There’s no way Dave Franco could have planned this.
The notoriously private actor, who makes his directorial debut with IFC Films’ “The Rental,” just so happens to have released a claustrophobic slasher film about getting trapped inside a house of horrors while most of us are quarantined and have become awfully sick of our own four walls.
Franco, best known for his acting work in movies like “Neighbors” and “If Beale Street Could Talk,” also co-wrote the movie with friend and previous collaborator Joe Swanberg. The film stars Dan Stevens, Jeremy Allen White, Sheila Vand and Franco’s wife Alison Brie, in which two couples reserve an Airbnb-type unit for the weekend and, well, things go south from there.
For Franco, the film incorporated many of his own insecurities about privacy and technology. It also gave him a chance to work with Brie, a creative partnership that they have capitalized on during quarantine. The two have written a script for a romantic comedy, which they hope to make once the world returns to some form of normalcy.
For the time being, though, Franco is content on letting his fears of the unknown infiltrate the general consciousness. If only for an hour and a half.
Daniel Trainor spoke with Franco about the movie, the future of cinema, his personal anxieties and what he and Brie have been watching during their free time.
You can watch The Rental in Select Theaters, Drive-Ins and On Demand July 24th.
*WARNING: This interview contains spoilers.*
Daniel Trainor: Hi Dave! How are you?
Dave Franco: Hey, I’m good! How’s it going?
DT: I’m doing well, thanks. Congratulations on the movie.
DF: I appreciate you saying that, thank you.
DT: What’s it been like juggling a global pandemic and the release of your directorial debut?
DF: It’s obviously a new world that we’re currently living in and everybody is finding different ways to release their films. I feel very fortunate to have partners like IFC who think outside the box and can be agile. For example, we had an unofficial premiere at a drive-in theater just outside of Los Angeles. It’s not exactly what I imagined for the first public screening of my film, but in certain ways it was better. Most standard movie premieres are a little bit stuffy, they make me feel a little anxious with the red carpet and all the cameras in your face. This was the opposite. It just felt very relaxed and it didn’t feel like there was a spotlight on me or the cast. It was more like a communal experience. Everyone had been cooped up in their homes for so long and it was essentially a bunch of movie lovers coming together and having a joint experience, which is a rare thing these days.
DT: Has all of this made you reconsider the ways in which audiences will be forced to consume movies in the future?
DF: Yeah, I am scared that there won’t be as many movies in theaters in the future. That it will mostly be these huge tentpole films and comic book projects.
DF: There is a lot of talk about the future of film primarily living on digital platforms, but then I look at how many people are flocking to drive-ins all over the country right now. I think it speaks to how special the moviegoing experience is when you’re watching something on the big screen surrounded by strangers. I truly believe that theaters will be around forever. I just hope that indie movies continue to get the opportunities to play on the big screen.
DT: You’re not a guy who’s on social media, and now your first feature is about a lack of privacy in dealing with modern day conveniences. How much does that theme influence and impact your daily life?
DF: I am a pretty paranoid person, in general. Technology does scare me. It’s part of the reason I’m not on social media. In addition to that, I can get scared thinking about people listening in on my phone conversations and watching me through my computer cameras. These might all be irrational fears, but they definitely are in the back of my mind. I think I was trying to explore some of those themes in this film.
DT: I read that you stayed in a home sharing unit while filming the movie, which is like the modern day version of Stanley Kubrick staying at a creepy hotel while filming “The Shining.” Were you doing double takes over your shoulder every night when you got back to your place?
DF: As paranoid as I am about staying in Airbnbs, I still do it! With this film, I was trying to explore that disconnect, where we’re all aware of the risks of staying in a stranger’s home, but for whatever reason, we never think anything bad will actually happen to us. I will say that, since filming the movie, my level of paranoia has reached its peak. Now I’m not thinking ’is there a camera here?,’ I’m more thinking ‘I know there is a camera here, it’s just about whether or not I’m going to find it.’
