[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]dam Saunders continues to make smart decisions regarding the films he chooses for his production company Footprint Features. His latest feature, About Alex, starring an ensemble cast, brimming with young talented actors, like Jason Ritter, Maggie Grace, Aubrey Plaza and more was recently released and is currently available to audiences via almost every outlet available. Saunders spoke with Working Author about his new experiences producing his second feature and shared insight into his role on the production. He also touched on the future of his company and his next project.
Not one to waste time on small talk, Saunders swats down an ice-breaker question about what’s new in his personal life. “Oh, you know, this and that,” he says with a smile. And then it’s straight to business.
About Alex is a story about college friends, who have long since graduated and gone their separate ways, coming together again when one of their group, Alex (Jason Ritter), attempts suicide. Over the long weekend, relationships are rekindled, destroyed and saved as histories collide with the present. And before the weekend is over, the group must face the reality of who they have become and if their relationships can withstand those changes.
Like most ventures, picking the right film to work on can be risky, and ensuring there’s an audience for the film definitely affected Saunders’ decision to produce it. “It’s a huge part of it,” he explains. “We’re running a business after all, and a business can only grow and do the things we want it to do if it’s having success. Our mandate is character driven, accessible to the mainstream. We want audiences to see our movies – the more people we can reach, the better.” Footprint Features, however, does make it a point to target human stories that are less plot focused. “But we are definitely of the belief that a movie can be artistically of a high caliber and character driven and still reach a wide commercial audience.”
While Saunders has to be smart about this choices, About Alex was a project that seemed like an easy decision. “I had worked with (About Alex writer/director) Jesse (Zwick)’s dad, Edward Zwick, on our previous movie Family Weekend,” Saunders explains. “He had been a real mentor to me and our company and basically – that movie doesn’t get made without him. He quite literally saved the film on at least three critical occasions.” The two men formed a personal relationship from that experience, and Edward Zwick forwarded his son’s script to Saunders to get his opinion. “I immediately fell in love with it and begged him to let me produce it.” It was, of course, Jesse Zwick’s decision, and he ultimately chose Saunders.
“Jesse is amazing,” Saunders says. “I can’t say enough good things about Jesse. Here is a person who was directing his very first feature, who was conceivably under enormous pressure given his lineage, and he quite simply knocked it out of the park. He wrote this beautiful script, and then had both the vision and confidence to not only realize that vision on the screen, but also to be able to roll with the punches on certain days if things didn’t go exactly as he’d prescribed it in his head. Maybe that would take the form of a rainstorm, or an actor improvising, or a generator breaking or… any of the myriad of last minute things that happen on a set – but he was agile, he was present, and he was able to react on the fly. The movie works because of that.”
Of course, not all of the praise was reserved for Zwick; Saunders is genuinely proud of every aspect of this film. “It’s shot really beautifully by our DP Andre Lascaris, and our music supe Rob Lowry found some great new independent music. But from a strictly entertainment point of view – you’re going to see some great performances. The actors in this movie are incredible and they do amazing work. And if you’re a fan of Aubrey Plaza – you’re going to see her in a way that you’ve never seen her before… She has such great range as an actor and I think this piece really displays that. That can actually be said for all of our cast.”
Despite working with a talented writer/director, film crew and actors, there always seems to be the danger of producers interfering with the creative vision. Saunders laughs at the idea, saying, “Well I guess that’s a question for Jesse. In my mind the producer’s job is to create the conditions to allow the director to most successfully tell his story. Often times that comes in the form of simply being the facilitator of what he has in his head. Other times, I try to act as a trusted creative resource for the director, both in terms of helping to keep the movie on track in a commercial sense, but also by way of being a voice that he can bounce ideas off of and hopefully trust – knowing that we both have the same end goal in mind.” He draws a parallel with sports to illustrate his point. “A good GM isn’t calling the plays; that’s why he’s hired the head coach. But he’s also savvy enough that the coach trusts him, and if there are suggestions that can be helpful on the path to winning the Super Bowl, then there should be enough trust between them for those ideas to be explored.”
Business aside, it’s obvious that Saunders has a personal investment in the film in addition to his professional one. “I’m very close with my college friends,” he says. “We talk all the time and still make a point to see each other multiple times a year even though we live on opposite sides of the country. One of my college roommates is actually an investor in About Alex, so there you go! But yes, the story resonates a lot with me. I think it’s something we all want – to stay close with our old friends that have played such an important role in our growing up – and yet we recognize that as life progresses there are challenges to that goal and it is up to us to make the effort to keep those friendship bonds strong.”
Footprint Features is already working on its next project titled When We First Met, which has already started casting, with Jamie Travis to direct and Mason Novick to co-produce.
About Alex can be seen in theaters, and is available on iTunes, Time Warner, Comcast, DirecTV, AT&T Uverse and Cox.