PEOPLE LIKE US
Director on Board
"People Like Us" may be Alex Kurtzman's feature-film directorial debut, but
there was never a question about
whether he would be the one to helm the movie. "I felt that after seven years of
protecting these characters and
building them, it was going to be very difficult to hand the project off to
somebody else, particularly since the
vision that we had by that point was so specific," says Kurtzman. "I really felt
like this movie was such a part of
me that I couldn't even begin to imagine someone else directing it."
Kurtzman and Orci have been fortunate in that when they were writers on a
film, they also were working in
producer roles. This allowed them to interact with directors on set. Kurtzman
comments, "All of the incredible
directors that we've worked with have taught me so many lessons along the way
and I absolutely know that I
could not have done this if we had not had those experiences. Sitting behind
those directors, having the trust of
those directors, observing them, watching them and getting their advice was a
Producer Bobby Cohen adds, "I've had the good fortune to work with a lot of
first-time feature directors, but
Alex's situation is very unique. Alex has been working with
directors at the highest level for years, soaking it in. He
was a showrunner on 'Alias,' and in TV, unlike movies, the
writer/producer is the primary creative leader. This was not
the same thing as working with a fresh-out-of-film-school
kid, filled with nothing but youthful exuberance.
"Alex has been planning and challenging himself for years
for this moment. He knows what he wants and understands
about the camera, how a crew needs to work, the nuances
of a budget and the challenge of a schedule," concludes
Because of Kurtzman's prior experience, going on set for "People Like Us"
wasn't as daunting a task as it could
have been if he'd walked in cold. The director admits that he loves being on set
and that it is his "favorite place
to be." "I felt like the crew was family. The actors were family. Everybody was
collaborating on the same thing,"
"The vibe on set to me was pretty extraordinary. I felt like everybody was
there because they wanted to be there
and everybody was happy and it's very important to me as the director to have a
happy crew because I believe
that you're making a movie collectively."
Kurtzman spent a lot of time in rehearsals before shooting,
establishing a rapport between himself as the director and
the actors. Kurtzman's affinity for collaboration quickly
created trust on set. "The way to create a circle of trust is to
empower the cast and crew to be who they are, to follow
their instincts and to play out their interpretation of what
you have," explains Kurtzman. "The more they do that, the
more people feel like they're part of the process. They feel
like they have ownership of what they're doing."
The director explored the light and heavy moments in the
film to find the right balance between humor and drama.
The story had a complicated tone and Kurtzman felt the key was to never violate
the drama and to never violate
the humor. He talked to the cast about expressing humor and levity organically
and reminded them that it always
had to come from "an honest place." "My favorite movies are the movies that are
actually dramatic movies that
have incredible flourishes of humor because the humor comes out of the
quirkiness of people and who they are
and how they behave in scenes," comments Kurtzman.
When Kurtzman approached directing "People Like Us," he had a definite vision
in mind. "I wanted "People
Like Us" to be a movie that, while it spoke to a specific experience, spoke to a
universal experience, and that
experience is being part of a family and trying to find out who you are in the
world and where you fit in, and what
matters to you and what's important in life," says Kurtzman. "It doesn't matter
who you are or what mistakes you
made, we're all the same-people like us. This is who we are and this is what
Producer and co-writer Roberto Orci was happy to see his friend Alex Kurtzman
achieve his goal of directing
a feature film. "On the one hand it was amazing to see my best pal actually see
his dream fulfilled. Then to
find out he is great at it and to see the actors respond to him was equally
amazing. The fact that it is material
he generated gave him an advantage that most directors don't have. He knows the
material, so there was no
question he couldn't answer. Watching him direct 'People Like Us' was one of the
highlights, and one of the
pleasures, of our partnership."
Kurtzman also gets kudos from his cast, who all appreciated his collaborative
and inclusive style. Chris Pine, who
plays Sam, says, "I got great joy out of watching Alex direct
for the first time, watching him bring to life something that
was so emotionally impactful for him. But what I really want
to stress is that Alex's greatest gift is his incredibly fine-tuned
sensitivity. Alex was always inclusive. He always created a
true sense of wanting to make it better communally. Work
became this even playing field and he had the ability to not
be precious about something that was clearly very precious
Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Lillian, adds her take on the
director: "The whole reason I did the film was because I fell
so in love with Alex when I met with him. He's incredibly collaborative and
incredibly humble and really smart.
He's a gifted director and really has great instincts about performance and how
to talk to actors. I just loved
working with him and I really hope I get to do it again."
Elizabeth Banks was impressed by Kurtzman's competency in his first
directorial foray. "Alex was a first-time
director, but he was more prepared and more involved than some of the directors
who've done it a long time,"
says Banks. "He did an amazing job with this movie. I think he's a true auteur.
He really cares about every little
detail and it's really been fun to be part of someone's first directorial
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