Ben Stiller, Richard Ayoade and Alex Turner All Live on a Celluloid Submarine
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on June 1, 2011.
Ben Stiller is known for being in blockbuster films, but lately he has been exploring some smaller films. After last year’s terrific performance in Greenberg, Stiller is completely behind the scenes in a sweet little British coming-of-age film called Submarine starring Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine.
The movie was based on the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne about a nerdy boy finding his first love. Screenwritten and directed by British actor / writer / director / comedian Richard Ayoade, who is best known for the hit TV series The IT Crowd across the pond. Ayoade also has directed videos for the popular UK band Arctic Monkeys. When he started making the film, Ayoade asked the Monkey’s lead singer Alex Turner to record the soundtrack for the film.
Submarine’s poster reads “Ben Stiller presents,” but the actor downplays his role as the film’s executive producer, saying he just sat back and watched the process. Stiller also does a cameo role in the film.
Recently, Stiller, Ayoade and Turner got together at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York to discuss the film.
The novel Submarine has been compared to the J.D. Salinger novel The Catcher in the Rye and that book makes an appearance in the film. What is your relationship to Catcher in the Rye? And did you have an awkward time losing your virginity, like Oliver does?
Alex Turner: Mine went a lot smoother than that.
Richard Ayoade: Mine was less smooth. I like The Catcher in the Rye. I think it stands up as a book. It’s well–written. I stand by it, as a book.
Ben Stiller: Yeah, I like The Catcher in the Rye, too. Yeah, what was the question?
Did you have an awkward time…?
Ben Stiller: Yeah, yeah, it was pretty awkward.
Richard Ayoade: (joking) It feels a bit of an appropriate moment to share that information, certainly, within the context of promoting something. I really feel it’s a good time to be on to that.
Can you talk about how the music was created for Submarine? Since Alex Turner is known as part of a modern band (The Arctic Monkeys) and Submarine has a period feel to it, what direction did Alex get to create music that is supposed to sound like it came from another era?
Richard Ayoade: (to Turner) I made you live without electricity for a while. (laughs)
Alex Turner: Yeah. Candle light. Some of it already existed, like a couple of tunes that I already had, obviously, and played them to Richard and they just happened to fit in some places. A couple of other ones I wrote after I had seen after I’d seen some of the rushes and read the book. Originally, we were going to do a couple of covers. That was the plan: some John Cale tunes, this Nico song “I’m Not Saying” and a version of that tune “Howdy” because they all should know these sort of things. We ended up abandoning the covers idea. But I suppose that helped me kind of figure out what the temperature should be.
Richard, how did you end up deciding that Alex would write songs for the movie?
Richard Ayoade: I think hiring somewhat feels like a strange… (smiles) It was an extensive interview. And on the third one, he got it. (seriously) I just asked Alex if he fancied doing it, quite a way in advance — maybe even a year before it was finished. There were just gaps, really, where we knew there was going to be a whole song. I can’t even remember whether there was temp music probably in those sections, ever. It was just “to be determined,” really. And we waited until Alex had written them before we started editing those bits. Yeah, so we cut them to the music.
Richard, how did you work with Joe Dunthorne, the author when you adapted the book into a screenplay?
Richard Ayoade: I wrote the screenplay, but I’d give him drafts to read. He spent three years writing the novel, and was starting to write his next one, so he was done. I think Warp Films asked him if he wanted to write the screenplay to the film, but he didn’t want to re–enter that arena. So he was really someone there you could ask questions of and occasionally check to see how furious he was. Yeah, that was really it.
What kind of cameras did you use to film and what kind of look were you trying to achieve?
Richard Ayoade: It was on 35mm film largely, but there are lots of other types used there. There’s this one camera called an Arri 2C, which is a non–sync old camera, which we used. There’s quite a bit of Super 8, Video 8 for TV things, and other stocks. We should have put some of this information on the poster. I suppose to use a lot of natural lights, being able shoot like that and not have to light and have actors hit marks and do it in more of a documentary way.
Ben, how did you get involved with this?
Ben Stiller: It just fell in our laps. We were sent the script. I don’t know how. (to Ayoade) Do you know how we got sent the script?
Richard Ayoade: I’m not sure.
Ben Stiller: I don’t know what happened, but our production company, Red Hour, got sent the script. My producing partner, Stuart Cornfeld, read it and called me up and said, “This is a really good script.” They asked if we’d like to be executive producers on it. I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Do we have to do anything?” He said, “Probably not. Just be there for them and do whatever to support it.” And I said, “Okay. That sounds good.” I read the script. I thought the script was great. It was really simple. It seemed to have a real voice. I hadn’t read the book. And I saw what Richard had done. I was familiar with and very much liked Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. I thought that was funny. I thought that was different from what he’d done from what I’d seen. I might have checked out a video or two. Basically, I said, “Sure, this seems like a good thing.” Then we just were there. We got dailies sent to us. We talked on the phone, maybe. When the dailies started coming in, that’s when it got really exciting for us. We were already very supportive of the script, but then he shot this film test. He had a couple of days of shooting a film test. Literally, this film test came in and it was like a movie. (to Ayoade) Is it actually in the movie? It seemed like there were scenes that…
Richard Ayoade: Yeah, there were some scenes it was. There’s one scene under the bridge that we picked it out. Then a couple of scenes, but we didn’t use all of the screen tests.
Ben Stiller: It was amazing. It was literally, “This is crazy. This is great.” Then the dailies started coming in. We’d get dailies every day, and I started looking forward to seeing the dailies and just thinking, “This is going to be amazing.” (to Ayoade again) I was very happy with the way you put it together. I came to England to do my little, little mini piece on the TV, and that’s when we had a chance to sit down. That was it. We were lucky enough to be sent the script and to be there to support it in any way.