Getting Saved! - A DVD Talk Interview with Writer/Director Brian Dannelly
It's never easy for a filmmaker to tackle a subject like religion. No matter what point of view taken, controversy will be soon to follow. Of course, if the movie is well-made, controversy only helps. Saved!, the first feature film from writer/director Brian Dannelly, is that kind of movie. A teen-movie take on faith, belief and human nature, starring a young, talented ensemble cast, connected with many people, and should reach an even wider audience now that it's being released on a feature-packed DVD.
The weekend before the disc hit stores, Dannelly sat down with DVDTalk.com to chat about Saved!, DVDs and the importance of an exclamation point. Reader beware... some plot points and DVD spoilers are discussed in this interview.
DVDTalk: So, what was it like working with Mandy Moore?
Brian Dannelly (Sighs)
DVDTalk: Just kidding. I had read you hate getting that question, and couldn't pass up the chance.
BD: It normally comes later in the interview. (laughs) Mandy's a great girl though, really.
DVDTalk: How long did it take to go from writing Saved! at the American Film Institute (AFI) to making it as a movie?
BD: It took two years.
DVDTalk: Was there a point when you wondered if the movie would be made, no less released on DVD?
BD: Not really. I had such a strong producer on the film that I felt like it was just going to happen. Plus, it was our first film, and you just have that energy that it's going to happen.
DVDTalk: Before Saved!, your AFI project, He-Bob, was a gay-themed film, and there is the gay main character in Saved!. Is that a theme that will carry over for you?
BD: Not really. Particularly for Saved! it was trying to imagine the most confrontational kind of element that would set the story in motion. I don't think there's anything else that could have done that, that would deal with so many different issues. (pause) I'm trying to think... none of the other projects have any gay themes to them.
BD: (Laughs) Although we did write a script called Runner-Up, about a beauty pageant that takes place in a women's prison, and I think they're trying to turn it into a musical. That should be interesting.
DVDTalk: Are you looking to direct that one?
BD: Not for the musical. I mean a musical on Broadway. I'd be a producer on that. It seems like the right fit for that project.
DVDTalk: Does it have a feel like Drop Dead Gorgeous?
BD: Not really. It's about a woman who's never lost a pageant before, and the night she loses, she drives drunk into a MADD billboard and has to do community service in a women's prison. It's about putting on a pageant in this women's prison.
DVDTalk: Of course, Saved! is seeped in religion. Is this your "God movie", or is this a theme you see carrying over into your future work?
BD: I don't think it's really about religion, so much as it's about faith and believing. The idea of faith, whether it is faith in your government, faith in your parents, faith in what you choose to do. So, there is sort of that reoccurring theme. But...we're going in to pitch "Saved!" the TV show, which will be much more subversive, much more dealing with sex, politics and religion. More for an older audience. The theme carries through that in a much different way.
DVDTalk: Any movie that even touches religion, and doesn't go by the book, by the Bible, by whatever religious holy book it's based on, is destined to be attacked. Were you prepared by your studio, by your producers that this would happen with Saved!?
BD: Yeah... I did have to debate Jerry Faldwell on CNN and then I debated some other guy who went crazy on "Good Morning America"...
DVDTalk: [Head of The Catholic League] William Donohue?
BD: Yes! (laughs) It was crazy, and they caught me rolling my eyes. (laughs) He was just going crazy.
I've actually dealt with him before. I think I'm on his condemned list.
What's weird is, he's like a really nice guy. Then he goes crazy and then when he was done, he was like, "Ah, I just wanted to let you know, I really did like your movie, I thought it was really funny."
BD: I was like, "You dick!" (laughs) Yeah, you know he supports his cause, and does it, I guess as loud as he can, but he was really interesting.
DVDTalk: Now, with the DVD, how involved were you with the production?
BD: Pretty involved. You know, I would have liked to have done a few more things, but, you know, we went through all the color correction and did the commentary. I'm kind of a film geek, so for me it was important to have lots of technical things in it, so that people who are trying to make films can kind of see what we were going through.
DVDTalk: You went to film school, you went to AFI. Do you think there's a lot you learn from DVDs that you don't learn at film school, when you're listening to a commentary by a director?
