People often tell themselves stories about who they are and where they come from, in an effort to understand how their personality developed into what it is today. But it’s their experiences and relationships that ultimately define who they are, and what their future holds. That’s certainly the case for the at-times emotionally confused protagonist in the new alternative romantic comedy-drama, ‘Entanglement.’ The film explores how people are connected in incredible ways, and how a chain of seemingly awkward and insignificant events and situations can actually become life affirming moments.
‘Entanglement’ which was directed and produced by Jason James and written by Jason Filiatrault, is now playing in select theaters and On Demand and Digital HD, courtesy of Dark Star Pictures. The filmmakers show in the movie that after endearing life-defining moments, the initially despondent protagonist chooses to find some semblance of happiness within himself and the people around him, as well as the light in even the worst situations.
‘Entanglement’ follows the despondent Ben (Thomas Middleditch), who has become suicidal since his wife divorced him. He begins to embark on a path of self-destruction, he’s soon forced to change his ideas about what he’s going to do with the rest of his life. To contend with his confusion over his future, he visits his child psychologist, Dr. Jill Franklyn (Johannah Newmarch). He also discusses his theory of quantum entanglement with his neighbor, Tabby (Diana Bang). He explains that he believes that every choice a person makes creates new realities, and if he can determine what past decision he made that sent his life spiraling out of control, he can recapture his happiness.
Ben’s life seems to find new purpose when his father is hospitalized, and makes a surprising deathbed confession: Ben’s father discloses that decades earlier, he almost adopted a baby girl, who would have become Ben’s sister. The troubled Ben then becomes convinced that the woman who could have become his sister is the key to answering his questions about his purpose in life, so he sets out to find her.
Ben ends up finding the free-spirited Hanna (Jess Weixler), who he believes may have been the woman who could have become his adopted sister. Her defiant nature defies his cautious personality, but she still intensely pursues him. Ben’s idea of quantum entanglement is tested when Hanna insists that they’re forever bound and connected. Her persistence makes him not only further question what’s in store for his future, but also whether a woman who’s seemingly connected to his past can ultimately turn out to be his one true love, and who can help him reclaim his happiness for the future.
James generously took the time recently to talk about directing and producing ‘Entanglement’ during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he was drawn to helm the comedy-drama as soon as Filiatrault sent him the script, because he was interested in showing Ben’s interesting perspective on the world in a visceral way. James also immediately knew that he wanted to cast Middleditch as Ben as soon as he started looking into the actor’s work and real-life personality, because the performer is very much in touch with his emotions, just like the protagonist.
The conversation began with James explaining what convinced him to directed ‘Entanglement,’ and how he would describe his directorial approach on the set. “I was developing a different movie with the writer, and he sent me the script for this film out of the blue one day. It was an early draft, and he just asked me for some notes, and what I thought about it. I read it from cover to cover, and I could totally see the movie on screen,” the helmer disclosed. “It was a beautiful, fragile, weird and funny script that I knew I wanted to be a part of.”
So James “immediately created this Tumblr page with music, images and videos of how I would execute this movie, if (Filiatrault) let me. I’ve never pitched so hard for a writer to let me be a part of (their project),” the director admitted.
“To me, as a filmmaker, I think a lot about point-of-view. Due to Ben’s psychosis and intriguing perspective on the world, it’s interesting as a filmmaker to have that visceral feel to the story,” James also shared.
‘Entanglement’s story features several tones, as it’s a smart and witty romantic comedy, while also being a darker and more dramatic psychological mystery, and there’s a duality at play between the tones. The helmer then revealed why he was interested in showing that duality between the chaos and control in Ben’s life, as he explores his existential crisis.
“My last films have been comedies about more awkward ideas, but I’m really interested in that grey area of life. Everyone always asks if this film is a comedy or drama, and I think it’s both. Real life is a combination of both comedy and drama,” James pointed out. “So the light and the dark are things that I’m really drawn to, especially when I’m making movies.”
The filmmaker added that ‘Entanglement’ “is a romantic comedy about mental illness and depression. That’s an interesting challenge, but finding the balance between comedy and drama is something I get really excited about. I love scenes that are really dramatic, and then are undercut with this comedic beat, and vice versa; I also liked trying to find the darkness in more comedic moments.”
James then delved into what the casting process was like, especially for the role of Ben, and how Middleditch decided to sign on to play the protagonist in the comedy-drama. “Thomas was the first actor we decided to cast in the movie. When I’m casting films, I love to watch interviews with actors. That way I can see who they are as people, and if there’s a little bit of the role I want to cast them as inside of them that I can pull out,” the director divulged.
“I remember watching one interview with Thomas, and the interviewer asked him what’s his favorite song. He started talking about Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘The King of Carrot Flowers,’ and he started crying. To me, that was so much like the character of Ben-here’s this guy who’s on the verge of either breaking down and laughing or breaking down and crying,” James shared.
The filmmaker also revealed that “Thomas, as a person, is very close to his emotions, and he’s this very raw and emotional guy. He can easily tap into a lot of this emotional stuff, so I can’t imagine another person playing this role,” he admitted. “Like you said, the story moves between comedy and drama, and Thomas brought this lovely quality to that part of the story. I think his performance is one of the things that I’m most proud about in the film. It definitely shows a different side of him that we haven’t seen before. It was a really lovely performance.”
