The Mary Sue Interview: Tribeca’s Nora Ephron Prize Contender Reed Morano on Meadowland
Last Saturday morning, cup of coffee in hand, I attended a screening during the Tribeca Film Festival of the new movie Meadowland, a domestic drama starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson. The movie, which will be in theaters later this year, focuses on a married couple facing the loss of child, a son who went missing over a year earlier. Wilson’s character, a New York City cop, believes he may be dead and begins taking steps to accept the loss, while his wife Sarah (Wilde) continues to believe their son is out there, becoming unhinged from reality.
There is nothing light about the movie, but it is powerful and emotional, and features career bests performances from Wilde and Wilson (and appearances by Elizabeth Moss, Juno Temple, Mark Feuerstein, Kevin Corrigan, Merritt Wever, John Leguizamo, and Giovanni Ribisi as Wilson’s brother). Still a bit emotional from the screening, I was eager to speak with director Reed Morano, usually a director of photography (one of the few women who holds the position) who is making her directing debut with this heart-wrenching movie.
Lesley Coffin (TMS): Moving over from your position as a Director of Photography into directing, what was it like to make that kind of professional transition?
Reed Morano: What really helped was the number of people I knew from films I’d worked on before, a lot of the cast I’d worked with on other movies as a DP. I literally just texted Juno [Temple] and asked her to be in my movie. So I think it was really helpful and it was a great training ground for me. I don’t think there were many hindrances, with the exception maybe of a certain stigma attached to a DP directing. Sometimes they are very successful and sometimes they’re not, and people just don’t know if they will be able to divorce themselves from the job they love so much.
TMS: Was it hard to sell yourself as a director who would put story and character ahead of visual style?
Morano: Absolutely. When I decided I was going to shoot and direct, I decided right then that the cinematography was going to take a backseat to the story. Cinematography has had its time to shine in my work. I’m going to put story first and the cinematography will be as minimalistic as possible, and it might end up being the best stuff I’ve done because I’m not thinking of job security. Because I’m the director, I knew I could shoot a scene with just available light or maybe just one light. There was an insight about what was going to happen in the scene that, when I’m just working as a DP, I might not have. If you haven’t worked extensively with a director, you don’t know how long it takes them to shoot a scene, so you don’t know how much maintenance you need to do as a DP. So in a way, I had more creative freedom and took more risks as a DP on this project.
TMS: How did your relationship with Olivia Wilde, who produced and stars in the movie, develop?
Morano: Well, our relationship was pretty instantaneous from the first time we met. I was lucky because, when I decided to do the movie, the script had already gotten out into the world and Olivia had gotten a hold of it through her agent, who called me a number of times saying, “Olivia wants to do this, would you have lunch with her?” And I was like, of course, you don’t need to convince me. I knew a little about Olivia and had watched a lot of House and loved her on that show. I always thought there was a depth in her eyes that you could see even then. So I thought, I’m going to meet this girl, and she of course charmed the pants off me.
The first time we met, we talked for about three hours, and then she offered to read for the part. I went to her apartment the next day with a camera and we just had an instant chemistry. Then, she ended up getting pregnant and was worried I was going to have to replace her, but I was just like, “Dude, I’m not going to replace you! You’re Sarah.” And then she asked if she could come on board as a producer, and I was so happy she did because she’s an amazing partner to have. There was nothing she wouldn’t do, she just loved this movie so much. So it was such a blessing.
TMS: I just watched the movie today and I have to say, I was definitely crying a couple of times, especially the scene with Luke in the support group. I really do think his performance in this movie might be one of the best he’s ever given.
Morano: What you saw was the third take of that scene. I mean it’s all Luke that you see, and the first two takes were fine and I could have probably used them. I think he felt kind of done after two takes, because he doesn’t like to do a lot of takes. But I pushed for one more and whispered to him, “It’s just that you can’t get the words out.” And I don’t know why, but that triggered something in him, and he just went to another place inside himself. And because all that happened with that one take, I insisted with my editor, “We are not cutting into that.” So we only cut once during that scene to John Leguizamo.
TMS: And because you don’t cut away, we can even see the other actors looking away from him at certain points.
Morano: The extras were crying; they just couldn’t look. There was a powerful energy on set every day, but particularly that day. We were all crying, I was crying behind the viewfinder. Everyone in the back watching the monitors were crying. The extras couldn’t even look at him because they were getting so emotional. And we had a lot of moments like that on set during this movie.
TMS: Being a mother yourself, was it hard to make a movie which essentially depicts your worst nightmare?
Morano: I was thinking about it all day, because Luke and Olivia’s little boy in the movie is played by my son. He’s not an actor, but he’s very creative and kind of old for his age. And he saw that I was looking at auditions for children and said, “What is that? Is that for the movie? Can I try?” And I didn’t want to do that, put that energy out into the universe by casting my son as a boy who goes missing. I’m superstitious. And then I kept auditioning more kids, but they were all too commercial, and I knew I could get what I needed from my son and it would be the most natural performance. And ultimately, those first few minutes with him were mostly ad-libbed by Luke and Olivia.
TMS: Now that you’ve gotten a taste for directing, what kind of projects are you looking for?
Morano: I think there should be a range. As a DP, I’ve done all sorts of genres, and there are definitely genres I’m more attracted, but I like to stretch my skills. And as a director, I think it is also important to show that you have range. I really appreciate those directors with range, like Paul Thomas Anderson, where every film feels like their’s but he still touches on many different genres and stories. I’m attracted to a lot of different stories, but I would be interested in seeing more female empowerment on screen. And I really love weird movies, like Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It would be great to find movies with that tone but with a female protagonist, or even a great sci-fi movie with a female protagonist. Women who are believable and not just action heroes.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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