Striving to passionately reveal your personality and beliefs in a fulfilling career where you can be recognized by your peers is becoming increasingly difficult for many young adults today. Director Scott Coffey ardently embraced that struggle in his new independent comedy, ‘Adult World,’ which is now playing in select theaters and is also available On Demand. The filmmaker creatively and relatably showcased how difficult it can be for people to succeed in their chosen career in the movie, which follows a recent college graduate struggling to find her place in her new adult world.
‘Adult World’ follows Amy Anderson, (Emma Roberts), a naive and passionate young woman who just graduated from college. While she’s convinced she’s going to be America’s next famous poet, her hopes of fulfilling her dreams are crushed, as she’s burdened with debt from her student loans. Facing unemployment, she moves back in with her parents, who force her to get a job. Desperate and not facing many prospects with her poetry degree, she takes the only job she can find-working in the title adult bookstore.
But she’s still desperate to get her writing published, so Amy stalks her favorite writer, aging punk poet, Rat Billings (John Cusack), who she considers to be one of the greatest voices of the early 1990s. After much convincing, Rat reluctantly agrees to mentor her. On her journey, Amy makes new friends, including a drag queen named Rubia (Armando Riesco) and Alex (Peters), the charming and quirky young manager of the store. She then soon realizes that she might not be the voice of her generation after all.
Coffey generously took the time recently to talk about shooting ‘Adult World’ over the phone. Among other things, the director discussed how he was drawn to the film’s script because it authentically represents the current millennial dilemma young people are facing, as there’s less work and possibility, proving that the American dream is disappearing; how he encouraged the actors in the independent comedy to improvise while they were filming, as he’s interested in telling character-driven stories, and having the performers feel comfortable on the set provides a realistic element to the overall movie; and how he supports independent films like ‘Adult World’ being released On Demand, as it helps audiences across America gain access to the projects.
Question (Q): You directed the new comedy, ‘Adult World.’ What was it about screenwriter Andy Cochran’s script that convinced you to helm the film?
Scott Coffey (SC): The most interesting I found in the story was the millennial dilemma young people are now finding themselves. There’s less work and possibility, and the American dream has tarnished and evaporated, even compared to the generation before them.
But ironically, kids are now more over-validated and individualistic, and are constantly taught that they can be anything they want to be and that they’re special. But that isn’t necessarily completely true anymore.
That’s one of the things I brought out a little bit more. We did several drafts of the script to get that to the point that it is now. I also really liked the characters, and thought they were really interesting.
Q: Speaking about how young adults are over-validated today, ‘Adult World’ follows Emma Robert’s character, Amy, who’s a naïve recent college graduate. She struggles with the realization that her dream career as a poet isn’t as obtainable as she believed. Why do you think audiences can sympathize with her struggles to finding her path in life?
SC: Yes. So far, we’ve had a really great response, and people are really relating to it. We’ve been very lucky and fortunate. There are a lot of young adults who relate to the movie, and who really understand the story.
But it’s also funny when I speak to older viewers, and they say, “I was this character. I thought I was going to be a poet or artist. I wanted it, so I thought I could be it. I automatically get to be it because I want to. I thought I was talented because I wanted to be talented.” That’s definitely something I think a lot of people can relate to a lot.
I really relate to the film’s characters. I’m not interested in making movies in which I can’t relate to the lead characters. I have to find something I relate to in them, and that I can feel an empathy and sympathy for. I really related to Emma’s character, Amy. A part of me is also like Rat and Alex.
I always try to bring myself to these characters, in order to make it a personal movie, and make it resonate with audiences in a personal way. I feel like if I can relate to the characters, everyone could. If you make something personal, that comes across strongly.
Q: How closely did you stick to the script as you were filming the movie, to capture Amy’s struggles? Did Andy visit the set while you were shooting to collaborate on the film’s development?
SC: Andy wasn’t on the set. But I really liked the script, and thought it was really funny. We kept the script like a blue-print; we really improvised and played around with it.
John Cusack and I would meet the night before we would shoot his sequences, and we would work on his scenes. When we shot them, they would really evolve. John, Emma and I would also work on their scenes a lot together.
The script was very fluid, so we would keep the structure the same while we were filming. The opening scenes with Amy’s family were all in the script. But we played with a lot of the other stuff while we were making the film.
Q: Speaking of improvising on the set, does allowing the actors to add their own opinions into their characters and scenes add to the story’s overall creativity?
SC: I am really interested in telling character-driven stories, instead of ones that are super-heavy in plot. The movies that I love that I was thinking about when I was making ‘Adult World’ are very character-driven movies. Since those films focus so heavily on the characters, you want the actors to really feel comfortable, and bring as much of themselves to the movie as much as they could.
While many of the characters are grounded, Emma’s character is a little more heightened. That character’s performing everything until she settles down and becomes a real person.
