Q&A: Director Jamie Linden talks ’10 Years’

Writer-turned-helmer takes unorthodox approach to Anchor Bay comedy

After cutting his teeth as an assistant to the late Sydney Pollack, Jamie Linden turned to screenwriting in early 2005, selling his football drama “We Are Marshall” to Warner Bros. at the age of 24 before bulking up his resume with high-profile projects including Sony/Screen Gems romancer “Dear John” and the upcoming adaptation of best-selling novel “Dogs of Babel” with Steve Carrel attached. Last year, along with the help of his friend and “Dear John” collaborator Channing Tatum, Linden moved behind the camera on “10 Years,” a high school reunion pic starring Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Justin Long and a class of other rising actors. The low-budget comedy, which arrives in New York and L.A. Friday, employed an unorthodox production sked that called for as many as ten actors improvising in the same scene at once. First-time director Linden called the experience both ‘naturalistic’ and, at times, ‘completely exhausting.’

Channing Tatum, who you worked with on “Dear John,” not only stars in “10 Years” but also serves as producer on the film. What inspired you guys to make this movie?

When we were filming “Dear John,” Channing, myself and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey were all talking about the backwards nature of filmmaking these days. On “Dear John,” for example, we started on scene 95 on Day 1 because, like most studio movies, it’s one of those situations where schedules and production takes precendece over the creative process, so we started throwing around ideas on how to reverse the scenario. And I had just come back from my high school reunion so that’s when it really began to take shape.

You’ve had plenty of experience writing but this was your first time directing. Easier said than done?

I’m only interested in directing as an extension to writing, in that capacity it’s fantasic when you’re able to maintain control all the way throughout into post-production. It’s also completely exhausting. My first job was an assistant at Mirage for Sidney Pollack and Anthony Minghella and I remember the first time I ever spoke to Sidney, he was getting ready to do “The Interpreter” and he said “I don’t know why I’m doing this. Every time I start to make a movie I can’t remember why I’m doing this” and I never really understood that until I wrapped this movie. It’s a huge amount of time and effort and you have to really, really love it.

“10 years” sold last year during the Toronto Film Festival and now, a year later, is getting released during the same festival.

(Laughs) It’s funny, we had the rush to get ready for Toronto and then we had to get in line behind Channing’s movies, so it was one of those hurry up and wait type scenarios but he’s had a great year so that certainly hasn’t hurt us.

Was that part of the reason why it was scheduled later in the year, to ride the wave of Channing’s busy year?

It wasn’t to capitalize so much as to not overdose on Channing movies (laughs). He had one in January, “21 Jump Street” in March and then…I don’t know, he had like four movies, the guy’s crazy busy. But because we didn’t sell the movie until Toronto we wanted to wait until the fall for everything else to clear and give it some space of its own.

This wasn’t your typical script and shoot low-budget production. What was the dynamic like?

From the very beginning, we tried to engineer a film as naturalistic and, I hate this word but, ‘organic’ as possible, to allow the actors as much room as they needed to find these characters. We did a couple of things: the main thing was design it to shoot chronologically. I wanted to minimize the locations and there are really only four locations in the movie so we designed the production to allow us to go from one location to the next.

Almost like a shotgun-style shoot…

Exactly. Because we were going to do so much improvisation, that allowed us to improvise on the fly and incorporate any changes that happened on the day, whether it’s character changes or dialogue changes or anything else to extrapolate out for the rest of the movie. I also wrote stuff in coordination with specific actors. Besides Channing, I called up a lot of people I worked with in the past and we started designing characters together and building off their experiences or things they thought were interesting. I wrote each actor’s name into the script as their character; Channing’s playing Channing Kate’s (Mara) playing Kate etc; I mean, we changed it the day before we started shooting but when we were reading the script I wanted everyone to know it was written for them.

Did you know all of the actors going in? It’s quite an ensemble.

Half the actors are people I’ve worked with before, like Channing, Kate, Max (Minghella) and the other half are people we didn’t know but just liked, like Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza, Justin Long. Plus actors I wanted to work with….so we really built this excuse to put as many of them in the same room and see what happens.

Now that you’ve done this ‘naturalistic’ production, would you recommend it to other indie filmmakers?

Yes and no. We achieved what we went out to achieive. We allowed the actors a month to play around and find these characters and give them as much freedom as you can possibly have and that result is something very naturalistic and honest. All the reviews have said how terrific the ensemble is and that was exactly what this was, an actor’s showcase. I love naturalistic movies, from Jim Brooks movies to Cameron Crowe’s stuff, so as a first-time filmmaker I was thrilled with the result. That being said, I’m writing another ensemble movie called “Flight Before Christmas” for Paramount, and if that gets made, I would rehearse intensely before. I would work as much improsivation as possible it into the script so we have a little guideline because improvising with two actors is really exciting but improvising with eight at one time is nauseating (laughs), it’s nearly impossible. (Pauses) For big ensemble movies there’s a reason there’s a script and a plan because otherwise it results in a real-life dinner table scene, with people talking over each other. At the end of “10 Years” we had 10 to 15 actors in the room at one time, which created a lot of chaos. Our slogan for the crew was actually “Embrace the Chaos” because we really wanted to create and capitalize on that. It’s a small budget movie, ya know.

“10 Years” opens up in NY and LA before expanding. How do you get audiences into theaters for a low-budget film like this?

It has to be word of mouth, it’s a small release and that’s OK. Channing and I showed “Diner” to all of the actors before the movie started, which is exactly what we were going for. It had that same sort of easy naturalism to it. We did it for the process. It really was like acting camp; even though they’re doing it for peanuts this is the reason for all of them, from Channing who’s a movie star to those walking on the set for the first time, this is the reason why do this, for the love of it.