Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe on Greener Grass
Before leaving for Sundance earlier this year, a friend of mine — Rob Michael Hugel–recommended this movie his friends made called Greener Grass which he had a smart part in. Of course, I had to check it out and to this day, it is by far the weirdest movie I’ve watched in 2019 and one of the funniest for that matter. This past Thursday afternoon, I sat down with directors/writers/stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe to discuss their film Greener Grass which is now out in select theaters and VOD.
Rendy: Out of all the many ideas that you two have done over the years collaborating, what made you want to do this expand on this specific idea?
Jocelyn DeBoer: Yeah, well, Greener Grass was the first thing that we made together, and I think it kind of took on a life of its own on the festival circuit like beyond our wildest dreams. We kind of got approached about developing it as a TV show by IFC. And so just because that came to us, we were like ‘yes we want to do that’ and we did sell them a TV version of Greener Grass in 2017, where we had pitched out six seasons of the show and we had this like intricate Bible for it. And basically, it was a very ambitious expensive show that didn’t end up, they didn’t end up having a budget for that at the time, and I want to say about the week after they told us like ‘we’re not going to be able to make this’, we basically really were devastated but were also still so interested in. We fell in love with so many of these storylines, we decided like, “why don’t we focus on one of them, and, like, really simplify it and make a feature?” And so, I think it was that Greener grass was kind of its own thing, but really it was so smart of us to do it as a feature version, and so important for our careers as directors, because when we were in the TV space, it was very much that we were creators and we were going to star in the show, but they were going to bring on a showrunner and get other people to direct it and we love having the creative control, and we’ve found that on the feature we were able to have that and you know it was all good.
Rendy: The variety of ideas just keeps getting larger and larger as the film goes on. What were some of the influences of the film?
Jocelyn DeBoer: I think we both love when we’re watching movies and things heighten and take turns that are completely unexpected like we’re so used to seeing the same thing, of course, over and over again and you’re like oh my god this is going to end blah blah, but when something changes and that doesn’t happen, We’re like, we’d love that. And so when we were writing the script. We were like what if that just happens over and over and over again and it’s like you can’t ever get too comfortable because everything is changing. Oh yeah, I also like thinking of like more like influences from yeah TV and film.
Dawn Luebbe: So many, John Waters is such an influence and we always say when we wrote the short we were watching Twin Peaks so David Lynch is definitely up there. And then, Welcome to the Dollhouse I saw, like we were young when that came out. I just remember seeing that movie and thinking I didn’t think movies could be like this. So, the way it like some darkly portrayed suburbia and like we got like the definition of dark comedy I feel like. And yeah, and also a lot of like old movies.
Jocelyn DeBoer: Yeah, I would take The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is probably a very obvious one. We love that kind of almost a sketch aspect of like a game that the characters are always trying to return to just trying to have dinner together and you set at that expectation and then knock it on its ass and it’s like we just love that style and even Belgian drawers so a woman’s idea of what society expects of her, and then very much she goes and tries to do something else. And, yeah, we both love old movies too and you, I’m sure it’s obvious our movie it has a bit of a melodramatic tone and we love Douglas Sirk and that kind of almost like artificial look at home almost like a dollhouse, or this like controlled isolated world.
Rendy: Speaking of which, the locations that you two found for this film had such a beautiful sunshiny aesthetic.
Dawn Luebbe: Oh my gosh. We were crossing our fingers every day with the weather because our movie doesn’t have weather as it’s always sunny in the film. But we shot in Peachtree City, Georgia, which is a suburb of Atlanta in August. We don’t recommend spending time there during August. But it was just like the perfect setting for our story.
Jocelyn DeBoer: They have a Facebook group in Peachtree City where they call themselves with a bubble. Wow, that makes perfect sense.
Dawn Luebbe: It’s this planned community from the 1950s with 100 miles of golf cart tracks. And like the soccer field is in this kind of courtyard area that is surrounded by houses that are all very similar. They are pastel-like and very cookie cutter.
