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Interview Exclusive HTF Interview with Bill Holderman & Erin Simms (Book Club) (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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When Book Club debuted at the Box Office in May 2018, its opening weekend surprised everyone, coming in ahead of projections. Landing in the busy ‘summer’ season, when cinemas are filled to the brim with expensive summer blockbusters, the warm comedy proved to be clever counterprogramming. Audiences turned up, and the modest film wound up with close to $70MM in domestic grosses.

With a stellar cast, including the comedy genius of Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, and supporting players like Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Ed Begley, Jr. and Richard Dreyfuss, Book Club showcased a wonderfully strong, older cast of characters with charming results. Distinctly likeable, aiming not for high drama or rambunctious laughs, but rather a nice collection of chuckles and moments that induce smiles, Book Club succeeds.

Home Theater Forum spoke to the film’s writing team of Erin Simms and Bill Holderman, (Bill also who served as director (his debut)) about the idea for the film, how it made its way to the big screen, and their collaborative process.

Book Club is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD on August 28, and available now on Digital HD, Digital UHD and On Demand from Paramount Home Entertainment.

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HTF: I’m glad to speak to both of you. I saw Book Club last night; on an iPhone since review copies weren't quite ready, but I will tell you that it didn't really matter. Funny is funny no matter how big the screen, and I really enjoyed it.

Bill Holderman: As intended [laughter]. Thank you.

HTF: I might not be the target audience for Book Club, but I had fun watching it and, I'll tell you that by the time the story and character arcs were wrapping up, I had a big stupid grin on my face, which I suspect was the intent as well.

Bill Holderman: It really was!

Erin Simms: That's great to hear.

HTF: And Book Club really is not the kind of film we see at the cinema much anymore. It's got an older, female cast, two things which are rare to see on the big screen. It's not an established intellectual property. No one wears a cape. Or fights a large robot. And it isn't what you would describe as an indie film, because it's a bit more commercial than that. So it sort of falls between the big stuff which you see a lot of, and the indie small stuff which you see quite a lot of. How hard was it for you to bring this film to fruition?

Erin Simms: Extremely!

Bill Holderman: And for all the reasons you just said. I mean, it definitely is, given the landscape right now, challenging because these movies have fallen out of fashion in terms of what the studios think audiences want. Yeah, it was definitely challenging.

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Erin Simms: It certainly was, but it's a little bit, I guess, [of a] throwback you could say. But now everybody wants to make one of these, so that's how things come back in fashion.

Bill Holderman: Yeah, exactly

Erin Simms: Somebody persists, succeeds in proving that there's still a very viable audience and that's something that people want to see.

Bill Holderman: And these are some of the best movie stars ever, and some of the best actors ever, and you give them something to do, people will want to see them.

Erin Simms: The resistance was kind of amazing. At the beginning when we were putting the movie together, independently, people just looked at this as a tiny little movie. They didn't have a vision for it that we did. So I'm really happy that we rolled the dice and won.

“They didn't have a vision for it that we did. So I'm really happy that we rolled the dice and won…”

HTF: The budget was reported around 10 million and the film made about 80 million. That is a huge return on investment and I suspect that’s what you're talking about, that you can make a movie on a very tight budget with a great cast and people really will go and see it. I suspect we’ll see more projects like that in the future. Do you think that, if not the floodgates being open, but do you think that the wheel has at least been greased for others that might come after you? Or do you think they're still going to largely face the same inevitable hurdles?

“…for us, one of the things that just thematically felt missing was these movies that, as you said, put a smile on your face and that do make you feel good.”

Bill Holderman: I think that the hurdles remain, but at least now there's an example of a movie targeting a demographic that works for people to reference, and I think the other thing is, the challenges of making a movie these days-- there's so much competition. But for us, one of the things that just thematically felt missing was these movies that, as you said, put a smile on your face and that do make you feel good. I think that beyond just the cast and the size of the movie, was something that felt sort of pressing.

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Erin Simms: [Something] sorely missing, and we really, really wanted to make a movie that made you walk away with a smile. And you're saying you watched it with a grin, yes! That's the kind of movie we want to see. That's the kind of movie we wanted to write, and it's pretty hard to think of movies out there in the last five years that do that. I mean there's not a lot of happy endings.

HTF: Well, there's a tendency to go dark and I understand it, I enjoy those films, too, but I think the world needs a little bit more balance and movies like [Book Club] can give that bit of balance and really help out. Now, before we get to that extraordinary cast, which was a delight to see, I wanted to ask about the process of story ideation and building out the characters that populated your story. What was the spark of the idea for the story of Book Club?

“We were fantasizing. Those were the people we were writing for then. We never knew we would actually end up having them in our movie.”

Erin Simms: The spark of the idea. Bill and I were working together, it was 2012 and the 50 Shade books had just come out. And I caught him Fed-Exing the trilogy to his mother, which sounds probably more disturbing.

Bill Holderman: For Mother's Day!

