Where most movies would take that premise and turn it into a sci-fi summer blockbuster, Scafaria instead chose to focus on how the rest of us would react to the downer news. Cue the riots, orgies, and last-minute reflections on life. In it, Steve Carell, the undisputed titleholder of mixing comedy with stoic depression, stars as Dodge, a man who decides to spend his final days chasing after the one that got away. And tagging along for the ride is Keira Knightley as Penny, equally set on reuniting with her family.
With The End of the World bearing down on North American theatres, Moviefone recently sat down with Scafaria to talk about imagining the apocalypse, taking song suggestions from Adam Brody, and why she was so glad to land Steve Carell for her directorial debut.
Was directing always part of the plan for you, or was it something that came up later on? It's always something I wanted to do, actually. I had hoped I was going to do it out of the gate. But I realized later on I was going to have to probably write my way into it. [Laughs] But, no, I directed a lot of theater growing up, and I did a short film I called The Longest Short. It was like a 30-minute thing. It was never meant to go into film festivals or anything, but just something to prove, to myself anyway, that I might be able to tackle a feature. And with this, I sold it as a pitch with myself attached to direct. I was not sitting anything out this time.
What was the process of writing the script like, compared to Nick and Norah for instance? And how fun was it to imagine what the end of the world might actually look like, sociologically? Well that's the most fun. I've always been interested in psychology and sociology more than anything. So for me, the most fun was doing that kind of human research, and asking friends and family, 'What would you do?' And making lists of things like, 'OK, there's probably a riot, there's probably an orgy.' [Laughs] So that was a blast. The writing process was so different. I mean, Nick and Norah is an adaptation of a book that I loved. I wanted to do right by the authors and the story, so there was a different pressure there. And yet, there was source material to obviously draw from. This was really like pulling things out of the air.
But once I realized that I had these two genres -- the end of the world and the romantic comedy, for lack of a better phrase -- I realized that I needed to make them collide as much as possible. I remember thinking, 'OK, I'll have a riot, but the riot needs to be a breakup scene at the same time.' [Laughs] And so it actually made it a little bit easier to think in those terms. Even though this wasn't a single genre, it's a bit of a mash-up.
Steve Carell was perfect in the lead. Was he who you had in mind for Dodge from the start? I felt like I've been writing this kind of guy for a really long time. I've written a lot of scripts, Nick and Norah was 9, this is 18. And I felt like [in] a lot of relationship movies about men and women, the guy's always sort of a man-child or a womanizer, and the girl's a Type A, that type of character. And you know, that's not really me. So I felt like I kept writing these stories of that free-spirited girl who helps this introvert come out of his shell; this archetype has been in so many scripts of mine, this guy having an awakening. And in that way, I've been thinking of Steve for those parts for like 10 years. Every time I'd get done with a script, I'd be like, 'Well, this is Steve Carell!'
For this, I just couldn't imagine actually getting him. I didn't know any of these people, so it was really about just getting the script out there and seeing who responded. And when I heard he had it, all my eggs went into that basket. And then it was about meeting him, and hopefully having him approve of me as a first-timer and everything.
Tone seems so crucial in a movie like this. Which would you say is more important, finding that balance for yourself, or finding actors who "get it," so to speak? Well, probably both. Part of the reason I really wanted to direct [the movie] in the first place was because I was just realizing that it's such a tricky tone, that even if you get it on paper, I don't know how to translate that to everybody. And I was really lucky to have those kinds of actors who were so good at blending comedy and tragedy.
I think Steve Carell in particular is one of those people who, in every part he's played --[The Office's] Michael Scott is such a tragic sort of comedic figure -- there's pain behind his eyes in everything that he does. So I think it was both, in getting two people who really understood what we were trying to capture, and the whole crew, down to my editor and I sitting around trying to balance all that together. It was tricky, and yet I think everybody set out to make the same movie. I love movies that balance comedy and drama. I feel like there's not enough of those movies anymore.
Were there any movies that influenced you in terms of the tone or visual style -- or maybe a direction that you didn't want to take? There were three films for me. MASH was one that I sort of doled around to everybody. Keira had never seen it before, so she watched that. She said she watched it, and then as soon as it was over, she went back and watched it again. [Laughs] So MASH was one of those in tone, because obviously people are dealing with tragic things and yet having these coping mechanisms, and there's comedy along the way. There's a movie Songs from the Second Floor that I love, a Roy Andersson film. That's a much bleaker, darker version of that. But Defending Your Life, that for me was sort of the quintessential one for this. Because it's such a romantic film, and what stakes could be higher than going to go to heaven with Meryl Streep? [Laughs]
Since you're also a musician and in a band, how involved were you in the music in the film? Both in curating the soundtrack, and Penny's record collection? You know, I'm not that cool, I don't have vinyl. [Laughs] But I love music, and so yeah, it was always really important to me that her collection represent something. I always knew I wanted it to be classics and classic rock or whatever that means, just to have a sense of nostalgia to it. But I also liked the idea that her albums, they're indicative of her taste, but they're songs that would have been from [Dodge's] life more. And in that way, represent both of them and be little dedications. When I thought of what people would be consuming at the end of the world, it just felt like, more than movies and TV, everybody would be turning to their music. Songs end up being that collection of memories.
There were probably two of the songs in the script that actually made it all the way to the movie: the Beach Boys song in the beginning, and Herb Albert's "This Guy's in Love With You." Those two were in it from the get-go, and everything else, I asked people to make me mixes along the way. Adam Brody [her fellow Shortcoats bandmate] had a lot to do with it. He gave me a few songs, The Hollies, things like that ended up coming from mixes that were made for me. I'd be driving around, being like, 'Oh my God, the plane! The plane scene! This could be the plane scene!' So yeah, it's a lot of my taste in there.
What do you hope audiences get out of the film once they see it? I certainly hope people are entertained, and enjoy the film. And yet, I guess I hope people come out of there reflecting on their own lives and thinking about time, and how they spend their own time. And whatever their feelings are on love and death and all that, I like to think that at least they come out of there hopefully feeling a little uplifted. In spite of the fact [that the movie's about the end of the world], that it's the kind of thing that can be a life-affirming experience.