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Director Jason Winer Talks 'Ode to Joy'

10 Aug, 2019    added by : Erica Corbin
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English

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screenpicks.com

Ode to Joy stars Martin Freeman as Charlie, a librarian who suffers from an incapacitating disease known as cataplexy. Anytime he’s overcome by emotion, specifically happiness, he’s at risk of passing out. And because of his illness, Charlie has systematically avoided anything that might cheer him – babies, puppies, you name it. In fact, he walks around with headphones on, lest he overhears something too positive.

Charlie’s carefully constructed life is interrupted when he unexpectedly falls in love with the beautiful, passionate Francesca (Morena Baccarin). But can someone with this illness really find happiness? Can Charlie be in love when it means he might get hurt – quite literally? ScreenPicks spoke with director Jason Winer about telling a story with so much joy in it that you might just have to sit down.

ScreenPicks: What drew you to this project?

Winer: The original piece upon which the whole thing is based is a This American Life story about cataplexy and a variety of people living with the disease. It’s called “I’ve Fallen in Love and I Can’t Get Up.”

It struck me and the other producer Mike Falbo – who exposed me to [the piece] – that we’re both huge fans of romantic comedies … but [the genre] seems to have run out of steam in recent years. I think [it’s] largely because we’ve run out of original ways to keep a couple apart. And we looked at this and said, “This is the most original obstacle to falling in love we’ve ever seen — and it’s real.”

ScreenPicks: For readers who aren’t familiar with the This American Life piece, is the screenplay and Freeman’s character an amalgamation of all those stories or is it based off of one person’s particular experience with cataplexy?

Winer: It uses bits and pieces of some anecdotes that are pulled from that radio piece. There are things that are mentioned – like collapsing at a wedding, being photographed in a happy photo while still out of it from the cataplexic episode – those are details that are used in the film. Besides that, it’s sort of using the details of the disorder as source material.

ScreenPicks: Did you always have Martin Freeman in mind for your lead?

Winer: Well, originally this was developed as a studio movie. Max Werner, the writer, and I sold this as a pitch to Sony Pictures. And in the year it took to actually write the screenplay, the business changed completely. And when we turned it in, they said, “Guys, it’s everything you promised us it would be. It’s hilarious and heartfelt – and we don’t make this budget level movie anymore.” So, they were very gracious about allowing us to take it back and kind of shop it around to make it independently. But when you do that, it takes a long time for people to read it because you’re not making money offers to people – you’re just begging them to give your script attention.

I give Martin Freeman a lot of credit for diligently reading material that comes across his path, and his agents were huge proponents and fans of the script, and I thank them, too. Martin saw the potential in it and was drawn to the character, and we had a great connection right off the bat. Once he attached, the rest of the cast came aboard.

ScreenPicks: How was it filming with the cast? What was it like on set?

Winer: What’s great is the movie itself is a combination of … a lot of fun and also some serious emotions, and I think the shoot itself was a combination of those things. The fact that we were filming in the dead of summer, in Brooklyn, in the heat and humidity, and we’re shooting on a modest budget in 18 days … – so you’re shooting quickly which makes it more fun – no one is sitting around and waiting. You can use the fact that there isn’t enough money [laughs] for the actors to have trailers to create a fun, camp vibe where everybody’s hanging out together all the time. And I actually knew that I wanted to create that sense of ensemble. I wanted the cast to feel fun and alive together and all the relationships to crackle all four ways – between Jake Lacy’s character, Melissa Rauch’s character, Morena Baccarin and Martin – just all four ways because they all have relationships with each other.

I think that is summarized in that big dining room scene when they’re all together at the B&B. I knew I wanted to do it in one big shot. To pull that off, they truly had to come together as an ensemble. … And they pulled it off, and I’m so proud of it.

ScreenPicks: It’s fitting for a movie called Ode to Joy that the cast has such amazing comedic backgrounds. Jake Lacy was on the American version of The Office and Martin Freeman was on the original British version. You yourself have a background with iO (ImprovOlympic).

Winer: Thank you for making the connection with Jake Lacy and The Office and Martin. It was something we giggled about in the early goings and maybe it was an early point of connection between Martin and Jake, who really bonded over the course of making this.

And yes, … I have a background at iO. I was in the comedy group at Northwestern called the Mee-Ow Show which has been a launching pad for a lot of amazing people like Seth Meyers and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. My particular ensemble of the Mee-Ow Show stayed together after college and performed at the ImprovOlympic in Chicago and got to study with Del Close personally – the guru of improvisation. He taught Belushi, Murray, Farley. That was like grad school for me. And his book was “Truth in Comedy” which really served as the basis of my outlook on comedy. I love to make people laugh, but I like to use comedy to say something true about the human experience. This movie seemed like a great opportunity to do that. It’s a comedy about emotion and the way we experience them and hide from them. That resonated with me. The disorder is specific but the metaphorical aspect of it is universal.

ScreenPicks: If you yourself had cataplexy, what emotion would be the most difficult for you to deal with?

Winer: I think for me it would be anger. I’m really level, even-keeled person – in fact, that’s exactly why I was drawn to this story I think. I was raised in a house where no one ever yelled, and I think it’s been a really good quality for me to have on set as a director – it’s good to be even. But sometimes it isn’t great in your personal life. You have to learn how to go there or not be freaked out when your partner goes there. And that’s something I’ve really had to learn.

I’ll tell you a funny story: I worked on the development of this film for seven years before we finally made it, and then we cast it and shot it, and I’m in the editing room, and I’m watching the first assembly, and after watching it, I’m looking at it, and I’m sitting there – we just finished it – and I think “My god, this is about me!” It never occurred to me! All seven years. But truthfully, the whole thing is a metaphor about how we all protect ourselves from the extremes of emotion and we hide from them. Martin’s character is just doing that in the extreme!

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