DT: I can’t imagine what it’s been like to be quarantined with you. Are you just going around your house looking for things to freak you out?
DF: [laughs] At this point in my own home, I feel relatively safe.
DT: Okay, that’s good.
DF: But yeah, literally anywhere else you’ll find me standing on chairs and using my cell phone flashlight to search through the nooks and crannies.
DT: I think we’re all becoming a little bit more like that, especially during quarantine. There’s something perfect about this movie coming out now, don’t you think? The stars have aligned in an odd way.
DF: Right! I definitely agree with that. Even your home, which is supposed to be your safe space, has now become a scary place! I promise I’m not trying to freak everyone out. We have enough to worry about already. But it’s about making everyone more aware of these situations, even if they are very rare. 99.9% of the time, you’re going to have a totally pleasant time staying in an Airbnb, but that one time is what will stay with you forever.
DT: Yeah, that one time you and your friends all get murdered! That would stay with me!
DF: [laughs] Obviously this movie takes it to the most extreme.
DT: When you were putting this thing together, was Alison [Brie] in mind the entire time and did you make her audition?
DF: The truth is, I actually wasn’t planning on directing this film. I was going to act in it. I was going to play the role of Josh that ultimately went to Jeremy Allen White. So, as much as I wanted Alison to be in it from the beginning, it would have been weird for me to be acting in it because she would have played my sister-in-law. But once I decided to direct, I thought it would be smart for me to focus on my responsibilities behind the camera. So, of course Alison was my first choice for the role of Michelle. I did not make her audition for the part [laughs]. I’m really happy it all played out the way it did, for a couple reasons. I’ve always known that Alison is an incredible actress, but when I was in the position to watch her intently for five weeks, I realized how special she truly is. She has this unique ability to balance heavy drama with moments of levity, sometimes in a single scene. It was also nice having her there with me. As you can imagine, as a first time director, there were moments when I would get in my head and start to doubt myself in certain ways. She was always there to build me up and give me confidence and remind me that we were doing good work.
DT: I know you guys have somehow managed to write a romantic comedy during quarantine, which is astounding to me. These days, every time I sit down to write, the only thing I seem to accomplish is not writing. What was that creative process like?
DF: We had been talking about this idea for a while before the world ended. We never had time to actually sit down and flesh it out. Once everything shut down, everyone initially thought that we were going to be in quarantine for only two weeks, so we decided to really hunker down and try and write as much as we could within those two weeks. Obviously things have changed since then. We’ve been using this time to polish the script and make it the best it can be. We love the genre. We were inspired by some of our favorites like “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless In Seattle,” and “Pretty Woman.” More recently, we really loved “Palm Springs” and “The Big Sick.” We’re basically trying to find ways to work together again because we had such a good time collaborating.
DT: I like that you bring up something like “Sleepless In Seattle,” because it really feels like these broad romantic comedies just aren’t getting made anymore.
DF: Well, there obviously are modern romantic comedies that are incredible, like the ones I mentioned. I think about Alison’s film “Sleeping With Other People,” which is extremely grounded and has complex characters and it’s shot beautifully. But yes, that’s the general aesthetic that we’re hoping to tap into.
DT: When you guys aren’t writing, what media have you been consuming?
DF: We’ve been watching a ton of movies and TV. Let me think.
DT: It’s so hard to remember these days. I watched three movies yesterday and I’d have to really sit and think about what they were.
DF: I know! We have been watching a lot of horror films. We re-watched “The Shining” the other day, we re-watched “Blair Witch” and “10 Cloverfield Lane.” As far as TV, we’re watching “I May Destroy You” on HBO, “Search Party,” “Dave” on FX.
DT: I like the balance of “Blair Witch” and “Search Party.”
DF: We love it all!
DT: Thanks for the time, Dave! Congrats on the movie.
DF: I really appreciate all the kind words, man.
You can watch The Rental in Select Theaters, Drive-Ins and On Demand July 24th.