BD: I think so. The thing that's weird about being a director, is that you never really get to see or hear how other people direct, you know? So I always look for them to get some insight into what that director's process was. You get that to some extent. It's almost like you can laser-beam focus on one project and see what that director was going through and the stuff that was important to him. I always found them interesting. Really useful too.
DVDTalk: Are you a big fan of DVDs?
BD: I love DVDs.
DVDTalk: Do you have a large collection?
BD: I have very few movies. I'm not really sure why that is.
DVDTalk: Is there one particular one that's your favorite?
BD: I love any Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Yeah, I think he's amazing.
DVDTalk: You can see some similarities in your style, as in the opening when you come down on Jena. It's a very artistic look.
BD: That's not even how we tried to start it, but it didn't work. You'll see that on the DVD. We got right into the movie.
DVDTalk: Speaking of the features, what's your favorite feature on the DVD?
BD: I always like outtakes. I wish I had more, but the cast was too good. They hardly messed up at all. I like alternative scenes too. That's always interesting to me too. But I always go right for the blooper reel.
DVDTalk: How hard is it to record a commentary?
BD: It was a little...it was harder than I thought, but not too bad. You know, I did it with my producer and my writing partner. You try to orchestrate so you have a general theme, but I was a bit of a bossy-boots, so I wanted people to talk about what I wanted to talk about. I actually haven't heard the commentary or any of it.
BD: I haven't seen anything. So I have no idea what the DVD is like, I just know what we did for it.
DVDTalk: I'll tell you, it came out really nice (Note: See the review here: Saved!).
BD: It's OK? (pause) God... you know, it would be nice if they sent me one. (laughs) How was Jena and Mandy's commentary?
DVDTalk: It's got a real different feel from yours. It's got the feel of two people who like each other, and who shared a good experience and want to talk about it again.
BD: Oh, good. I though there would be two different flavors. I hope the commentaries help [filmmakers.] That's the kind of stuff I dig.
DVDTalk: How did you prepare for doing the commentary? Did you have notes, index cards or anything like that?
BD: Oh, I didn't do anything.
DVDTalk: You just walked in cold?
BD: Yeah. (laughs)
DVDTalk: That's pretty good, considering you hear some people do dry runs and prepare scripts.
BD: You know, we did a couple where we went back and re-did stuff, or were like let's go back and re-do that. But I know the movie so well, I've seen it like eight million times, I've seen it at festivals, and I've had tons of Q and As, and so I had...I felt comfortable just winging it. I didn't want it to sound too prepared anyway.
DVDTalk: On the commentary, it was noted that it was being recorded two days before the release of the film. Do you think it would be different if it was recorded now, after the movie's been through its theater release?
BD: Hmm... (pause) I don't remember when we did the commentary. I'll have to think about that. Would it be different? You know, I doubt it, because by the time the movie was released, I'd been to so many different festivals, and gotten so many different letters and e-mails from people, that that didn't affect how I felt about it. I don't think it would change. I don't think so. That's an interesting question.
DVDTalk: Is there anything that not on the DVD that you have that you wish was on it?
BD: Yeah, there's two things I really wanted on it. One was the Sundance Channel's "Anatomy of a Scene." I thought that was great, but it was really expensive to put on. I wanted that over the featurette. It was like I had a choice between Mandy and Jena's commentary or the Sundance Channel's thing, and I thought, the Sundance Channel thing exists and the Mandy, you know, [could be created.] I just thought it was interesting to have Mandy and Jena talk because I like both of them so much, and I wanted people to get a little insight of who they were.
DVDTalk: Is there a character, as you were writing, that's your stand-in, that's your voice?
BD: All of them. That's what happens when you write. You know, you are all those people. I'm Hillary Faye... I always say I'm the Tia, that's sort of my standard line, but, you know, I'm Cassandra, I'm Roland... it's all different parts of you. i all say...they all sort of comment on different aspects of who you are. It's the same with everything you write. You try to find a connection with each character and each different side of yourself. I wouldn't say there's one. The obvious one is Jena's, because of the journey of faith and the questioning.
DVDTalk: If you could take one scene from the picture that represents the entire movie, what would it be? One that kind of sums everything up, besides, of course, the final scene with the voice-over.
