Writer-director Kendall Goldberg joined Solzy at the Movies in an interview to discuss her recently released film, When Jeff Tried To Save The World.
Congrats on the release of When Jeff Tried To Save The World. How did it feel to be able to bring this film home to Chicago just before the film is available for audiences everywhere?
Kendall Goldberg: Thank you! It was an incredible feeling, but also slightly difficult to put into words. It feels like it happened very fast, but in a good way. It’s like, you know that feeling, if you ever cook a meal, where you spend a ton of time buying and prepping the food, even plating it, and then you sit down and eat it in less than 15 minutes? That’s basically what it felt like. It’s satisfying for a moment, and then it’s over. It’s bittersweet to screen a movie. It sort of relit the fuse of my anticipation to make another one though, so that’s a good thing. On top of the feelings of just premiering the film, it was extra special to bring it back home. The homecoming screening meant a lot to me. Friends and family from all parts of my life were able to enjoy the movie, and we had a mini reunion with a lot of our Chicago crew, which was so fun. Screening at the Music Box Theater was an absolute dream come true.
What were some of your inspirations in writing the film?
Kendall Goldberg: I had a lot of different inspirations for this film. Many were for the look, feel, and tone. My DP and I specifically referenced THE ONE I LOVE (dir. Charlie McDowell). They played around with different lenses throughout the movie, and we used that same idea. Most of the bowling alley stuff is shot on anamorphic lenses to make the picture vibrant, wide, and beautiful. We wanted to really capture the lense flares Jeff sees (in his mind). Anamorphic equaled love. Then we shot everything outside of the alley with a harsher, sharper spherical lense . It’s much brighter, but in a less colorful, more sterile way. I referenced a lot of Coen brothers and the way they (and Deakins) cover dialogues scenes. There were a few smaller movies that I referenced narratively — THE SKELETON TWINS and THE WAY WAY BACK to name a couple.
At what point did you decide that you were ready to direct your first feature film?
Kendall Goldberg: There wasn’t ever really a moment of decision, which is kind of interesting. When the project kept building and growing as my writing partner Rachel and I were moving from idea to script form, it just made sense to be a feature. The story wouldn’t have worked as a short. It would’ve beem an annoyingly long short. As for being “ready,” when I first started trying to get made, I don’t think I really was ready. Which is probably why it didn’t happen right away. And it happened right when I graduated college, and that ended up being perfect timing. I was able to shoot four shorts and a mock-60-minute feature from the time Rachel and I started writing the script to the time I actually went into production on WHEN JEFF.
Was the process less overwhelming because of previously directing short films?
Kendall Goldberg: I wouldn’t necessarily say it was less overwhelming. Each project is overwhelming in its own way. I definitely think that the shorts helped prepare me by letting me continue to stretch those directing / producing muscles. When you go too long without stepping on set, you can feel really sore — literally and figuratively. This was without a doubt the biggest project I’ve undertaken, so there were lots of parts of the process that I had to learn quickly because I had never dealt with them in film school or working on shorts.
With regards to casting, can you walk us through the process of getting Jon Heder and Jim O’Heir on board?
Kendall Goldberg: Jon auditioned, actually. In the beginning we were going through initial casting sessions and he just came in one day. It was a surprise to me, but his agents read the script and liked it and sent him in. I had never pictured him as the role, but he crushed it. I offered him Jeff almost immediately after his audition. We didn’t have all the money we needed right away, so he let me keep in touch with him. Eventually we made the short together in August 2016, and then the feature the following summer.
Jim O’Heir, I had reached out to on Facebook Messenger. I found out we were from neighboring towns (small suburbs outside of Chicago) and used that personal detail to try and stand out. He happily read the script, liked it, and we met up for coffee. The rest is history!
This film takes place in a bowling alley. How challenging was it to find the right one?
Kendall Goldberg: It was a huge challenge. I was initially searching for a bowling alley in LA since I was out there for school. I figured it’d make sense to stay there and shoot. I couldn’t find the right place with the look and feel the script called for. Not to mention there wasn’t a single bowling alley owner who was excited about a potential film shooting in their business. It’s LA. They’re all used to it.
I came home to Chicago for a winter break and scouted a few. I ended up at Lan Oak Lanes and I fell in love. The owner was so excited about the project, the place had the perfect look, feel, smell, everything! Luckily we were given full control of that place. It made shooting in a single location for 80% of the movie go so smoothly.
How supportive was the Chicago film community in supporting the project?
Kendall Goldberg: Since Chicago hasn’t been overused for film — unlike LA — most everyone is really excited about a film shooting near them. I was able to work with some of the finest crew and filmmaker in the Chicago area (and just finest in general), and the community was so open to helping in any way they could. It was truly a special feeling to shoot my first movie in my home and work closely with such kind, talented people. I hope to bring many more movies back to Chicago!
There’s a sequence in the film where Jeff has a nightmare that seems to be heavy on VFX. How long did that sequence take in post-production?
Kendall Goldberg: This was a really cool experience for me because I’ve never worked with this many intense VFX shots. The film had over 200 VFX shots in it. My VFX Supervisor, Jordan Allen, was an integral part of making sure this all ran smoothly. We flew him out from LA for a few days to be on set for the important VFX sequences and make sure everything was being done correctly. It was a tedious process, especially in post-production. Jordan spent weeks baking and rendering those dream sequences. It was intense!
What’s next on your agenda?
Kendall Goldberg: Hopefully another movie very soon!!!
Thanks again and congrats on the film!
Kendall Goldberg: Thank you!