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Hello I Must Be Going, the latest project from director Todd Louiso (Love Liza) features Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Abbott, Blythe Danner and John Rubinstein. Written by Louiso’s real life partner, Sarah Koskoff, the film follows Amy (a revelatory Lynskey), a 30-something divorcée who is forced to move back in with her parents. At a dinner party, she meets Jeremy (HBO Girls’ Abbott), the 19-year-old stepson of her father’s business associate, and the two begin an ill-advised but passionate affair.
Disillusioned and stagnant, Amy struggles to find some meaning in life after marriage, discovering that her unfinished master’s degree and non-existent bank account are just two of the things holding her back. The only comforts she possesses are Jeremy’s company and the films of the Marx Brothers (the source of the film’s title). Once her affair with Jeremy is discovered, Amy finally starts down the path of self-enlightenment, a journey that oddly enough begins at home.
We recently sat down with Todd Louiso and Sarah Koskoff to discuss, among other things, their first feature together, the challenges of constructing a complex female character, and the complications that arise from shooting during a hurricane.
Tribeca: Hello I Must Be Going had an interesting journey through the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival. Could you walk us through that?
Todd Louiso: Hello I Must Be Going went to the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab in 2009, and I tagged along with Sarah. It is such an incredible program, and it was great for me to observe and be able to listen to all their comments so Sarah wouldn’t have to explain them to me afterwards. About a year later, Sundance requested that we do a stage reading of the script. Nine months after that, we were in production.
Sarah Koskoff: It’s hard to believe that we were in production this time last year. It’s really been a whirlwind.
Tribeca: Sarah, this is your first screenplay. What was the inspiration for the story?
Sarah Koskoff: So many things inspired me to write the movie. My sister had written an article for the New York Observer about doing cocaine for the first time in her late 30s. She had this late experience of rebellion and there was something in that moved me. I’ve seen people who can’t grow up and act out this classic type of teenage rebellion because they did not go through that experience when it was age appropriate.
Plus, I always had wanted to write a movie about an older woman and a younger guy from the woman’s point of view that was intensely erotic rather than silly or just cheap. I wanted to write a movie that follows that genuine connection into real love. Also, I loved the idea of exploring someone whose life is essentially flatlining. So all of this just clicked together. Once I keyed into the character of Amy, the script seemed to have this momentum of its own.
Tribeca: I feel like Hello, I Must Be Going takes this well-explored idea of a woman reluctantly transforming herself post-divorce but breathes new life into the genre (An Unmarried Woman, Heartburn, Living Out Loud). Sarah, what was your thought process while crafting such a complex character ?
Sarah Koskoff: It was a very spiritual process. I was so connected to Amy. She’s very much a part of me. Whenever I got lost during the scriptwriting process, I would just put myself in Amy’s shoes. I think that’s a true thing. Most of us are not either healthy and self-aware or unhealthy and clueless. We’re a combination of those characteristics, constantly questioning our personal motives and ourselves. We ask, “How did I get here again?” The epitome of that for me is when Amy has to move back into her parents’ house. It was natural to have her think, “I’m back in my parents’ house and I have no money or job... how did this happen?”
Tribeca: I was also really drawn to Amy’s parents, Stan and Ruth. It’s rare in films like these that the adults are so fully realized. Their journey seems to almost parallel Amy’s in an odd way. Can you talk about their relationship?
Todd Louiso: The thing that I love about the script is that every character has his or her say. You’re going to understand how the parents feel, and you’re going to understand how Amy feels. It’s not making fun of the parents like, “Oh, they’re such idiots, and Amy and Jeremy are so smart.” The film feels for each person in his or her situation.
Sarah Koskoff: In order for her transformation to feel real, Amy has to be really flawed. She can’t be cool. She’s in a situation that involves the entire family. The parents and Amy still get something out of their relationship, but what used to work doesn’t anymore.
Todd Louiso: It’s so painful to watch.
