47th Chicago Film Festival: Interview With Sam Jaeger, The Director Of ‘Take Me Home’
Take Me Home is, in the simplest form, a road movie. It tells the story of two strangers who find themselves at less than desirable points in their life, and take off on a cross-country road trip from New York to California.
Sam Jaegar, best known for his role on the television show Parenthood, is the writer, director, and (along with his wife Amanda Jaeger) star of the film. I recently got the chance to have a conversation with him about how he came to make this project, the perils of wearing many hats, and the beauty of filming the United States.
William Bitterman: First of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. It’s pretty cool, I realize you be very busy.
Sam Jaeger: Oh no, it’s my pleasure.
WB: And I guess I’ll just go ahead and let you know, you actually have the distinct pleasure of being my first interview not done through email. So congratulations on that.
SJ: Well, it’s a high honor. And I just hope I don’t mess it up.
WB: You and me both. Mess it up on my part, I mean. I’m sure you’ll be great.
SJ: [laughs] Alright.
WB: Well, first up, you have been predominantly known as an actor. You’re on the show Parenthood, and you’ve done films, like Catch & Release with Jennifer Garner. So I guess what I’m wondering is what brought on this desire to write, direct, and even star in your own film?
SJ: I used to make movies in high school with my buddy Jeff Seibenick, who is now the editor for the TV show Eastbound & Down. And we just used to make movies, you know, instead of going out drinking like most kids. It not only kept me from being an alcoholic, but it became a passion of mine, and from there I always sort of considered myself a filmmaker. And, you know, acting is just one way that I can be involved in making movies, but I’m happy to do anything else. Besides the catering because I’m really inept when it comes to cooking.
WB: As far as making the transition from mostly acting, to kind of taking on all these responsibilities that a writer/director would have to do, was it difficult to make that transition into it? You know, from making films in high school to working on actual major film, was it different in any way?
SJ: You know, it was a slow transition. You know, one of the things was Jeff was the director, and I was the writer plus the actor. And so I think I always had an insecurity that I couldn’t direct. So taking on this movie, I knew it was something I was passionate about. So it was kind of rising above my insecurities, which I think a lot of first time filmmakers have to do. But it’s certainly worthwhile. I’ve learned so much about just every aspect of filmmaking. And I know I wouldn’t have learned as much had I not worn as many hats when I did this.
WB: Was it hard to balance the acting aspects of it with the behind-the-scenes aspects of it? Could it be a bit of a juggling process?
SJ: You know, there was only one scene in the film where I had difficulty. My oftentimes writing partner…Mike Hobert, who’s a producer on the film, he was able to step in and kind of guide me through the more dramatic scenes. If I wasn’t sure we had got what we needed, it was great to be able to bounce stuff off him. But most of the time I was just ready to go, and we were just flying by seat of our pants. But I was the writer, director, and actor because it cuts down on the amount of time that it takes to communicate to all the different sections. Especially when you’re losing sunlight in the middle of the desert and you’ve got a crew relying on you, the last thing you want to do is pamper an actor. And I don’t try to pamper myself too much.
WB: You talked a little bit about the writing aspect of it. As far as coming up with the story, was there as certain inspiration to it? Was it something you came up with one day, or was it something you’d had for a while?
SJ: I was writing a very complex musical with the guy who ended up doing the score on this, a man by the name of Bootstraps. And we were having such a hard time, and it just sort of dawned on me that I wanted a story that could be explained really simply. And the idea of a woman traveling across the country in a taxi cab, you know, you can’t get much simpler than that. And so I sat down to write and I think I wrote as much as fifteen pages the first night, and it took a long time to get to the point where I was proud of the script. But it came out of that, I think, at the time I was figuring exactly marriage should mean to me. And it’s a romantic comedy that I think asks some deep questions about the significance of marriage. And I think it’s a discussion of the reflections going on in my head, before I married my wife.
WB: You talked a little about it being a road trip movie just there. In writing the script and making the film, was there ever a point where you sat down and felt any sort of worry that maybe it wouldn’t be able differentiate itself from other road movies? Is there anything you did to make sure it would be different, be it telling it in your own voice or the subject matter itself?
SJ: Well, I think often when you talk about road trips, you talk about buddy comedies of some sort, and I knew that this would certainly be not that. You know, I actually wrote the film because I was actually also inspired by seeing the countryside, and you know, there aren’t too many movies that have actually shown the entire continent. So I knew I had that in my back pocket. We had this lush production design called the United States, and I’m proud of the fact that we, you know, put a bunch of guys in an RV and drove across the country, just to get the true majesty of this land. So I feel like in 90 minutes you can sit down and feel like you’ve been on a road trip across the United States.
I think road trips, what we love about them, you know, road trips movies, is that they are transportation. We are being taken somewhere, and it’s so easy to jump on the journey with somebody, and go from point A to point B, you know, wherever we are in our lives. It’s just a great opportunity to feel elsewhere. You know, I think one of the films that was influential to me back in the day was the David Lynch film starring Richard Farnsworth, where he travels across two states on the John Deer.
WB: Yeah, The Straight Story.
SJ: Yeah, Straight Story. And, you know, I just love the sort of meditation that that movie entails. At the time I was living in New York, and when I saw that movie I felt like I was back in Ohio. The movie doesn’t take place there, but seeing all those rolling fields of corn and stuff, it was like a mini vacation for me, from the hustle and bustle of that city.
SJ: That was…that was a healthy answer.
WB: [laughs] Yeah, it was good. Just one last question for you here. You talked about shooting across the United States and traveling. Did you ever run in to any sort of difficulties with that?
SJ: You know, I think that we sometimes do filmmaking because of the stories we hear from trying to get those movies made.
WB: Oh yeah.
SJ: Not only did my wife get Poison Ivy at the beginning of our trip across country, but it got so bad to where we could only shoot one side of her face. And that was from me directing her to crawl through the dirt to pick up her purse in the scene where she chucks it into the forest. But beyond that, we got permits for all these fascinating places. In New York, we shot on Park Avenue with no problem; we shot on the Las Vegas strip with no problem. We shot in the middle of the desert with a permit, but we’d drive into a town with, I don’t know, maybe 500 people, Ashville, Ohio. And we got pulled over maybe within the first five minutes of being there because the people in the town saw this New York taxicab with this huge camera mounted on the front of it. I don’t know if they thought we were terrorist or what. But sure enough we get shut down and asked to leave the city. So, you know, we’re marked men in Ashville, Ohio. But mostly, we shot without a hitch.
You hear a myriad of stories about continuity, where you have your purse in one scene but you’ve forgotten it in the next and you have to put it back into the scene later on. But all those discussions just sort of had to ramble on in my head, and it stinks that didn’t have to rely on anyone else to come up with a solution to it because time was ticking.
Take Me Home is screening tonight at 6:20pm, and October 14th, at 2:15pm.
The Chicago Film Festival runs from October 6th-20th. Visit the festival’s official home page.