Interview: Tom Gormican talks That Awkward Moment and working with Miles Teller and Zac Efron
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is a new independent, non-conventional romantic comedy featuring an ensemble cast including Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, and Jessica Lucas. More surprising than the relatively unknown cast blowing me away was the authenticity and organic nature of the dialogue. We spoke about the casting, the dialogue, and the influences of the Coen brothers in our recent interview.
Flix 66 – Tom, Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Tom Gormican (Tom) – Of course, of course.
Flix 66 – Since viewing THAT AWKWARD MOMENT I’ve been trying to learn more about you because to be quite honest, it surprised me quite a bit how well the dialogue and the actors worked together. For a feature debut in terms of both writing and directing, how did that come together for you?
Tom – Well, the script which was originally called “Are we officially dating?” was a top comedy on the blacklist in 2010; which basically a list of the executive’s most liked scripts of the year that aren’t being made or haven’t been made yet. So a lot of scripts off that list get made, and mine was the top comedy on that list that year. Through that I was able to get it to a number of people, a lot of actors. Some of them I specifically chased down, Miles and Mike; and some, Zac [Efron], who had done a movie with the producers of the film just before mine, called AT ANY PRICE, which Ramin Bahrani directed. And so I was able to get it to Zac, and Zac read it in camp and he called me, even though we’d never spoken before, and said he really liked the script and really wanted to make the movie and could I meet when he gets back? And that was sort of the catalyst for the entire thing coming together.
My partner, a guy who I just started a production company with, is a guy called Scott Aversano. Scott is a veteran producer and he ran Scott Rudin’s company for seven years as President and then he ran MTV films. Having a guy like that back me and support me along with Andrew O’Conner who is a big producer from the UK who initially bought the script. The two of them are veterans of producing and, in Andrew’s case, directing theater, film, and TV; and they supported me. And that was the way I was able to get behind the camera.
Flix 66 – How did you become involved in the film industry? I don’t know if you’ve ever done a google search on yourself…
Tom – No, I don’t know what’s on there.
Flix 66 – If you look, it looks like you kind of popped up out of nowhere. And I know, from living a life that is not on Google, it isn’t a case of not doing anything. It doesn’t mean anything.
Tom – Maybe I should do some more promotions (laughs). No, seriously. Basically when I was a kid I was living in NYC for many years and my first job was working for GreenStreet Films, founded by Fisher Stevens and John Penotti, that was one of the larger independent film companies in New York City at the time. And basically I just went to work for them as an Assistant when I was twenty-three or twenty-four years old. And from there I moved on to work with the Farrely brothers after that, whom I was introduced to, and then I went to work for a guy called Charlie Corwin who was running a company called Original Media and had produced THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, and HALF NELSON and A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS. A lot of very cool indies. And I ran development for him while I was writing.
And I just kept writing and writing and writing and sold a number of tv shows to networks like MTV and Comedy Central, then I started selling for network television as I was writing features. And when this feature film came out on the blacklist that’s when I started writing for studios. I did movies for Sony and for Warner Brothers, and all over the place. This was the first thing I was able to get made. That’s why it seems like it came out of nowhere, in that some of those movies may get made now, and some I’m writing to direct now, but this was the first thing. And it hit in a big way in that I got to write and direct and, you know, help put the movie together. So it seems like I came out of nowhere.
Flix 66 – In the film and TV industry there is a certain level you hit, where you are now, where everything is suddenly visible. But before that you had all those years of paying your dues and earning your stripes.
Tom – Yeah, you know, in some ways I lament the fact that I didn’t get to a chance to, well you know there’s two schools of thought here. You talk about visibility, you know my very first film, the first time ever; I haven’t directed short films or anything. The first time I directed, the first time I got behind a camera ultimately we threaded the needle and the movie got bought by a distributor and came out nationally on 2900 screens; it was a very, very, very visible debut. And in some ways that’s good and bad. You don’t get to go through the film festival circuit, which is awesome, very fun, and super supportive.
