Making a troubled protagonist engaging and sympathetic as they strive to overcome drastic circumstances that they have brought upon themselves can be a challenging process for many filmmakers. But director-producer Rob Reiner helped craft a relatable and honest, yet equally distraught, main character in the drama, ‘Being Charlie,’ who initially resents his parents for forcing him to break his drug addiction. However, on his turbulent road to sobriety, the film’s title teenager learns just how important it really is to discover who he really is without being influenced by external sources.
‘Being Charlie,’ which is based in part on personal experiences, was co-written by the filmmaker’s son, Nick Reiner, and fellow recovering addict Matt Elisofon. The drama centers on the eponymous 18-year-old (Nick Robinson) as he drifts in and out of rehab clinics for his drug addiction, while his actor-turned-politician father, David (Cary Elwes), runs for governor of California. During his time in rehab, Charlie begins a relationship with fellow patient Eva (Morgan Saylor). The two attempt to get clean, but they find maintaining sobriety is a constant fight with the odds against them. Charlie’s counselor, Travis (Common), is one of the few people who’s able to positively influence and encourage the teen as he tries to set his life in a constructive direction.
The drama, which premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, was released on Digital HD and VOD this past Tuesday, September 6, from Starz Digital. The movie is also set to be distributed on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, October 4, from Anchor Bay Entertainment.
The filmmaker generously took the time recently to talk about directing and producing ‘Being Charlie’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, Reiner discussed how he worked closely with his son Nick on developing the title character and his struggle to find peace within himself during his journey to sobriety. The director-producer also mentioned how the film has received positive feedback and appreciation from viewers who have been through similar situations.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the drama, ‘Being Charlie,’ which follows the eponymous 18-year-old as he drifts in and out of rehab clinics for drug addiction, while his actor-turned-politician father runs for governor of California. Why were you interested in helming the film, and what was the process of becoming involved in the project?
Rob Reiner (RR): This film came out of my son’s experiences. He had been been in and out of rehab facilities from the time he was 15 until he was 19. He met another patient while he was in one of the facilities. They creatively hit it off, after they started talking about experiences they both had.
When my son finished his treatment in the facilities, he looked up the other patient, and they started putting down some ideas. The first version they created was a half-hour TV comedy series. They gave me the script to read, so that I could give them some advice on it. I read it and thought it was funny. But I said, “You went through such a rough experience, and the script doesn’t have the depth that I think it needs to have.”
So they went back and wrote an hour comedy-drama. I tried to help them set it up at different television networks, but we couldn’t get it going. I then said, “Why don’t you see if you can turn this into a film? There’s a great story here.” I thought it would be a way for him to express himself, and get all of these feelings out.
I also brought up the idea of not just making it from the kids’ point-of-view, as I thought the story should also be told from the parents’ perspective. We had gone through a lot of difficult things when this was all going on. So I thought if we could show the story from both points-of-view, we would have a shot of making an interesting film.
SY: Your son, Nick, co-wrote the script for the drama with Matt Elisofon, and the duo based parts of the film on Nick’s own experiences. Once you decided to direct the film, did you collaborate with Nick and Matt at all on further developing the script? What was the process of working with the duo on the story?
RR: We did closely collaborate on the script, so at times it was very difficult to navigate. It was art imitating life, so we were all working off of our own experiences.
But at the same time, it is a story of fiction, as it doesn’t show exactly what happened (to Nick). The emotions of the characters were very real, however. So it became very difficult, but at the same time, it was very satisfying to express ourselves. You’re lucky anytime you can express what you’re going through in an artistic endeavor, even it’s a painful process.
SY: With the drama being a coming-of-age story for Charlie, what was the process of giving the protagonist a likeability and relatability, while also emphasizing his struggle to become clean while in rehab?
RR: Well, we wanted to be as honest as possible, and let whatever the character was going through dictate the tone. The fact that Charlie had a sense of humor, and wanted to do stand-up, was a way to make the story funny in some places. Overall, it was a very starkly dramatic story, and some of the scenes were very difficult to watch. So we tried to blend humor into it, because having that mixture showed who the character of Charlie really was. We tried to be as honest with it as we could be overall.
SY: ‘Being Charlie’ features a talented cast, including Nick Robinson, who plays Charlie; Cary Elwes, who portrays Charlie’s father, David; Morgan Saylor, who plays Eva; as well as Common and Devon Bostick. What was the casting process like for the drama?
