Director's Chair: Rob Reiner - 'Flipped'
Iain Blair
Issue: September 1, 2010

Director's Chair: Rob Reiner - 'Flipped'

HOLLYWOOD — Over the past three decades, director/producer/writer/actor Rob Reiner has made such seminal films as When Harry Met Sally, This Is Spinal Tap and Stand By Me. Now Reiner, whose last film was the 2008 hit The Bucket List, is back with a new film, Flipped,  which stars Madeline Carroll, Callan McAuliffe, Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Penelope Ann Miller and Aidan Quinn.

A coming-of-age romantic comedy that tips its hat to Stand By Me, and set in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Flipped tells the story of Bryce and Juli, who meet in second grade. Juli immediately knows it’s love, but Bryce isn’t so sure. As the story follows the pair for the next six years as they go from grade school to junior high, it lovingly details their triumphs and disasters, the family dramas, and ups and downs of first love.

Here, Reiner, whose credits include A Few Good Men, The Princess Bride, Ghosts of Mississippi and The American President, and who will always be remembered as Mike “Meathead” Stivic on All In The Family, talks about making the film, his love of post and how Hollywood's changed.

POST: How do you go about deciding what your next project will be and what made you choose this?
ROB REINER: “I always look for something I can connect with, with characters I can relate to, that are going through something I’ve been through or am going through, so I can understand the emotions. That’s the only way I can do it. When I read the book this is based on, it reminded me of the feelings I had when I was 12, of first love. It was very similar to the feelings I had when I did Stand By Me. It was almost the same kind of response.”

POST: Where did you shoot this?
REINER: “All around Ann Arbor, Michigan, because it gave us the right look. We needed a suburban rural place that looked like it was just starting to get developed during the late ‘50s. Michigan also has great tax incentives and breaks, which is so important now.”

POST: What were the biggest challenges of making this?
REINER: “Keeping the points-of-view straight as I was shooting. You shoot out of sequence anyway, and then sometimes within a sequence we’d flip back and forth between the boy’s and girl’s point-of-view as we were shooting in one direction, because of the light or whatever. I was being driven crazy! Even the script supervisor got lost sometimes.”

POST: It’s interesting that you used the same director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth, as on Stand By Me.
REINER: “I did it intentionally, and he gave both films this great, dipped-in-honey, slightly nostalgic gauzy look.”

POST: Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
REINER: “We did it all at The Lot, the old Warner-Hollywood studio. We were there about three months.”

POST: Do you like the post process?
REINER: “I love it. My favorite parts of the whole process are writing the script and then editing and post. The actual shoot is always hard. It’s where all the money’s being spent, there’s a lot of pressure and aggravation and so on. But the quiet of writing and editing is far more creative. You can take a breath and be reflective and think about the material and how you want to shape it.”

POST: Flipped was edited by Robert Leighton, who has edited every one of your films. How does that relationship work?
REINER: “We always joke that we spend more time alone together in a dark room than we do with our wives. After so many years we know each other so well. He doesn’t usually come on the set, except to visit once or twice. We start cutting during the shoot. We’ll watch dailies at lunch or later, and discuss what we like and don’t like. Then he goes off and cuts.

“I don ‘t look at it unless he tells me there’s a problem and it’s not coming together — and that’s only happened once or twice in 30 years. So I wait until he’s done his rough assembly, and as the years have gone by, those rough assemblies have become closer and closer to what we wind up with. I do go over every single cut and we shave and massage each cut — and sometimes we make more significant changes. But we have such a shorthand and we’re so comfortable with each other’s taste and choices that it’s a very easy process.”

POST: Was cutting between the kids and their different POVs tricky?
REINER: “It was, almost as confusing as the shoot, but we knew what we had and how to tell the story, and it fell into place fairly quickly.”

POST: You’ve never been a visual effects-heavy director, but you’ve always used them when necessary.
REINER: “Exactly. Bucket List had quite a lot of visual effects, but all in service of making it look like there’s none in it at all. Most of the time when movies have visual effects, it’s to create a whole new world, like with Avatar, or big explosions and so on. My visual effects are always trying to make it look like there are none.”

