Win a gift certificate from the makers of happythankyoumoreplease

HappyThankYouMorePlease movie posterHappythankyoumoreplease is opening at the Angelika Film Center in New York City and the Landmark in Los Angeles tomorrow. To celebrate the film’s release, FilmFetish is giving away a prize pack to one lucky reader that includes a happythankyoumoreplease tote bag, a $100 gift certificate to Michael Stars retail or online www.michaelstars.com, and a signed poster from the film signed by Josh Radnor, Malin Ackerman, Kate Mara and Michael Algieri.

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I’ll be running the happythankyoumoreplease contest through Friday, March 18, 2011.

More about happythankyoumoreplease

Josh Radnor (CBS’ Emmy-nominated “How I Met Your Mother”) wrote, directed and stars in happythankyoumoreplease, a sharp comedy centered on a group of 20-something New Yorkers struggling to figure out themselves, their lives and their loves.

On his way to a meeting with a publisher, aspiring novelist Sam Wexler (Radnor) finds Rasheen, a young boy separated from his family on the subway. When the quiet Rasheen refuses to be left alone with social services, Sam learns the boy has already been placed in six previous foster homes and impulsively agrees to let the boy stay with him for a couple days. Dropped into Sam’s chaotic, bachelor lifestyle, Rasheen is introduced to Sam’s circle of friends; Annie (Malin Akerman) who has an unhealthy pattern of dating the wrong men, as well as an auto-immune disorder which has rendered her hairless, Mary-Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) whose potential move to Los Angeles threatens their relationship, and Mississippi (Kate Mara), an aspiring singer/waitress who tests Sam’s fear of commitment. When Sam’s unexpected friendship with Rasheen develops, he realizes adulthood is not about waiting for the right answers to get the life you want, but simply stumbling ahead and figuring them out in the process.

Featuring a brilliant young cast and music from breaking indie musicians, happythankyoumoreplease deftly captures the uncertainty and angst of what it is to be young, vulnerable, and desperate to find out who you are – or perhaps more importantly, who you want to be.

Check out the trailer and images from happythankyoumoreplease below.

Q & A with Director Josh Radnor

Why did you want to make happythankyoumoreplease?
I wanted to make the kind of movie I would want to watch. It frustrates me that movies that are hopeless, dark, and cynical are considered to be more sophisticated, clear-eyed, or “true” than those which present a more hopeful vision. I really wanted to make something that was defiantly un-cynical (starting with the title). No matter where one falls on the cynicism scale, deep down everyone wants to feel that everything is going to be okay – change is possible, growth is possible. I don’t ascribe to this view through some sort of naïve idealism, I really believe this.

In addition to starring in the film, this is your first screenplay as well as directorial debut. What inspired you to take everything on and write, direct and star in happythankyoumoreplease?
Well I didn’t initially intend to direct it. I thought writing and starring would be quite enough to have on my plate. When I was developing the script I had about six or seven readings with actors I knew and liked (I found the process to be so invaluable I actually thanked the actors who had done readings in the credits at the end of the movie). Through the process of doing the readings, I realized the tone of the piece was tricky – if played too broadly it became too overtly comedic and if played too melodramatically it could become bathetic. My biggest task as a director, I found, was to be a kind of guardian of the tone, to make sure everyone involved was, as they say, making the same movie – that the moment-to-moment life of the movie, above all else, felt rooted in truth.

How did you come up with the story? Did you draw on your own experiences while writing the screenplay?
Certain moments in the movie were inspired by things that actually happened to me, but very few. It’s more thematically inspired by my life – i.e. the issues of concern for the characters are issues of concern to me. I had three big ideas that got me going: 1) A guy late for a meeting ends up with a kid who gets separated from his family on the subway. 2) I wanted to base a character on my great and hilarious friend, Rachel, who has alopecia universalis, an auto-immune disorder which prevents her from growing hair anywhere on her body. 3) I wanted to end the movie with the Kander and Ebb song “Sing Happy” (I didn’t know why I felt that, or even at that point who was going to be singing it, I just felt it would be a great way to end a movie). Those were the ground rules I gave myself and I spun the story out from there.

