Writer-director Brett Haley spoke with Solzy at the Movies over Zoom about working on his newest Netflix film, All Together Now.
All Together Now marks your second project with Netflix. How supportive has Netflix been as a partner?
Brett Haley: They’ve been really incredible. I think I like to call these last two movies kind of like what would be a studio movie in the 90s. I think Netflix is kind of filling that void and giving filmmakers proper budgets with really human stories with really kind of grounded and human emotional tales. I really appreciate them. I also appreciate their reach—that just so many people around the world see your movie at once. It’s really fantastic. I’ve really loved making movies with them and I’m doing another movie with them. I would be happy to continue to make movies with them for the rest of my career. I also hope to make movies if it’s the right kind of movie for when we get movies back in theaters. I think that Netflix is really just filling a void right now that’s so important.
As a filmmaker, does having a studio on board make it less stressful as opposed to working on some of your previous films when you went into production without having distribution?
Brett Haley: It’s all stressful, Danielle. They’re all just different forms of stress. When you make a small film, you don’t have much resources—that’s stressful. And then you’ve got to hope you get into a Sundance or Tribeca or a South By. You have to hope that you sell it. Those are very stressful stuff. And then of course, when you have a little bit of more resources, that just means as they say, more money, more problems. It can be complicated. There’s more cooks in the kitchen, which I actually welcome. I welcome smart collaborators. I welcome smart people. The people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Netflix have all been incredibly smart and incredibly supportive. They haven’t been in any way difficult. We’ve all, I think, been working on the same movie, if that makes sense. I’ve had it really lucky with producers so I welcome people in the room. I welcome voices. I welcome notes. I welcome whatever is gonna make the movie as good as it can be.
All Together Now was in development hell for a decade before you signed onto direct. How did you come across the script and what spoke to you while reading Matthew Quick’s novel?
Brett Haley: It did. It came to me as a script first. Everyone was basically pretty happy with the current draft when it came to me. It was sort of like, Hey, will you come on and direct this, it might need a little bit of a polish or something like that. I read the script first. I was working with a producer that I was doing a TV show for at the time. So I said, Sure, I’ll read it. I saw a lot of potential in the project and really, thematically, what I saw was really the thing that I was attracted to—the themes of hope, of accepting help, of accepting love, and of a found family. Those things really spoke to me and I was very moved by them. I went back to Matthew’s book and was very moved by his book and thought, I have something I want to say in this space.
My polish turned out to be more of a rewrite but we were all excited about the changes. I think they were all necessary to get the film to where it is now. I added things like the musical theater element in the song. I put a little bit of myself back into it because I was a musical theater nerd when I was in high school. I wanted to kind of make it a little bit more of my own. We came in and we started writing and then I kind of took over solo writing for after a while and it became the film that it is now, which I’m super pleased by the way it turned out mostly because of my cast. They’re just incredible.
Auli’i Cravalho was phenomenal in the film. Can you talk about casting her and what you were looking from her in the role of Amber?
Brett Haley: Auli’i is amazing. She just has so much talent. She uses so much talent as an actor, first and foremost. We all know her from Moana. We know that she can sing. We know that she has this really uncanny ability as a star and as a performer. But she also has a depth and she’s just a really incredible actor. I’d seen her audition before. She auditioned for me and I just told her, I said, “I’ll keep you in mind. You’re really special. And I’ll remember you.” And I did. When I read the script, I thought of her. She had to audition for it. She had to fight for it and she won the part. I think people are gonna be really blown away by her. I think they’re gonna be really—I don’t think they’ll be surprised. I think they know she’s a real talent but I think they’ll be very impressed to say the least.
Can you talk about getting the opportunity to direct the legendary Carol Burnett?
Brett Haley: I’ve worked with a lot of really legendary-type people in my career and Carol’s obviously maybe the biggest of them all. She’s a dream. She’s the kindest, sweetest human being you’ll ever meet. She’s such a talent as we all know. She’s a legend. She was so kind to not just me but to everyone on set. She has an open heart and she is as good as you think—actually, she’s better than you would think. I cannot say enough nice things about her. She’s amazing and I am truly honored I got a chance to work with her on this film.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
Brett Haley: It depends on the day. We had weather issues. We were in Portland. It rained a lot. Every day was its own kind of unique adventure. I don’t want to give anything away but the climax of the film was a very challenging thing to shoot. A lot of extras, big set pieces, a lot of different elements to that. It was very hot in that room, frankly. Every movie has its own unique challenges but overall, it was a really, really, smooth and wonderful shoot. I think back to it incredibly fondly, especially now—just how things were normal. Things were good, comparatively. I miss that and I’m hoping we can get back to that soon.
