Read our interview with writer/director David Robert Mitchell and producer Adele Romanski, who are making their feature film debut with the upcoming comedy-drama ‘The Myth of the American Sleepover.’ The movie, which is scheduled to be released in New York City on Friday, July 22, 2011, and in Los Angeles the following week on Friday, July 29, follows four teenagers on the last night of summer. During their final night of freedom before the new school year starts, they spend the night with friends, exploring their suburban Michigan town for love and adventure. Mitchell and Romanski, who attended the coming-of-age drama’s New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art on Monday, July 18, discuss, among other things, how they cast the largely undiscovered cast, and why they didn’t set the film in one particular year.

Question (Q): The performances are so natural and so easy. Where the actors friends and acquaintances, or did you put out a call? Can you talk a bit about the casting process, and where you found the actors?

David Robert Mitchell (DRM): Yeah, sure. A couple of the people were friends, but the majority of the cast were just kids we found in Michigan, high school and college kids from the area. Adele and I had a big, open casting call, which was advertised through community papers and word-of-mouth. We held them ourselves, basically, Adele and I and a camcorder. (laughs)

Adele Romanski (AD): We decided to tape the auditions.

DRM: My mom was at the table, greeting people (laughs), so that’s what it was. But we found these kids who were excited about the idea of being in a movie. But the truth is most of them had never acted before. Some of them have never been in front of a camera before or had done anything. They thought it would be a fun thing to do over the summer. It was, for sure.

Q: Did it take you all summer to make the film?

DRM: Yeah, we shot for four or five weeks. We were in Michigan for three months, finding locations, finishing the casting and just trying to finish the linguistics. It was a lot of locations and a lot of actors. So it was a lot of work.

Q: Did the actors get together and have sessions before you began filming, so that they could get to know each other?

DRM: Yeah, we had some rehearsals. It wasn’t a ton, but we had a few.

Q: What year was the movie set in?

DRM: I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t know, it’s a blur of a lot of years. We didn’t want to set it in any specific time period. Jeanine (Nicholas), our production designer, she did a great job. She brought a lot of elements from different decades into the movie. There’s things from the (19)50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and some current things, too, to kind of make people wonder, when is this happening? The idea being that it’s something universal, so people of different ages who grew up in different decades can see a little bit of themselves in it.

Q: How many people did you have on your crew, and where did you do your post-production work?

AR: We had somewhere between 18 and 24 (crew members), depending on the day.

DRM: Our editing was done in a small, un-air conditioned studio apartment (laughs). Luxury accommodations, actually, for post-production.

Q: The film-making process took four years. What was your time-line, roughly, from when you started writing it to now?

DRM: It took forever. I wrote the first draft when I finished film school in 2002, and then it just sort of sat there. I tried to get the movie made through more traditional avenues, which was impossible. (The studios) were like, what is this? I set it aside, and a few years went by. Adele read the script, and offered to produce it. She hadn’t produced anything before, but she was like, “I’ll do it!” (laughs) Raising money was impossible. (laughs) No, it really was. We got a little money from friends and family. Adele put her own money into it. I was working full-time, editing and movie marketing and stuff. I put a little money in it.

AR: Yeah, we put our own money into it, so tell everyone you know!

DRM: Please! (laughs)

Q: Did you have permits and clearance where you were shooting?

DRM: We had everything.

AR: You know, we didn’t, actually. (laughs) It’s shocking. We did not permit or clear stuff. We checked in on some of the locations that were really crucial. Many of the towns we were working with were pretty lax about it.

Q: Has anyone approached you since that didn’t give you clearance?

AR: No. (laughs) We have insurance for that now.

Q: Are you aware that Michigan is now supporting the film industry, and a lot of their philanthropy is going to developing films?

DRM: Yeah, I think it’s great. That’s where I grew up, and I was in love with the idea when any kind of film came to Detroit. I was really excited. It didn’t happen very much, and if it did, it was one exterior shot. Even ‘RoboCop’ wasn’t filmed in Detroit. A travesty. That always bummed me out. So that was the point of this movie, we wanted to film there because I grew up there. It just so happened that the film incentives were just starting. I think that’s all great. It didn’t work for us, because we were just so tiny.

AR: We’re so excited about film, and we got more savvy with the production happening.

DRM: I mean, that’s partly how I think we got our crew. A lot of people were trying to get experience to get into the film industry there, and we were a small little movie that was open to people coming on board and trying to learn. For a lot of the crew, it was their first film also. A lot of them have gone on to work on bigger budget films, which was very nice.

Q: Was there one particular character that was your initial inspiration, or from the beginning, did you see this as more of an ensemble piece?

DRM: It was always something that I wanted to be an ensemble piece. I think I started writing with the Maggie character, but I had most of them in mind. At a certain point, the script was a little bit larger. I mean, these were always the main characters, but there were more side characters and more rigid plot-lines, which we trimmed just before production. We thought, “How are we going to make this movie?”

AR: The script was too long. (laughs)

Q: There aren’t any cell phones or Internet. Was that an important part of the storyline?

DRM: Yeah, I felt like technology, certain types of technology, would date the movie in a way. I didn’t want it to feel like it has to be right now or the past 15 years or so. I didn’t want them pulling out an iPhone, or if you see them with like a StarTAC or something, where you would know what it was. Yeah, a StarTAC. (laughs) We tried to avoid that. We felt it would date it.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the title, the myth part?

DRM: Yeah. To me, this movie I think hits on some things to me that are real. I wanted a certain bit of naturalism in the film. I also see it as a little bit of a dream, too, because I don’t think it’s completely real. I think watching it, you can find yourself in it. But it’s almost a little bit like a dream or a memory, in some way. That’s sort of where the myth comes into play. Some of the things we sort of long for, we remember, or what we want to remember.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the writing?

DRM: Like I said, I wrote the first draft in about a month or so, at the end of 2002. It sat there, and I did a couple of re-writes. I sent it out to some people. A lot of people really liked it. I continued to do small re-writes on it for awhile, and set it aside until Adele was crazy enough to want to help. She had notes, and I did several more drafts. It wasn’t always big things. There would be certain scenes or a plot point.

Q: Certain movies, like ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Dazed and Confused,’ are driven by their soundtracks and natural sounds. If you had a bigger budget, would you have used popular music?

DRM: The truth is, I’m pretty happy with the soundtrack that we used. There are a lot of really great cues in there. The truth is, I would have put in a few more older cues in there that were popular outside of our range, if we had the option to do that. There were some tracks that hinted to the 1960s and ’70s. I would have liked a little bit more of that in there.

AR: We’re really happy with the soundtrack.

Q: Is the soundtrack available?

AR: That’s a good question. Right now, it’s not.

Written by: Karen benardello

The Myth of the American Sleepover
The Myth of the American Sleepover

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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