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Dear Director...
With a screenplay in place, the project took another great leap forward when the producers were able to sign veteran helmer Lasse Hallström to direct. Hallström's celebrated films are known for their rich look and feel as well as their characters' pervasive embrace of life's wonders, surprises and disappointments. Dear John's John and Savannah share some of the characteristics and resilience of such Hallström characters as the boy Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) in Hallström's first international success, My Life as a Dog; Gilbert (Johnny Depp) in What's Eating Gilbert Grape; Homer (Tobey Maguire) in The Cider House Rules; and Vianne (Juliette Binoche) in Chocolat – all films that skirt easy sentimentality while still bringing great emotion to the screen.  Says Bowen, "If you have a script that has a strong emotional arc and you want the film to be powerful and moving, yet not fall into the world of melodrama, then there's one director you want to get: Lasse Hallström. He's uniquely untroubled with the notion of trying to make things overly intellectualized, overly self-important, or overly melodramatic. Being in touch with emotions and being able to deliver that in an honest fashion – as opposed to trying to arc it for film – are what make him really, really special.”

Describing what attracted him to the project, Hallström says, "Mostly my interest in Dear John was in the people, the story of these two kids who fall in love.” He also says it was "to be able to tell an epic love story on a grand canvas, to portray the scope of it all.

"I'm always interested in character-driven stories,” Hallström continues. "I'm interested in strong emotion and interested in trying to stay away from sentimentality, but I do like strong sentiment. It's a fine line, and I love to walk that line and see if I can handle it. I want to root it in reality and have it stay as real and as honest as I possibly can.”

The entire cast sings Hallstrom's praises. Channing Tatum describes how he was "thrilled when Lasse came in and loved the script. He's so sensitive and gentle in this brilliant way.” "He's so focused,” says Amanda Seyfried. "He listens to and sees everything that happens. And he's European,” she laughs. "There's something about those Swedish people.” Richard Jenkins says, "Lasse wants to explore and find things that are not obviously there. He's a generous man who collaborates and is interested in performances that are really alive and real. That's what you always hope for when you begin a project.” 

"The main reason I wanted to work on this film,” says Henry Thomas, "was because Lasse Hallström was involved in it. In my experience, when you work with big directors the mood is generally heightened, but this set was very relaxed.” 

And Hallström's collaborative spirit extended through every level of the production. For co-producer/writer Linden, Hallström was the "perfect person for this type of story because he has such naturally good instincts. He went through the script removing every moment he was afraid would veer into overt sentimentality. He wanted to allow the characters to speak in their silence and not talk about every little thing that happens.”

Production designer Kara Lindstrom admires how "Lasse's curiosity created an extra layer of meaning to the whole filmmaking process, which is the basis for real collaboration. Of course he wanted good sets, but the important thing, for me, is that he wanted to know why they were appropriate or why I thought they would work. Once you start discussing at this level, work becomes a real pleasure.” A faded sign in the Eastern European streetscape that reads "Chocolat” and the Swedish flag flying among others over the Afghan base camp are Lindstrom's homages to the director.

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