You get sort of trial by fire, in front of everybody; which is a great thing to have happen to you. It’s an amazing thing to thread the needle in a way that a small, little, independent film gets into every theater in the country, but it can also be tough at times, where you have to say ‘Hey, we shot the movie in 24 days as a little indie. Now it’s a big, giant, or it looks like one anyways, a giant movie. So you know there were both good and bad that came along with that but ultimately I was very happy with the way things came together.
Flix 66 – You said you chased down Miles and Mike, and then Zac came along really in a different sort of role than we’ve ever seen him play. But what’s incredible is the three of them play together with authenticity. The way they interact, maybe I’m partial because I have had similar friendships, but it is really authentic and we don’t usually see that kind of connection in a movie like this. Is that something you worked on specifically?
Tom – Yea, we worked on creating it. I have very specific rhythms that I like in dialogue. The style of dialogue, jumping around, is the way I feel conversations actually happen. Whereas sometimes in films we get people talking at each other… I like to have them talking with each other. So that was part of it and that’s the style I sort of created both on set and in the editing room. That feels authentic to me, and I’m glad it does for you. But the second thing was, I worked really hard before the movie to put these guys together in scenarios where they could actually become friends and that was the thing that happened. And you know, a lot of people say that in movies, and you know this and that and the other thing, that ‘everyone likes each other’.
You know we took the cast away to upstate New York to a resort in the winter right before we shot the film and Imogen Poots was there as well. And we spent four days there together just hanging out. There was nothing else to do but hang out and sort of get to know each other. And at the end of the four days we came back to the city and everyone had this sort of bond, like we’d been to camp together or something. And in lieu of rehearsal times, which as you know in a movie with this budget – you don’t get two or three weeks to rehearse with the actors to make sure they know each other and make sure they feel like friends. These guys are supposed to have gone to college together, they’re supposed to be old friends at the time they’re coming together. And the only way to achieve that is to work very, very hard to put them into scenarios where they know things about each other and feel like they’re friends. And they actually get to become friends.
So rather than script work and reading the movie and working on characters, we worked on getting these guys to know each other and become comfortable with each other. So that was a choice that I made, and that’s why it feels like that.
Flix 66 – Very cool. Is this story a representation of friendships you’ve had in the past, or is it more of a reflection on the changing state of ‘relationship’ in the modern age?
Tom – You know I would say it’s a little of both. I wanted to sort of accurately represent a time in a guy’s life and the relationships that they have at that specific time. It feels like, for me, I would say this movie is a coming of age story. And what was interesting in the press of the movie, was that the movie got a lot of, it got a lot of shit about being anti-women and that these guys are complete assholes. It was like “yeah, that’s the point” like guys in their late twenties are fighting this impulse to become adults. Because, certainly at this time you’re deciding what you’re doing with your career or figuring out where your life is going and relationships often times feel like a lot of responsibility.
And I think guys take great pains to sort of eschew that and be irresponsible and I found that time to be really interesting, because you’re seeing these people grow up. And what I did in the movie is try to make these friendships in the movie be very authentic and things that are potentially, in some ways, also holding them back. While on one side they’re very positive in another way they’re very negative. To me it was sort of the anti-men idea; seeing guys act like, and at times do horrible things, until they are able to grow up as a result of the people they come in contact with. That was important to me because I saw that happening with friends, I saw friends growing up when I was in my late twenties and becoming adults. And people around me, I just hadn’t seen that in film before, and that was a big thing.
Flix 66 – How did you pair the women? Where the women you chose, did they just match up? It feels very organic in terms of their pairing and chemistry.
Tom – What I was looking for in the leading role, Imi’s (Imogen Poot’s) role; Imi is incredibly smart, the daughter of two journalists, and she just feels like she’s beyond her years. She’s incredibly poised, and kind, and also beautiful in a not-overt way. And, you know, I thought this is exactly the type of girl that, at first glance someone like that (Zac’s character in the movie), would not go that’s the person I need to be with. And I feel like, in what is essentially a romantic comedy, that’s the way casting should work. After you have potentially boffed that girl, I thought, this is the girl you would look back and say ‘Oh my god, I made a huge mistake.’
