Extremely Verbose and Articulate: Jon Kasdan on The First Time

The writer/director talks teenaged communication and why he loves shooting sex scenes.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


I saw The First Time at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which was nine months ago. I started telling people about it then but now it’s actually opening in theaters Friday. Almost a year after seeing the film, I finally got to ask writer/director Jon Kasdan (Jake’s brother, Lawrence’s son) all my questions about his take on teen romance. His film follows Dave (Dylan O’Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson) over the first weekend where they talk and talk and talk about having a relationship together. Not horny party animals, not socially awkward nerds, just teenagers trying to figure things out.

CraveOnline: Why do the Kasdan boys write so good?

Jon Kasdan: [Laughs] First of all, I don't know that that’s true. I hope that’s true. I’m a huge fan of my brother’s writing. I always wish he’d write more movies and I’m constantly telling him that. We have very different styles and I think they both sort of reflect our father in totally different ways. Certainly there’s a worldview in my writing that’s in my dad’s writing too and you can see in a lot of his movies that I think is something I’m very proud of and it’s also something that’s not entirely in fashion right now. It’s certainly a humanistic attitude that I hope is in this movie and in all the work I’ve done. Neither my brother nor I have ever wanted to do anything else so whether we’re good or not, this is certainly the only thing we do do.

Are Dave and Aubrey more articulate than real kids may be, but that’s a good thing?

Well, I don't know. I think they’re exactly as articulate as me and my friends were when we were kids. But I was constantly being accused of being [an] extremely verbose and a very articulate kid, so I don't know that I’m a good model for anything. I know that it at least tries to be authentic to what I sounded like and to what my friends sounded like, but we grew up in Los Angeles. I don't know if that’s a specific thing in and of itself. It may be. I think kids and everyone sees and hears so much television and movies these days that I’ve yet to meet a teenager that I didn’t feel like could keep up with [me] completely and when we’ve shown this movie to teenagers in the last nine months or so, I feel like they have responded to it in a way where they don’t feel alienated by the way the kids talk. Instead they’re sort of excited by it.

Not alienating, more like admirable. Like I may be able to write like that, but I wish I could speak off the top of my head like they do.

Totally, and there’s certainly an element of that that I completely agree with. There’s a style to it. There’s a writing style that’s in the movie and you wonder sometimes if White House aides talk like they do on “The West Wing.” They probably don’t but it’s a really entertaining universe to me. There’s definitely something of that to this.

Could it empower teens to strive for better communication?

I’m always a little skeptical of whether movies have that effect but certainly when they walk out of the theater or when they turn it off of their iTunes feed, maybe for a good hour they might feel that way. I think that kids are pretty savvy. The ones I’ve known have not had enormous trouble expressing themselves but listen, you hope these movies will have only positive things.

That’s amazing if you’ve known people in general who don’t have trouble expressing themselves.

No, and I think that that’s something in this movie. There’s two things. There’s being articulate and talking a lot and then there’s actually being able to express yourself. I think those are two separate things. Hopefully the movie expresses that, which is that these two kids are very verbal but they have trouble communicating sometimes and they do have misunderstandings and they say the wrong thing a lot. I do think there’s a difference between being articulate and being able to express what you’re feeling.

I’m still working on it and I’m 34.

Me too and I feel like whenever I meet people, I walk away from the conversation thinking, “What was I saying?”

And I have some of those recorded so I have to go back over it again.

Exactly, that makes it a little trickier.

What were your thoughts on doing a lovely, gentle love scene? Is that something you haven’t gotten to see in movies?

First of all, I love sex scenes. I love shooting sex scenes. I shot one in In the Land of Women that didn’t make it into the movie really. There was a pretty explicit sex scene between Adam [Brody] and Meg Ryan and it was the most fun day we had shooting the movie. Partly just because shooting a sex scene can in ways be like shooting a dance sequence, because there’s something sort of very choreographed about it, something that allows you to do some different kinds of visual stuff, so that gets me excited as a filmmaker. At the same time, it’s a really intimate environment because I’ve found that the actors tend to be having their best days when you’re shooting love scenes because they find it sort of funny and they sort of draw off each other’s discomfort and make it sort of an enjoyable day on the set. It has an intimacy to it too that kind of fuels the whole thing. With this movie, certainly there was never a more exhilarating day of shooting this movie than shooting the love scene.

Maybe you’re just a great director of love scenes because usually we hear the opposite from actors.

No, I know. I read it in interviews too with actors. Partly sometimes I think actors are so desperate to convince you that it’s not real, like oh no, there’s nothing sexy about it. I always think who are they really saying that for? Are they saying it for their spouse at home?

You know who has said love scenes are great fun? Sir Ben Kingsley.

He’s someone I would trust. It’s when Anne Hathaway tells me that it’s not that I’m a little more skeptical. Maybe, you don’t know, it seems like it’d be fun.

The boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back thing is not only familiar but cherished in movies. Did you have to think about making that more natural than we’ve maybe seen before?

