The co-writer/director explains how his love for ’80s teen comedies and a callback to the Harold Ramis classic inspired this coming-of-age comedy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The pitch was simple: “A kid in high school has sex over and over again until he gets it right. Like Groundhog Day.”
That’s how writer/director, Dan Beers, along with his writing partner, Mathew Harawitz, pitched what was to become Premature, a John Hughes-meets-Groundhog Day romp that’s equal parts sex farce and coming-of-age teen comedy.
The film focuses on high school student, Rob Crabbe (John Karna), who wakes up one morning with what seems to be the innocent aftermath of a wet dream. Initially not realizing what’s happening, Rob continues through one of the most important days of his life, which includes a big college interview with his family’s alma mater, and a chance to score with a life-long crush. He soon faces instances that render him orgasmic and finds himself reliving the same day over and over again. Soon, Rob finally realizes what his repetitive journey is about and what it will take to fix things.
You may know Beers from the Web comedy series he co-wrote and directed, FCU: Fact Checkers Unit, which started as a short at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival starring Bill Murray, and was later turned into a branded entertainment Web series sponsored by Samsung. The series featured a string of random guest stars from James Franco to Jeopardy‘s Alex Trebek. Harawitz is an accomplished television writer with credits that include The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, Mind of Mencia, and the short-lived Go On, which starred Matthew Perry. Harawitz is currently a supervising producer on the new NBC series, Growing Up Fisher, starring J.K. Simmons.
Script spoke to Beers during the SXSW Film Festival where Premature made its world premiere.
Talk a little bit about the origin of the screenplay, how did it come about?
Dan Beers: Well, Mat Harawitz [co-screenwriter and writing partner] and I have been friends since college. So Mat moved to L.A. after school and I was in New York. And Mat went into TV and did standup and I worked in independent film. Basically, we were doing our own thing. I was writing my own screenplays, Mat was writing his TV stuff. What happened was I made the FCU: Fact Checkers Unit short, and after that I wanted to do a feature. So Mat and I had written this other feature together that Andrew Garfield was going to be in and it fell apart. And, you know, we were both pretty bummed out and then we had had this idea. It was a one-liner: A kid in high school has sex over and over again until he gets it right. Like Groundhog Day.
Premature certainly has that Groundhog Day comparison.
Beers: Yeah. I wish I could say there was this brilliant ‘moment.’ Having watched all those John Hughes movies in the ’80s, Mat and I have a definite love for those kinds of films. Teen movies. And with Groundhog Day, we both loved the idea of going into the film under a certain budget and doing a movie where you’re able to go back to a single location over and over again. That was something that was attractive to us. It all happened really quickly. That was the summer of 2011. We wrote the script over the summer and we ended up in pre-production the following May. Obviously, we did tweaking constantly, but it was a go, really quickly. I got lucky.
Were you consciously thinking that Groundhog Day would be the framework for how you were going to direct it?
Beers: It was hard, I mean, I think we were conscious of actually not to go so far like it. Because, you know, we could, that was our main concern. We loved the concept of the teen comedy aspect of it. I actually I hadn’t watched Groundhog Day in years, so I purposefully didn’t watch it. But the idea for this one was the same day plays over three days in a row and then our main character Rob starts taking more control of the day. And then let it offshoot from that. That way we tried to bring him out of it earlier and had the narrative then go on its own course.
There was one thing from Groundhog Day we were very conscious of: the radio alarm clock that plays “I Got You Babe” that Bill Murray wakes up to every morning. We kept asking ourselves, “What’s our version of that?” And, in our film, it was the Mom coming into Rob’s bedroom every time.
One of the lines that stuck with me from the film was, after the third go around, Rob is sensing what is going on and asks, “What about living life without repercussions?” Would you say that was one of the themes you were going for? Because after Rob realizes that, the whole movie shifts tonally to where he’s taking control of what was, until then, an uncontrollable situation.
Beers: That’s part of it. I think another part of it is when you’re that age, for me personally anyway, I did things as I was told to do them. There were a lot of things, like having to go to school, having to do what your parents say, etc. Then all of a sudden, what if you decide to, as Rob says, “live life without repercussions”? You know, go back to Tom Cruise’s character in Risky Business when he says, “What the fuck?” It’s a very similar thing. So yes, that definitely played into this idea over the course of the movie.
Let’s talk about writing with a partner. Every duo seems to do it in a different way. What what was your writing process with Mat?
Beers: Well, Mat’s in L.A. and I’m in New York City, so that adds another dimension. The positive thing about it first and foremost is we’re such old friends and we know each other so well. So what’s great about that right from the start is that it cuts through any other bullshit. The way we tend to work is that we’ll outline together and we’ll hand stuff back and forth to each other. We usually don’t write ahead of each other. For example, Mat would take part of the outline and we’ll talk things through. And then he’ll start writing it, hand it back to me, I’ll go over what he did, alter it, and go forward. Then we’ll just go back and forth. It goes the same way with Mat where I write five pages, I’ll send in those pages, he’ll then do a pass on those five pages and then go forward. And we just go back and forth with each other. It’s pretty loose. We’re busy. We’re on different coasts. Mat has a career in TV and I do directing for advertising and stuff like that [in NYC]. But once we’re on a project, we’ll really push ahead. We’ve done punch-up jobs on animated movies like Ice Age 4 and Rio and that’s a little different because, like Fox Animation would have Mat go into the West Coast office and they’d have me go into the East Coast office, but again, we would pass jokes back and forth to each other. It’s more or less just a hand off.
How long have you guys been working together?
Beers: In a formal way, probably since around 2008.
Since you’re also the director of the film, how challenging was it to capture this screenplay on film? You’re reshooting the same scenes, in the same setting, using different setups, etc. Was it tough to map out from a directing point of view?
Beers: That’s true. We shot the movie in 24 days, so it’s not a lot of time. We prepped everything on the movie. We shot-listed and blocked everything with the DP and AD in advance. We had a very formal plan in place. But the thing I always like when I direct is I’d rather have a plan in place to throw away. So there was a lot of thought going into it. And it was complicated. The thing about it that was funny going into it, we thought this’ll be a great idea just from a budget perspective, but at the same time, it gets very complicated because you not only have to plan the day, but you also have to remember if there was a wet spot on this one, what is his hair like here, etc. It’s hard for the actors, too. It was really complicated, actually. It was more complicated than I would have thought it would have been going into it.
Watching the film I couldn’t help but think how complicated a film like this is to pull off. And you did it incredibly well, but when you realize you’re managing multiple cameras, using multiple angles, then wrangling a number of extras that all have to be present, it’s a lot to handle.
Beers: I’m glad that you thought we had a lot of extras. (laughs) We didn’t have as many as one thought, but I think we used them well. We were very fortunate, we had a very good AD who was fantastic and really helped us.
So after SXSW, what’s next for both of you?
Beers: A few things. Mat and I are writing two things, one thing for us just to write and one thing that I would intend to direct myself. I have a TV script I’m also writing myself and Mat’s writing on the NBC show, Growing Up Fisher.
Premature made its world premiere Friday, March 7, as part of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival’s Visions program.