From Warner Bros. Pictures and Studiocanal comes the romantic drama "We Are Your Friends." The film marks Max Joseph's (MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show") feature film directorial debut, and stars Zac Efron ("Neighbors"), Emily Ratajkowski ("Entourage," "Gone Girl"), and Wes Bentley ("Interstellar," "The Hunger Games").
"We Are Your Friends" is about what it takes to find your voice. Set in the world of electronic music and Hollywood nightlife, an aspiring 23-year-old DJ named Cole (Efron) spends his days scheming with his childhood friends and his nights working on the one track that will set the world on fire. All of this changes when he meets a charismatic but damaged older DJ named James (Bentley), who takes him under his wing. Things get complicated, however, when Cole starts falling for James' much younger girlfriend, Sophie (Ratajkowski). With Cole's forbidden relationship intensifying and his friendships unraveling, he must choose between love, loyalty, and the future he is destined for.
The film also stars Jonny Weston ("Insurgent," "Taken 3"), Shiloh Fernandez ("Evil Dead") and Alex Shaffer ("Win Win").
Joseph directed from a screenplay he wrote with Meaghan Oppenheimer, from a story by Richard Silverman. The producers are Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Liza Chasin, with Silverman, Olivier Courson, Ron Halpern and Nathan Kelly executive producing. Randall Poster ("The Wolf of Wall Street," "Divergent" and "Insurgent," "Spring Breakers") is the film's music supervisor.
Joseph's behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Brett Pawlak ("Short Term 12," "Hellion"), production designer Maya Sigel ("TiMER" "Gun Hill Road"), editors Terel Gibson ("Phantom," "The D Train") and David Diliberto ("No Country for Old Men"), and costume designer Christie Wittenborn ("30 Minutes or Less," "Me and You and Everyone We Know").
"We Are Your Friends" is a Working Title Films production. It is being distributed in North America by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. Studiocanal, who financed the film, is distributing in France, the UK, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
This film has been rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, drug use, sexual content and some nudity.
For downloadable general press information, please visit: https://mediapass.warnerbros.com
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Study Halls • SATs • Liberal Arts • Student Loans • Layoffs • Bailouts • Broken Dreams
This is not our future.
Find your sound-find your future.
Music permeates our lives. For many of us, a tune gets stuck in our head, we turn up the volume when a favorite song comes on or scramble to click on Shazam, or, quite often, we don't even register the ambient sounds playing all around us; it's simply the uninvited aural backdrop to our daily lives. Occasionally, the right song can spark a vivid memory of a particular time and place, grabbing our attention and instantly taking us back there. But for Cole, an aspiring DJ, music is his life, and it's his search for his own, signature sound that is propelling him forward toward a future he alone can create.
"We Are Your Friends" stars Zac Efron as Cole, a young man trying to find his way out of one life and into another, knowing it's his gift for making music that will determine just where life will take him.
Efron states, "What I loved about this story it that is says so much about what it's like to be a young guy searching for himself, trying to get through life and fulfill big aspirations, big dreams, and all it takes to navigate through that. Nothing is just handed to Cole; he has to make it happen."
The film's director, Max Joseph, who also co-wrote the screenplay, was eager to put some of his own life experiences on the big screen, especially those so many of us share. "I've always wanted to do a film about kids graduating from high school or college and moving on with their lives. They're on the precipice of adulthood and still trying to figure out in what direction they should go, amidst all the temptations we have when we're young: sex, drugs, parties, cars. And because we all have a sort of 'soundtrack' to our life, setting it in the music world really adds to the energy of the film. I was excited by the possibilities."
"We Are Your Friends" is set to the heart-pounding beats of a diverse soundtrack that includes Gryffin's remix of Years & Years' "Desire," plus two all-new tracks, The Americanos' "BlackOut," featuring Lil Jon, Juicy J and Tyga, and Hook N Sling's "Break Yourself," featuring Far East Movement and Pusha T.