I feel like Sundance was the last normal thing I did this year.
Brett Haley: Yeah, totally.
I’m like, at least I’ve got January.
Brett Haley: Yeah. I just had that fall. We shot the movie in the fall of last year and then I was working on the film in New York. We had to finish the film remotely. I came out to LA for the premiere of All The Bright Places and that’s when things started going downhill so I’m still out in California. We didn’t go back to New York. At the time, we didn’t think that would be helpful so we’re still here. I finished the film remotely, which was a really unique experience but I’m really glad we could finish it. I think the world hopefully will enjoy this film right now. Hopefully, it’ll be a nice tonic so to speak for the people who are going through hard times right now.
By my count, this is your fifth collaboration with composer Keegan DeWitt. Is it fair to compare your working relationship as being similar to that of Steven Spielberg and John Williams?
Brett Haley: I would definitely. I would say Keegan you can compare to whoever you want. I would definitely say hold off on comparing me to the great Steven Spielberg but I appreciate that. I think Keegan and I will continue to work together in as many capacities as we can. He is an ultimate collaborator for me. Him and Rob Givens, my cinematographer—they’re just the mainstays in my creative circle. The more I work, the more I work with people that I’d like to work with again and again. It’s great kind of building that team around you. When you find something that works, you don’t want to you necessarily mess with it.
You’re currently attached to direct the Grease prequel, Summer Loving. Can you talk about the status of the film and if you’ve read any of the online feedback?
Brett Haley: I can’t really say much about the status of the film other than we’re working on it and I’m really excited about it. I’m really honored to be on board.
I try to avoid online chatter about anything because I think there’s nothing to talk about. It’s just an idea at this point. For me, it’s something that I wouldn’t be on the project if I didn’t think it was something special. I’ll say that. I’m going to bring my brand of humanity and humor and heart while making a Grease film. I think that Grease is one of my favorite movie musicals. I think that we have something to say, we have something to do. In fact, my friend told me the other day—he said, it’s funny. He goes, Grease actually feels like a sequel—the setup feels like a sequel. It’s like, yeah, these two kids fell in love and then I don’t know—they end up at the same high school together. I don’t know—it feels like a sequel. I feel like this is a very unique opportunity to have fun with some beloved characters and introduce some new ones at the same time.
Is the film going to be something you’re able to shoot with COVID protocols in place or is this something that you’re going to wait and see if there’s the vaccine.
Brett Haley: We have a long way to go in the development of the project so I can’t speak to where we are in the process. But I can say we definitely want to make it and I think we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I’m hoping the world improves significantly but we’ll cross that bridge.
In terms of being creative, how has the pandemic affected you as a filmmaker?
Brett Haley: Well, of course, it’s affected movies and artists. I’m very lucky in the sense that I got to finish All Together Now remotely—that we had the technology to be able to do that, which is pretty amazing. It’s all pretty new technology. I feel very lucky that we got to finish the film because there would have been a world where we couldn’t have finished this movie. I feel very lucky. And now I’m writing a movie for Netflix and I’m developing Grease with Paramount. So to me, the timing is good. I’m working. I’d be doing this anyway.
I miss being able to go to the movies. I miss being able to go to Broadway shows. These are very important things to me. I feel for the arts. People need to be in rooms where they connect, where they watch shared experiences. I think that’s really important. Concerts. These things are really important but there are big issues right now in the world—bigger than me, bigger than movies, bigger than anything. I’m hoping that we can come together and we can we can get better. That’s really my hope is that this kind of darkness before the dawn, and we’ll get there and we’ll get through it. Some things have been brought to light through this experience. I hope in the end, even though it was a tough road, it will all be worth it.
One thing about all these virtual film festivals is that we’re losing out on standing in line in front or behind someone and hearing the latest buzz.
Brett Haley: That’s right. For me, I think it’ll be a unique experience we’ll look back on it and say, Well, wasn’t that crazy? Wasn’t that year just insane? But I do think we’ll come back and I think we’ll be stronger. I believe in the in the movie industry and the arts and I think we’ll come back stronger than ever.