POST: So how many visual effects shots are there in Flipped?
REINER: “Quite a few, all done by Kaliber Visual Effects who did The Bucket List. Everything we shot inside Bryce’s house, looking out the window, is all visual effects, as we shot it all on a stage. Everything in Juli’s house was real, as it was a location. Then the big sycamore is a mix. We found a real tree in a park, but then used visual effects to put it in the street scenes. And the beautiful sunset she sees from the top of the tree is a real sunset we shot, which was then composited into the scene in post.”

POST: How important are sound and music to you?
REINER: “Hugely important for setting a mood and tone. I love The Everly Brothers, so we used a lot of their songs, along with “One Fine Day” by The Chiffons, and Ben King’s “Stand By Me” — again — and so on. I love working on the music and sound.”

POST: Did you do a DI?
REINER: “Yes, at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging, with colorist Maxine Gervais. The first DI I did was on Rumor Has It… and since then I’ve always done it. I couldn’t go back. The advantages are so huge. It’s like Photoshop — you can manipulate colors, take out blemishes, change the sky, a million things. I’ll give you a great example. On this, Maddy’s and Callan’s eyes are both brown. But the little boy and girl who played them at age 7 both had blue eyes. So we just changed their eye color like that.”

POST: Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
REINER: “Absolutely. And that’s usually the case for me. If something didn’t work it’s usually not because of what I tried to do, but probably because it wasn’t a great idea in the first place.”

POST: How’s filmmaking changed since you began directing?
REINER: “So much. Look at the huge changes in editing. We began on a Moviola, then the Kem, and then the Avid. I resisted all the changes to Avid, though I love it now. I used to say, I don’t think the Avid’s a good idea because you need that time to let the process gestate and so on. But once I began working on the Avid I was like, this is the greatest thing ever! You can make changes instantly and right away see if it works or not. I could never go back.”

POST: Is film dead?
REINER: “It’s becoming dead. It’s on life support. I don’t know if they’ll pull the plug yet, but within a few years it’ll all be digital. I’m happy with that. I love digital and I’ve really embraced the new technology.”

POST: You co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment and you’ve also produced all your films. You must love producing?
REINER: “I do, because it means I can control projects far more. I’m not at the mercy of people telling me “You’re over budget.” I know where the budget is. I know exactly what I need to do! Castle Rock’s still going strong. We’ve got several films we’re doing this year, including one we’re shooting right now called Friends With Benefits, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, directed by Will Gluck. We have another that just wrapped, called Faster, with The Rock, who’s great. Then we have another starting later this year, called Damsels in Distress, directed by Whit Stillman. So we’re quite busy. We try to make about three or four films a year, plus we have several other projects in development.”

POST: Hollywood’s gone 3D crazy it seems. Any interest in doing a 3D film?
REINER: “Yes, but it depends on the story. I think it works great for films like Avatar, but Flipped doesn’t need to be in 3D. For a big superhero comic book type film, it obviously looks fantastic if it’s done right.”

POST: What’s your take on the current state of Hollywood?
REINER: “I think it’s healthy. You go to Comic-Con and it’s pretty crazy. Everyone’s buying up superheroes and making more movies with them, and the fans are there if it’s done right. My end of the film business isn’t so healthy. I’m a dinosaur. Studios are far more interested in tent pole franchises. They’re not really interested in adult human dramas. They’re relegated to the low-budget indie world. So there’s not much in the middle anymore. And it’s getting harder, especially for the kinds of films I want to make. And it’s a struggle to raise financing.”

POST: Do you feel you can only make a few more movies of the type you love?
REINER: “I honestly don’t know. Look at Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen. I idolize Clint, and he’s 80 now and still making films. I’m 63 now, and I don’t do one a year like those guys. It’s more like one every two years now. It used to be one every year and three months. I’d do it quicker if I found the right projects. You know what happens? It’s not so much that you get older and slow down, but that your interests narrow in terms of what really resonates with you. I can’t just do anything. It has to be something I really connect with. I’m always looking for human stories I can relate to. No robot movies for me!”

POST: What’s next?
REINER: “I’m working on a script right now, tentatively titled The Magic of Bel Isle. It’s a very real story about a guy who moves into a lakeside community for the summer and how he impacts the family next door and vice versa. And it’s not another period piece — it’s set in the present.”