People often ponder during every stage of their life if and when they’re supposed to be doing the same as everyone around them. One major consideration young adults often face is whether they should follow in their friends and peers’ footsteps, and get married. That contemplation is a powerful motivator for the two main protagonists in the new romantic comedy-drama, ‘Plus One.’
The movie marks the feature film directorial debuts of Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer, who also co-wrote and produced the project together. The duo decided to work together so that they could channel some of their thoughts and feelings about the defining moments of change that many people in their 20s go through at some point, particularly the anxiety of watching their friends let go of their free, wild and single lifestyles in order to settle down.
RLJE Films will release ‘Plus One’ in theaters, as well as on Digital and VOD, this Friday, June 14. The official distribution comes after the comedy-drama had its World Premiere in the Spotlight Narrative section of this spring’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and the Best Narrative Feature Award.
‘Plus One’ is set during wedding season, a dreaded and beloved part of adult life. During a hectic summer that amounts to roughly one wedding per weekend, two jaded college buddies, Ben and Alice (Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine), make a pact to survive the onslaught together. As they craft, deliver and sit through cringe-inducing toast after toast to legions of newly married friends and family, including Ben’s dad, Chuck (Ed Begley Jr.), they shuttle through singles tables in search of fellow lonelyhearts, or at least temporary distractions.
Chan and Rhymer generously took the time to sit down at New York City’s Roxy Hotel for an exclusive interview during the Tribeca Film Festival to talk about co-writing, directing and producing ‘Plus One.’ Among other things, the filmmakers discussed how they decided to make their feature film directorial debuts together on the comedy-drama, as they found it rewarding to experience the excitement and difficulties of helming their first movie together. The duo also expressed their appreciation that ‘Plus One’ had its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, in part because many of the cast and crew members have ties to New York, so they were able to reunite for the initial set of screenings.
The conversation began with Rhymer explaining how he and Chan began working together. “Jeff and I met in high school. Jeff’s best friend from high school moved to my hometown. Jeff grew up in New Jersey, and I grew up in Pasadena, California. So Jeff flew across the country to visit his friend and all of his new California friends, and while he was visiting, we met and found out that we were going to the same college,” the scribe revealed. He also lightheartedly admitted that he and his fellow filmmaker “started making short films together during college, and most of them were terrible at first. We’ve now been writing together for about 12 years, since we were 17-years-old.”
Chan followed up by saying that after they graduated from college, “Andrew flew out to L.A. to start working with Red Hour (Productions), and he produced a show for them. He then reached out to me and said, ‘I have an in with Red Hour, so we should probably have our own script.’ So we started writing ‘Plus One’ together, and showed the script to them when we were done, and they said they wanted to make it. So I moved out to L.A., and that was the beginning of our long journey.”
After working on the script together, the duo decided to make their feature film directorial debut with the comedy-drama. Chan called the process of helming their first feature together “great. The huge advantage of directing and creating something together is that you have another person with you all the time to be your partner. You always have someone there with you to go on the emotional roller coaster that includes the excitement, disappointment, difficulty and highs and lows. You have someone to celebrate, or say that was a disappointment, with, and it’s amazing to have that connection.” The filmmaker also emphasized that “It’s also important to communicate, and talk through everything together. But I think we navigated it pretty well.”
Rhymer added that since they’ve been friends for so long, “it’s easy to get on the same page, and be very honest. Our philosophy in general is to work with your friends, both behind, and in front of, the camera, as much as possible.”
The duo crafted a hilariously relatable and insecurity-laden world where sincere affection and real feelings shine through. The sparkling chemistry and witty banter between Ben and Alice anchor their roller-coaster of a relationship as they move between such diverse and distinct desperation, elation and denial. So overall, the directors felt it was important to infuse the story with humor and relatability.
Chan shared that they’re “huge rom-com fans, but the ones that really speak to us are the ones that have heart and truth to them. So movies like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ were a big reference for us. These movies can be really funny and sweet, while also showing what it’s really like to fall in love and be in a relationship. I think when these types of movies get it right, people use them as a point of reference, and attach their own stories to them, and use them as their therapy to feel better about life. So we wanted to make something in that vein, that’s both an escape and a form of meaningful entertainment.”