When I was a camp counselor in high school, there was a kid in my group named Rasheen who’d been bounced around to a lot of different foster homes. I really loved this kid, and I’ve thought about him a lot over the years, wondering what happened to him. Writing the story of Sam and Rasheen served, I suppose, as a kind of retroactive caretaking gesture – in my imagination, I got to finally make sure this kid was okay. Charlie and Mary Catherine came about because I had independently started writing an argument between a couple over the merits of New York vs. Los Angeles. I was just having fun writing the dialogue and I didn’t really know who the people were at that point. But then as the script was coming together, I felt like I could add another ingredient with this couple. I liked the addition because they show that love is difficult at any stage – whether you’re single, newly in a relationship, or if you’ve been in one for years. 

In the same vein as Reality Bites and Garden State, happythankyoumoreplease touches upon many core topics about growing up which young adults can relate to. Is there a certain storyline or character that you relate to the most?
All of them, really. That was actually a good sign for me as I wrote the script, that I really cared about all the characters and wanted them to be okay. Of course that can also be problematic for a writer, if you protect your characters too much. My m.o. was to let these lovable, well-intentioned people screw up in big ways and then have the guts and wherewithal to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and make a better choice the next time around. To write well you have to be fair and just in the manner of a judge, in that you have to see both sides of an argument because you’re writing both sides. When you stack the deck too much in one direction, the audience can sense they’re being manipulated. I like that these characters might employ irony when it’s socially useful but more often than not, they’re quite sincere. Their wants and needs feel real to me, their values well-placed – no one ever says if I only had a mansion or the right car I’d be happy. Above all else, they’re searching for connection.

Can you elaborate on Sam’s relationship with the boy, Rasheen, and how Sam’s lifestyle and outlook is changed once Rasheen enters his life?
At the beginning of the movie, Sam is a talented but rootless guy searching for happiness in a series of booze-fueled one-night stands. Circumstances thrust this kid into his life, and he rather recklessly extends their time together. Rasheen helps Sam get outside himself for perhaps the first time in his life, and Sam helps Rasheen feel safe for perhaps the first time in his. One of the reasons I suspect having children can be a healthy thing for a person is that it reacquaints you with wonder. You get to a certain age and a pall can set in – you’ve seen it all. Then you have a kid who’s never seen anything, everything is fascinating to them, and you begin to see the world anew through this fresh set of eyes. Rasheen is an undeniably gifted visual artist and Sam recognizes this right away. As a writer, Sam is in a low moment and questioning his own gifts, then this kid shows up with what looks like genius. You get the sense Sam wants to protect and nurture this kid and his talent. And you hope that Sam’s words to Rasheen near the end of the movie land and resonate with the boy for the rest of his life. I like to think they save each other’s lives.

What were the challenges of writing the script?
Structure isn’t really my strong suit as a writer, so it took me awhile to figure out how to keep three and a half different plots in the air and where it would all land. (I could have made three separate movies with each story, but we weren’t budgeted for a trilogy.) Balancing the humor and the more serious moments was also a concern, but I learned when to shift things. For instance, when things get too emotionally intense, a character will often make a joke to lighten the mood. And comic scenes tend to end on a more somber note. But that just feels like life to me – I don’t think life is happy or sad or confusing or clear. I think it’s all of those things, all the time.

It’s important that the ensemble cast had good chemistry since happythankyoumoreplease really focuses on the various romantic and platonic relationships between the characters. Can you talk about the actors and what they brought to the role?
I’m totally in love with the cast. I think they’re all brilliant and engaging and thoroughly watchable. Tony Hale had done a reading for me out in Los Angeles where he played Sam #2 and after that there was no question I wanted him for the role – I couldn’t even picture anyone else in the part after hearing him read it. Malin Akerman had read the script and fallen in love with the part of Annie. We met in New York one afternoon and had a fantastic time talking about the character and reading through some scenes and at the end of the meeting, I knew she could do the role. (I’ll admit that while I thought she’d be great, I didn’t know then how great. She gives such a beautiful performance.)