Once all of the actors were cast in ‘Entanglement,’ they were able to have some rehearsal time together. “Thomas was brought onto the project early on, so we had a lot of time to develop the script and rewrite scenes and ideas, and play with the material,” James acknowledged.
The helmer added that when the other actors signed onto their respective roles, especially Weixler and Bang, “we got together and read the script. To me, the script is a malleable document and road map. So we all talked about different moments and situations, even right up to the moment when we’d start shooting a scene. We’d be rewriting moments, and coming up with new ideas. It was a very collaborative, improvised and open kind of set. To me, that was a really raw and exciting way to work.”
The material was “consistently evolving and changing, and everyone was always working to make it the best it could be. I think that translated into the performances, which feel honest and grounded. The actors made mistakes, like talking over each other, which helped make the story feel as real as possible,” James also shared.
As a helmer, James also loved seeing the actors’ different approaches to bringing the material to the screen. “Thomas has an improvised background, while Jess is more Juilliard and classically trained. So as a director, you really have to learn a different language to talk to the different actors. They had very different approaches to the material, but at the end of the day, they both played so well with each other. So their relationship felt organic.” The filmmaker added that he kept the improvised feel of the relationship between Middleditch and Weixler open throughout the shoot.
“During the production, I really feel that you make three films; the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit. So we looked to see what the best material we had, and we were constantly working to create the best version,” James explained.
Further speaking of the editing process, the helmer revealed that the final edit of the comedy-drama did differ from the way he initially envisioned the story when he first signed on as the director. “The initial script was a little funnier. But then Thomas and I started talking about some of the real things that were going on in the script, and we realized that they weren’t that funny. So we thought about how we could maintain that reality and emotion, but still keep the comedy,” James disclosed.
“So one of the first things that Thomas did was start crossing out some of the jokes. I think that trying to play the character as more dramatic was a really interesting instinct, and was more in tune with what this character was going through, the filmmaker shared. “So the tone of the story did shift along the way.”
James then delved into how the music also helped influence the way the story was told, and what the process of creating the score for the movie was like. “I really love the soundtrack for this film. It has a lot of weird, retro B-sides. I’ve made a few movies, and have done the cool, hip, indie soundtrack on my previous projects. We were going to do that with this movie, too, but we then made a deal with a record label, and we were able to put all of their music in. So I temped all of their music in, but it felt mediocre,” the helmer admitted.
“So I called up the music supervisor (David Hayman), and decided to put in more rare, oldies, retro songs in the film. That was a bolder choice, and I felt like the music was coming out of the characters, instead of the songs just being imposed over the movie. When I first read the script, the word vinyl came to mind. I think the music we selected has a more organic feeling, like what vinyl has, and that shows where’s Ben is at,” James noted.
The filmmaker then delved into what the process of finding the locations for the film was like. “I love location scouting. I don’t hire location scouts for my movies, because I just like to get into my car, drive around and find the locations where I want to shoot. Sometimes I’ll get inspired by a location, and work with the writer to rewrite a scene, based on something I found,” James disclosed. “I love when the real world influences a creative vision of a film.”
In addition to directing the comedy-drama, James also spoke about serving as one of the producers, and how he balanced his producing and helming duties on the set. “With this movie, I did a lot of producing in the development, for the financing and testing. But once all of that was in place, my partner, Amber Ripley, did the on-set producing. So there was a point when I was able to take off my producing hat, and just be a director,” the producer indicated. “I feel so grateful that I have a producing partner who’s so capable and reliable, and I didn’t have to think about the producing on the set. That was a great way to work.”
Once the final version of ‘Entanglement’ was in place, the comedy-drama had its World Premiere at last year’s Seattle International Film Festival, and was then an Official Selection at such festivals as the Brooklyn Film Festival and the Vancouver International Film Festival 2017. James also discussed what the experience of bringing the movie on the film festival circuit. “Yes, the movie’s been playing on the festival circuit for about 10 or 11 months, and we played at about 11 or 12 festivals. The experience was cool, and I love film festivals. With film festivals, you get a connection with the audience, and an immediate feedback and dialogue,” the director indicated.
“So the festivals served as a real conversation starter for this movie and mental illness. I was always amazed at the questions people asked, and how prevalent mental health is in our day-to-day lives,” James admitted.
The filmmaker then discussed how now that ‘Entanglement’ has finished its festival run, Dark Star Pictures has released the comedy-drama in theaters and On Demand and Digital HD. He stated that he feels that the VOD platform is beneficial for an indie film like this one. “VOD used to be a dirty word, but that’s how we all experience films now, in a way,” James pointed out with a laugh. “I watch most films on my state-of-the-art home theater, via Netflix, iTunes or whatever other platform the movies are playing on. So it’s not a dirty word anymore.”
The helmer added that “it’s exciting that this movie is being released in theaters in 25 cities in North America, as well as on VOD at the same time. That way everyone can watch ‘Entanglement’ at the same time. It’s exciting, but also daunting and nerve-racking. So I think it’s a very cool and exciting release model for this small, indie movie!”