Rhymer then delved into what the casting process like for the movie, especially for the roles of Alice and Ben. “Maya and Jack are people we’ve known, or known about, for quite a long time. We all went to NYU, but not at the same time. So we’ve been in the same circle for awhile. Maya, Jeff and I have worked together on several short films, so she was a person we were really excited about, and wanted to work with on a feature. So we had her come in and read, and she was absolutely fantastic. All of our producers were so excited, and said, ‘She’s the person to play Alice,’ which was great.”
The helmer added that bringing Quaid on board was a similar process. “We knew him, but we still looked for a long time to find the right guy to play the part of Ben. We actually Skyped with Jack the first time we spoke to him. After Jeff and I hung up the call, we were like, ‘Yes, that’s the guy we were looking for to play Ben.'”
Once the actors were cast, the filmmakers collaborated with the performers to develop their characters. Rhymer shared that he thinks the time they spent building he characters together was “the most important part of the process. We had two weeks of rehearsals leading up to the production, and the first week was just improvisational character work. We would just sit down and create these scenarios where the actors just talked and hung out, to see if they had chemistry with each other.”
The director added that during the second week, “we got into the script and started hammering it out. Luckily, Jack and Maya are so talented, not just as performers, but also as writers. They’d say, ‘That doesn’t feel right,’ or ask, ‘Why is my character doing that?’ So they really challenged us to have an answer for everything.” He also revealed that “The four of us really reshaped the script, in order to mold it to their dynamic and chemistry. Then by the time we started shooting, it was so comfortable, and we were all on the same page about what we were shooting, and what every single line meant. So it felt like we were a team. That rehearsal time was so important to making the film what it is now.”
The experience of also serving as one of the producers on ‘Plus One’ was another one that Chan cherished. “If you’re making a $1 million film, and it’s a passion project, you should probably also attach yourself as a producer,” he advised other filmmakers. “You’re going to be the person who’s answering emails at 2 in the morning, and making sure everything happens.
“Andrew is a much more experienced producer than I am, so he was thankfully very proficient at that part of the filmmaking process,” the producer explained. “Whereas for me, it was more about using my producing side to get my directorial wants and demands. It was about fighting to get those things. If someone says, ‘No, you can’t have that location, you have to have this one,’ then I can try to find option C that maybe splits the difference, and gives everyone what they want.”
Rhymer then chimed in and admitted that the producing aspect of making the comedy-drama was an interesting experience for them. “We don’t have the contrasting experience of making a studio picture and an indie film. So I don’t know what the process of making a bigger movie is like. I sometimes see studio films come out, and it says they were only produced by one person. But our movie had a lot of producers, and I can’t imagine it without any of them. We worked with all of them at different times, and they all brought in different skill sets, contacts and ability to get this project off the ground. Every one of their beliefs, guidance and particular set of skills got our small movie over some small hurdle, which would have otherwise wrecked a movie this size.”
While the filmmakers faced some challenges while making the indie film, the overall experience was one that they cherished. One of their favorite parts of the production was finding the locations where they shot the comedy-drama. “Getting to build the sets for the 12 weddings was definitely one of the best parts of the movie. We shot them all in L.A., but the story doesn’t entirely take place in L.A. So it was a challenge for our production designer and locations manager to convert spots for the weddings. Often times, they used one location for several of the weddings; one location was set up to be three different weddings that took place all over the country,” Rhymer revealed.
“I think our team did just a great job, and kudos to our production designer and locations manager for finding places that could double or triple as a field wedding, a beach wedding and a tent wedding, and being really efficient about it. Again, we didn’t have a ton of money, so we had to be really thoughtful about what locations we picked and how we dressed them, so that we could give the illusion that these people are on this adventure together.”
Being able to return to New York City to host the World Premiere of ‘Plus One’ during the Tribeca Film Festival was an exciting experience for the filmmakers that they won’t soon forget. “We met so many of our cast and crew members here New York, and many of them also went to school and/or started their careers here,” Chan divulged. “So some part of their lives is tied here. So being able to bring the film back here feels really great. We’re really excited to have everyone together in town.”
The director added that he’s happy that ‘Plus One’ is also receiving an official limited theatrical release after its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. “We’re excited to get the movie out there, and for people to be able to see it!…Since there are so many locations, it’s a fun movie to see with a crowd. With that being said, I think romantic comedies also play really well when you’re sitting at home on the couch, looking for something to do. So it makes a lot of sense for people to have several options when it comes to how they watch the film.”