Kate Mara and I met because she also had read the script and wanted to meet and talk about it. I watched her reel a few days later and thought she had the exact right mix of beauty/sexiness and deep emotional availability for Mississippi. She’s a thoroughly winning and terrific actress. (I offered her the part without knowing she could sing – that she could, and sing so damn well, was one of the more pleasant surprises in the making of the movie.)

I met Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber when I was in New York. They actually knew each other from theater circles, which helped a lot. I remember watching them on the monitor when we were shooting and thinking, “Wow, these two have been a couple for five years.” There was such ease between them, such deep trust and intimacy. I can’t totally take credit for that – that was just two great actors really going for it, and I had the privelege of stepping back and watching it unfold.

My brilliant and resourceful casting team, Suzanne Smith-Crowley and Jessica Kelly, found Michael Algieri. One of the funnier conceits of the script (I think) is that Sam, save for not wanting to swear around Rasheen, basically makes no concessions to the fact that he’s talking to a young child. He talks to him as if he’s a contemporary. And I wanted the audience to really get the feeling that Rasheen understood what Sam was saying every step of the way. Thus, it was vital that this boy have a kind of quiet gravitas. (I’d described the character in the script as having “thousand-year-old eyes.”) Michael is a supremely wise, centered, and sensitive actor. There’s no hint of cloying, child-actor neediness in his performance. I knew if we didn’t find the right Rasheen, the movie wouldn’t have worked. Luckily, we found him.

What were the biggest differences between being on set on your CBS show, “How I Met Your Mother” and shooting a film?
Well, there are the obvious differences: four cameras versus one, shooting on a sound stage versus shooting on location, being an actor in service to someone else’s larger vision versus being the one in charge of that larger vision, etc. In many ways, it’s difficult to compare them. We’re in our sixth season of “How I Met Your Mother.” I had 23 days to shoot happythankyoumoreplease. My learning curve was, to put it mildly, steep. But working on the series taught me invaluable lessons as a director. We work fast on the show, so I was conditioned for the pace. Our director on “How I Met Your Mother” is named Pam Fryman and she’s the best director in the world. There’s no one who sets a better on-set tone; I learned that the tone of the set starts at the top. (I told people at the outset that there was no point in having a toxic, dysfunctional set when we were making a movie called “happythankyoumoreplease.”) I really credit Pam with teaching me what a kind and effective on-set leader looks like.

Even though both the series and the movie are set in New York, they feel very different to me. The New York set of “How I Met Your Mother” is brighter and lighter, clothes are new and ironed and not inexpensive, apartments are too big and never all that messy. Plus there’s disembodied laughter punctuating the whole thing which gives it a hyper-real quality. The convention kind of winks at you – you’re reminded that you’re being entertained. With the movie, I wanted the audience to feel like they were being granted access to these incredibly intimate moments in these people’s lives. There had to be a kind of voyeuristic quality because the moments we were going to see were so intimate. The thing I kept telling everyone was that this world must feel authentic, that these were people who don’t have a lot of money, who shop in thrift stores and still wear clothes they’ve had since college, who had to get creative in how they decorated their very small apartments. I describe it as a “below 14th street movie.” Also, the pacing is different between the two. On a sitcom, you’ve got a laugh line coming every 5-10 seconds (though one of the things I love and respect about “How I Met Your Mother” is it dares to be serious and heartfelt at times). With the movie, I didn’t care if something was laugh-out-loud funny; I just wanted it to feel truthful. Some of the funniest lines in the film got cut because they ended up distracting from the overall emotional momentum of the film.

