DJ Caruso Talks Standing Up

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DJ Caruso, director of the “Standing Up” from ARC Entertainment, recently took time from his busy schedule to sit down for an interview to discuss the challenges of making the coming of age family film.

Although DJ may not be well know or on the street recognized, he is certainly known by the titles of his films: “Disturbia,” “Two for the Money,” “Taking Lives,” “The Salton Sea,” “Eagle Eye” and “I Am Number Four.” His recent film “Standing Up” is winning raves across the board as a solid family film with big heart.

Standing Up” stars Chandler Canterbury, Annalise Basso, Radha Mitchell, Val Kilmer and is adapted  by DJ Caruso from the award winning novel of the same name by Brock Cole for the big screen.

The following is an excerpt from our phone interview.

Janet Walker:  Congratulations on the film. I really enjoyed it. I thought it was, with all the summer films out there for the ‘tween audience you wouldn’t expect one that’s in 2D and not animated to have such a strong message. So congratulations on the film, I really enjoyed it.

DJ Caruso: Thank you. I think it’s such a nice sort of alternative. It’s funny like in the 80’s they made so many real human films for families and children and now it seem like it we shifted towards 3D and animation and entertainment  which is fine I just think we’re missing the smaller special family films.

JW: Yes. I think it is special also. I’d like to jump right into it as there is not as much time as I would hope. Why don’t we start with the film is special because of the cast so why don’t you tell me about the casting process for the two leads?

DJC:  You know it is interesting. I wanted two children that were able to convey through the sort of bulk of emotions and the difficult process of the casting was out here in Los Angeles, we kind of searched around kids in New York, and from all over the country. Trying to find real “old souls” that were trapped inside Howie and Grace that would make them endearing and also an instant appeal until you spend more time with them and then you obviously find that these two child who are also victims.

I felt like Annalisa had that old soul. She came and read in Los Angeles fairly late in the process and it felt really special and I just loved everything about her even though she was 11 she had an old soul and could understand the material on a deeper level. She particularly had stories about being bullied in school because she had red hair and she looked a little different.  So she really related.

And Chandler did a wonderful job.  He came in from and tested from Texas. I talked to him on the phone and gave him some direction and he did a really great job. I realized he would understand the direction of the character.

It’s a challenge and it is difficult but when your movie hinges on 11 and 12 years olds you want to make sure they have the substance to understand the material on a level that’s just a little deeper than most children.

JW: So how long did it take?

DJC:  The overall casting process. How long did it take? I think it took at least a month and a half for the girls once we knew we were going to make the movie.  And Chandlers tape had come in kind of early so I had that. He was a little quicker to find and had a little more experience but the whole thing with Annalisa took about sixteen weeks.

JW: So was the expectation of making the film different than you thought it would be?

DJC:  Well I think this particular film for me, because I’ve made movies that have cost up to 70million dollars, I’ve made 50million dollar movies, I’ve made 20 million dollar movies, I made 15 million dollar movies, but when you make movies that only cost a couple of million dollars and shoots in eight days, there is a sort of technical sort of physical limitations.

I will say it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. So when I knew they were going to shoot the movie in three weeks in 18 days, at the base of the smoky mountains in Clayton, Georgia, there was no studio, and no notes, and no anything else.

And it was like pure filmmaking and very innocent filmmaking and I got to operate the cameras again like kind of in the old days.

It was like me and the actors and this tight little crew. So the experience was fantastic and it was very interesting. It was an interesting journey. It was kind of like going back to why you fell in love with movies and how you always dreamt you be able to make them. It felt very pure. So the experience was really very, very, positive.

JW: What were some of the challenges you face during filming?

DJC: Well, the biggest challenges when you‘re working with minors, you only get them for five hours a day, if you’re lucky because of schooling. And knowing these two minors are in every  single scene and we didn’t have a studio, we’re an independent film and we had a huge shootings schedule so you really had to crank out about six pages a day and you really had to maximize the time with the children

From a directional standpoint, I had to have my camera in the right place, I knew what I was going to do, I knew how to pick up my coverage, because that was very, very difficult, at the time.

But what it does is it makes you over prepare,  in a way,  where you know what shots you need what are the basic thing that were going to help you convey your storytelling. So that was probably the biggest challenge; and obviously, shooting 105 pages in 18 days.

That was probably the biggest challenges but from a creative standpoint it was very liberating and freeing and the kids were, really, really good and understood the direction and once again, it was a very positive experience, but the just the limitations of a small independent film I had to get accustom to that again. But once you do, it was very liberating.

JW:  Did the kids do their own stunts?

DJC: Yes. The scene where the kids were jumping off the rock into the water was a little too high for them so we had some special stunt people to help us. And it was kind of fun for them to have their own stunt doubles.  But they were cabled to the end of the cliff.  For whatever they could do they were allowed to do their own stunts in a very safe way, they both wanted to jump off the cliff into the water. But we wouldn’t let them.

JW: What was your most memorable moment from the process?

DJC:  I think the most memorable moment for me was when Howie realizes that the adventure is going to be over and that Grace’s mother is on her way.  There some private feelings, and you understand Howie’s background is not exactly what he says it is, and you understand when he goes back to the camp or goes home is not going to be what Grace has, and he shares that and I thought that was a very powerful moment, and he gets sad, and they kind of have that little argument and think that for me, when I was operating the camera, that was one of those great moments when you go “’this is really touching.”’ I remember sitting with the camera resting on my knees in between takes, taking it all in.

JW: So what’s next for you?

DJC: Well, I have a big, big movie, with SONY Pictures called “Invertigo” which is a big action film which we are hoping to get locked down and start filming and will be released next spring. And couple of things in development and it looks like “Invertigio” is the closest thing I have to the next movie.

It is unusual to find a ‘tween, family film, that is not in 3D or animated, that doesn’t tell the story through analogies or non-existent civilizations.

For anyone who has ever felt awkward, unusual, bullied or just experienced the pains of growing up, “Standing Up,” a great summer film for kids of all ages.

Standing Up” is a contemporary retro classic, a true coming of age film.

Standing Up” is in theaters August 16, 2013 and on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD August 20, 2013.
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