Jocelyn DeBoer: You saw the movie right?
Jocelyn DeBoer: It’s that in real life.
Dawn Luebbe: If we could have built a site, it would have looked like that.
Rendy: Oh, so everything was just like it was just planted right there, the production design just fit?
Jocelyn DeBoer: Well, our production designer Lee Poindexter has the most incredible eye and she was able to pick which six houses we had to use. And then she went on with what the houses looked like and what the restaurants looked like and was able to enhance them. In Hamlet, it says that drama is holding the mirror up to nature and we’re like, well we’re holding the funny mirror. It’s like everything was a little heightened.
Rendy: With the cast that you have. I love how everybody has their own time in the limelight with something to do. That reminds me of why you also love them as individuals as well. For me, Jim Cummings just felt like, oh he’s doing his Thunder Road bit again
Jocelyn DeBoer: Well, funny thing, our short film of Greener Grass was on the festival circuit with Thunder Road, and they were both in competition at SXSW together which is where we met. But the character of Rob, we had auditioned a lot of guys for it which was too much. We didn’t write it, for Jim, which it probably seems like we did.
Dawn Luebbe: I know, it’s so similar to like the structure. Kind of a bumbling overly confident man.
Jocelyn DeBoer: And truly Jim like was busy at the time and our producer was like, you know, Jim Cummings is gonna, it looks like you can come to visit the set. He can help out with anything. And we really like Oh well, we have a couple parts that haven’t been cast yet, and one of them was Rob, and then we’re like, well you’re perfect. So that’s how that happened. And he was perfect, but we certainly like it. What at a time it wasn’t meant to be a meta-joke, which now I think it is.
The kid who plays Julian. It was like watching it for the first time, just like oh my god he’s, like, he’s getting this big leg we then he’s just like in on the joke too just like the entire school but I just kept rewinding that moment. How was it casting him, directing him, because he’s like the central kid of the picture?
Dawn Luebbe: Oh my gosh, we saw a tape of him he submitted a tape, and we were just immediately like on the floor laughing like he just has it, like something. His eyes are so expressive.
Jocelyn DeBoer: It wasn’t a funny scene too. We were doing the scene. When he has a Purple Heart, and he’s upset, and he has to have real tears in his eyes and crying, and it was just like his, he had just had the tone exactly right. I’m like, super grounded dramatic emotional stakes well like hitting the like. He was so precise in the delivery of that. Very impressive child.
Dawn Luebbe: I feel like he’s just way more mature than me. He just got the tone from, from the beginning, and
Jocelyn DeBoer: We have to give credit to his parents because they’re actors. Like his mom’s an actor, I think his dad was a film person, and he arrived just coached to the tee.
Dawn Luebbe: Occasionally, we’d be explaining to him like okay in this scene, this is what’s happening in he’ll have a perplexed look like “This kind of weird.”
Rendy: How did you balance both the atmosphere of your love of comedy but at the same time also have it be bizarre?
Jocelyn DeBoer: From the beginning, I think, the tone was always a big part of our conversation. Getting that just right.
Dawn Luebbe: I think we also it was important to us that it wasn’t weird for weird sake. Yeah so I guess we wanted it to be, make sure nothing was weird for weird sake but also, we wanted to keep this element Jocelyn was talking about earlier of surprise where you could be watching a scene and thinking like oh I know where this will go and then have it just turned on its head.
Jocelyn DeBoer: And it’s funny with like balancing the tone. I don’t know if this is your experience but I bet it is but it’s like I feel like we just know the tone because we wrote it, I think, because we spent so long, like coming up with it we just know it like deep in our bodies like your gut and our guts, I should say, and we are the calibration for the tone, and we really are it, like we know it. And so it’s like when, when we were on set, and like, you know, production design we like put something in that, and we would just say that that’s not right, and we’re in No. All right, like, you know, well coaching the actors. So, I would say, it didn’t feel like one of the biggest challenges but it did feel like one of the biggest, most important things.