Erin Simms: For Mother's Day [laughter], which I thought was completely insane, and then I immediately decided that was brilliant and I Fed-Exed the trilogy to my mother and then I Fed-Exed it to my step-mother. And we [Bill and I] got into a conversation about our mothers and their various lives. All the different sort of perspectives about aging [and so on,] then the next morning I came in and said what about a book club with women in their 60s reading 50 Shades of Grey and Bill just said, "Yes" immediately. It was just one of those moments. So that was the spark - him sending his mother the books.

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Bill Holderman: And then just in terms of [characters], we wrote Diane specifically for Diane [Keaton], her character name is still Diane in the movie and was Diane in the draft that we sent to her, and Jane [Fonda], her name was Jane in the script that we sent to her.

Erin Simms: We were fantasizing. Those were the people we were writing for then. We never knew we would actually end up having them in our movie.

HTF: You wrote the film together and Bill this was your directorial debut, talk about the process. Did you break up scenes? Did you choose to write for specific characters or was it a little bit messier than that for your collaboration?

“It was one of those things where he would literally write a sentence that I was thinking in my head. It was just weird. It was amazing, though.

Bill Holderman: Oh, we sat at one computer for almost the entire script and certainly sat at one computer for the whole first draft. I think what we did prior was we worked really hard, both having development backgrounds, at breaking down the story together. Somewhere there's yellow pads filled with charts and character arcs and all sorts of nonsense, but then in the writing of it, it was a pretty unique process. We joked sometimes it was four hands on a keyboard and I think it shows the shared sensibility that Erin and I both have in terms of this material and the types of movies that we like. And it was pretty unique.

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Erin Simms: Yeah, it was one of those things where he would literally write a sentence that I was thinking in my head. It was just weird. It was amazing, though. And I don't know if we'll ever be those writers who are writing separately and trading a script. Bill, when we were going into casting and going into production, definitely took on the dressing notes with the actresses. I definitely removed myself from that process because we were starting to produce the movie and so he took on the ownership as the director at the final stages.

HTF: And did you base things that the characters say or any circumstances on things that you'd seen or just things that you thought would be funny for them? Hopefully these are some exaggerated versions of things that people might get themselves into, but is there reality there or how did you find their voices and their situations?

Erin Simms: There is definitely, except for the Diane role. We didn't realize this while we were writing it, but they're definitely loosely based on all of our mothers, so the Jane Fonda character is loosely based on Bill's mom, who is extremely independent and sexy and confident and has no issues with her age. Then the Candice Bergen role is loosely based on my mother, who has essentially closed up shop, even though she's still beautiful and fun and smart and all of these things. She's sort of taken herself out of the game.

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Bill Holderman: I think what happens is you naturally have people in your lives that inspire you and whether you're conscious of writing them or not, it's your experience. And Candice [Bergen]'s character is an example. My father's a federal judge, so she became a federal judge. I mean, as they say, you write what you know. And I think for us, we were inspired by personalities of people that we knew and not just our mothers. I mean I think there's personality traits in there that reflect Erin and I, they reflect friends of ours and I think.

Erin Simms: But none of the storylines were anything that had actually happened in real life. Those were all made up. But the Diane character-- I don't know how or why we came up with her storyline, but we really loved the idea of what do you do when your husband or wife passes away and you meet someone rather quickly. You know, the original draft, she was moving on, I think, after about three weeks. [laughter] We moved that to a year, maybe it was three months. I don't know where we got that one.

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HTF: What I took away from Book Club is that it's really a film about connection. Meaningful, complicated but simple, and real connections. I think that, at its core, it can resonate with audiences regardless of how old they are, regardless of the gender they are, it really just speaks to the human condition. The film is cheeky in all the right places and it really is funny, and I think that perhaps the most touching moment of the film, at least for me, was Candice Bergen's speech at the engagement party, which I thought was a really well written moment in the film. Is that what you intended the underlying message of the film to be? Realizing that human connection is, in fact, not overrated and never too late to pursue?

“I think that sense of connection and friendship and the importance of that in life is something that we really feel and it's a theme that we'll continue to explore in future work.”

Bill Holderman: Yeah, completely. I think we're seeing it more and more as technology invades our lives and things that are meant to connect us [are] creating disconnections. I think that sense of connection and friendship and the importance of that in life is something that we really feel and it's a theme that we'll continue to explore in future work. I mean it's just something that is so important.

Erin Simms: Also, there's no age where you can't move on and make new choices and be hopeful. I think we hope that the movie would inspire that idea, that you can still look forward and have a great life. It doesn't matter what age you are.

Bill Holderman: And make positive changes for your life. I think that's really true. Stay hopeful, stay optimistic, and stay connected.

HTF: Well, wonderful. Bill, Erin, thank you very much. Congratulations on the film. I'm glad it found a lot of audiences and hope it continues to do so. All the best to you both!

Bill Holderman: Thank you so much, we really appreciate it

Erin Simms: Thank you!

 
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