So we went away from the kind of casting where we might go for someone who is overtly sexy and, you know, a Mila Kunis type, or someone like that. For this particular role, I felt like someone like Imi was just much, much better suited; that she seems like the adult version of the best girl friend you had before things changed between you. So that’s the direction we went with her and, then, Mackenzie Davis is the girl that Miles is with, and she’s just… I actually cast her off of tape because her timing was perfect and I think she’s just a star. Miles can be an overwhelming personality… I love Miles but he can be. Miles, I mean talk about a guy who can really take over a scene but Mackenzie is with him every step of the way. She has a beautiful ability to absorb and deflect and bring lots of bite and shade to a performance and is someone Miles just thrives being around. They’re both fantastic actors, and she was someone I was just absolutely floored by when she came to set and did the work. In real life she and Imi became incredibly close friends.
So I tried to pick people that I thought would actually be friends with each other, and they were, ultimately. On and off set we created this little group that had this cool little fun shared experience in New York City.
Flix 66 – I think it plays really well.
Tom – Thank you.
Flix 66 – Especially that core cast – the matchups worked and it just seems organic in the way you put together personalities and looked a little bit nonconventional for the star. That’s a perfect example of Imogen (Poots) in the lead – whatever your personal cup of tea is, by the end of the movie you really care about her and she’s grown on you.
Tom – That’s what I loved about creating those characters, those girl characters. They’re the only people in the film who’s families you see, right? And I tried to make them dimensionalized in a way that guys could really latch onto them, and say like ‘I know who they are, I know these people’ because the movie is not about them, not all of them. And it was important to not see them with their friends, because I was concentrating on how these guys’ relationship was tearing apart as they were growing and how they could come back together and find a different version of their friendship. So in the limited time I had with the girls I wanted to make sure they were sharply drawn, I thought, and people you understood and knew fro your own lives.
Flix 66 – Absolutely. I see you’ve completed work on ETIQUETTE and are getting ready to film?
Tom – Yep, I adapted that. No, that’s actually just at the script phase. In fact I’m actually, I put together another writing/directing deal with Warner Bros. for a big heist movie that takes place in Macau. That’s the latest project. It’s about a couple of film guys who get in over their heads. ETIQUETTE was from a couple of years ago and there were various actors potentially attached to it, and then not, and things were just continually shifting around on that. But I had written that movie before I directed THAT AWKWARD MOMENT. So I moved on to another project with Warner Bros. and I’m about to turn that in. That’s the thing that is really exciting to me… it’s a totally different kind of film but it has the same sort of guys relationships… and Mike and Miles have come onto that one as well.
Flix 66 – I can’t wait to hear more about it. Let me not take up too much of your time here so we’ll end with our signature question, What is your favorite movie of all time and why?
Tom – HA! My favorite movie of all time… there’s two, there’s two. One is CASABLANCA and the other is THE BIG LEBOWSKI. There are a million reasons everybody loves these movies, or maybe not everybody but most people. But specifically in THE BIG LEBOWSKI it has a sort of absurdist bent to the humor and they are the best in the world in handling dialogue. Both in writing sort of clever and funny and incredibly smart dialogue creating super vivid and sharply drawn characters who exist in like a place and time. The Coen brothers are geniuses at that, but I also just love the way within scene they handle overlapping, incredibly snappy, fun dialogue. That movie certainly influenced what I was trying to do with the guys relationship in THAT AWKWARD MOMENT. And CASABLANCA just because it’s an amazing love story. A very contained, visceral love story that feels modern today. It feels like it could be made now and you would still understand it and for that reason it’s one of my go-to’s.
Flix 66 – Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today and hopefully we’ll get to talk again when the next movie comes out.
Tom – I’d like that. I hope so. Thank you for taking the time to talk about this movie. I appreciate it.
THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is currently available via digital copy through iTunes and other digital retailers and releases on Blu-ray on May 13, 2014.