Working closely with the film's music supervisor, the prolific Randall Poster, who has more than 100 feature films to his name, Joseph says, "What we set out to do was to make a contemporary coming-of-age movie set against the music of today's world-dance, electronic, festival anthems, pop, trap, hip-hop and some EDM as well. We all worked hard to choose tracks that were not only best for the story but also contributed to a balanced mix of the many different genres that fit under the wide umbrella of dance/electronic music. The art of DJing is mixing disparate songs together seamlessly to create an emotional journey that you can dance to and I believe we've done that."
Poster agrees. "We wanted to find music that spoke to the emotional dimensions of the characters and the journey they're on, coupled with the ambition to help set time and place with music as well. Max is very attuned to what's happening. Electronic music has really evolved over the last few years-there are elements of it in hip hop, in pop-and we wanted to have a variety of music in the film, but also use it to serve the story in a personal, humanistic way."
The two first met after Poster saw a short film Joseph had made about the 10th anniversary of DFA Records. Poster was impressed, and reached out. "He's a very talented and sensitive filmmaker who uses music very well. He asked me if I'd be interested in his next project, and I was intrigued by this story of a group of friends trying to figure out who they are and who they could be. They're intimidated by people who have lived more advantaged lives than they have, and they have to summon up enough faith in themselves to take that next step forward."
Just as music surrounds us all, providing that underlying pulse to our daily lives, Joseph wanted the film, with its intrinsic ties to music, to be infused with real-world artists, enhancing the authenticity of Cole's experience, and the audience's as well.
French artist Pyramid helped the filmmakers plot out Cole's music. Joseph had heard his work on Spotify while writing the script and his song, "See You in the Other Side," inspired, and is also featured in, a pivotal scene in the film. "Back when we were brainstorming as to who could make Cole's music, I thought of Pyramid because his music is both electronic and very soulful, and has more than a hint of that French Touch sound that Justice helped pioneer in the mid-2000s," Joseph recalls. "We reached out to a number of artists in regard to writing Cole's track, but Pyramid, who is 26 and a bedroom producer from Paris-kind of the French version of Cole-responded immediately and was the most interested."
Joseph and Pyramid traded ideas even before the movie went into pre-production, establishing a piano melody of Cole's theme that they were able to have on hand during shooting and to find ways to work it into the movie. The filmmaker eventually brought the artist out to the Valley for inspiration, and there they worked for two intense weeks nonstop. "At the end of those two weeks, we had an amazing track that we both felt really underscored the emotional arc of the scene and of the movie," Joseph says. "It was definitely a challenge turning the important sounds from Cole's life into a song that not only worked as music, but had the soul and gravitas it needed to in order to pay off emotionally."
DJ/music producer Jason Stewart-known as Them Jeans-consulted on the movie, taught Efron the art of DJing and producing music, and even stepped on stage to help out during filming. "I've always had an interest in working on music for films, so working with Zac and Max and Randy was a real treat. Hopefully it's something I'll be able to do more often," he relates.
"I loved working with Jason," Joseph says. "We share a common taste in music, which made the collaboration very easy and fun."
Complementing all the songs in the film is a score by Segal, whom Joseph discovered while watching episodes of the UK show "Skins," looking for acting talent. "The moment I started watching the first episode, I was completely floored by the score," he says. "It was rich and full and also subtle, and added a psychological element to the lives of the characters."
The director immediately downloaded the score and listened to it for days. Then, in London directing a commercial, he reached out to the artist. "He turned out to be a lovely, brilliant, kind-hearted kid named Matt Simpson, and we hit it off right away. For a long time, I wasn't sure we were going to need a proper score in the film, since we had so many songs, but it started to become clear that we needed something to really tie all of the music together, so that the ride felt seamless, and so that we could get more into Cole's head and feel what he was feeling."
Much as he had with Pyramid, Joseph brought Segal out to L.A. "We only needed a few days together in the same room to sync up, and then he returned to London and worked on all the cues from there.