BD: People either love that ending or hate it. But I felt like, again, I think that people...I don't know if they realized that the movie was made for teens. I felt it had to be simple and really express how the girl is feeling. It's funny...it was the highest rated part when we did our testing. But the studio hated it. (laughs) They were like, "you can't have that ending!" And I was like, "Why not?" And when we did all the testing, they were like, "oh, alright, you can have that ending."
What other scene represents the movie? One scene in particular, I like when she's talking about they can't all be wrong, and they can't all be right. That sort of is the moment I related to most. That would probably be the one I would pick.
DVDTalk: You said they were all your characters, but if you had to choose just one as your favorite, who would it be? We're not talking actors, so no one's feelings will be hurt.
BD: That's a tough one, because I really love them all.
DVDTalk: It's a bit of a Sophie's Choice.
BD: It's so Sophie's Choice. I love Hillary Faye, that was really fun to write. I loved Cassandra, she was fun to write. Jena's was great to write, because she was sort of the straight man in the film. Macauley's character was fun to write, and Patrick's I loved. You know what I mean? It was like, they're all fun.
DVDTalk: I'd say Patrick was my favorite.
BD: I love Patrick Fugit. He's so awesome. And he's a great kid too. All those actors were. Surprisingly great. There were no egos involved, they really were together. It was really interesting and a really good experience.
DVDTalk: Heather Matarazzo...she was really involved in getting the cast together?
BD: She was, like, in from the very, very beginning.
DVDTalk: How did you get hooked up with her?
BD: Umm....God, I hate to tell you, I don't remember. I remember at our first meeting, we had like lunch, or coffee at Starbucks in Burbank. She had wild red hair. Of course, I've loved her since Welcome to the Dollhouse, it was a pivotal movie. She was great. She loved the script, and she would talk to Mandy about it, and eventually...it was weird, because we hired John LeShay to be the music supervisor, who did the music for Walk to Remember. We had originally wanted to have Christian music in the movie, but also, he was Mandy's manager. So when Annie Hathaway dropped out, we gave it right to her, and she's like, "I'm in." She had already been exposed to it by Heather.
DVDTalk: I'd have to think it would be a totally different movie with Anne Hathaway.
BD: I think so too.
DVDTalk: Having a real person like Mandy Moore, who has such a strong image, really helped the film.
BD: It was genius. It was like one of those things where, "Oh my God, this is so perfect." And at the time, when we first started, like, Mandy was pretty under the radar. By the time we went to her, she was really (pause) it was a different time. If we had gone to her first...how do I explain this.... You know, we wrote this before A Walk to Remember. Then when she did A Walk to Remember, we'd already cast Annie. But if we had done it later, I think we would have went to Mandy first, without question.
DVDTalk: OK...so what's with the exclamation point?
BD: Umm...(laughs) I just felt, you know, the movement is so enthusiastic and in-your-face. I just thought it needed it. When I was writing, I made up this little mini-poster and it always had Saved! with the exclamation point, and the exclamation point being a little cross. It's in the titles, but they didn't want to do it on the poster.
DVDTalk: I don't know if you've seen the cover of the DVD--
BD: I've seen a little picture of it. It looks much sexier.
DVDTalk: Saved is in a heavy-metal font.
BD: I know! I hate that font! i was like, "Why?!" They kept trying to put that on the poster. I was like, "I don't get it. What does that mean?" That whole aspect is the hard part. The hard part isn't making the movie and writing it. The hard part is getting it financed and getting it marketed. Every step of the way, you're constantly struggling with how they're presenting your film.
DVDTalk: You don't have much control then, huh?
BD: You don't. You have input, and they were really good about listening to us, and they didn't do...we didn't have hardly any participation in the DVD packaging. Except to say that we didn't like that font.
DVDTalk: And they didn't listen.
BD: They were like "yeah, whatever," we're just gonna get this out, and put the sexy pictures on. I will say, the trailer for the DVD is awesome. It's the one they should have used for the film.
DVDTalk: I really liked the film's trailer.
DVDTalk: Actually, I showed it the other night to my wife and she said, "I have to watch this movie."
BD: That's good to know. Have you seen the DVD trailer?
DVDTalk: Where is it?
BD: I don't know.
DVDTalk: It's not on the Saved! DVD. You'd hope they'd put everything on there.
BD: It's not on the DVD?
DVDTalk: No. There's just the original theatrical trailer.
