THE KINGS OF SUMMER
About the Production
The Kings of Summer began in the imagination of writer Chris Galletta, who penned his script during his off hours while he was working in the music department of "The Late Show with David Letterman." After some false starts in screenwriting, Galletta shunned his impulse to write a high-concept tentpole feature and craft something more character-driven and personal. He returned to his childhood in Staten Island for inspiration, recalling memories of a friend who had the run of his primarily absent parents' home. He expanded on the idea and asked, "What if a bunch of teenagers tried to form a functioning adult household? Would that ever work out? It's much harder than we think to grow up and be self-reliant. The logical extension of that idea was to have kids build their own house and live in it," Galletta says.
With that very simple idea, the screenplay for The Kings of Summer was born. Although the story was inspired by his own youth, Galletta researched almost all of the film's survivalist elements. "I wasn't that outdoorsy. I was not a boy scout. I'd be dead in forty-eight hours if you dropped me in the middle of the forest," Galletta jokes.
After some initial progress, Galletta's writing process stalled, leading him to quit his day job in order to focus all of his attention on finishing his script. The gamble paid off, and the screenplay found its way to Big Beach Films, the company that produced The Kings of Summer.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who was searching for a feature-length project to follow his acclaimed short film "Successful Alcoholics," immediately fell in love with Galletta's hilarious and heartbreaking coming-of-age story. "Out of nowhere, I got sent this script," he recalls. "I laughed so hard and so thoroughly throughout it. It was so special and unique."
Vogt-Roberts responded to the material on a very personal level, recognizing the universality of the difficulties of adolescence. "That was the most painful, awkward, terrible time in my life, but it's what makes you who you are. How you go through that part of your life is largely how you go through the rest of your life," Vogt-Roberts comments.
"One of the great things about the script is that it's very contemporary but never dated," says Vogt-Roberts. "It takes these fresh and unique voices and merges it with relatively timeless ideas."
Vogt-Roberts and Galletta continued their creative relationship throughout production, an anomaly in filmmaking. "He and I have very similar sensibilities in terms of storytelling and cinema," Vogt-Roberts explains.
"We've always had a good back and forth about how to make it a better, tighter movie and to get more to the bone of who the characters are," Galletta says of the collaboration.
Nevertheless, Vogt-Roberts knew that there was a fine line he had to walk as a director. "There's a version that is just a comedy. There's a version that is a brooding teen coming-of-age story. I think there's a really interesting fusion there," Vogt-Roberts says.
With the script and director in place, the filmmakers began an exhaustive search for the young actors to play Joe, Patrick and Biaggio. Vogt-Roberts wanted to ensure that he could find actors who could appear natural and accessible. "The casting process for this movie was really difficult," Vogt-Roberts recalls. "There aren't that many kid actors that don't have horrible tendencies that have been beat into them." However, Vogt-Roberts found three "naturals" in Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias.
Nick Robinson, a relative unknown, won the role of Joe Toy after several auditions and chemistry reads. "Immediately, I fell in love with the characters," Robinson remembers of his first experience reading Galletta's screenplay. "Everyone can relate to Joe Toy. He's what all of us wanted to be at fourteen."
Despite Joe's remarkable tenacity, he is as lost and confused as any other adolescent. Robinson explains: "Everyone has some of their best memories right around fourteen or fifteen. You're coming into your own, and everything is a little bit confusing. That's compounded for Joe by the fact that he doesn't have the greatest family life, and his mother died. He's trying to set his world in order by going out into the woods and building this utopia that he can control."
Gabriel Basso plays Patrick, Joe's best friend and co-conspirator. Basso impressed the filmmakers with the improvisational portion of his audition so much that some of his off-the-cuff dialogue made its way into the film. "He had some riffs in his audition that I thought were so funny that I put them in the script," Galletta recalls.
"Chris is hilarious," Basso says of Galletta. "It's cool to have the writer on set because you don't often have that. It's cool to be around the person who wrote the script and get his feedback."
Moises Arias, known for his five-year stint on "Hannah Montana," embraced the opportunity to play the eccentric Biaggio. "It had a real feeling of kids being free and doing what they wanted," Arias says of his impression of the screenplay. "It's not often that you laugh while you're reading a script. Biaggio is a funny, different character."
Rounding out the younger cast is Erin Moriarty, who plays Kelly, Joe's classmate and the object of his affection. Moriarty stepped outside of her comfort zone to play the self-aware, forward teen. "It's a bit nerve-wracking. I don't consider myself as confident as Kelly. It's a challenge," Moriarty says.
Vogt-Roberts knew that Moriarty had her work cut out for her. "She entered a boys club. To walk into an all-male seventeen year old cast is rough. By the end of it, she was one of the gang," Vogt-Roberts says.
When casting the adults in The Kings of Summer, Vogt-Roberts made a concerted effort to find actors with strong backgrounds in comedic acting. He was ecstatic to build an ensemble of "top-tier comedic talent," he says. "We were incredibly fortunate to have those people. You can throw anything at them and they'll be able to take it and roll with it."
Nick Offerman happily took on the role of Joe's father Frank Toy after falling in love with the script. "Chris Galletta has a great sense of humor. I love his dialogue. And I got to play Monopoly, which is no small incentive," Offerman muses, referring to a tense scene involving the board game.
While researching the project, Offerman took a look at Vogt-Roberts's short films and admired the way he used his actors. Offerman comments: "Not only did I like the way he made the films, but also the pace of them. The cast were already people I was a big fan of. Those I didn't know, I quickly became a fan of."
