Oscar winners pushed to get 'Way, Wat Back' made

The Fresno BeeJuly 24, 2013 

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Liam James and AnnaSophia Robb with filmmaker Jim Rash on the set of "The Way Way Back."

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Jim Rash and writing partner Nat Faxon discovered that winning the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for "The Descendants" didn't automatically open doors in Hollywood. It made things a little easier, but they still had to fight to get their follow-up film "The Way Way Back" made.

Their hard work paid off, with their coming-of-age story finally hitting theaters today. It tells the story of Duncan (Liam James), a teenager on a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell). Duncan finds an unexpected friend in the off-beat manager (Sam Rockwell) of a local water park.

"Winning the Oscar provided some momentum and gave us a little push," Rash says. "But the new film didn't get a green light right away and there were many obstacles that we faced. But that time allowed us to revisit the script."

Rash is convinced their Oscar win did make some actors take a closer look at their script. He's happy Carell came on board for the critical passive-aggressive role the character is with the teen. The directors praise Carell for finding the right note of being charming and a snake.

The other critical casting was James as the angst-ridden teen, who's in almost every scene. It was a lengthy search, but the directors knew they had the right actor when they talked to James. Their decision was confirmed when filming the opening scene where the teen is told he's not very good looking. That scene is particularly important to Rash because it's based on a conversation he had when he was 14 on a summer vacation in Michigan.

The Oscar didn't result in any extra money for filming. The pair only had a budget to shoot for 24 days. They actually moved at such a quick and economic pace that they were able to save enough money for one extra day of shooting.

Both understand what it's like to work fast. Faxon has worked on many TV series, including his starring role in the short lived "Ben and Kate." Rash is also a TV veteran and can currently be seen as Dean Pelton on "Community."

"TV does make you have to work at a quicker pace. You can look at the benefits of a compressed time schedule because it makes you think in a different way," Faxon says. "There are a lot of powerful scenes and we had to get them in one shot. It became a fun challenge."

It helped that the writing team shared the directing duties. They came to the project with a shared vision of how it should look. When it came to directing on the set, the normal process was to confer and then one or the other would talk with the actors.

They also allowed some improvising. They they shot the scene the way it was written and then allowed the actors a chance to improvise. The finished result worked well for the Oscar-winning pair.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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