A Fiendish Conversation with Megan Griffiths
The director discusses bringing Seattle—and its music scene—to life in Lucky Them.
Seattle director Megan Griffiths drew rave reviews and film festival awards for her 2012 sex trafficking drama, Eden, and now she’s looking to take the next step in her career with the starkly different Lucky Them. The Seattle-set film follows Ellie Klug (Toni Collette), a rock journalist assigned to track down her iconic musician ex-boyfriend, while her pal and wannabe documentarian Charlie (a scene-stealing Thomas Haden Church) films the journey. Griffiths's shots of Capitol Hill at night are serene (or at least as serene as Capitol Hill gets at night) and she's able to weave in Seattle music in the film through the soundtrack, on screen performances (hello, the Head and the Heart), and even cameos. Ultimately, the film is an examination of how we can keep replaying our memories of old relationships in our heads like our favorite songs; putting them on repeat as a way of not letting go, moving on, and finding something new.
Lucky Them opens a week run at Northwest Film Forum (June 13–19) on Friday and Griffiths will be on hand for post-screening discussions for four weekend screenings (Friday at 8 and 10, Saturday at 7, and Sunday at 7).
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we sat down with Griffiths to chat about incorporating local music in Lucky Them, authentic film geography, and Thomas Haden Church’s eccentricities.
How important was it for you to incorporate actual elements of the Seattle Music scene—the Head and the Heart, Pickwick, Sean Nelson, etc.—into Lucky Them?
I live here and I listen to music here. I listen to a ton of KEXP, and I’ve been introduced to a lot of bands that way, because they play a lot of local stuff, so a huge amount of my personal playlist is Seattle bands or Washington bands. So, I really like the idea that that was sort for Ellie, Toni’s character, that was her beat, and that that was what she would be covering. I wanted it to feel very rooted here. It wasn’t originally set here, it was set in New York, and Emily (Wachtel), the writer/producer, and I sort of translated it to Seattle when I came on board. A part of that was if it’s going to be here, let’s not just make it here on the surface. Let’s not just do helicopter shots of the Space Needle. Let’s make it a Seattle movie that has these people in it that Seattleites know—and some people outside of Seattle know, like the Head and the Heart, obviously, is known outside Seattle—and these places that are iconic to the city that these bands have come through and played at for years like the Crocodile and the Comet, before it sort of went through its change. So it was important to make it really feel like the world that Elie would live in.
Yeah, it’s nice to have, like, shots of Capitol Hill at night as opposed to throwing fish down at the Market.
Exactly. Most of the geography works in the movie too, in terms of if you’re a local and you’re tracking how she’s coming and going. There’s not a lot of curveballs that are like, “She wouldn’t do that!” There’s probably one or two, like the magazine office she works in; the exterior of it is in Occidental Park and the interior is in SoDo, at this building called (K.R.) Trigger Building. And that’s one that people point out to me as being obviously not real Seattle stuff, but that’s inside baseball for Seattle folks.
Some of my favorite shots were those night images of Capitol Hill. Do you have a favorite shot in the film?
I do. It’s in the opening credit sequence and Ellie is walking on Pike between 10th and 11th. There’s a shot from behind where it’s her headphones and hair in focus, and then everything in front of her is out of focus. I just love it, that’s my favorite shot in the movie, and it was tough to get too, so it’s gratifying. Good steady cam work by local T.J. Williams. But I love all that stuff that’s night and saturated with color and like maybe a little rain; I think that represents Seattle as I know it pretty well.
What initially drew you to this story?
I’m very character-driven and the characters in the movie really spoke to me and felt very fleshed out and very authentic, and like people in my life — like specific people in my life. It just felt like a story that I had some sort of authority to get in there and tell. It just kind of clicked with me when I read the script. I was like, "Yeah, this is a movie I’d go see, and I’d love to direct something like that." It’s this sort of light, more comedic thing than I’ve gotten to do in the past.
Yeah, there’s a little bit of a difference between Lucky Them and Eden.
There’s a bit of a contrast. (Laughs)
I think my favorite part about Lucky Them is just the weirdness of Thomas Haden Church’s character, Charlie. What did you have to do as a director to make sure that performance was properly stilted?
It’s funny, because that was his only concern when he was delivering this performance: to let him know if it became too schticky. He was attached to this movie for six years before we shot it, so he sort of had this character in the back of his mind. And it was so written around him; it became so him. His voice is so singular, and his cadence is so specific. It just kind of automatically is funny, no matter what he’s saying. It gets to the point when you watch with an audience where it’s like his sleeve enters the screen and people start laughing because they respond to him so much. I think it’s just what he brings naturally as an actor. When it works, it just works really well. It was a matter of dialing it in more in the edit and finding out when it was too much to make sure we never lost people because he was too crazy or too strange. He’s an authentic eccentric. (Laughs)
Who are the up-and-coming people in the Seattle film scene that excite you?
The first person who jumps to mind is a writer David Lipson, who I think is really, really talented. He’s been working on a couple scripts in his basement for a while that are great. If people don’t already know who he is, they will soon know. Mel Eslyn and Lacey Levitt are a producing team. Lacey and I have worked together a ton as partners on various projects—she worked on Lucky Them and Off Hours—but Mel and Lacey have sort of combined forces and are starting a company to produce a slate films. The films that they’ve decided to include in that slate are fantastic, and I’m really excited about them, and they include local directors like Wes Hurley, who has a web series called Capitol Hill and he did the feature Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel. And then they also have a film by Christian Palmer that’s a werewolf movie. I’ve read the script and just freaking love it.
So what projects are next on the horizon for you?
I have a few things that are sort of on the various burners boiling away, and I’m not quite sure what’s going to land first. I have been working for almost a year on a psychological thriller with Infinitum Nihil, which is Johnny Depp’s company. I am currently writing a script for Lifetime, and that’s keeping me busy. And I’ve got a couple of other things that are sort of percolating, but it’s hard to say for sure what’s going to land first. I learned my lesson a little bit about putting all my eggs in one basket, so I’m trying to have a couple options going at all times at this point.
June 13–19, Northwest Film Forum, $11