Forty Drafts Later...An Interview with the Creator of "Old Fashioned"
Posted: Tuesday 03 February, 2015
Forty Drafts Later...An Interview with the Creator of "Old Fashioned"
by Jacob Sahms
With the upcoming release of Old Fashioned in theaters across the U.S. on February 13, I had the chance to speak with Writer/Director/Actor Rik Swartzwelder about his film. Set to face off against Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentines Day weekend, here's what Schwartzwelder had to say about his "labor of love," forty drafts later.
How did you originally get the idea for Old Fashioned?
I was hanging out with singles, early 20s to mid-30s, regular guys and girls dating, who were trying to decide if [they] get married, who [to get] married to. We all loved movies, and we’d never seen a romantic comedy or drama that told our story. It was always: an impossibly good-looking person sees another impossibly good-looking person, and they end up in bed. There are unquestioned choices.
The folks I knew weren’t perfect, but aiming for God. So, what if you just tried to tell that story: to tell my own story and the story of people I knew on film? At a deeper level, I was working on the stuff from before I became a Christian, so I applied my art house indie background and incorporated faith elements that spoke to me. When I was writing the screenplay, the novel [Fifty Shades of Grey] hadn’t even been published. We were looking for release windows, but when they were releasing on Valentine’s Day, we decided it was an interesting juxtaposition.
How did it end up marketed “at” Fifty Shades of Grey?
When I was writing the screenplay, I wasn’t aware of the book. But by the time we were filming, it had been optioned into a movie. The team was looking at 2014 [release date], but decided to give the opportunity for something different with [Fifty Shades] on Valentine’s Day.
What was hardest: writing, directing, or acting? Why?
The hardest was directing and acting in the same project. It challenges you. Your brain only has so much capacity because you have to be objective as the director, but you have to remain in [the process] as an actor. This was a unique personal role, and when I sat down with the producers, we decided it was the right thing for the particular project. The fun really evaporates when you’re involved on all of those levels though.
My creative team prepped for eight months in advance of shooting. We had three people on the ground mapping out everything. I had a director friend from LA come in and sit as an extra set of eyes. I love writing. We did forty drafts of the script.
When you’ve cast yourself and you’re the director, how do you decide a good fit on your co-star? What were you looking for?
They actually sent me a clip of Elizabeth Ann Roberts and she was the first hire. She’s the star, has top billing; she’s the energy that drives the film. I saw her initial audition. She made me cry, but she didn’t look exactly what I thought Amber would look like. I saw all of these other women and they looked like Amber, but couldn’t hold a candle to Elizabeth. We had her read with other men, but we hit it off when we read together.
I’m not a film student, but the way it was shot looked independent and big budget, versus independent and shoddy. How did you pull off such a solid level of production?
It’s a testament to David George, our cinematographer, and his team. We didn’t have the money to build a glorious location, so we had to find amazing locations that didn’t look like it was all shot against a blank wall. That gives our film a sense of meaning and richness. It’s interesting to see how all the planning paid off in looking like the aesthetic, based on the indie films we wanted it to be like. So much credit goes to [George’s] team.
Some romance stories lean toward one character being ‘right’ while waiting for the other to come around. Clay has boundaries, but some of them are unhealthy and keep grace out; Amber has fewer boundary issues but needs to love herself free of cultural pressures. What made you decide to make both of those characters beautiful and flawed?
It was imperative, because it wasn’t about “Clay the Christian” fixing someone else. I wanted to explore two broken people. I’m not a huge fan of the faith-based film label, but I wanted to tell a story about real people. People seem to show up to these kinds of movies expecting that these people are perfect people who [the filmmakers] expect [the audience] to model their lives after.
I love the idea of two broken people – very flawed, even with Clay as more broken, his righteousness as a barrier – that they both learn from each other. It’s very specific that both of them connect with God, and that their relationships are growing vertically and horizontally at the same time.
Shame seems to play a big role in both Clay and Amber’s ‘current day’ decision-making. Where do we learn about shame that we can’t get rid of?
It’s complicated. For me, when it comes to any kind of sin or regret from the past, that wound goes deeper. I know very few people who may fail to feed a homeless person, but then think about it and struggle with it later. [But] Scripture says that mysterious arena of sexuality shouldn't be toyed with. That’s part of it.
The Christian college I went to made us sign a morality agreement that we would not have sex outside of marriage, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol. There was nothing about pride, not forgiving, not being concerned with social justice. A pastor can be prideful or have a lust for his career, but if he commits a sexual sin, it’s the end of the ministry. That message seeps into us.
How does the church impact that shame, and what can we do to get past that stage in our understanding of our own sin and mistakes?
I can’t point at anything from church that magnifies it. We want to embrace God; that’s rich and forward thinking. I think we have to reflect further on God’s love for us. I don’t know why it’s so hard for it sink in.
The thing I look most for in a spiritual person is their capacity to forgive: how do you really love your enemy, do good to those who hurt you, bless those who curse you? Not all the reviews [for the film] are going to be good, and I have to love them!
I loved that your two main characters served as role models for their peers, whether they knew it or not. What’s an example of role modeling you received, whether the person you were watching was aware of it or not?
I went to a community college with a guy who was kind and gentle, and this guy was just so thoughtful, tender, and loving in the way he talked to everyone. Later, I found out he was a Christian and that impacted me. How he was with other people stood apart.
In a broader sense, when I first became a Christian, I was working as a maintenance person and listening to the radio. I heard this man [make] a promise to never be alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife. It was Billy Graham and part of his Modesto Manifesto. The whole ministry team took that idea on. It seemed extreme, but it stuck with me and came up for me when I was writing Old Fashioned. There’s wisdom there. Not everyone needs to take that extreme of a step, [but] we have a capacity for harm. There’s wisdom in steering clear.
Who do you think is the target audience for this film, and what do you hope your audience takes away from the film?
I was trying to make an entertaining movie. I love a good sermon, I really do. But I go to church for that.
First and foremost, I hope people are entertained. The sweet spot is, from my observations at festivals, both male and female, religious and non-religious, the connector I’m seeing repeatedly, is people who come in with a sense of brokenness, a romantic pain, a wound or scar that hasn’t healed because they have regret or don’t think they’re lovable anymore. It’s touching them consistently. It’s a uniform longing for innocence, for real romance, in and outside of the church.
It [the movie] might surprise someone who might come in believing that love can’t be sacred. The flipside is people who come in self-righteous might see some cracks in their philosophy. It’s complicated. So much of what we see in a movie is what we bring to it, where we are as an audience. I was trying to make the idea of virtue [be] heroic. Restraint will never be as visceral as unbridled passionate. How can you be heroic with restraint?
What’s next for you? More writing, directing or acting?
I might go walk the Appalachian Trail…somewhere not involved in staring at a computer screen. I’m blessed that our movie is getting life, but I need to reconnect with the world I’m living in. I’m going to do some hiking!
Old Fashioned opens in theaters across the nation on February 13.
"For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are." - Hebrews 4:12
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