With Offerman in place, other well-known comedic actors, including Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Thomas Middleditch, and Tony Hale joined the cast. Offerman found an interesting challenge in playing father to Brie (who plays Joe's older sister), who is only twelve years his junior. The actors had met socially because Offerman's "Parks and Recreation" and Brie's "Community" both air on NBC. "I think I'm eleven or twelve years older than she is. And while I'm sure I was man enough to father a child by nine or ten years old, it's still a little out of the ordinary," Offerman jokes.
Joining Offerman and Brie is Megan Mullally as Mrs. Keenan, Patrick's mother. Mullally, who is married to Offerman, first read The Kings of Summer when her husband asked for her opinion of the script. "It didn't even occur to me that this one part was perfect for me," Mullally remembers. "It's very funny, but it also says a lot about that age. There's something really poignant about it in the end."
Marc Evan Jackson plays Mrs. Keenan's better half. "He has an improv background," Mullally says of Jackson. "We played off of each other and tried to come up with the most annoying, ridiculous things possible."
Gabriel Basso found a challenge in sharing a scene with two seasoned comedians who improvised through most takes. "Those are two of the funniest people I've ever met. The only problem was that I couldn't laugh in my scenes," Basso remembers.
Jackson and Mullally mined as much material as possible out of Patrick's hive-inducing domestic situation. "Mr. and Mrs. Keenan are really nerdy. Their nerdiness and overprotectiveness make them unbearable parents to be around, especially if they're your parents. Hence Patrick's dilemma," Mullally says. "Patrick is an only child and he's getting the full gale force winds of love that these parents would have probably liked to shower on 10 children. He's bearing the brunt of that. The Keenans are incredibly smothering and overprotective of Patrick. Everything they suggest, everything they want to make for dinner, their entire presentation is hopelessly sad. There's nothing cool about them."
"I didn't base the character on anybody in particular. If I were this kid, this is what I would least want my mother to be like," Mullally adds.
Mullally's casting provided an extra perk for Galletta's TV-fanatic family. "That was a huge boon. The fact that 'Karen' is in the movie has legitimized the movie as far as the Galletta clan on Staten Island is concerned," Galletta jokes, referring to Mullally's role on "Will & Grace."
Production commenced in the summer of 2012 in the town of Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Chagrin Falls also happens to be the hometown of The Kings of Summer producer Tyler Davidson. "When this script came to me, I saw an opportunity to be set in Northeast Ohio, on the east side of Cleveland. We have such beautiful wooded areas, which is such a central component of the film. It really made sense," Davidson says.
Although the script was originally set in Galletta's hometown of Staten Island, Davidson believed that a shift to a less specific location might broaden the story. "Everyone was encouraging and open to setting this in a small Midwest town. Everyone recognized that there is a universal appeal, going back to the films of John Hughes." Davidson comments.
Returning to Chagrin Falls also meant using Davidson's alma mater as a location. "It's a little surreal, walking some of the same hallways that I did twenty years ago," Davidson says. "Being on this campus brings back a lot of memories. I couldn't have thought twenty years ago that this would be happening now."
The location was not chosen purely for sentimental reasons. The suburbs of Ohio offered a vast landscape for the boys to spend their summer. "Ohio and the Chagrin Falls area provided some of the most stunning, majestic locations I could have fathomed. It was shocking that you could drive 10 minutes from one location to another, a sprawling meadow or a slate rock riverbed or a massive quarry or a giant evergreen forest," Vogt-Roberts says.
"Filming in Ohio has been incredibly friendly," Offerman adds. "I love getting away from Los Angeles and New York because communities are more welcoming when a filming is more of an anomaly. It's a beautiful state."
Prior to filming, Vogt-Roberts sent leads Robinson, Basso and Arias to improvisational acting classes "not to be super quick and witty and funny, but so that they would be comfortable enough in their own skin to bring themselves to it," Vogt-Roberts says.
Vogt-Roberts further explains the impetus for the additional training: "I work with a lot of improvisers in general. It's about being able to take a scene to the next logical point. I knew that I wasn't going to yell cut right away. I wanted the kids to feel comfortable enough in their skin and in those characters that even though the scene on the page has a natural start middle, and end, if I don't yell cut, I want to see where they go with that."
Arias agrees that improvisation made him understand his character even better. "It always brings an individuality to the character. It makes you think to live inside of the character. I've been really free on this set. It doesn't really feel like work," Arias agrees.
Indeed, the young actors brought a particular authenticity that became an asset to the filmmakers: "When it really comes down to it, the only people who know what it's like to be fifteen at this point are those kids. I wanted to tap into what it's like to be fifteen. That's not something you can write. That's something they can do," Vogt-Roberts says.
In fact, Vogt-Roberts would often continue rolling during down time on set in an effort to capture the three leads together. "We're not trying to 'act' like friends. We're just enjoying each other's company. It just happens. It's cool for Jordan and Chris to pick up on that," Basso says. "It's cool to have your chemistry play as a necessity for the movie."
"He has a loose set, but he knows exactly what he wants. It's a rare director who can walk that fine line between getting his way and letting the actors do their own thing," Nick Robinson says of the experience.
"Jordan has been amazing. He has a great demeanor on the set. He's so calm. He really understands comedy and the best way to play the beats," Mullally comments.
Mullally adds that the project perfectly encapsulated the complexity of youth: "For me, it brought back the way I felt when I was that age, that longing to be an adult and be on your own. Being a kid is so great, but you don't realize that until you're older."
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