Serial procrastinator Teddy (Rafe Spall) wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that every few minutes he's jumping forward to the next year of his life. Watching his future flash before his eyes, Teddy must make every second count if he is to win back the woman he loves in this feel-good comedy about second chances.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: You have a very varied career with rom-coms in front of and behind the camera, what is it about this genre that draws you in, especially as a storyteller?
Josh Lawson: Well, I’m just such a fan of rom-coms. Why am I drawn to them? Well, good question, I think one is that they are probably they’re the most difficult genre to get right. They may be more than others. It's a genre full of tropes and cliched landmines that in this modern world I think it's harder to avoid. Like shock horror, for instance, of course, it's full of tropes, but for some reason, horror seems to work better sometimes when you embrace the tropes, rom-coms don’t work quite the same way. I think you've got to be a little more savvy about subverting the genre of rom-com today to connect with an audience. Only because I think we're a little less romantic than we once were. You know, in the dating app age, I think we're slightly more cynical as romantic beings than we once were. I love Notting Hill for instance, but I re-watched it recently and I genuinely thought I don't think this would be made today the same way, it's almost too romantic. It just doesn't feel it actually feels like quite a period piece now. Rom-coms these days look like the Big Sick.
It's also the greatest unifier, I think, no matter where you're from or you know what language you speak, or whatever else, man, woman or otherwise, being loved and loving someone else is something I think we all strive for. Even though the rom-com represents that basic human instinct that we all share, to love and be loved. And so, it should in a way be the most the easiest one to get right because we all want that, but that love, love looks and feels different for all of us. And so that's part of the trick is how do you tell a story to connect with all these different people going through different phases of life, whether they are in a marriage after 20 years or if you've never been in love at all, and everything in between. What is it? What does it look like? How do you tell the story that connects with as many people as possible, knowing that love looks and feels different for all of us?
Sadie: Yeah, absolutely. It's a very universal feeling, but definitely tough to convey, which I think you did a really great job with this movie. There's definitely that sense of wanting control over time because it's fleeting and especially as you get older it just kind of disappears. It felt like this great Twilight Zone episode, except that this one ends on a happy note. With that said, where did this idea come from for Long Story Short?
Josh: Just as you said, for me, it was getting older. Looking back on the last year or two, and being very alarmed that I felt like I didn't have much to show for and even more alarming had difficulty remembering what I did, even certain things, like even now, even though the last 12 months for all of us have been pretty unique and more memorable than most, but in a normal year if you said now, “Hey, what were you doing in February?” I'd be like, “I actually don’t know. Probably not much.” And that scares me. I don't like that feeling of going, “Holy shit, we've only got so many February's in our life,I just wasted another one. How many do I have left?” And the older I get, I imagined my February’s are going to get more and more boring so it's more important now to do as much as possible because it's going to get tougher and tougher the older I get to do more things. I started going down that rabbit hole in my head and panicked and then I thought I have to actually write a movie about this before I go crazy.
Sadie: With the story and how you approached it, how did you handle all that time jumping just structure?
Josh: I think initially I thought, ‘Oh, I'll do this thing where he wakes up and every morning he wakes up, it'll be a different year.’ You know like Groundhog Day. And then, I felt like I'm wasting too much time. There's too much downtime now in a day, I don't want to let the foot off the accelerator, I need it. I need to make it feel for him, what life feels like for all of us that it's over in the blink of an eye. So, I just went in on making every few minutes like this essentially before he's even had a chance to wrap his head around and I'll leap forward. That kind of opened the film up to me, I think, a lot more because it made it feel a lot faster, it made the space a bit higher, it made his panic a lot more real and ultimately his breakdown more understandable because he's just been punished for 45 minutes to an hour. He has just been blasted around. I can understand that he just breaks down at some point, it would be more than anyone could handle. That was a good way for me to make the film feel slightly different as well, as more of a roller coaster ride.
Sadie: I like that flip on Groundhog Day that you did that, it definitely amps up the stakes for him. Taking a back step, what was your filmmaking journey like for you from acting to writing and stepping into directing?
Josh: Well, you know acting first, and then and then from acting, I just always tried to write stuff, either writing for theater and then from theater I got a writing job for a sitcom. And then ultimately, the next step was writing features. And then the directing came last. It was more than I think I had the revelation that a lot of the directors I was working with as an actor, didn't really necessarily know what they were doing. I think I've elevated them in my head that thing of ‘Oh my god, the director, they must have all the answers.' But then as I got older and I looked closer, I realized they didn't really at all and were sort of making it up as they went along and I went, ‘Well if it's just about making it up as you go along, I'm quite good at that.‘ [laughs]
I wanted to direct my own stuff because I also felt like I was writing in a certain way that wasn't really being done anymore. It's old-fashioned in a way, that that sort of magical realism stuff. It’s not done so much anymore, which is a shame I really like it. You mentioned Twilight Zone. I love the Twilight Zone growing up. I probably got a better sensibility to direct this stuff than most because I'm so in love with this sort of, rat-a-tat, like His Girl Friday, that back and forth, dialogue-driven rom-com. I do feel sometimes that I'm my stuff is of a bygone era, but I also embrace that now. It's probably not for everyone but this is a sort of classic Hollywood type of rom-com where it's very dialogue-driven. I do feel like maybe I was born in the wrong era. And I'm just gonna go for it. [laughs]
Sadie: What is your writing routine like?
Josh: Firstly, it involves waiting for one of the ideas to kind of bubble to the surface. I've got plenty of ideas, no shortage of ideas, but really, it's about which one am I going to attack next. What am I passionate about saying about the human condition? What's the question I have about life, and which ones seem more obvious and then over about a week or so, one of them has just sort of infiltrated my dreams. And then I go, ‘OK, well I guess that's the one that's speaking me I should probably get that out of my system.’ And then when I sit down and start writing. It all happens pretty quickly so a first draft will come out in two or three weeks. That'll be a bit of a mess, and that's OK. And then the rewriting starts and the polishing, the shaping and doing table reads and figuring out what works and what doesn't. And so, after that, it'll probably take a few months to get into a shape where I think it's probably ready to send out, but you know the rewrites will continue until the day you shoot. I mean, I'll keep rewriting after take two. It'll always get rewritten. I think the older I get, the less I get stuck on making the quote-unquote perfect script. That'll never happen. I just keep moving forward and try and tell the story of this again.
Sadie: That's a quick turnaround, two to three weeks just for even a vomit draft, I applaud you for that.
Josh: It'll never come if it never comes out fast. It’s not like I'm not patting myself on the back, it's more like I know what I'm like if I step away from this for a day or two. That day or two will turn into a week or two and a month and I'll be like ‘Fuck! I lost momentum on this.' I should have stayed with it because at least it would have been better, so I do push myself to get that first vomit draft down.
Sadie: Any advice to filmmakers who are multi-hyphens like yourself that are about to write or jump into making their first feature film?
Josh: Well, you know, good luck. If it’s anything like my journey it's been a nightmare at every turn, but that's kind of part of the appeal as well. [laughs] No, I genuinely wish the world was full of more artists and filmmakers and storytellers, so I welcome all and jump into the water, it's freezing cold, you will hate it for a while but eventually you'll climatize and hopefully learn to love it. [laughs] I really just wish everyone the best of luck. I love this artistic family that we're in and the more the merrier.
Sadie: Absolutely! Thank you so much, Josh, I really enjoyed this movie. And I hope you're doing more this year and in the coming years, and you don't let any more February's pass you by.
Josh: [laughs] Thank you so much!
Long Story Short is now playing in theatres and is available On Demand and Digital.