Sarah Koskoff: They fight and then they come back and contradict the other. Amy’s dad tells her she can stay as long as she wants and not to worry about her mother, which is the exact opposite of what her mother previously said. Amy can see that his behavior is going nowhere—that if she stays here, nothing will ever change. For the first time, Amy can see her mother’s pain and is really able to take it in. If characters like Amy’s parents were to stay in a broad caricature, the audience would not have been able to feel Amy’s struggle.
Tribeca: So was Melanie Lynskey always your Amy?
Todd Louiso: Yes. She did the stage reading at Sundance and we just fell in love with her. She brought something so unique and different to the role.
Sarah Koskoff: We can’t imagine anyone else playing her. It was her part from the beginning. She really embodies it, don’t you think?
Tribeca: I thought she was wonderful in the film. She always just shines in supporting roles, but it was so nice to see her have a lead role in a film that she could really sink her teeth into it.
Todd Louiso: You never get bored watching her. And the subtle things she does... She is just amazing.
Tribeca: Hello, I Must Be Going feels like a family affair, not only in subject matter, but also on and off the screen. How does your collaborative process work? Is it more difficult or less difficult to work with your partner in real life?
Sarah Koskoff: I would say more in some ways and less in others. I think from a screenwriting point of view, directors usually just take the script and you usually don’t have much of a say. So for me, it was great!
Todd Louiso: It was amazing just to be able to collaborate with Sarah. It was so great to have her close by to talk about the process. It was only a 20-day shoot, so we really had to put in a lot of work beforehand. If there was a problem with a scene, I could just text her and we could work through it together. We didn’t even plan on being able to do things like that. We sort of had the realization the night before we were set to start shooting that, thanks to modern technology, we could communicate as often as we needed. It was incredibly valuable.
Tribeca: With the exception of the stage reading, did you do a lot of rehearsal?
Todd Louiso: No rehearsal, but we did have three days the week before we started shooting, during which Melanie and Christopher came out to Connecticut. Those few days were so important because Sarah and I got to go through the script scene by scene with them.
Tribeca: Christopher Abbott is really great in the film. Girls is taking off, and he's obviously receiving a lot of attention. How did he come to be involved in your film?
Todd Louiso: He auditioned [laughs]. And he was just amazing. I’ll never forget his audition. I gave him a huge hug afterwards.
Tribeca: And Blythe Danner?
Sarah Koskoff: She’s such an amazing person and such a workhorse of an actress. Blythe always showed up fully loaded—no star ego or anything. Plus, she stuck with us through funding issues, etc.
Tribeca: Todd, you elicit a revelatory performance from Melanie Lynskey. Likewise, I think your work with Phillip Seymour Hoffman is noteworthy; his performance as Wilson in Love Liza is one of the best of his career. How do you approach the director/actor relationship?
Todd Louiso: I just let actors of that caliber do what they want to do. Find the right person for the role, and then let them be their own artists. [Casting is] 90% of it. I feel really comfortable giving them the space they need to explore. If I have a different take on the scene, we’ll talk about it. I think actors appreciate that rather than being controlled.
Tribeca: Were there any particular challenging moments that happened on location?
Todd Louiso: Hurricane Irene happened during the middle of our shoot [in Westport, CT], so we had to shut down for three days. [laughs]
Sarah Koskoff: That was tough. Beach scenes, hurricanes... we also got kicked out of a few places.
Todd Louiso: There were locations where we thought we had half a day and then found that the owners only wanted to give us two hours. We shot a scene at the GAP, which was a nightmare. Before all the shots, people would load up the equipment and we’d do a take. Once the take was done, they’d have to scurry out the door with the equipment.
Tribeca: Are you going to collaborate on future projects?
Todd Louiso: I hope so.
Sarah Koskoff: There are a couple things I’m working on. My agent will submit them to Todd...
Todd Louiso: And I’ll be sure to get back to you...
Sarah Koskoff: He’ll take a few weeks to read it... [laughs]
Todd Louiso: I’ll have my people call your people.
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