What was the most challenging part of shooting the film?
Acting and directing at the same time, scheduling conflicts, clashes over time, locations, resources, etc. Those were all a very real part of the process and each challenging in their own ways. But the overall feeling I’m left with on the other side of the freefall that was directing my first film is that the hard decisions weren’t all that hard. One hears so much about the rigors/horrors of filmmaking, and as a fairly suggestible person when facing the unknown, I was kind of prepared for the worst. But the strangest thing happened: everything worked itself out. That’s not to say there weren’t freak-outs and arguments and moments of nail-biting suspense (i.e. “If we don’t get this shot the movie is ruined!”). But by and large, the big things revealed themselves to be not so big. A problem would arise, we’d deal with it, and then we’d move on to the next problem. This happened roughly 100 times each day. All of this was initially unsettling. Wait, I thought, it’s not supposed to be like this. But it was. That’s not to say it wasn’t the most exhausting, overwhelming experience of my life. Because it was also that. It’s just I was unprepared for the fact that it would also be so joyful. Eventually, I had to accept the fact that making one’s first movie didn’t have to be an exercise in agony and terror, that it wasn’t destined to all come crashing down around me, that I didn’t need to reflexively allow other people’s filmmaking war stories to become my own. In short, making the conscious choice not to freak out. It was ultimately an exercise in faith – trusting things were unfolding exactly as they should… and saying “yes” to it. Which, come to think about it, is really what happythankyoumoreplease is all about.
 
Can you talk about the filming process? How long was the shoot, what was it like working in NY? Did you work on shooting the stories separately?
23 days. New York is the best and worst place in the world to shoot a movie – the best because you can’t beat the production design, the worst because the city doesn’t respond all that well to “quiet on the set.” (I started to get the feeling whenever we were shooting outside and called “action” Mayor Bloomberg said, “Cue the sirens.”) The initial plan was to shoot the Mary Catherine and Charlie storyline first to give me some time getting my directing legs under me before stepping in front of the camera, but because of scheduling conflicts, I ended up being in every scene the first three days of shooting. (The very first scene of the first day I was directing Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins. Luckily, Sam was supposed to be nervous and overwhelmed in that scene, so it was a “no-acting-required” kind of day for me.) I very wisely surrounded myself with people who knew how to shoot a movie quickly in New York (I certainly didn’t know how to do it.) A lot of people try to tell you it can’t be done, that you’ve got to shoot in Toronto or Pittsburgh or somewhere. But they’re wrong. You can do it. If you get the right people on board.

What do you hope audiences will experience while watching the film?
I hope they’ll laugh a lot and cry a little and not ever once think to look at their watch. I hope they’ll be in a supremely good mood when they leave the theater and have that “I just saw a great movie” glow. And I hope they go home and download every song Jaymay ever wrote.

At the end of the film, Annie says, “Go get yourself loved.” The film makes the point, hooking up is easy, allowing yourself to be loved, much more complicated. Can you elaborate on that notion and how it informs the film?
Sometimes you write something and only later do you realize what it meant. Long after the script had been written, I realized that’s the key line. Loving, for whatever reason, seems to be easier than allowing yourself to be loved. Loving is active – everyone’s falling in love or lust or whatever all the time – and it gives you the illusion of control. But when someone loves you, that’s when things get terrifying. Because it forces you to step up to the plate and say, “Yes, I am worthy of this person’s love.” And a lot of us have some devious little voice inside that tries to convince us we’re not worthy of being loved. So to me, allowing yourself to be loved is one of the greatest and worthiest of goals. And every character in the movie, on some level, has to confront where they’re not allowing love into their lives.

Annie suffers from alopecia universalis. Can you talk about why you decided to give the character that condition? And how self image plays into love.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, I based Annie on my friend, Rachel, who has alopecia. Annie has this physically evident thing that makes her insecure and feel unworthy, but really, she’s no different than any of us – who doesn’t feel freakish and vulnerable and unlovable to some degree? At some point, we all have to stare down that part of ourselves and do some battle with it (because it’s a lie). Alopecia notwithstanding, Annie’s just a great, smart, hilarious person trying to, as they say, get out of her own way. To me, she’s the emotional heart of the movie.