"I am really thrilled and proud of the collaborations with Pyramid, Segal and Them Jeans," Joseph continues. "I love all three of those guys and their original music and DJ sets. They were all young, hungry, enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile."
In addition to all the work he did with DJs behind the scenes, Joseph asked DJs Dillon Francis, LA Riots, Dirty South, Nicky Romero, Alesso and Posso to appear in the film, alongside such Vine icons as Andrew Bachelor, a.k.a. King Bach, KC James and Brittany Furlan.
Francis even emceed for a huge crowd of extras for a pivotal scene in the film. "I love making music, it makes me happy and, for me, it's really the meaning of life-besides treating people nicely and drinking beer," he smiles.
The story was originally conceived by executive producer Richard Silverman. "My experiences in that world gave me the idea for a story featuring characters living in and around this iconic social movement, and whose lifestyles and passions really exemplify the broad range of music it encompasses," he says.
Silverman took his original concept, which centered on an aspiring DJ who is mentored by a successful veteran of the club circuit, to producer Liza Chasin. "I love music festivals. I've seen the DJ with the laptop and equipment get up on stage and create the anthem for a generation, with thousands of people jumping to the beat. Richard's idea spoke volumes about what's happening out there today.
"Max also has his finger on the pulse of this subject," she continues, "partially because of his work on MTV's 'Catfish,' but also because of his commercials and viral videos for YouTube that are very much in touch with this universe."
Joseph and fellow screenwriter Meaghan Oppenheimer expanded Silverman's story into the screenplay. "The time I spent co-writing with Max was one of the most intense, rewarding and creative collaborations of my life," Oppenheimer says. "We felt like we were given such an amazing opportunity to write about a specific time, place and generation, and ultimately just wanted to create something that would feel special and authentic."
"All of Meaghan's strengths as a writer were my weaknesses, so I thought it was a great fit," Joseph says.
"From the very first time I read the script," Efron remembers, "I related to it on a personal level. I knew each of these guys in this movie; it felt like it distinctly represented a group of my friends and tapped into my own journey, a chapter of my life. I was blown away by the characters and, of course, Max's belief in the project. Like Cole with his musical track in the film, Max loves putting the pieces together. I've never had such fun working with a director."
Sounds have soul-build them from scratch, find new ones…
Start listening to what the real world is trying to tell you.
In "We Are Your Friends," Cole receives this important piece of advice from a veteran DJ, James Reed. While he's had an artistic influence on Cole from a distance, it's only after meeting him that Cole begins to look at his own work in a new light, and his other influences-his friends-in a different one.
Efron explains, "Cole was a really cool character to play. He's one of four friends who have been through everything together, they're very tight. But he is slowly beginning to progress in his DJ career, getting more serious about it and, thanks to the influence of this more experienced DJ, taking on bigger venues and getting closer to creating this one track, this puzzle he's working through. He's finding that his friends are sort of stuck in their old life and even self-destructive in certain ways, and he's feeling like he has to choose between them and his passion for his music."
"When I first learned Zac was interested in the movie, I thought of him for Mason, because that character is a true alpha and Zac is a movie star and a big presence," Joseph reflects. "And while he is an extroverted person, he also has a thoughtful, pensive quality to him and I felt it would be interesting to see what he would do with Cole. The last part of his own adolescence was spent in the Valley with friends like these, so he already had ideas of how to relate to them."
Cole is hoping that creating a musical track that will inspire a generation to dance to the beat will also carry him away from the "818"-a nickname for the Valley taken from its area code. Whether he's able to carry his best friends along with him, well… "Cole is starting to realize that he's not truly himself when he's around his friends," Efron observes. "He's got their unconditional love, but he's not following his heart. It's when he's behind the decks that a sense of freedom and purity comes out, when he feels at one with everyone around him. Music is really a uniting force and a DJ is the person who is at the helm of that, which is really cool."
