DreamWorks Pictures’ PEOPLE LIKE US hits U.S. theaters Friday, June 29, 2012. PEOPLE LIKE US has to be the most wonderfully unexpected film of the year. If you’re at all on the fence about seeing this one, be sure to read my PEOPLE LIKE US film review. Last week I had a chance to sit down with a group of bloggers and interview the movie’s director Alex Kurtzman. He’s a pretty cool guy. Here are some highlights from our Alex Kurtzman PEOPLE LIKE US interview.
Q : Tell us where the story came from?
Alex Kurtzman : Uh, you know, I met my sister when I turned 30. Um, my dad had had another family before ours. We knew about them growing up. But I’d never met them. So I was sitting in my, um, my house and in my backyard. And I think it was because my wife and I were starting to think about having kids.
And — and, you know, makes you think about your family and where you come from. And I had this — I had this, um, I — I started thinking about my — I have a half-sister and a half-brother. And I started thinking about them and wondering who they were and what they were like. And — and this image came to me. And the image was the last image of the movie. And I didn’t know who those characters were in the image. But it just — it struck me very profoundly as the ending. And I thought, “Wow, that — that seems like a really interesting story.”
And I didn’t think much of it. And I went to a party that night. And a woman walked up to me and said, “I’m your sister.” So that — that’s begun the seven years of — of — of the odd odyssey of [LAUGHS] trying to work through it and separate truth from fiction in order to make a movie. And, um, so what you see is I think in many ways very autobiographical and in other ways there’s a lot of invention in there. But I — I certainly think there’s a lot of emotional, you know, emotional truth for — for a lot of people in my family in there.
Q : Did you pitch your idea to here?
Alex Kurtzman : No. I didn’t pitch it at all. Um, I was — I felt very compelled to write it. And I knew that it was not gonna be something I could sell on a pitch and, uh, and nor did I want to. Because, uh, the truth is, uh, honestly I never really thought this movie would happen. It was just something I had to write. So between the, you know, the — the “Star Treks” of the world, you know, this was like the safety blanket that I kept going back to. And, you know, Sandra and Frankie became like my best friends.
You know, they became like these people who I — I just loved them so much. And, um, and all of them and Josh and — and all the characters — they became so real for me. And — and, uh, I think that early on the process we had written a draft and it was terrible. Our first draft was really bad. And, um, and I think it was because I had gone so far away from the truth of my own life that it didn’t ring true. And I just felt like everything was contrived. And I took about eight months to sort of to — to sift through that and think about, you know, what I wanted to keep and what story I wanted to tell.
And, um, and then I started rebuilding the script. And it was weird because I heard Frankie like that. In draft one she never changed for me. I heard her voice. I knew who she was, but I could not hear Sam. And it took seven years to hear Sam. And I kept plugging — trying to plug in different jobs to Sam. And it’s funny ‘cause one of the lessons that the script taught me is that what your character does for a living is — is one of the most important choices you can make as a writer. Because whether the character — whether it’s, you know, about that job or not, it tells you everything about the condition of that character’s life. Are they doing what they love or are they doing what they hate? You know, and I kept trying to put all these sort of, you know, Sam first he had inherited his dad’s — so embarrassing to say — his dad’s fish market. And then he was an audio engineer. And then he was a club promoter. And everything was bad. And one day I was sitting with my friend. And he told me that he was in the barter business before he became a writer.
And I said, “What’s the barter business?” And he started talking to me about it. And it was like a light bulb went off. And suddenly I understood this is — this is it. I mean not only was it sort of the perfect metaphor, but a character who grows up in a house of lies — what would they end up growing up to do? Well they’d grow up to — to sell lies for a living. That’s what they would know how to do. So I love the idea of what happens when that guy is presented with this really tough moral choice that could either be his redemption or his ultimate downfall.
And it — it just took a long time to — it took seven years to even get that right, you know. And then finally when, um, when I got it and I felt it was right, um, I gave it to everybody here at DreamWorks. And I said, “You guys don’t have to like this and you certainly don’t have to make it. I just wanna know what you think of it.” And I gave it to them on a Thursday and I got a call on — on Saturday. And they said, “We’re making a movie.” So. Yeah.
Q : Did you know the love story would come about?
Alex Kurtzman : I always knew that that was the central tension of it in a lot of ways. And, uh, I was fascinated by the problem of it. Because I just thought — I mean I — I think — but I wanted to write, uh, a movie about the consequence of lies. And the consequence of lies on family. And I think my brain went into like what is the worst that could happen here, you know. [LAUGHS] What is the absolute worst?
And, um, and I think that what I loved in the experience of writing it was the idea that you two characters who are so broke and they’re so broken by the same man. And they’ve developed all this armor to deal with life. And what they don’t know is that it’s the same armor. And when they see each other, the armor doesn’t work anymore. It’s like looking at your exact equal and — and suddenly you — all your tricks — your bag of tricks don’t work.
And when Sam starts to get in this relationship with Frankie, he doesn’t mean to lie to her at the beginning. He’s literally in shock when he sees her at A.A. And, um, and he doesn’t know what to say. But suddenly — and he keeps trying to leave because he keeps thinking like I — I, you know, I have to get myself out of a jam. But some part of his heart I think — it keeps getting drawn back to both understanding the story of his father’s narrative which doesn’t make any sense to him. And also who this woman is. But he’s feeling an instant connection to her. And — and for the first time in his life more than anything he’s feeling a desire to take care of somebody which he’s never had.
So he’s, you know, this — this guys’ at war — the both of those things are at war. And I love the idea that as an audience member I would be feeling two things. I would be feeling man, I really want them to find each other ‘cause boy do they need each other. And oh my God, this is gonna be such a train wreck. And I loved that, you know. I loved that. And, you know, directorially it was — it was challenging in that we talked a lot in rehearsal. I had two and a half weeks of rehearsals with — with everybody.
And — and we talked a lot about why each scene was there and what it was doing. And what we wanted the audience to be feeling along the way and just, you know, how much we were walking up to the line and what — at what point do we cross it? And what’s been very gratifying to me in audience reactions, and it started the first time we started testing this, I was terrified people were like when Frankie sort of makes her move that people were gonna run down the aisles screaming. [LAUGHS] And, uh, it — it went — that’s not been the reaction at all.
I think people more than anything are feeling, um, that that’s a secondary story to the main story.