Out now is a fantastic film called The Off Hours (read my review here) and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview it’s writer/director Megan Griffiths, a big thanks to Bill via Analogue Titles for setting it up.
Marcey: First off congratulations on the film! As the writer and director of The Off Hours, what was it about the initial idea for the story that you found interesting enough to follow through as a feature film?
Megan: When I started writing this film, I was working the night shift. I only did it for a few months, but I worked with people who had worked at night for years and years. I got very intrigued with the effect that this had on people–the isolation that results from being awake when most of the world is asleep and only interacting with a few people each day. The people I worked with seemed to have become very resigned to their fate. I wondered what it might take to break them out of their routine, and if that was even possible after so much time had gone by. It all seemed like fertile territory for a character-driven film.
Marcey: How long did this project take from script to screen? Were there any major obstacles during production that you had to work around?
Megan: From the first draft through completion was about seven years. My producers and I spent several years working in earnest to raise money and put together a much larger version of this film, which ultimately fell apart due to the decline of the economy. The change in the economy and the major shift in the world of indie film really affected us. We had a few different iterations of this project that had larger budgets and various Hollywood actors attached. After several years of trying to make the film under the what used to the standard model, we re-evaluated our strategy and began to think about the assets we had that weren’t money. Having worked in the Seattle film community for almost a decade, my producers and I had assembled a great group of very talented and passionate filmmaking friends, all of whom had said over the years that they would do whatever they could to help see the film made. In early 2010 we determined that we should move forward, even though we still had no money, and just go for it. People lived up to their word and came out in droves to help get this film made–it was completely inspiring.
Marcey: Your cast are absolutely perfect for their roles. How did you go about casting the film and did you have anyone of the actors specifically in mind for the roles?
Megan: None of the roles were written for any of the actors specifically. I actually didn’t know any of them when I started writing back in 2003. Over the many, many years spent trying to get the film made, however, I had a lot of time to observe actors in other people’s films. This was how I was introduced to the majority of the actors. Amy Seimetz was in a film called Alexander the Last which I saw at South by Southwest Film Festival in 2009. I thought she was magnetic to watch and had such an authentic quality to her–I knew immediately that she was perfect for Francine. I reached out to her through my friend and consulting producer Lynn Shelton and thankfully she really responded to the script–she said once that she felt like reading this script was like listening to someone breathe since it was so quiet and intimate. I love that comment. I found the rest of the cast through varying routes. Many of the leads were people I’d seen in films over the years–Ross Partridge in Baghead, Lynn Shelton in Humpday, Tony Doupe in a large amount of Seattle productions. Lynn Shelton (who is a good friend of mine and also a consulting producer on the film) recommended Scoot McNairy for the role of Corey, who I wasn’t familiar with at the time. I watched everything I could find of his work online and then took a leap of faith and offered him the role. He brought so much depth and heart to his role–it was so rewarding to work with him. And Bret Roberts was introduced to me by my producer Joy Saez. Everyone else came either through auditions or they were people I’d seen in other local Seattle productions over the years I’d worked as a 1st Assistant Director.
Marcey: There is quite a lot in the film that takes place at night. How did you handle the challenge of filming during these hours? How, for instance, did it affect the mood on set when compared to the day shoots?
Megan: Shooting at night was definitely a challenge. I actually thought it was good for the actors, because they took on that strange malaise that night shift workers tend to have. They really sunk into their characters the later it got. It was tough on the crew, but people tend to adjust–crews are definitely used to weird schedules. The good news was that everyone on this film was super funny and awesome and we always had a great time together while we worked, even during the more difficult scenes. There was a real camaraderie and love between everyone, cast and crew alike. I should also tip my hat to the producers, who worked really hard to keep morale up with food and hot coffee and basically bent over backwards to create a pleasant and respectful working environment for everyone.
Marcey: The soundtrack is stunning and fits beautifully with the film. What did you have in mind in terms of music? Were you listening to anything specifically while making the movie?
Megan: I actually listened to a lot of Joshua Morrison’s music, who is one of the composers (along with Jeramy Koepping). I had been handed Josh’s CD very early in my writing process and I always really loved the tone of it. When we got closer to making the film it occurred to me that his style would probably translate well into score music. I got in touch with his manager, who had become a friend of mine over the course of making this film, and she sent him the script. He was completing his final tour as a Green Beret in the Army at the time and read the script in Abu Dhabi. He had never composed for film before but he was up for the challenge. He got back just as we were wrapping production and the first thing he did as a civilian was start working on this score with his friend Jeramy. You’d never guess that such soulful music would come from a soldier, but somehow it all makes sense when you spend time with him. He and Jeramy both are very intuitive and were amazing at translating my thoughts into music.
Marcey: Did you go into production with any clear filmmaking influences you were hoping to do justice to?
Megan: My creative team (Ben Kasulke, the cinematographer, Ben Blankenship, the production designer, and Rebecca Luke the costume designer) and I talked at length before we started shooting about the look of the film. We watched several films together (including All the Real Girls, Gone Baby Gone, and Movern Caller, among others) and we discussed color palettes and tone and basically just got on the same page about look. We weren’t trying to mimic any film’s look, but it’s always helpful to view other films as visual touchstones. It helps develop a short-hand and a common language, so when we all got on set there didn’t have to be a lot of discussion–those elements just tended to fall into place.
Marcey: What do you hope audiences will take away from The Off Hours?
Megan: I would love to think that audiences will walk away thinking about the choices they have made in their own lives, and actually allowing themselves to think about what they want their lives to be. Not what they feel like they should do, or what feels like the responsible choice, or what feels safe, but what they really want. People tend to get so caught up in the motion of their lives and the noise of the world around them that they stop listening to their own heart, and it’s important to take time on occasion to remember what you actually want your life to be. If this film does this for even one person, I’d be very happy.