Yeah, I wanted this whole movie to feel very much like tracking two teenagers from the moment they meet to the moment they decide they’re dating. I thought that what made the movie original and unique would be that it could show every moment of their interaction between those two things, between them meeting and deciding that they’re going to try to have a relationship. I think the best stuff in the movie, frankly, is the most nuanced sort of specific things. Just how you talk about it with your friends or how you interact when you walk out of the movie theater in that five minutes when you’ve both gone off to go to the bathroom and you steal a second together. That’s the stuff that I’m proudest of. I think the stuff that’s hardest is the larger “oh, who’s with who” and is he going to choose her or the other one.

Is there also something to making us really want Dave and Aubrey to get together, rather than just going through the motions of they’re the stars, they’re going to end up together?

Yeah, I hope that you do want them to get together.

I do! That’s why I asked!

Well, that’s great. First of all, a lot of the credit for that is due to the two of them, and to the chemistry they have. Let me rephrase. A lot of it’s due to the two of them but I don't think they deserve any credit for it. I think it’s totally natural. I think that they both felt it in the moment and there was an attraction and appeal that they had to each other personally that they were able to put on screen that makes you think, “Yeah, these two people should probably be together.” That is really a testament to just in the casting process you read a bunch of people and you see two that sort of seem to have a spark between them and you chase that. I think that’s them.

Did you see a lot of well-known young actors for these parts?

I don't know, there aren’t that many that well known teenage actors. I didn’t read the Selena Gomezes. I didn’t read people like that. I met some people and I didn’t want to commit to anyone until I’d had the opportunity to see them do it. So I met with a lot of actors who had done a lot of work and a lot of wonderful people and also a lot of people who have since gone on to do great things. I admire all of them and it just seemed like this was the combination that I was most excited about making the movie with.

Sundance seems so long ago.

It feels like a lifetime ago. It’s like nine months and the thing about these movies is you do that and it’s so intense, it feels like you’re releasing the movie. And then nine months later you’re back doing it again. It’s crazy.

Do you have a momentum problem with the gap between premiering and releasing?

Totally, because you’re onto other things. It’s hard enough to work yourself up to talk about it enthusiastically once, but to do it twice, it’s really a test of one’s ability.

Is it? Even when it’s your own writing and creation, is it hard to work up the enthusiasm?

It depends on how you feel. If you feel like people are excited about the movie, then when you get that, when that comes at you, it energizes you. And when you feel overwhelmed by the volume of movies coming out and just how am I supposed to try to get anyone to go to this, that can be daunting and discouraging a little. But I take it all ways. I just watched my parents go through it on their little movie [Darling Companion] and you see people do so much work and then the movie comes out and it’s like meh, bleh. You just think this is tough.With something like this it’s not like you’re hoping for a big opening weekend, but you just hope that the people that might enjoy it will eventually have the opportunity to see it. That’s all you really want. I feel good. That said, I’m totally grateful that it finally is finding its home and a release and goes out into the world now, not just for the Sundance folks.

Are you worried about the October releases?

No, no, because the release is so small that you don’t even feel like you’re in competition. More what you feel is will anyone be aware that the movie happened? That’s something that I’m constantly, like, I don't know.

Isn’t that supposed to begin at Sundance?

It is, and part of what you were saying, this stopping and starting you lose some of that momentum. You know that the attention span of anybody is so short that to try to maintain some thing, you see it clearly. Three or four movies come out of that festival with a lot of topspin, be it Beasts of the Southern Wild and I think Celeste and Jesse [Forever] to come extent, maybe Safety Not Guaranteed but those are like four or five movies. Let’s say four or five movies have that thing and then there’s another 25 movies that come out where you just think it’s very tough. That’s the thing about Sundance is that it really separates the men from the boys a little bit, quickly, in terms of what people are focused on.

What do you want to write next?

I’m working on a project for Universal that’s sort of a rewrite of a really funny script by this kid named Jeremy Slater. It’s called My Spy. I think this guy is actually writing Fantastic Four now. I read that somewhere but it’s this fun script about sort of a Risky Business meets The Bourne Identity kind of thing. It’s cool. We’ll see if it ever sees the light of day but it’s a fun little different kind of thing.

Would you do television like Jake does?

I would if it were the right thing. I love movies. I see everything. I’m not as devoted to the medium. There are shows that I watch religiously. I watch “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” religiously but I’ll see any crappy movie. I won’t watch any crappy TV show so if I can make a living and keep working in movies, I’m thrilled to be doing it but certainly if the right television thing came around, I’d jump at it. I just have such a more limited world of TV that I’m excited by. Those shows, I just don’t even know how they do them. They’re so amazing to me as pieces of writing and as long term storytelling.

Like “New Girl?”

“New Girl’s” a different kind of thing. Liz Meriwether has a really specific voice and it just comes across but the kind of television that I’m most excited about is stuff like “Breaking Bad” and that’s the stuff I can’t even [imagine] because how he’s developed that over however many years and building towards something over long term storytelling is just amazing.

So you’ll see anything, did you see every summer movie?

I saw most of the summer movies. I couldn’t say I saw all of them but I see almost everything.