Rendy: And regarding the script, how long did you guys take? How long was it to write the script?
Dawn Luebbe: We started writing it in January 2018, and had like a production draft in May of 2018 so like five months.
Jocelyn DeBoer: but at that time, we worked every day, usually just weekdays, every day. I’m like, I want to say 830 in the morning to like, 630 at night. And we did 21 page one rewrites. So the amount that we wrote was. I can’t even believe it, but I want to say it’s, it was like one of the happiest times in my life. Writing with Dawn is so fun and it’s like, it just felt I think because we’d have the money before we started writing. So we knew we were going to make it and we knew we were going to make it soon, that we were like just trying to make a blueprint, like we’re like we’re, we’re going to shoot this, and like, so it wasn’t, we, we didn’t have to show it to anyone we have complete creative control so it wasn’t like how I think I felt when we wrote our first feature together which we didn’t make. it was like a feature we’re submitting to Sundance labs that didn’t end up getting in. I felt so much like not like we weren’t actually going to shoot it but like it was also theoretical as like a writing exercise, whereas when were writing Greener Grass we were machines because we were like, this needs to be right because we’re going to do be doing this.
Dawn Luebbe: We don’t have to worry about proving ourselves. As I mean any particular group or whatever like truly like writing what delighted us and what we thought was right for this story and for the movie.
Rendy: Were there any like kill your darlings situation? Like are there any bits and pieces that didn’t make it to the final draft?
Jocelyn DeBoer: So many
Dawn Luebbe: So many darlings on the floor.
Jocelyn DeBoer: A lot of darlings on the floor. I would say the darling, that one’s the farthest was probably Pamela.
Dawn Luebbe: Mm-hmm. RIP Pamela.
Jocelyn DeBoer: RIP Pamela. So, Pamela was a character that we made it. I would say we cut her maybe two months before shooting. And what it was Buck, who is Kim Ann’s ex-husband who kind of turns into a cowboy as he gets a divorce. All the women start talking about like “well did you hear it, like Buck has a new girlfriend”, and you’re like “Kim Ann announced it at the vigil” and then the girls are like, “what like a new girlfriend” And Kim Ann is like “she’s just hair.” Okay. You know, and then later, buck shows up at the bowling alley birthday party with truly a floating hair-do. You know at that time he was trying to sell jet skis earlier in the movie. When he goes, “Does anyone want to buy one of my jet skis” and then you know you find out, ” like yeah he has to sell his jet ski Pamela can’t take the wind.” And you know why we ended up cutting it is, we did like two different readings with like, you know, five or six comedy friends, where we read the script, and then we’ve just kind of talked back afterward where we were like “is there anything confusing? How are things feeling?” And we realized after those talks, people like pointed out so many things like they love the pool water like this and that taco dip. No one ever said anything about Pamela, they didn’t say they liked her, they didn’t say they thought it was funny, they didn’t say that they didn’t, and they also didn’t say it was confusing, which as it should have been confusing because she’s like a floating hair-do, so we had to make some cuts, just because we were like, it was too long, and we were like maybe that’s a good reason to cut Pamela. But then we did cut her, and then we’re at our casting session.
Dawn Luebbe: Yeah, and our casting director was like what happened to Pamela? She was my favorite part.
Jocelyn DeBoer: And then we found out that while we were down in Atlanta, our production designer and our costume designer, Leigh Poindexter and Lauren Oppelt, were living together at an Airbnb to like make everything super cohesive they’re like working together on the vision, and they were arguing about how exactly Pamela should be made. And we were like Pamela doesn’t exist anymore and they were like, “WHAT? We loved Pamela!” So anyway, that was a darling that died and it was a wrongful death we think.
Dawn Luebbe: Maybe Pamela will have her own movie.
Rendy: I would love a Pamela spinoff one day.