From Conversations to “Friends”: An Interview with “Almost Friends” Writer and Director Jake Goldberger

jakegoldberger

Jake Goldberger is an indie filmmaker who burst onto screen in 2009 with the indie thriller Don McKay. He followed it up in 2014 with Life of a King, based on the true story of an ex-con who would set up a chess club for inner city teens in Washington. Goldberger’s latest film, Almost Friends, a story about dreams and overcoming the odds to achieve those dreams, will be released on November 17 in theaters, VOD, and Digital HD from Gravitas Ventures.

World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Goldberger about making the film, his influences in films, and how witnessing a very strange conversation led to the film.

Thank you Jake for talking about Almost Friends. I saw the film just last night and I really enjoyed it.
Oh thank you very much! I really appreciate you saying that.

Before we talk about the film, can you tell me how you got involved in filmmaking?
I had always wanted to direct movies before I even knew what it meant. When I was two or three years old, my parents had told me I saw Mary Poppins and that was the start. I’m not sure why but I went to film school at a place called Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and then I moved to Los Angeles and just started pursuing my dream.

kickingandscreaming
Kicking and Screaming (1995), a Noah Baumbach film that was an influence for director Jake Goldberger.

What was the inspiration for writing Almost Friends?
I’m a fan. A movie freak. I’m a fan of all genres. I want to see everything when I possibly can, from when I was growing up and even now. And there was a film I was really into called Kicking and Screaming, a Noah Baumbach film. I’ve seen it so much that I think I wore out the VHS tape. I loved the meandering pace. I loved the lack of hope. I loved that it was just about these kids just trying to sift through the conflicts of their lives.

I was also a fan of movies such as Say Anything and Singles, those Cameron Crowe films. The early ones that were based on the James L. Brooks movies, the Billy Wilder movies. Those sorts of stories. I think it’s an undervalued genre. The whole romantic comedy genre has gotten so clichéd and ridiculous. I wanted to do something more along the lines of those movies, regardless of whether they were in vogue or not. It’s something that I wanted to do.

Seeing the film, I can relate to the characters as I felt the film is about dreams and the personal issues these characters must go through to achieve those dreams. Did you bring your own experiences into some of the characters in the film?
Not so much, but this is an in interesting story. I was in a coffee shop up on Hillhurst in Los Angeles and I had a writing assignment. I had to write the first ten pages of a screenplay for this workshop I was in the next night. I had complete writer’s block. I had no idea what I was going to write.

This kid walks into the coffee shop and he had this sweet yet very painful and awkward conversation with the young woman behind the counter. Which is pretty much what you see in the movie, except the version I saw in real-life was longer and more painful (laughs). It was more awkward you can imagine. And so, I transcribed that conversation and I went home. I turned it into ten pages and I brought it into the workshop and everyone seemed to respond. It gave the confidence to want to keep going and just imagine what these characters were feeling in their own personal lives and then adding these other characters.

It’s not so much autobiographical. I’m not sure where it came from, except other than that conversation. If I wasn’t there when this conversation happened, I don’t know this would ever happened.

I think that’s fascinating. Just the fact you saw this conversation happened really inspired you to turn it into this film. I totally related because I felt like I was Charlie back when I was younger. I’ve been through something similar at one point.
Oh yeah! And I appreciate you saying that because I think we’ve all had those awkward conversations. They are a part of life, at least maybe for people like you or I. I related to that as well. I’d be lying if I said that part wasn’t autobiographical.

odeya-freddie
Odeya Rush as Amber and Freddie Highmore as Charlie in Almost Friends (Gravitas Ventures)

I thought both Freddie Highmore and Odeya Rush truly drove the film with their roles of Charlie and Amber. What was it like working with them on the set as well as the rest of the cast?
I’m not BSing you when I say this. They were great. I had a really great experience with the actors. I mean, Freddie. He is super, super talented. He’s been doing this since he was five years old. He’s such a pro. It is interesting dealing with someone who is younger than me by a good amount of years and has been doing it longer by double the time.

When you’re dealing with professional actors at that level, it’s almost like dealing with athletes. When you go to a baseball game and watch batting practice, it’s just an incredible thing watching them play at the highest level. What’s great about Freddie is that he’s a super nice person. And he gets it. He understands the references. Every movie I asked him to watch, he watched it. And we were able to have fluid conversations throughout. And then, when it was time for him to step into it, he steps into it with such conviction and he takes notes.

He’s lingering around the camera now. He’s directed episodes of Bates Motel and I’m sure he’ll direct episodes of The Good Doctor, but when all of the other actors are in their trailers, Freddie is just standing with me and the camera crew and watching what we are doing. He is so, off-the-charts, smart. He is such a pleasure.

And so is Odeya. We shot this movie in eighteen days and she was there day one. Freddie didn’t start his until day two. We had to start shooting right away with Odeya and it was a lot of work and with a lot of difficult stuff for her character. She’s a pro. She stepped in and a very nice person also. She’s very smart and a great actress. It was really a pleasure working with them. That’s no BS whatsoever.

Did you experience any difficulties while making the film?
They are all pretty difficult. My first film, Don McKay, was shot in nineteen days. Life of a King, which was a Cuba Gooding Jr. chess movie I made, we shot that in fifteen days. And let me tell you. When you are shooting a movie in fifteen days with an actor of that caliber, it’s going to be hard for me to be daunted at this point. You basically have the guns to your head (laughs). You have got to get it done! You do not get it done by the end of the day, it’s not in the movie.

With something like Almost Friends, we shot the movie in eighteen days. When you’re working with someone like Freddie, who’s done TV, he gets it. He understands what shooting seven to eight pages of dialogue is like. On a big movie, you’re shooting three pages of dialogue. Some of these movies, you’re shooting a half-page of dialogue. For us, you try to spread the work out as best as you can and you want to shoot in order as much as you can. Again, on a movie like this, it’s very difficult so you need to surround yourself with the right people, explain exactly what’s going on, every single day.

Don’t ever take your eye off the prize. Yeah, there is a ton of difficulty, but at the end of the day, if you get a good movie, that’s what matters. And I feel we did on this one.

Finally, do you have any new films in the works?
I do have a couple of things that we are trying to get going. But, I don’t want to jump the gun just yet so my focus right now is Almost Friends.

Almost Friends comes to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on November 17. I would recommend this film as it is a great look at dreams and what people must go through to live those dreams. Thank you again Jake for talking about the film.
Thank you so much! Really appreciate it!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Jake Goldberger for making this interview possible.

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