BD: Oh, interesting. I only saw it once. I saw it at some DVD convention thing I had to go to. it was like, no holds barred, in your face...everything that's in the movie was in the trailer. It was funny and subversive and I thought "wow, that's cool."
DVDTalk: The "revelations" on the DVD, like Roland's comic book in the van...were those ever intended for the screen? Or were they just throwaway takes?
BD: We wanted to put it in there, put it just never really worked. I could never get it timed right, or it just never quite worked in the edit. I mean we tried, it was in, it was out, it was in, it was out. But we were like, you know what, it's not that important. It's a little, tiny touch. So we put it in the revelations.
DVDTalk: Now you wrote the movie with the scenes talking about Veronica and the guy at camp.
BD: (laughs) Oh yeah.
DVDTalk: Do you think it's a better film now, without that in there, in terms of getting the right feel for the film?
BD: I think so. I think...with what we were trying to accomplish with the film, it was really important for me that it was accessible...that people in middle America could watch it, as well as people in New York City. That there's something...I was really interested in creating a film that felt really mainstream, but has subversive elements to it.
DVDTalk: I thought it was interesting that Roger Ebert, one of the main things he pointed out was that Mandy Moore has a zit in the movie.
BD: Yeah, and she wanted to go bigger. We were like, "Alright, calm down!"
DVDTalk: There was the element that, there's some exaggeration to this world, but it's also real.
BD: Yeah, yeah...I think that's always interesting, when the world is slightly exaggerated, but still grounded, because you're talking about these ideas, and it helps separate the viewer just enough to allow them to be open to the film and ideas. They can't say, "Well, no one's really like that." It made sense, especially for the Hillary Faye character, who was bigger than life, encompassing all different types of zealotry.
DVDTalk: I'd like to confirm, or debunk, something that was said during Jena and Mandy's commentary. Mandy said that during the montage, when Hillary Faye is looking out the window, she is, as the Revelations section shows, watching her brother and Cassandra make-out in the car. According to the commentary, she's supposed to be touching herself.
DVDTalk: So it's true?
BD: So true. (laughs) I can't believe they talked about that. I'm going to have to have a word with them. We shot it about 5,000 times originally. All it was supposed to be, is her hand kind of goes out of frame and down. The idea was she has desires. Not so much that she was watching her brother and Cassandra, but that she was human too, you know, sexually.
DVDTalk: I imagine that was one of the first things to get cut.
BD: Yeah. (laughs)
DVDTalk: So now that Saved! has made the trip from paper to DVD, coming up you have The Guided Man and--
BD: Love Creeps. It's a love story of stalkers in New York. It's great. It's the funniest book I've ever read. We haven't even started writing the script yet. We're working on Guided Man, the TV show, Love Creeps is coming up. We have another TV deal with Carsey-Werner, and we're trying to come up with an idea, different than "Saved!", of course. And we have this project we're doing with the Weitz Brothers, God willing...we go to pitch that to the studio next week. Great, great, great script.
DVDTalk: And where is Runner-Up?
BD: The thing with Runner-Up is, we wrote it right after we wrote Saved!, and we couldn't really quite figure out what the best world was for it. And when this musical thing came up, it made perfect sense. It was like perfect for this.
DVDTalk: So you're not going to do a film?
BD: No, I'm not going to say no...but you know, sometimes you write something, and you have to find the right form to present it out there to the world. The musical thing seems so right.
DVDTalk: From watching the montage scene to Joseph Arthur's "In the Sun," it seems you have an understanding of how visuals go with music.
BD: Music was really the hardest part for what we were doing. It took like six months to find the right songs. Plus, you have no budget, so you literally have to listen to every artist. And [producer/musician] Michael Stipe helped us pick the bigger songs to fill it in. It's really tough.
DVDTalk: When I first watched the film, the thing that struck me first was hearing Mandy Moore singing "God Only Knows." Was that part of Paul Thomas Anderson's influence, since it was in Boogie Nights?
BD: No, it's not. You know, I wasn't even conscious of that. I just always had this Beach Boys song playing, and we talked to Mandy about singing it. There's also some weird, super-disco version of it that they play in clubs. I liked it a lot. It was always the idea to open with "God Only Knows."
DVDTalk: Thanks for taking the time to talk to DVDTalk.com.
BD: Thank you.
- Francis Rizzo III
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