Entanglement is the latest film from director Jason James. To get into too much detail about the film would be spoiler territory so let’s stick with the bland synopsis. While recovering from a suicide attempt, Ben Layton (Thomas Middleditch) accidentally falls in love with a girl who was very nearly, almost his sister – and then things start to get weird. Jason James answered some questions about the film and his experience filming Entanglement.
What was your goal when thinking of the film’s tone because the material is complex, to say the least?
This film has a very unique tone as it oscillates between a smart/witty romantic comedy and a darker/dramatic psychological mystery. There’s a duality at play here… I talked a lot about chaos and control in the development of this movie - Hanna representing chaos and Tabby representing control - each of these elements fighting Ben’s inner and outer life in his search for balance and meaning.
The existential crisis in Ben’s character allows the possibility that anything can and will happen. I read a lot of Jung’s theories on psychosis. He described hallucinations as a projection of unconscious wishes, thoughts, and wants. And so, through Ben’s unique perspective we see hallucinations in the form of fake fireworks, jellyfish coming to life in a swimming pool, inanimate objects talk, moments slow down/speed up, messages are spelled out in Alphagetti, and an entire romantic relationship is conjured.
Overall, I wanted the film to feel hand-made, organic, almost ‘vinyl’ in its look and feel, so that the film had a handmade/rough, almost decaying quality to it.
Every previous project that you’ve directed, you’ve had some control in the writing process. With this film, you are using a script written by Jason Filiatrault. What was it like not having to worry about coming up with the ideas for a story and instead focusing your energy on making the film and the visual aspects of storytelling?
Jason F and I developed this script for about 2 years together before we went into production, so I was involved at a very early stage along the way. For me, the script is a document that is constantly evolving and changing – based on actors that are cast, locations that are found, and new ideas that emerge throughout that process. That said, JF is an amazing writer and he created a script that was so beautiful and fragile and funny – I felt like I had to elevate the execution to match this weird fever dream of a script.
What was your favorite scene in the film to shoot?
The hardest scene to shoot was also my favorite. In the film, there are 3 different underwater sequences. I had never done an underwater shoot before – so I storyboarded out all the shots. We allowed half a day to capture about 16 different shots. When it took approximately 2 hours to get the first shot, I realized there was no way I could get everything I wanted in that time frame, so I just had to improvise. There was an underwater speaker – where the actors could hear me giving directions like ‘swim to camera’ or ‘dive deeper', they were amazing, such good sports and the footage looks incredible. I should also add that Thomas Middleditch can hold his breath for an inhuman amount of time.
Describe your experience working with Thomas Middleditch because he seems to be getting meatier roles and popping up in more places.
Thomas was the first person we went out to for this role. When I’m casting a film I always like to watch interviews with actors – to see who they are innately as people – and to see if there is a little bit of this character in them.
I remember watching an interview with Thomas at the Sundance film festival where he was asked ‘what his favorite song was.’ He started describing Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘The King of Carrot Flowers’ and he started crying, and I remember thinking that is just perfect for this role. This guy who is so emotionally fragile that he might just breakdown and laugh… or cry.
And working with Thomas was a dream – he holds such a high bar and wants to make cool stuff. We were constantly re-working the material and trying new ideas all along the way, right before scenes and in the moment. It was a really raw and exciting way to work.
Thomas, Jess, Diana, and I did get to do a few rehearsals before the shoot, which is rare. I think the big thing for all of us was to get the tone right – making sure all of these characters belong in the same film. I also did a pre-shoot with Thomas and Jess – a lot of the ‘romantic montages’ were shot with a smaller/more intimate crew so that they could just have fun and be relaxed on screen together. And then throughout the production – making it as relaxed and comfortable as possible, allowing for casual mistakes and improvised moments to become a part of the construction of the film.
I first want to suggest to readers that they try to avoid spoilers about Entanglement as much as possible because it is a very fun movie to figure out and it unfolds in an unusual manner. With that said, were there films that you looked at as inspiration for this project?
I’ve always been a huge fan of magical realism in film: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amelie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Science of Sleep, even Groundhog Day are all such beautiful examples of this – but I never thought I’d get to make something in this genre. It always felt like a bigger budget conceit to me. All of my previous films have been very naturalistic in their approach and I thought this would be a great challenge for me as a filmmaker.
If you had unlimited resources, what would be a dream project that you would love to do?
I’ve always wanted to adapt a Haruki Murakami novel – Kafka on the Shore, Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Wild Sheep Chase - to me these novels are pure cinema, so visceral and evocative with incredibly strange characters and full of pop culture references. Why has nobody done this yet?!
Do you have any projects that may be coming soon that our readers can look forward to?
I am currently casting a road movie called The Mother Outlaws. Amber Ripley (producer of Entanglement) and Jason Filiatrault (writer of Entanglement) and I are developing an all-female heist comedy called Bad Seeds.