Prior to shooting, Efron entered into a period of extensive preparation for the role, training with Jason Stewart to learn the ins and outs of the trade. "DJing is hard, definitely much harder than I thought it would be," the actor admits.
Despite the time constraints, Efron threw himself into the task. "I got decks so I could practice at home. Put away the video games and just spin. It was probably pretty annoying for my neighbors, but luckily I have cool neighbors," he laughs.
Under Stewart's tutelage, Efron began with the basics. "We started working our way through it," Stewart says, "with Zac learning how to match beats and pick out music. From there, we began choosing the songs he would play during the filming process and making sure all the gear was exactly how it would be if I'm playing. I'm very meticulous about making sure everything is set just the right way, and Zac got in the habit of doing that."
Efron also went to watch the pro at work. "He'd hang out and play a few songs to see what it's like to actually DJ in the clubs. He's a quick learner," Stewart adds.
After a relatively short but intensive education, the actor began to feel more comfortable with his skills, and gained a great appreciation of the talent and creativity required to be among the top DJs in the scene. "It's truly an art form. For me, I think the hardest part was style-the little things that enhance the song or alter it in a different way to make it your own."
Among the various tricks of the trade Stewart passed along to his protege are what he refers to as "the car test, the club test and the iPhone test. Zac's character is struggling with producing his first track throughout the film, so I showed him some production tips. You make a demo, put it on your USB stick and play it in the club, see how the crowd reacts. In your home studio, you have these nice speakers, so everything sounds really great. But you also have to test it in your car and on your phone, with headphones-ways the general public is going to hear it-to make sure it sounds powerful and energetic everywhere."
With Stewart in charge of Efron's musical study, the only concern Joseph had about Efron portraying a DJ was the actor's physique. "When I first met Zac, he was big and buff from doing 'Neighbors.' I explained to him that most DJs don't eat well and spend all night long at their computers, not sleeping. And they don't have perfect tans because they're not out in the sun."
Efron took the director's description to heart and dropped almost 20 pounds before going in front of the camera. "As far as Zac's dedication to the role went, I couldn't have asked for more from anyone," Joseph states.
Cole isn't the only DJ character in the film, thus Efron was not the only actor to benefit from Stewart's expertise. Wes Bentley plays Cole's mentor, star DJ James Reed. Bentley entered into the project with more than a passing interest in the DJ/music scene.
"One of the things that attracted me to the film was that, from the time I was a kid, I was drawn to electronic music, house and techno and, for a time, created my own and DJed for a bit as well," he says. "There were a lot of familiar traits in James that I could really identify with, so it seemed like a bit of destiny that this project crossed my path."
In the film, arguably it's also destiny that James meets Cole; Cole needs a guiding hand and, recognizing a younger version of himself, perhaps, compels James to take on that responsibility. Bentley explains, "For James, it's an instinctual thing. Athletes always say they can tell when a guy can play as soon as he touches the ball. I think James catches that same feeling off of Cole, that he's just got something that most others are missing. Something he once had before fame and fortune and life came along and he got bottled up. Of course, what's hardest for him is that he's aware of that."
Under James's sponsorship, Cole starts to get a taste of the life he's set his sights on. He also catches the eye of Sophie, James's girlfriend, and is torn between his growing attraction to her and his loyalty to his newfound adviser.
Emily Ratajkowski stars as Sophie, who not only lives with James, but acts as his assistant as well, a situation that runs smoothly until Cole comes on the scene. "Sophie is a very smart girl who didn't have a lot of time to do all the fun things most people do in high school," she surmises. "So when she got to Stanford, she worked really hard but also went a little crazy and needed to take some time off. She came to L.A. and met James and now I think she's still struggling to find a direction or a purpose of her own."
When Ratajkowski first read for the part, Joseph recalls, "She was doing interesting things with the lines and her expressions were subtle, but complex. There was a lot going on under the surface. Working with her, I was blown away, really impressed. She's extremely professional and eloquent and her improvisational skills are excellent."
