IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Shana Feste Talks 'Endless Love'

Thursday, 13 February 2014 22:17 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Director Shana Feste Talks 'Endless Love'

Opening just in time for Valentine’s Day, February 14th is Endless Love, which is a remake of Franco Zeffirelli’s film of the same name. The original starred a young Brooke Shields and is probably best known for its Academy Award-nominated title song by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross. However, the new film stars Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) and Gabriella Wilde (Carrie) and was co-written and directed by Shana Feste (The Greatest, Country Strong).

Endless Love follows the story of a privileged girl named Jade (Wilde) and a charismatic boy named David (Pettyfer) whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by her father (Bruce Greenwood) trying to keep them apart. In addition to Pettyfer, Wilde, and Greenwood, the film also stars veteran actors Joely Richardson (Anonymous) and Robert Patrick (Gangster Squad). 

I recently had a chance to sit down with director and co-writer Shana Feste to talk about her work on Endless Love. The accomplished filmmaker discussed her new movie, why the classic song from the original was not used in the new film, her knowledge of the original, the tone of the project, the cast, their performances, co-writing the screenplay, the movie’s controversial sex scene, and what type of project she would like to direct next.

Here is what Shana Feste had to say about Endless Love:

IAR: To begin with, was there ever a discussion about using the Oscar-nominated song Endless Love by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross at some point in your film?

Shana Feste: We did use it at one point. We were definitely trying to find room for the song in the movie. We had it in the dance sequence. The lead characters chose Endless Love to dance to.

Was it an updated version or the original?

Feste: No, it was the classic. It just felt too Meta. It took you out in a weird way and we had already gone so far away from the original movie that we were just thought that we were on our own course, so we should just keep going. We wanted to do our version of Endless Love.

The film is very different than the original, was it written that way in the script?

Feste: The initial script was very different. I thought how could I put my stamp on it? How can I see me in this film as a filmmaker? So I tried to add the romance and celebration of love. I tried to put those moments in and I wanted to not have a dark ending in this movie.

Were you a fan of the original movie? 

Feste: I'd never seen it.

I’ve never seen it either. I was more aware of the song then the original movie. 

Feste: Oh yeah, I totally knew the song. But I'm a huge Franco Zeffirelli fan. As soon as I found out he directed it and I got this script, I was like I want to see this. So I found it but I could only get a bad copy on YouTube.

Did you watch it before you agreed to direct the remake? 

Feste: Yes, before I signed on I watched it. The inner 13-year old girl in me watched it. I loved the movie! It was awesome! The melodrama was so great! My film is still so far away from that movie, but I just wanted the opportunity to make a movie that didn’t have vampires or any crazy explosions from two different planets. This is just a boy and a girl love story.

Have you been offered vampire or exploding planet type movies?

Feste: I'm sure I will. No, I just wanted to tell something that was simple. I love films of the 70's, really simplistic kind of movie where all you need is a boy and a girl and to put something in between and then you have a movie. I was really drawn to that and the idea that this movie would be released on Valentine's Day. I thought it was a great idea.

The film is very updated, but it seems that with this genre there's a fine line that you have to walk between realism and melodrama. Can you talk about finding that tone as a director?

Feste: The story is a melodrama at its heart. You can take certain liberties and what I love about the audience for these movies, especially with teen girls, is that they have really open hearts. They're not jaded, yet. They'll kind of go with you. They're going to say, “Oh, this is the love of your life! Oh no, now it's gone and you need to get him back!” So they'll go on this roller coaster ride with you. But of course I wanted to ground that in incredible performances and that's why it was so such a gift to get actors like Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson and Robert Patrick. That was a gift for this movie to get those actors because they elevate the genre so much. With my DP I said, I want this movie to look cinematic. This needs to be a movie. I want it to feel larger than life and have this huge scope. I wanted it to be beautiful. I don't want to talk down to our audience just because they've only seen movies that look a certain way. I want to give them the caviar of the teen romance. That was just a goal of ours.

Can you talk about casting the veteran actors that you just mentioned, and the gravitas that they bring to the project opposite the young actors in the film?

Feste: It's just incredible to go onto set and see Joely and Bruce. I would have endless conversations with them about the scenes and the work. They're so professional and you do two takes for them and you're like, I guess we move on. I mean they kind of got it right away. But we played a lot. We had a lot of fun coloring outside the lines with them. With Alex and Gabriella, who aren't as nearly as experienced, they have a whole different passion for the movie. Everything is new and you can really direct them. You get to really direct a performance. That's what I thought was so fun about working with them is that they're both internal actors. They're both quiet and sometimes they needed to be bigger, and they need to show more. I always believed what they were doing. It was always coming from a very truthful place, but they needed to show it. That was a fun challenge working with the younger actors versus working with the older actors. It took longer, but we got some really amazing things because they were willing to take risks for me, which was cool. Alex was willing to show a side that I don't think he really shows very often, a very vulnerable side. He's so good at playing the villain, the bad guy, the jerk, and the tough guy, and this is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, which I think Alex does in real life. He's actually very poetic, very gentle and a very loving guy.

With Bruce Greenwood's role it could've very easily gone the wrong way. You can almost see him as an actor skillfully walking that line. What were some of the conversations that you and he had about that role and not making his character too much of stereotypical mean dad?