RR: I had seen Nick Robinson in the movie, ‘Kings of Summer,’ and I thought he was great. So we brought him in, and he read with Devon Bostick, who plays Charlie’s friend, Adam. They immediately hit it off.
Cary Elwes, who I worked with on ‘The Princess Bride,’ basically plays a version of me. I thought, what better person to play this role than somebody who’ve I been friends with all of these years, and who I trust and he trusts me. He also has his own way of acting. But for him to take that part, and make it as honest as it can be, was great.
I saw Susan Misner on ‘The Americans,’ and I thought she was great. So I thought she would perfectly play the political wife for Cary’s character.
We were also lucky to get Common, because he’s a force beyond just acting. He has this goodness about him. So I thought he would be a good person, if he agreed to take the role, to play the one counselor that helps Charlie get on the right path.
Morgan Saylor was someone I remembered from ‘Homeland.’ We saw an audition tape of hers, and she made absolute sense for Eva. She was really good in this role. She’s also great in the other movie she’s in that was recently released, ‘White Girl.’
SY: Once the actors were cast in the drama, were you able to have rehearsal time with them, in order to build their characters’ backstories and relationships?
RR: If I have my preference, I would always rehearse. But that’s not always possible when you’re working with a smaller budget. This film had a $2 million budget, and we only had 25 days to shoot it. So we didn’t have the luxury of doing a lot of rehearsals, and had to find the chemistry while we were shooting. Luckily, I had actors who were right for the parts they were playing.
My son Nick spent a lot of time with Nick Robinson, and would share with him some of the things he went through. I was lucky to have my son with me. I’ve said this many times before, but he’s the heart and soul of this film; it really came out of his experience. As difficult as that time was, it was great to make the movie with him, because it’s an extension of him. Having him around to help shoot the film made it a lot realer than it would have been otherwise.
SY: In addition to directing ‘Being Charlie,’ you also worked as a producer on the film. Why did you also decide to serve as a producer on the drama, and how did your producing and directorial effects influence each other?
RR: Well, I’ve been around a long time now, and have been making films for about 50 years. You learn certain skills after awhile, which helps you if you only have a limited amount of time. I’m also directing another independent film now, ‘LBJ,’ and I only have 27 days for that one. You can drawn on your experiences to get things done. It’s a challenge, but I like it because I love trying to figure out how to make things work.
SY: What was the experience of shooting the drama on location in Salt Lake City? Do you prefer shooting in real locations, as opposed to sound stages, or vice versa?
RR: You have to shoot on location now, as many projects don’t have the money to shoot in L.A. anymore. So many independent films are shot outside of L.A., as filmmakers are looking for places that have the best tax breaks, and where they can economize as much as they can.
We went to Utah to shoot this film, because we knew we could make it as inexpensively as possible. But you also have to make sure that you’re getting the right look, and that the locations are going to realize what the look should be in the film. At the same time, you can’t compromise. You have to find places that are going to give you as much latitude as you can get, based on your budget. Virtually all of the films I have made, except for the early ones, were shot outside of L.A.
SY: ‘Being Charlie’ (was distributed) on Digital HD and VOD (on) September 6, after it was released in theaters on May 6. Do you feel the On Demand platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
RR: Yes, I think so. What you’re seeing more and more of is the day-and-date release. It’s very rare to see an independent film like this one, which has a small budget, have a larger theatrical release initially, and then later go on Video On Demand. A lot of times, the model is to release these indie films in theaters and On Demand at the same time. Netflix, Amazon and Magnolia are just some of the film distribution companies that are using the day-and-date model.
I don’t mind the day-and-date model, because for me, filmmaking is about telling stories. People can look at movies however they want to look at them, and it’s fine with me.
SY: What type of response did you receive about the drama after it was distributed in theaters in the spring, particularly from families who have been in the same situation that Charlie and his father have been in?
RR: We have heard from audiences, who have thanked us. They’ve said, “Thank you so much for sharing your story-it meant so much to us.”
Recently, a mental health organization held an awards ceremony (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Voice Awards), and Dr. Oz was the head of it. They gave my son and me an award for raising awareness about this subject. So we’ve been receiving a lot of feedback like that. People who have been through similar situations definitely see how honest the film is, and they appreciate it.
Watch the official trailer for ‘Being Charlie’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello