Don’t let the title fool you…The Year of Spectacular Men may suggest a focus on failed relationships (aka a female High Fidelity). But the titular men provide the narrative thread of a story actual focus on a different kind of love story. A love story between a family of women made up of a mother trying to move on with her life after the death of her husband, and two co-dependent daughters just beginning their adult lives. What makes The Year of Spectacular Men so special is the fact that the film stars a real-life Hollywood family, Madelyn “Maddie” Deutch, Zoey Deutch and their mother Lea Thompson, all of whom took major roles behind the camera for the first time. Zoey produced the film, while Lea Thompson made her feature directing debut and Madelyn Deutch wrote the screenplay, composed the music, and stars as main protagonist Izzy. Maddie took time out of her hectic schedule (she’s already planning to make another film) to talk about the rare opportunity she had make it alongside her family.
Lesley Coffin: When did you actual start working on the screenplay?
Maddie Deutch: I think I started working on the screenplay four and half years ago, maybe five. And that doesn’t seem that long to me, there’s almost a competition among independent filmmakers over which film took the longest to make. I started writing the film because I went to a conservatory, I’d been a musician my entire life. I’d studied voice and composing and various instruments. But when I got out of school I had this earth shifting realization that I didn’t want to spend my life doing that. I didn’t want to spend the remainder of my time in vans with sweaty boys, lugging amps around. And that’s when I started writing. I’d had kind of a crazy year dating a lot of guys, so the premise for the movie just came for that time.
Lesley Coffin: Where you acting at the time that this transitional period happened?
Maddie Deutch: I don’t want to sound like a jerk because I know how lucky I am, but I’ve always seen acting as a kind of day job. I’d been acting for a while, just not in a lot of project people saw. But it was through that process, working on little independent films, I realized what I didn’t want to do. I learned, watching other people maker their movies, how I wanted to make movies. I built a wealth of knowledge while writing the script and trying to get it produced with my mom and knew the way I wanted to make movies. I wanted a set that would be more supportive of actors and treat the crew with the respect they deserve. Making this film with my mom and my sister, we really wanted to bring all the experiences we’d accumulated with us to create the best experience we could imagine.
Lesley Coffin: What were some of the issues you’d experienced on sets that you took note of and wanted to see fixed?
Maddie Deutch: One of the great enigma’s of filmmaking is how often writers and directors disrespect their actors. I love actors, my mom loves actors, and we had a lot of conversations about making a set where actors felt cared for and embraced, so they could do their best work. We talked about the kind of collaboration we wanted to have on set, without all the competition and peeing on the trees to mark their territories. I wanted an environment where we felt comfortable giving each other notes and truly collaborating with each other and everyone else on set.
Lesley Coffin: Had your mother been looking to direct before you showed her the script?
Maddie Deutch: The joke had always been, if you write a screenplay, I can direct it and Zoey can produce it. But I think she was kind of caught off-guard when I arrived with a script and wanted her to read it. I think she’d been wanting to make an independent movie for a while, but it wasn’t until she read the first draft that I think it became something she thought was a possibility. It was a project that would be beneficial for all of us. It was a way for me to get a script produced, it was a way for her to direct her first movie, and it was a way for my sister to get a strong producing credit.
Lesley Coffin: What was the experience like for you to be saying your own dialogue in a movie?
Maddie Deutch: It was so nice. It felt a little athletic at first to pivot between actor’s brain and writer’s brain. And you definitely have to figure out how to turn those parts of your brain on and off. But once I got used to it I loved being able to say my own words the way I’d imagined them being interpreted. As an actor you’re constantly faced with being told to say dialogue the way someone else wants it said, not how you’d say it or in a way that feels natural. And half the time you don’t even get to try because you don’t get the part. It made me feel very empowered.
Lesley Coffin: If this were a project that your mother couldn’t have directed, do you feel this is the kind of film which had to be or should be directed by a woman?
Maddie Deutch: I think because the script was written by a young woman, the script was strong enough regarding being from the perspective of a woman, I don’t think the film had to be made by a female director to maintain the tone and viewpoint it has. I think any male director would have had to have been a feminist and an ally of women. And I’m ultimately happy the film was a directed by a woman, and specifically directed by my mom, because she did have the strong attachment to the material.