"Emily is really lovely and she brought an easy confidence to Sophie," Efron offers. "I think that's what initially attracts Cole to Sophie, her sense of self, her strength, and maybe that she's a kind of kindred spirit. He's really taken with her, so he's confused as to what to do when he finds out she's with James."
"I think Sophie and Cole are sort of on the same page in their lives," Ratajkowski notes. "They're both surrounding themselves with different kinds of people and different options, and trying to figure out where they fit in, and they are able to connect with each other because of that."
Prior to making these new connections, Cole and his buddies-Ollie, Mason and Squirrel-have forged a friendship that began in grade school and endured into young adulthood. Like many of their peers, they are uncertain what direction their lives will take, but these Valley boys are sure of one thing: they want out, and they'll do whatever it takes to make it over the hill to Hollywood.
With Efron cast as Cole, it was important to find three actors that audiences would believe to be his lifelong friends, so the chemistry had to be just so. Joseph immediately thought of Shiloh Fernandez for the character of Ollie, one of his and co-writer Oppenheimer's favorite characters in the script. "We were always really excited to see Ollie come to life, and the moment Shiloh stepped into the room it was very clear that he just inhabited Ollie."
"Ollie jumped off the page for me," Fernandez smiles. "He was such a fun guy to play, the struggling actor, because all actors have to go through that at one point or another. But also to deal with the potential loss of friendship as people grow up and grow apart. I felt like the script really nailed that."
Fernandez was also struck by the kinship he felt to his character. "I remember when I first moved to Los Angeles to become an actor. A lot of my friends lived in the Valley and just wanted to get over that hill, so it was easy to relate to; the idea of giving up that dream because it's easier. Max really captured that feeling in the film."
For the role of Mason, whom Joseph refers to as "the biggest alpha in a group of alphas," the filmmakers cast Jonny Weston. "We had a really hard time finding Mason," Joseph allows. "We needed someone to come in and out-power Zac in their scenes together, which is hard to do. Jonny came in at the eleventh hour, after just finishing 'Insurgent,' and it was clear as day he and Zac had the right connection. Jonny is a wild beast of an actor and gives off amazing energy in life and in the film."
"Mason is completely upfront about the fact that he wants to be rich as hell," Weston laughs. "He talks a lot about money and success, but his real goal is to bring people together, to have all his friends around him to enjoy it with him. He's a very in-your-face kind of guy and he gets on people's nerves, but his intentions are good. And it's fun to play a bad boy."
Like his character, Weston is a huge fan of the music festival scene, so researching his part was easy. "I'm obsessed! I love EDM and trap and this whole creative movement of powerful electronic music, so a lot of what Mason and his friends like to do in the movie, I'm doing in my life-dancing and partying at clubs and talking to promoters-but on the inside of the ropes."
The fourth friend in the group, Squirrel, is a much calmer presence. Just as it had happened with Fernandez, Joseph says he knew Alex Shaffer was right for Squirrel upon first sight. "Alex was the first actor to come into the room that I felt really strongly about for that character."
With Cole wanting to DJ, Ollie wanting to act and Mason wanting to be a big-time promoter, Squirrel seems to be less clear about his own path, though in some ways he's the friend with the most clarity. Serving almost as the collective conscience of the foursome, Squirrel lends voice to the frustrations each of the friends feels at times, even if their actions go against them.
Shaffer elaborates, "Squirrel is the one who realizes that they're not doing anything with their lives or contributing to society in any way. They promote clubs, scam with girls, party. But he's tired of it. He wants to do something better and he's the only one who'll say so."
In order to ensure the friends evoke the bonds of a lifelong attachment, Joseph put the actors through one final exercise prior to filming. "It was critical that there be a sense of shared history between these four guys," the director emphasizes. "They've been friends since the fourth or fifth grade and that familiarity needed to be so clear it jumped off the screen."