But I think is really fun about improving is that you get this immediate aliveness. The actors feel really invested in the process of filmmaking, and I like collaborating that way. It’s really fun for me, and is a really great way to work, especially with a film that is character-driven. Some days we just tossed the script away and improved, and it was really fun to work that way.
Q: Even though you did allow the actors to improv, did you still have any rehearsal period with the cast before you began filming?
SC: I did have a little bit of rehearsal time with the actors, but not a lot. We had a lot of discussions and did a lot of talking about the characters. We also spoke about our ideas on the characters, and how we wanted them to feel. But we didn’t have an actual rehearsal. We read through the script a couple times and talked about scenes, but we never had a full rehearsal.
A lot of the rehearsal period was shot. We’d arrive on set, shoot a rehearsal and then play around with what happened on the set. So we would keep that very fluid, and our rehearsals were our first and second takes. Then we would start working on it that way.
Sometimes I would throw things out, and we would keep the camera rolling. I would say, “Let’s go back to that one part and see what happens.” Sometimes Emma would speak in a funny voice and laugh, and that would make it into the scene. It was really fluid and alive that way.
Q: Before you began directing movies, you started your career as an actor, and appeared in such diverse films as ‘Mulholland Drive’ and ‘Wayne’s World 2.’ How does your acting experience influence the way you direct actors?
SC: Oh yes, it totally did help. It really informed how I made the movie and what I thought about these characters, and my overall process. I think that’s one of the reasons why it was really fun for me to improv, since I know what that can do and bring to a shoot.
I also know how to talk to actors, and I think they felt really comfortable with me. As an actor, I’ve worked with a lot of directors. So I think I earned their trust in making a character-driven movie from that experience.
Q: ‘Adult World’ is the first movie you directed since the first feature you wrote and helmed, the 2006 comedy-drama, ‘Ellie Parker.’ How have you grown as a filmmaker since your first movie? How does the experience of both penning and helming a movie compare and contrast to just directing one?
SC: Yeah, I think the most important thing I learned was how to get a sense of confidence. I made my first movie completely on my own, without a crew. Sometimes it was only Naomi Watts and me with a camera, and that was very challenging. So that gave me the confidence to make a bigger movie with a crew. I think with experience, you get better with everything you do.
But it’s interesting, because everything you do is completely different. The process of everything is going to be a little different. My first movie was very different, in terms of how I directed it and wanted it to be. So everything is pretty different.
Q: The comedy premiered at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. What was your experience at the festival? What type of reactions did you receive from viewers who saw the film there?
SC: I was thrilled the movie made it into the festival. It’s the perfect place for it, and I was really happy. We had a great reception there, and everyone loved it. Geoffrey Gilmore, who’s the head (Chief Creative Officer) of Tribeca, was at Sundance when my first movie was at that festival. So it was really fun to follow him a little bit, and have ‘Ellie Parker’ be at Sundance when he was the president there, and then have ‘Adult World’ be at Tribeca while he’s there. So that was a cool experience.
Q: The film was filmed independently, and had a shooting schedule. Where there any challenges to shooting it on a lower budget, or do you feel that helped add to the creativity on the set?
SC: It did. We didn’t have as much time as I wished we had, but I think everyone feels that way on their movie. We did this for a small amount of money, and people worked for much less than they’re used to working. We definitely made it for a lower price than I wish we had, because it would have been fun to have had a little more time. We shot in Syracuse, New York, and the community there really rallied around us while we were making the movie, and that was fantastic.
Q: Speaking of filming the movie in Syracuse, do you generally prefer shooting on location?
SC: Yes, I love filming on location. It’s so fun, because everybody becomes a family, as they’re removed from their daily lives. Sometimes it’s easier to concentrate on just the work when you’re removed from what you’re comfortable with in your home. So it was really great to be able to do that.
Q: ‘Adult World’ is currently playing in select theaters and on VOD. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand, and why do you think the platform is important to independent films like this one?
SC: I do-I think it’s really important for smaller films to be released on VOD. This movie is great to watch on VOD, iTunes, Amazon and DirecTV. I think it looks great in theaters, but I think more and more independent movies are finding themselves being released on this On Demand platform. I think it’s providing a great way for smaller films to be seen.
I grew up in Hawaii, and a lot of the foreign and independent movies that were released when I was a kid were never shown there. Now these films are going straight to VOD, and you don’t have to wait for them to be released on video. I watch these movies On Demand all the time now.
For example, I watched ‘Crystal Fairy,’ which came out last year, on VOD. I don’t think I would have been able to catch if it wasn’t On Demand, because it wasn’t playing in theaters near me. So that was a great way to see that film, and I love to be able to see movies that way.
Q: Besides ‘Adult World,’ do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
SC: I do have a couple things I’m working on. I’m really exciting about one movie I’m hoping to work on soon, called ‘Chemical Pink.’ It’s a thriller, and takes place in the world of female bodybuilding. That’s all I can really reveal about it now, but it is based on a wonderful book of the same name by Katie Arnoldi. That’s probably going to be my next project.