Lesley Coffin: Is the relationship you have with Zoey in the film at all similar to the one you have in real life?
Maddie Deutch: Not at all really. I think the thing people are connecting to is that relationship and Zoey’s such a talented actress I just loved working [with] her. But our relationship and personalities are very different. I think this is a film which actually brought us closer together as sisters in real life. But as the characters, we are equally as co-dependent and enmeshed in one another’s lives. But there’s a more equal exchange in our actual relationship than between the characters in the movie. I love that a sister’s relationship is constantly evolving and after playing characters who were that tender with one another, Zoey and I’ve found ourselves being more like that with each other.
Lesley Coffin: The character in the film has lost her father to suicide, which has clearly impacted how she takes in and interprets the world and relationships. Your own father (Howard Deutch) is alive, still married to your mom and working as a director himself. Why did you decide to write that into the film and focus on how she’s essentially moving on from that trauma?
Maddie Deutch: It was born from Izzy’s own struggles with mental illness. At the risk of sounding utilitarian, she needed that backstory. I of course believe people can struggle with mental illness without that coming from a parent, but in terms of the script, Izzy needed that form of pathos and it comes from that experience of living through her own father’s suicide and now struggling herself with mental illness. It’s interesting that very few people have even mentioned the issue of mental illness. I think Americans are still very uncomfortable discussing it.
Lesley Coffin: Why deal with that important subject matter through comedy?
Maddie Deutch: Because I grew up in a Jewish family and the only way we know to deal with difficult things is through humor. That’s the culture I grew up in, our number one coping mechanism is humor. It’s just who I am, who my parents and grandparents are. So the lens I have on life is just funny and absurd. For me, it’s just the only way to get through life.
Lesley Coffin: The movie is all about female relationships, and yet the title is The Year of Spectacular Men. Where did the title come from and did you consider changing it?
Maddie Deutch: It was the first title to come to my head. I was coming off this insane year of dating and that was on my mind. Originally, I thought the relationships would be a larger focus in the film but we realized that it really was a love story between two sisters and their mother. That was essentially an accident. But once it happened I also just liked the irony of keeping a name like that for a movie about women where the men were almost the side story.
Lesley Coffin: Did that shift occur during the edit or earlier?
Maddie Deutch: It happened during filming. People saw the connection on screen Zoey and I had and encouraged us to do more because they saw it was the heart of the film. And I think the more we filmed together the more we really enjoyed the experience.
Lesley Coffin: Were you always planning to compose the music?
Maddie Deutch: I wanted to from the very beginning, but when we got into post I panicked and my mom and I kind of got into a fight and told me I essentially had to do it. Which I’m so grateful for now because she pushed me to do the score which was one of the hardest things I’ve done and one of the best creative experiences I’ve had.
Lesley Coffin: Did you find composing to be harder than writing?
Maddie Deutch: It’s definitely different. In my experience, doing a score was the total removal of the musical ego. I went to conservatory and studied music for years, so I had so much ego surrounding my music. And you can easily find yourself getting obsessive. But with a movie score, it doesn’t matter how much you like a piece of music, you have to be in service to the scene.
Lesley Coffin: Growing up with parents in the industry were you at all apprehensive about working in the industry and following in their footsteps?
Maddie Deutch: I tried to pretend that I wouldn’t get into the business for years, planning to become a musician. But I love making movies. I love sets, I grew up on sets, and they are where I feel really comfortable. I love the sound of the bells that ring on sets and weird spotty bananas at catering.
Lesley Coffin: Would you like to continue writing and possibly going into directing yourself?
Maddie Deutch: Yeah, the next thing I make I plan to direct myself, hopeful in the fall. I finished the screenplay and apparently my mom said, “I’m so excited to direct it” and my dad said, “No, I’m going to” and I had to tell them both, “No, I’m going to direct this time.” I honestly wouldn’t have my father make a movie I wrote unless I planned to just hand it over to him. We have very different ideas and approaches to the work and I think we might end up fighting. My mom and I usually see eye to eye about things and our brains seem to be sort of in-sync.