To achieve that closeness, Joseph rented a house deep in the San Fernando Valley, and the actors spent a long weekend there. "I had each of them bring an object that his character would bring with him, and I basically had them stay in character all weekend," Joseph continues. "I filmed a lot of it. It was great to watch them all hang out, talking and sharing how excited we all were about the movie. It was a real retreat and they came out of it very bonded, each in their own way, and that added a lot of texture to the characters' relationships."
As the story progresses in the film, Cole's friends have begun to make demands of him that he realizes might not be in his best interests. Among those, the pull of easy money they earn working the phones at a day job for a Valley mortgage company run by a man named Paige, played by Jon Bernthal. Alicia Coppola plays a single mother trying to stay afloat, whose circumstances come to Cole's attention when it's his turn to make a cold call.
Between filling the coffers and fulfilling their dreams, Cole and his friends all struggle, but ultimately it's Cole who must come to terms with what course his own future is going to take, and who, if anyone, he is going to take along with him.
You guys wanna make real money, you wanna live and die in the Valley.
Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley boasts as diverse a landscape as any suburban sprawl, with million dollar hillside homes and strip malls planted practically side-by-side, and every ethnic group and socioeconomic class contributing to the famed L.A. gridlock on the freeways running through it.
"I grew up in New York City," Joseph relates, "and I had traveled all around the world with my parents as a young kid. When I was 18, I came to L.A. for the first time to visit a friend. He lived in Encino, and even after seeing all those international cities, I had never experienced culture shock the way I did when I got to the Valley. My friends were promoting at night clubs, cruising down the crowded freeways, and living this fast life, and I watched it all through a haze."
"For the guys in this movie, there's a sense that they really need to get over that mountain into the city in order to accomplish what they need to do," Efron says. "That's where the clubs are, that's where the music is happening, that's where they're making money. Every trip over there is an adventure, there's always this incredible sense of energy and anticipation of what the night's going to bring-glamour, bright lights, cool clubs, great restaurants, the Sunset Strip and Hollywood Boulevard. When they drive over there, everything seems within reach. Then they wake up the next morning and they are still Valley kids."
With no need to look elsewhere, the production for "We Are Your Friends" shot primarily in the Valley, as well as in some of nearby Hollywood and Downtown L.A.'s most popular hotspots, insinuating the characters into the flashy, frenetic world that beckons to them. Joseph worked with director of photography Brett Pawlak and production designer Maya Sigel to maintain as authentic an aesthetic as possible.
"I'm from Southern California," Pawlak offers, "so to be able to shoot in the Valley-and it actually be the Valley, not subbing for something else-was exciting. And if you know the area at all, you know it gets really hot, so by letting the actors exist in that environment in a natural way, we played off the heat so hopefully even the audience will feel it."
For an early scene, in which we get our first glimpse of the four friends working hard to promote a nightclub gig to college students, Efron, Weston, Fernandez and Shaffer spent an entire day among a group of extras, while the cameras caught them running up and down the steps of the library of California State University Northridge, handing out fliers under a sun that blazed over 100 degrees.
"Shooting at CSUN was a lot of fun," Efron says. "We didn't have any real lines, and most of the extras had no lines so they weren't really able to speak back to us, but it was great to watch Jonny and Shiloh's interactions with all the girls. My character was supposed to be a little more reserved, which I was happy about, 'cause I don't know how they do what they do. They were hilarious."
The pool house where Cole lives with Mason was based on the place Joseph stayed during that first trip to L.A. Sigel says that she and the director went to look at the actual home. "It was much, much nicer than what made sense for our characters in the movie. There had to be a clear visual juxtaposition between their situation in the Valley and life on the other side of the hill.
"We searched for a long time to find the right house," she continues, "one that had the desired look and feel but could also allow enough space for shooting multiple scenes. I think we saw every pool house/guest house available for rent in the Valley that summer. In the end, we chose a house in Van Nuys that we could shape into our pool house. Though it was spotless and white, we loved the yellow color of the exterior, the graphic quality of its lines, and the space and natural light that it provided. My department built walls inside the house to make it feel smaller, more claustrophobic, and give the guys an almost dorm-like living environment."
