Sean Anders and John Morris sat down with Electric Bento and a group of other local outlets for Phoenix’s Instant Family press day. The film open in theaters on Nov. 16.
Instant Family hits theaters this Friday, November 16. Director and screenwriter Sean Anders (Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re The Millers, Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home Two) and co-writer John Morris (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home Two, We’re The Millers) visited with a group of Phoenix Critics during their press day recently.
The conversation was lively, but all-too-brief.
It’s actually a really good story . . .
One of the other journalists got us off the ground with, “How did you sell your movie to Mark Wahlberg?”
Anders, who has such an effervescent personality about him laughs as he answers. “It’s actually a really good story. We know Mark from the Daddy’s Home movies, but Mark gets 15 offers a day so you never know.”
Anders was concerned about how Wahlberg would react to the story saying, “this movie has a different tone from what we’ve done in the past so I wasn’t sure if he would want to do it. I sent him an email that I worked really late into the night, reworking it. I sent it to Mark.”
Though he had a twinkle in his eyes as he was recounting the story, he still had some reservations. “The next morning, I was driving my kids to flag football, there was no one there, we’re sitting in an empty parking lot and Mark calls. I jump out of the car and he just says, “I just wanted to let you know I got your email and I wanted to say ‘yes’.” It was amazing because movie stars don’t just call you and say “yes.” They call you and say “this is a really great project and we should talk about it.” He just immediately started talking to me about kids that he had met over the years that are in [foster] care. It was something that really mattered, he really liked my pitch and he said “yeah, I’m in.””
We all breathed a sigh of relief and shared a good laugh as Anders continues.
“I get back in the car, I’m so excited because Mark Wahlberg is doing your movie, now you got a movie. My kids said “What!?” “Mark Wahlberg is going to do the “adoption” movie.” They were like, “yay! Who’s Mark Wahlberg?” I said, “He’s Dusty from Daddy’s Home.” They said, “oh, okay. We like Dusty!” Then the funny part was, after we’re talking about it and we’re all excited, my wife calls and says, “you know flag football is tomorrow, right?” So, I drove to an empty parking lot, got a “yes” from Mark Wahlberg and I drove home.”
That was such a nice way to open our conversation with he and John Morris.
It’s a bit personal . . . .
It’s no secret that Instant Family stems from director Sean Anders’s and John Morris’s respective personal experiences. That’s what makes this film so unique and the next journalist’s question covers this topic. “This movie is a little more personal than some of the other things you’ve done before. How did your creative process differ when you were taking stories from your own life to put on the screen?”
Anders starts us out, “It differed a lot.” Morris, who was an excellent observationalist jumped in. “We spent two years writing it. He’s adopted the children and he would tell me stories of everyday things with the kids and how new the process was.” Morris turns to Anders as he continues, “When we sat down to write it, you told me this thing about when they were cutting strings and what that meant and that woman who stood up and said she wanted an African American boy and I thought that was funny. We rehashed the things that stuck with me, those would make great scenes and they wound up in the script.”
Anders chimes in about the research process saying, “we were meeting with social workers and with other adoptive families. It is a fictional story inspired by my own story but also inspired by the stories of other families that we met along with way or during our research process. It was kind of the same process as Hot Tub Time Machine, just a really personal, well-researched kind of process.”
We all laughed again as Anders reminisces about Hot Tub Time Machine. “I really wanted them to release Hot Tub Time Machine as “based on the incredible true story,” but they wouldn’t do that.”
The film’s lasting legacy on foster care . . . .
Instant Family is nothing without the foster care thread of the film. More importantly, Anders and Morris are respectful of the families that come out of the process. Yet, there is more work to be done. A fellow colleague posed a question about the social implications of the film on the foster care system. “The movie mentions that 500,000 kids are in foster care today. Do you hope that your film will shine a light on foster care and contribute in some way?”
Anders responds unequivocally, saying that “there are half million kids in foster care right now and out of that half-million, give or take 100,000, there are kids who don’t have much hope of reunification and they will age out of the system.” He was hopeful as he adds that “those kids are like any other kids: they need love and they have love to give, and that’s what I’m really hoping people will come away from the movie with a better depiction of who these kids are.”
On Instant Family’s positive place amongst its peer films, “there have been great movies made about foster care, but they tend to reinforce these ideas, these negative ideas that people have about the kids in the system. I’m hoping that shedding a more positive light on it, which is honest positivity because my story, even the story of those we met, even those who have gone through really rough times, they have really wonderful, heartfelt, sweet stories to tell.”
Not only was this story personal to Anders, but also to his consultant, 20-year old Mariade Green, who came from foster care saying, “she had grown up in foster care and was adopted as a teenager, she was with us every step of the way, giving us notes.”
Life is awkward and chaotic and that’s just funny . . . .
Any story, whether true or fictionalized, comes from a personal place. The next question was centered on how that influenced the story decisions Anders and Morris made. “Did you find that this life event that happened to you, was it easier to make the film than other films? Was it easier to find emotion or comedy because you lived through it or witnessed it?”
Anders was indirect with his answer saying, “it was easier in that sense that I was my own expert. It was very easy for me to talk to the actors and everybody about those emotions. The things that happened along the way that were genuinely funny and to know where that comedy comes from because my own story and the people that I met with to research the movie, there’s so much laughter in these discussions because everybody is dealing with the same kind of things and ultimately they’re just parenting and family issues.”
Anders gets a little more serious as he continues, saying “even though every adoption story begins from a place of tragedy, when you’re building a family of any kind, there’s so much awkwardness and chaos, things that lend themselves to comedy and humor.”
For every action, there is a reaction as Anders says, “it was harder because there was more pressure to get it right, to make sure that these other family’s stories were represented as well and to make sure that the proper reverence is paid to the people the system like the social workers. Social workers tend to get a bad rap.”
There is a technique to cathartic destruction . . . . .
One of my favorite parts of interviewing filmmakers is the technique to their process. But it starts with the script. I asked Sean and John about their experiences and the meaning of the scene where Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Lizzy (Isabela Moner) destroy the kitchen.
Anders starts with the background on the scene. “We had a social worker named Allison Maxen who we were getting information from and I had called her to talk about some ways that people might help kids in Lizzy’s situation, kind of cope with her situation. She started telling me about this kind of therapy where they will let kids break stuff and I was like “I want to be a part of that.” We had already had this thread about Pete and Ellie being house flippers and the demolition is the most fun part. That’s where the idea came from.”
Anders next talks about how they set up for the scene, saying “we built the kitchen, and our special effects guys built it so that it could be destroyed; each thing could only be destroyed two or three times. We would have three cameras going and a lot of slow motion.” Anders puts on his producer’s hat as he continues. “There’s a lot of safety concerns that you have to address. It was a long day of breaking stuff and Isabela was having a lot of fun busting up that kitchen.”
Morris mentioned that the scene I referenced was the very last shot during principal photography. “I do remember that was the last day of shooting.”
Part two of this conversation will run tomorrow, Nov. 16 along with the review of Instant Family.