Mary Catherine and Charlie have a lot of great dialogue about New York vs. Los Angeles. Which side do you fall on and why?
I kind of believe everything each of them says about New York and Los Angeles, pro and con. What’s great about one city is horrible about the other and vice versa. Of course, like with all arguments, it’s not really about what it seems to be about. It’s not really about where they’re going to live, it’s about the future of their relationship. They’re each in some way testing the strength of their bond, seeing whether it will bend or break. As someone who has spent a lot of time in both towns, though, I got to have all sorts of fun with the geographical argument. I happen to really like Los Angeles, and have little patience for New-York-is-the-center-of-the-world snobs and L.A. haters. I just think New York is a better town in which to set and shoot movies.

Music plays a major role setting the mood in the film. Did you work closely with Jaymay? Talk about what you were aspiring to achieve with the music you chose.
Sometimes I hear a song and sit up and say, “That’s a great movie song.” A song can be legitimately great, but not work all that well in a movie. A great movie song is a song you have to love the first time you hear it because there isn’t an opportunity to listen to it multiple times. It has to match the emotion of what’s happening – actually, it has to deepen the emotion of what’s happening – but should also be sonically pleasing. Jaymay is one of the great singer-songwriter’s out there. A few years ago, my producer, Jesse Hara, sent me a link to some of her songs and we both quickly became fairly rabid fans. I played a terrific song of hers called “Sea Green See Blue” for Carter Bays and Craig Thomas (the creators of “How I Met Your Mother”) and they both said the same thing after hearing it: “That should be the final song of the season.” (This was season 2, I think.) So they got the rights to use the song and Jaymay was pretty psyched about it, got a whole heap of new fans from her song being on the show, and she and I became pen pals and eventually friends. When we talked about the music in the movie, Jesse kept saying we had to use a tune of Jaymay’s because we have a movie about New York and relationships and all Jaymay writes about is New York and relationships. I’m not sure exactly where the idea of having her basically do the whole score came from, but when we were editing, I kept finding more and more space for her songs. And then I realized she was the perfect troubadour to take us through the emotional twists and turns of the movie. I can’t imagine the movie without her music.

Have you always wanted to be a screenwriter and filmmaker? If not, what got you into screenwriting/filmmaking. If so, why?
Writing’s always been humming in the background for me. In college, I wrote a lot for an improv group I was in (we did half improv, half sketch comedy) and also took a few playwrighting classes. When I got out of grad school, even though I was working, I still found myself with cavernous amounts of time on my hands. Writing was a way for me not to lose my mind between acting jobs. I started writing short stories, but found myself most excited by writing dialogue, and eventually turned my attention towards writing screenplays, but always with an eye towards creating acting opportunities for myself. I can’t say I’ve always wanted to be a writer/director, but it was something I had a vague feeling I’d fall into somewhere down the line. I always suspected I maybe thought a little too “big-picture” for an actor. By that I mean I’ve always been interested in how all the elements of a piece are going to come together to tell the larger story, rather than having a single-minded obsession with the part I’m playing. I loved (like, really loved) that aspect of directing – the hovering over it all and keeping the end result in my head, and how these little pieces were going to add up to tell an emotionally affecting story.
Who are your favorite filmmakers?

I think Richard Linklater is an important and underrated American filmmaker. He has great and palpable affection for his characters and he allows them to talk – dialogue-heavy scenes can be incredibly dramatic if done right, and he does them right. (My idea of a great film is watching Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around European towns.)  Magnolia was another big influence, both in terms of the intersecting plots and its fearlessness in confronting such grand subjects as forgiveness and grace. P.T. Anderson gives me a lot of courage to go wherever my imagination takes me – I mean, come on: frogs falling from the sky! I also love Lucas Moodyson, James L. Brooks, Edward Yang, Woody Allen. Just saw a film I flipped for called Submarine, directed by a guy named Richard Ayoade. Excited to see more from him.

What upcoming projects are you currently working on?
I have a book coming out next fall. It’s kind of memoir-adjacent. And I just finished writing another script. I meant to give myself a break from acting on this next one and just focus on the writing-directing, but I accidentally wrote the lead role for myself. Ah, well… sleep is overrated.

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