life on a loop, and drive towards Elton John, wherever he was. Because I’d want to hear him sing ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ while the meteor was approaching us; I just don’t think there’s any better way to end the world.” Gail Scafaria, the writer/director’s mother, says, “Just to be with Lorene. Yeah, that would be it.”