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Andrew Fleming, writer/director of Ideal Home

Brainstorm Media releases Ideal Home at Cinema Village on June 29th, 2018.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally, which of those two elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?

Andrew Fleming: It was a matter of bouncing back and forth between making an emotional point and then making a joke about it. It wasn't that one was more important than the other, but it was something that we talked about a lot because I would've written a scene that ended on an emotional beat, and Steve [Coogan] and Paul [Rudd] would pitch, "Well, maybe there's a joke about that." It's something that I struggle with constantly because I like serious movies that are funny and I like funny movies that are serious, so it's a matter of keeping both alive.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is it to hook the the audience within the first few minutes so that they know what kind of movie they're about to watch?

AF: I always think that you should know what kind of movie you're watching within the first 30 seconds. It's like when you're reading a script, the first page should tell you what kind of adventure you're about to go on. It was an exploration because it immediately cuts to the opening of the Ideal Home show where Steve is tasting the chilis and all the silly Food Channel posing. That wasn't in the script. We had a green screen set up for something and I just said, "Why don't you just jump in front of the green screen, we'll give you some pots and pans, and we can make an opening for the show?" I sort of improvised, but it really came in handy to set the tone a lot.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging is it to know when to trust the audience's intelligence?

AF: I know that, at the beginning, people are going to have to try to put things together: How are these stories going to come together and how are the two different tones going to come together? One side is very dramatic and the other one is very kind of silly. That's what the movie really is about---these serious and silly things coming together at the same time. I always like to assume that intelligence on the audience is hard. Let's all pretend that everyone is really smart and on board.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging is it to know when to trust the audience's imagination? I noticed that you didn't show the kid's journey.

AF: In early drafts of the script, the kid's journey was vast and it just kept getting shorter and shorter. Toward the end of the movie, there are several montages--one is about 5 minutes that covers a lot of narrative ground. It was designed around the song that we ended up using. I like dense storytelling, but there are other parts of the movie that really kind of amble along. I think it's intesting to play around with the speed of the story to slow down and then let things really speed up. It kind of keeps you on your toes as an audience member.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you master the skill of exposition as a writer?

AF: There is exposition, but it's buried in jokes and other things. It's something that's difficult for actors because they wonder, "Why am I saying this? I'm saying this so that the audience has the benefit of knowing the thing that happened already." There's a skill to it. If you watch procedural television shows, all they do is explain something that took place off-camera. It's not easy to do.

NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that most comedy is rooted in tragedy and that the same can be said of the comedy in Ideal Home. Do you agree with that?

AF: I don't know if I agree with that. I usually don't know what I'm starting off to write about or what it is. I realized part way through, "Oh, this is partially a love story. It's not about a family." It is about a family on the surface, but it's really about the relationship between Paul and Erasmus. It's a romantic comedy essentially in that the child is a catalyst. The child never really changes that much, but isn't really his story; it's their story.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you balance the film's light and dark elements?

AF: I always use the term "chiaroscuro" because that's where it's interesting. I don't think that I can do a movie that's just a pure comedy or a pure drama anymore. I'm sort of caught between the two.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Given that comedy is subjective, how did you decide what jokes to include and which ones not to?

AF: Something that you think is funny, could be funny when you put it on the page, but then when the actor says it it's not. Sometimes, it's something that you don't even think is funny, but somebody says it in a whacked-out way and it just becomes hilarious. I never pretend to know if it's funny until I see it in front of an audience and go, "Oh, that's where the joke is!" It's harder on a movie unlike in television when you have a bunch of writers hanging around trying to make them laugh. I had the benefit of having Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd who are masters of comedy.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How important is it for characters to be likable?

AF: I could care less about likability. When you think about it, Erasmus and Paul are kind of awful. They're awful to eachother and unpleasant, but I want to hang out with them and hear what they have to say. I'm not marrying them. Well, I'm kind of marrying them, but for the audience it's just 90 minutes. One of my favorite movies is Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff? and they're terrible, terrible people screaming at each other, but I still want to hang out with them.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define charisma in actors and how do you detect it?

AF: I don't know. It's just there. People say that Paul and Steve have chemistry. I think that they do, but I don't necessarily believe in chemistry as a real thing. I think that, generally, when two people have chemistry onscreen, they're well-cast, they're good at what they're doing, and they're on the same wavelength. There isn't some magic to it, but there is a magic. I don't know. It's the eternal question. With some people, you put a camera on them and you want to know what they're thinking and with some people, you don't.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Some of the banter in Ideal Home reminded me of the kind of banter in screwball comedies from the Golden Age. Is that an accurate observation?

AF: Those are my favorite kind of movies. People looked glamorous and said smart, snarky things to each other in a very fast pace. That's what I love. It still exists here and there now. Those are the kind of movies I love: Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks and those kinds of things. They're really what puts me in a good mood.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you decide how far to take the jokes in terms of offensiveness?

AF: I like the offensive, frankly. There were a couple of jokes that didn't make it into the movie because they were too offensive. If it's really funny and offensive, then you can get away with it, but if it's really offensive and only a little bit funny, then it doesn't work. It's a balancing act. It's very subjective, but, generally speaking, I like to go too far and then hold back from there.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging was it to avoid schmaltz during the moments of sentiment?

AF: It's the hardest part of doing comedy. You can coast on laughs for 65 or 70 minutes and then at some point some kind of story needs to kick in. Otherwise, it feels like it's stopping. You have to lay that in from the beginning and it has to be built on something real. You can't just make a right turn into an emotional resolution if you haven't done the homework--the groundwork--and know where you're going from the outset. But the end of the movie is related to terms in the beginning. The end of Ideal Home took on many different forms, but it was always going toward them becoming a family. That's what the movie is partially about.

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