Feste: We didn't want the mustache-twirling villain. That was something we did in the writing process too, which was scale back. But in order to have him be a real antagonist for their love, he does have to take some big swings. I always wanted it to come from a place that I always understood, and that was the loss of his child. I can understand that. I understand that pain. I wanted it to come from a real place. I think with Bruce we definitely tried to navigate that. We did a lot of takes that were too little, we did a lot of takes that were way too far, and I ended up usually in the editing room choosing something right in the middle. But to cover our bases we did ups and downs and we did a lot. So it's all in there.

Did you say to Bruce, “Okay, go bigger this time?” Or does he take a big swing to start and then you have to pull him back?

Feste: He'd look at me after he did something. He’d say, “Do I need to do more?” I'd say, let's just see what happens if you do more. It might be crazy. It might be totally wrong and silly, but let's just see what it does. Even when he would do more, he’s such a good actor that he could sell it. I think there was some dialogue, and I don't even know if this ended up in the movie, that we gave him and I was like, even I'm embarrassed right now. How are you going to pull this off? This could be so wrong and so over the top. He would take that dialogue and it was so expository but he would just deliver it and sold it! He makes everyone look like better writers because he sells it. 

You talked about the writing process. Did you write the screenplay with Joshua Safran, or just retouch it after you signed on to the project?

Feste: I retouched it. I tried to put more of me in it. The studio is very happy about the structure of where it was and the relationships. I just tried to inject some of me in it so that I could feel good about going to work everyday and explaining why I thought the scenes was so important.

Can you talk about discovering Gabriella Wilde for the film and what the casting process was like?

Feste: I think initially I was very hesitant because she came to me as a model. I had that prejudice. I didn’t want to work with a super model. I only wanted to work with an actress. I don't think I wanted her to win the role when she came in. So she had to really impress me. She came in and she almost did too little, but it was so honest, truthful and she's so naturalistic that I just believed her. I believed she had a lot of boxes to fill that role. She had to be the girl you would believe is going to Brown University. She had to be this breathtaking beauty, and she has to be completely innocent. But she has that naturally. She's so gorgeous and she's so quiet, but sometimes you're like, oh is she aloof? She's such a quiet, reserved person that I think people think she's a snob because she's not talking or she's not the life of the party. But she's really quite an introvert and so I think she gets labeled as that because she's so beautiful. She was like, “Oh, I really relate to this.” I could see that she knew what people have said about her. That she is standoffish, and she thinks she is better than everybody else just because she's so beautiful. But Gabriella is so the opposite. She is so warm and lovely once you get to know her. She straddled all those lines that were really difficult and she also came across really innocent. She's 24-years old. She's a woman, and she's having a baby right now. She plays very young and she really captured that innocence of Jade really well.  

Did you do a chemistry read with her and Alex Pettyfer?

Feste: We did. It was kind of a chemistry lunch. We kind of just went out to lunch. 

Had you already cast Alex in the film?

Feste: No, we had Gabriella on board first. The studio really fell in love with Gabriella and then we did about five intense days of rehearsal with a directing coach. They didn’t want to make themselves vulnerable and act silly on the first day, but that's exactly what I had them do. They were dancing, singing, running around and playing like kids. Once you do that with each other it kind of bonds you like summer camp or something. You're like, oh you have my back, then I have your back, and I'm safe. Also when you're falling in love and you're showing what it's like to fall in love, you want it to feel big, open, crazy and wild. You can't hold back. A lot of our time was spent rehearsing and really feeling comfortable with each other. They had to be in very intimate situations.

Had you seen any of Alex's previous movies before you cast him? 

Feste: I had. I had seen a lot of Alex's work. He always intrigued me but it wasn't until I sat down with him that I was like, oh he's totally doing it. He's been engaged, he had tattoos of women, initials, and he talks about all his heartbreak and his love. He’s a total romantic. Alex loves love. Most 23-year old actors are talking about partying and not talking about being in love and wanting a family one day. Here's Alex, this young romantic and he has this very sensitive, vulnerable side. I thought that if he'd show this to everybody then it would be amazing.

The scene where David takes Jade’s virginity happens very early in the film, was there any discussion that perhaps that was too early?

Feste: Totally. But I never thought it was too early because they’re in love.

But it happens in her parents’ house while they’re upstairs sleeping!

Feste: I know. We actually used to have a scene where Joely came out and saw them, and then walked away back into her bedroom. That gave us an R-rating so we had to take it out. But I really loved that. Was it too soon for me? Absolutely not, and what I wanted to show was that they're totally safe together. He was the one. It was first love and she hasn't lived. She's lived for her father. She hadn't followed her heart. She'd been kind of shushing herself. Now she's going to make her own choices and she's going to act like an adult, which she is. That's how she wanted to lose her virginity and it was a perfect time and place for her. She was right on track. We actually did a cut of the movie where we put the love making at the end, after they got together and got to know each other but something happened where it made the movie ordinary. There was no spark, and there wasn't anything different about it. Also, you have to give Bruce something to react to. If they're just totally linear in their relationship, doing everything at the right time, the right steps and totally like every other couple in the world, then is Bruce really going to act as protective as he does in the movie? It just kind of took out a lot of the magic. 

Finally, all of your films have had a romantic theme. Is there a different type of genre that you might be interested in exploring for your next project?

Feste: I think I'm just looking for themes I can relate to. The theme of this movie was to be brave and fight for love. This is where I am in my life. I'm so about this movie right now. I am fighting for love in my personal life so I can make this movie. Every day I can come to work and say I believe in this. I have a movie about father-son bank robbers that I'm dying to get made. There's only one female character in the movie and there's no love. I can't wait to do something different.

Endless Love opens in theaters on Valentine's Day, February 14th. 

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