By that standard one would think that the majority of independent filmmakers would be “lucky.” After all, we’re notoriously hard workers, and when we do indeed reach that hallowed ground called principal photography, then the gods have obviously granted us opportunity. And yet, for decades the pages of MovieMaker have been filled with interviews of indie directors and producers who tell interesting but almost exclusively bloody production “war stories.” The trenches are filled with accounts of lost financing, DPs who quit for more lucrative jobs at the last moment, bricks thrown through the wrong car windows that almost kill actresses (yes, I saw that happen) and the like.
This is not one of those articles. Lady luck smiled on Paul Kramer and Hus Miller’s You Can’t Say No virtually from the moment Hus finished the script. The story follows a couple, Hank and Alex Murphy, who are on the verge of divorce who decide to play a “game” designed to either bring them closer through better communication and trust—or to provide a more graceful, humane break than most couples in their situation allow themselves. The rules of the game are simple—no matter what one of them asks the other to do, the other must not refuse.
While YCSN is a romantic comedy, its origins were serious and close to the heart for screenwriter, producer and star Miller, who had himself gone through a rough patch personally just prior to writing the script. As in the movies, Miller’s personal story had a happy ending, but it was the writing that provided a real catharsis.
“The concept came about because I’d been thinking of how to re-energize my own relationship,” he says. “As soon as I came up with the idea, I knew I had to write it. It was something I needed to get out.” Miller stresses that while the story is not an exact account of his own 14-year marriage, he was writing about things that were very personal for him and his wife.
“And was she good with that?” I asked.
“To an extent. But when I started sharing it with her she’d say, ‘Well, it didn’t happen like that,’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, because it’s a story.’”
Some of the comedic situations did indeed happen to Miller and his wife, some happened to friends of his who were going through similar periods in their marriages. When he thought about it becoming a movie and he was able to nail down the very specific location where it takes place (a 46-acre Sonoma area winery whose owner became an executive producer on the film) it all came together very quickly.
“I was about two months into the writing when I knew it was going to be a movie.” Talk about motivation.
Miller says he didn’t initially have himself in mind to play the lead, even though he’s been acting since he was four years old.
“It definitely didn’t start out as a vehicle for me. But later I I realized that this is my life, I put so much of myself into it, nobody else is going to play this role.”
Though eventually he wants to direct, too, he had no desire to do it this time around. Writing, acting, and producing were plenty. So he enlisted his longtime colleague Paul Kramer to helm. Hus previously made nine shorts with Kramer, an American Zoetrope alum who worked alongside Francis Ford Coppola. This is the first feature for both of them, and though they envisioned it as a tiny film, the scope continued to grow from its initial budget of $500K to almost $1.2m. The shoot took 18 days, with five days of pickups.
Marguerite Moreau, who plays Alex Murphy, is still amazed that a first-time producer like Miller could keep it together while playing a character that’s so close to himself. “It’s super hard to play a character that’s so close to the bone. You can talk yourself into circles sometimes and get confused… Like, ‘Am I doing enough?’ It’s not even like, ‘This happened to me and maybe I’m doing something psychologically damaging to myself, it’s more like literally talking yourself out of any connection to it, because it’s too close.’”
Full interview: moviemaker.com