They also drained the pool and built a fence to hide the green landscaping. "We wanted the house to reflect an area that has yet to fully recover from the recession. Mason's family is struggling to make ends meet and Cole and Mason are constantly helping Mason's dad with repairs and renovations. It's a crumbling microcosm of the American dream-drought-ridden, no grass, no escape from the sun. My scenic painters aged the exterior of the house to make it look sun-bleached and weathered. We added years of history through paint as well as set dressing. The evolution of the boys' friendship, interests and styles are all contained within that pool house."
James Reed's house in the hills is quite a contrast to the deeper part of the Valley where Cole lives. "James is like an older version of those boys; he came from nothing, lived the party life, and now he seeks peace and minimalism in his living environment," Sigel illustrates, adding that to highlight the differences, "we chose a great location in Brentwood for James's place, a sophisticated glass house on a hill. It was important to us that James be geographically situated above the city-you can feel the coolness, the breeze, see the reflections of the water from the pool bouncing into the house. We filled his home with classic, white, modern pieces to make for a very clean aesthetic and palette. We wanted to show that James is a collector of art and a real music lover. He's the coolest, most cultured 'grownup' that Cole's ever met."
For James's in-home studio, the production utilized a portion of a real recording facility in the Valley. "We used wall plugs and dressed the room to suit James's experience and again, his specific taste, bringing in a vintage sound board from the `70s and other equipment we felt he would have to complement the use of a computer."
Also at that location, the camera and lighting crew, Pawlak notes, "used color and light to illustrate the variations between that thick layer of smog you sit in down below and the clearer air you see up a little higher, like in Griffith Park or up the canyon, where you might actually realize we're having a beautiful day."
In addition to the rising temperatures, some of the sets presented a challenge to the camera team as well. Pawlak's crew used rigs and cranes when necessary, however, he confesses, "I have a deep love for handheld camera work. But this was a project on which Max really wanted to explore a lot of different camera platforms. We went through the script, looking at each scene in order to get a sense of what they called for in camera and lighting, as you always do. And we used standard sticks and dollies and handhelds. But we also went outside the box a little bit, for instance, using a doggie cam body mount that we strapped to Zac for a scene at a gallery, the first time he goes out with James. He's having a great night and that camera lets you really get his rather unique perspective of it."
The gallery post-club party was created by Sigel's team at an artists' workspace, and was intended to give Cole his first taste of a more upscale lifestyle. The designer brought in art by Justin Fry, an artist whose pieces would work well with a clever and colorful animation sequence that would be added later. Adding to the fun, Joseph brought in real-life DJ duo Posso-Vanessa Giovacchini and Marylouise Pels-to spin. Giovacchini, who could easily be giving advice to the film's lead character, says "The only way to be a really good DJ is to do it all the time; the more experience you have, the easier that gets."
Also for Cole's benefit, James takes him to the club where he goes to try out his own new material, to get back to his roots and gain the approval of the old-school crowd that goes there; a club in Silverlake was dressed and utilized for the scenes.
For the guys' regular Thursday night gig, Sigel turned a real Hollywood club into the fictional Social, designing the graphics and interiors to suggest the various themes that word implies. "Social is where they go to hang out and to meet girls. It's where Cole cuts his teeth as a DJ, but it also hints at some of the electronic music world's origins in the rebellious punk rock and disco scenes," she conveys. "We looked at clubs like The Hacienda and Paradise Garage for inspiration."
As was his mission throughout the shoot, Joseph strove to make the performance scenes as realistic a representation of the music culture as possible. Thus the company wrapped with their biggest and most ambitious sequence in the film by staging a full-blown EDM block party in a parking lot in Downtown Los Angeles, in conjunction with Pioneer, who supplied all of the DJ equipment for the movie. Within hours of announcing the event on the internet, over 12,000 people had registered to be a part of the filming in order to witness Zac Efron's character take to the decks as a DJ.
