ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Wildflower Director Matt Smukler for the drama. Wildflower Available now digitally and through video on demand.

“A girl navigating disparate parents and an extended family can’t quite agree on the best way to help,” the synopsis reads.

Spencer Legacy: This is very unique as you directed the Wildflower documentary and now this drama. What was this true story that kept bringing you back that you wanted to highlight in a different way?

Matt Smukler: It’s interesting, I really didn’t want to go back to it. It was a six year project, and I definitely didn’t want to recreate the same thing. I think, ultimately, it was this idea that I felt was such a unique story, and if I could tell it in a slightly more accessible way, with comedy mixed with heart, I thought maybe we could reach more people. So that was how I decided, “Okay. Yeah, I want to get on with it and give it another two years of my life.” [Laugh].

How do you think the documentary helped you improve this version?

I don’t know if it’s better. I think it’s completely different. What it was for me… was really an inspiration. The doc was really, really inspiring, and the narrative is something entirely of its own. I guess that’s kind of how I really look at it and it doesn’t feel like a retelling of the document. It’s a very unique family dynamic. And then we just used that as a starting point for writing the narrative

I love the narrative in the movie. Can you talk to this framing device and make it work as a puzzle to get your viewers attention at first?

It was from the beginning when screenwriter Jana Savage and I talked about how we could make this a narrative. This was always part of him, getting into her head. My niece was in a coma, and that was the place to be — he took some creative license to imagine what it must have been like. We’ve done a bunch of research on people who’ve been in comas and their ability to hear and not actually speak, which is phenomenal. So that was something where we used that as a device, as you say, and then just to imagine what it must have been like to have this very opinionated family surround you and you’re in a hospital bed prison.

Kiernan Shipka does a great job. What qualities made you go, “She’s perfect for this role?”

Kiernan, right from the start, has always been my first choice. I think it was from mad men She had such poise, wisdom and confidence at such a young age. The real person we based this character on has all of these qualities. So it was very important for me that he would be our chosen one. When I met Kiernan, I knew within two seconds that it was the girl. There is just a deep intelligence to her that I found perfect. And strength too. I think there is real strength coming through.

You’re also able to tell this coming-of-age story and it deals with many tough topics, but there’s a great sense of humor. How was it, balancing these elements?

One of the hardest parts for me personally, was the tone of this and the fear that I wouldn’t get it right. I felt like jumping back and forth between comedy and drama was very important, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure we weren’t laughing at the wrong things. I think this family really loves to laugh. I just wanted to build on that and bring that aspect to life.

I think when the cameras stopped rolling for the documentary that’s when I saw so much laughter and joy. But I think for people who aren’t used to having cameras on them, obviously it took me turning the cameras off to see some of that. So I was able to kind of bring that out, I think, in the narrative.

Alexandra Daddario gives a nurturing performance as Joy. What makes working with her special?

Alexandra and I had a very long conversation and talked about the character and I think she saw the documentary. We kind of had a really long conversation and I thought she had the empathy that Joy needed. There’s a duality to that character where… I think there’s this guilt she felt because she was born, quote, not quote “normal”, or without a disability – not neurotic.

I think there was this feeling that I think you’re struggling with. Also the very protective idea of ​​having a neurologically ramified sibling. So I think we talked about all of those things and how that would really be part of your DNA, if you grew up with a sibling who had any kind of disability.

What was the most difficult aspect of adapting when turning this true story into a drama and giving it a more traditional film structure?

Huh… that’s an interesting question. I think that, again, in this inspiration, we’ve taken some characters and then put a lot of our own stuff on them. Nothing was that difficult. I think toying with the idea of ​​starting the movie with someone in a coma is our star in the movie for 20 pages or something… I’m thinking in the original draft, she was in a coma for 30 years or something.

So that was very difficult. We all felt like we had to get to Kiernan, who’s older… I thought Kieran Armstrong’s Ryan, who played young Bea, was amazing, but at the end of the day, that’s Kieran’s movie. So I think that was something that, in the edit, I struggled with, because I really wanted to get Kieran out of that bed, you know? This was the hard part. It was like… I knew we didn’t want to be in a hospital room for too long.

The love we see between Pia’s parents is really beautiful. Can you talk about telling that story well and showing many sides of it?

Yes, that was also something you just witnessed in the documentary. Just a very deep love is unconventional in many ways. So it was very important to me to capture that and the spirit of these two people who really want to, again, be quoted, not quote “normal,” and that means living alone in their own home, having a family, working and providing for themselves. I think that was something I really wanted to show in as authentic a way as possible.

Your daughter wrote two songs for the movie. How was that collaboration?

Oh yes. I saw the movie and it was a product of… It was a very tight budget. My daughter Penelope – I’m obviously very biased, but I think she’s very talented. I watched the movie and wrote both songs based on a rough cut of the movie. One was with her friend, Lola Quinn, and they went to Frances and Simon, and then Penelope wrote the song in the middle of the movie on her own. But yeah, it was really cool. I watched it and gave her no direction whatsoever other than, “This is a rough clip and if it inspires you, maybe you can write something.” I did and I thought she did an amazing job.

You have a great staff and there is a lot of focus on the extended family and what they think is best for Bea. How have all these elements and characters been balanced while still keeping Bea at the center?

It was hard because I was starting to fall in love with some of these other characters, like Brad Garrett was amazing. Jana and I ended up writing a scene, literally we were wrapping up, and then, I went to Jana like, “Brad is so good. We have to write another scene with Brad and Jan.” [Smart], which we did. We did two and ended up making it into a movie, and the other…we ended up having to cut. It’s a massive scene, but it’s just… interesting that you say that, because it ended up diverting us a little bit from Bea.

I got it in the movie at some point, and I think, in the end, I felt like this was really my story and I got to keep it that way. It’s about Bea finding her way with her extended family rather than… I could make a movie about each member of the extended family, and I think their reaction to that would be really interesting.

Speaking of Brad Jarrett, what has been most impressive about working with him?

Hey man. It came in — I think I only had a fridge for… I want to say two days. I hardly have him, and he just came over and brought his toy. I was obviously very familiar with him as a comedian and thought his dramatic work was amazing. Him and Jean together… it was one of my favorite scenes in the movie. loved it. It was one of those things where I just had to hold back and not get in their way.

You also have a background in commercials. How did that help your feature work?

I think it really helped me because I had thousands of hours of time on set, so I guess just figuring out how, technically, to put this together. At least that was behind me. Working with actors for over 15 years has really helped me, and I had a very strong point of view on how to execute.


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