Among Sundance’s 2019 offerings, Greener Grass made a name for itself with both audiences and critics alike. The surreal meets suburbia comedy comes out of the festival as one of this year’s must-see entries. 25YL recently caught up with the film’s writing/directing team of Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe as well as producer Natalie Metzger.
25YL: Greener Grass is a departure from the standard suburban comedy. Was it a case of reinventing the genre or did that come into play during the writing process?
ND, DL, NM: One thing that was important to us in the development of Greener Grass was not referencing other movies or TV shows as a jumping off point. Of course, as consumers of culture, we can’t help being influenced by filmmakers who have tackled suburbia before us, but our goal was to create a demented version of suburbia unique to any other.
25YL: How did the film come to life? Was it a long development process or did it all come together quickly?
ND, DL, NM: The actual development of the Greener Grass world began back in 2015 when we made a short film by the same name. At that time we had no plans of making it a feature but the short took on a life of its own on the festival circuit and we eventually sold it as a television show. When the show didn’t end up going, we decided we wanted to make it as a feature film. We began developing the script last January and began pre-production in June. We shot the film in August and submitted a cut to Sundance in early October. So while the film came together rather quickly, the themes of it had been bouncing around in what our parents call “those weird heads of ours” for quite some time.
25YL: Where did you find inspiration both during pre-production and production itself?
ND, DL, NM: When we arrived down in Georgia for pre-production, you could say our biggest inspiration was the oh-so perfect world around us in Peachtree City. The people, the manicured lawns and brightly colored identical houses, the 100 miles of paved golf cart paths! It was a creative gift to be immersed in that idyllic, polite world reminiscent of the patriotic American suburbs of our youths. During production itself, we were inspired every day by the incredible work of our creative team– D.P. Lowell Meyer, production designer Leigh Poindexter, and costume designer Lauren Oppelt. They each elevated our vision in ways beyond our already very wild dreams. Their specific, unique, and incredibly detail-oriented work affected the way we saw and developed our own story throughout the entire shoot.
25YL: The film’s storylines take some surprising turns. How far were you willing to go with the material? Did you leave something out that would have taken it even farther?
ND, DL, NM: We definitely wanted to take risks in our storytelling and felt committed to the goal of taking the audience on a cinematic journey full of unexpected twists and turns. We did have one storyline that we pulled late in the game in fear that it might be taking something too far. We still fight about that decision and Dawn is wrong.
25YL: Both Jocelyn and Dawn have roots in UCB. How much did an improv background play a part in your directing style? Was it easy to disconnect from your roles as writers on the project when it came to giving actors a chance to improvise?
ND, DL, NM: Improv is a fantastic foundation for directing in that it focuses on being in the moment, following the fun, and thinking on your feet. Our cast included some of our very favorite improvisers in the world and while the movie is rather tightly scripted, our performers did add fantastic lines, many of which are in the movie. They also improvised so many delicious beats in the pregnant pauses and subtle subtext of their performances. We were so often wiping away tears from laughter on set. We wouldn’t say we disconnected from our roles as writers when our actors improvised, it just made us jealous writers!
25YL: Dual directing teams are less of an oddity then they were even a few years ago. What do you think is the appeal of two directors working together on a project? How was it working with each other as directors on Greener Grass?
ND, DL, NM: Well, the appeal of us being a directing team for everyone we were working with, was that there was any movie to direct at all. (Neither one of us gets a whole lot done on our own!). And truly, we couldn’t imagine getting through this project without one another. Every day making a feature can be exhausting, exhilarating and terrifying all at once and we were so grateful to have each other to laugh with in the darkest times and cry with in the best of times.
25YL: You’ve put together a great cast. How much information did you give each actor about their character? Was it a need to know basis or did you go into backstories unseen by the audience?
ND, DL, NM: We feel like the luckiest directors in the world to have gotten to work with such an outstanding cast. We had chats with each of the actors about their characters beforehand, most of which included riffing about their backstories. We would often offer some of our ideas about the character’s history but it wasn’t important to us that the actors had the same backstory we had imagined for the characters in the writing process, we so loved that they brought their own interpretations to the roles.
25YL: Comedy is a constantly evolving genre. How do you sell a film that is decidedly outside the mainstream to audiences? Does its striking differences to other projects make it the perfect choice for streaming services?
ND, DL, NM: Coming off of our large, theatrical screenings at Sundance, we see such value in seeing a comedy like this with an audience. We got to witness crowds sharing the experience– laughing, wincing, bracing themselves, etc. Our screenings in Park City were wildly raucous and we admittedly were preparing ourselves for a disappointing difference in energy for our screening in Salt Lake City where we were told, “the real audiences are”. Much to our surprise, they were the most vocal, rowdy group of them all!
Keep an eye out for Greener Grass and look for 25YL’s future updates on the film as well as its creative team!