Pawlak says, "We had a few big set pieces, with a lot of moving parts, like the Summer Fest we shot Downtown, so logistically that presented some difficulties but we had a great crew to pull it all together."
In addition to Jason Stewart and Dillon Francis, the filmmakers invited DJs Dirty South and Nicky Romero to the Summer Fest set. Says Dirty South, "I was super excited to be part of all this."
Another creative challenge for Pawlak was the director's mandate that the film work visually for the culture it's meant for. "Audiences these days are much more attune to composition, color, everything-they're all on Instagram, making little movies on Vine, changing filters on their phones to make things black and white or sepia," Pawlak says. "In order to speak to a generation, you have to speak their language. We were going back and forth about shooting the film in 2.35, making it more of a cinema-style, but it really felt like the compositions we were going for lent themselves to a slightly taller frame, a 1.85, that's closer to a square, like Instagram or your phone. So we threw that into the mix and hopefully people will enjoy the nod to that aesthetic."
Sigel, in conjunction with Joseph and Pawlak, integrated an overall palette that maintained a graphic quality of neutrals within the frame, with a pop of unexpected color, again nodding to the origins of EDM. In that same vein, costume designer Christie Wittenborn enjoyed the opportunity to incorporate several different artistic influences into the characters' wardrobes.
"I had so many genres coming together-skate culture, Valley-meets-Hollywood, clubs, the after-hours arts/warehouse party scene, and all of the outdoor concert stuff. It was really stimulating," Wittenborn says.
Her inspiration for Cole, she says, was "effortless. He's not trying to impress anybody with the way he dresses. He likes certain things, such as his favorite DJ shoes, which were black-and-gray checkered Vans. But that's a pair of shoes that he's had forever. They're his lucky shoes, they're special and he won't DJ without them."
Ollie, an aspiring actor, was one of Wittenborn's favorite characters to dress. "Out of all the guys, he cares the most about his appearance. He has this kind of James Dean or Marlon Brando persona; he's channeling old Hollywood. He's the kind of guy who would wear a leather jacket in the 110-degree weather because it's part of his outfit and he wouldn't dare compromise his look."
For the remaining two young friends, the designer says, "Squirrel is the most colorful one in the group, the one who matches his hat to his shoes and his T-shirt has to be right; Mason is a guy who'll just pick something up off the floor and put it on. However, he is a very aggressive, animal-like character, and even sports a vivid lion tattoo on his chest, so we incorporated some animal print motifs in his wardrobe to bring that quality out."
Emily Ratajkowski's character, Sophie, is a conflicted young woman and her costumes had to reflect the many worlds she was trying to fit into. "She had so many different looks, from graphic prints to soft, flowy fabrics to very casual, very grounded. She's trying to fit into places she's not sure she belongs to, she's young but dating somebody older, so all of this you see in her wardrobe."
Wittenborn's inspiration for the outfit Sophie wears to an EDM festival in Vegas was "a throwback to the Mod, swinging `60s era, with an accessory that's almost Native American. You see everything at these events and it was an opportunity to have some fun with that."
"When audiences see this movie," says producer Liza Chasin, "I hope that they'll feel like they're in the middle of a music festival with 20,000 people around, hearts pumping and fists flying and jumping in unison to a communal high with these great characters."
"It was always very important to us that the music have an emotional quotient to go along with the fun tracks to suit the locations and storylines and so forth, and in this age of remixing, I think we really captured a moment," Randall Poster adds.
Efron believes that "music is made to bring people together, and this movie speaks to our generation; this is our music, it comes from us. We can create it and maybe we can change the world in some small way, and that's really exciting."
"Music is tribal, it can transport you, both emotionally and physically," director Joseph states. "Like listening to a favorite song, I hope this movie will take audiences to another place, an exciting place, a place of truth. Because, just like Cole and his friends, we all want to find our own truth, listen to our own voice, stand on our own two feet and face a future of our own making."