The romantic comedy Just Go With It, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, will be released by Columbia Pictures on February 11.
Overseeing the production is director Dennis Dugan, whose films have taken in more than a billion dollars worldwide. Dugan marks his sixth collaboration with Sandler on Just Go With It (and recently wrapped production on their seventh, the comedy Jack and Jill, in theaters this fall). The director says that he has enjoyed his fifteen-year relationship with Sandler. “We have a great way of working together,” he says. “I try to figure out what he wants to see, what he wants, what he’s picturing in his head, and then I try to put my spin on it and see how magnificent we can make it.”
Dugan says that his role is to simultaneously keep everyone on the same page and on the right track, while at the same time keeping the reins loose. “If you’re smart, you don’t corral, you let them run free,” he says. “One of the tricks is to let the actors feel as comfortable as possible – they can be goofy, they can feel like they can flop and won’t be judged or have their egos bruised. A comedy director has an unusual role in that the actors he is given are already funny. The best way to get a great performance is to help everyone feel relaxed and brave.”
One of Dugan’s tricks of the trade – which has been made possible with the advent of digital photography – is extra-long takes, sometimes as long as 45 minutes, which become comedy jam sessions. “We do whatever we have to do to make it funny,” he says, noting that these long takes become a technical challenge for the director; for example, the best reaction might come when the camera isn’t on the actor, which requires Dugan to reverse the set-up and get the coverage. But as technically difficult as it might be to get all the pieces that will make the final film fit together, Dugan says it’s all in a day’s work. “Whatever you need to do to get it funny. You need to turn back around, you turn back around.”
“There’s a specific way that we work together,” Dugan notes. “Adam and I have a similar approach to comedy. As crazy as it gets, we try to base it in reality. We tell all the actors who work with us that everybody can get as crazy as they want, but we try to keep it all in the same style.”
The production began in Los Angeles before relocating to Maui and Kauai. “Maui is our vacation spot,” explains production designer Perry Andelin Blake. “About three months before we started filming, Dennis Dugan and I went on a scout throughout all the islands. We started in Oahu and went to a couple hotels there – we were looking for a crazy, big, beautiful resort hotel, but they just didn’t have what we were looking for. We next went to Kona – I’ve been to some of the hotels there, and there were some pretty cool ones. Finally we came to Maui and to the Grand Wailea, and we were just blown away. It was the perfect hotel.”
Dugan says the hotel had a number of attributes that made it perfect for the film. “It may be the largest of all the hotels; it has a lot of scope. It’s got a gigantic set of swimming pools – it’s kid-friendly, with slides and waterfalls, but also romantic – and we could shut off one part of the swimming pool and not ruin the experience for people who were there on their vacations. There are also many, many, different looks within the hotel. The lobby is magnificent, the front is great, the rooms are beautiful, the luau was amazing, and it has a whole beautiful beach. The hotel worked beautifully as a movie set.”
Director of Photography Theo Van de Sande had the enviable task of making Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, and Brooklyn Decker – three of the world’s most beautiful women – look as beautiful as they actually are. Sure, they’re gorgeous, but at the end of the day, it falls to the photographer to make it happen – and in the harsh light of Hawaii, it can be a challenge. “I’ve never had that before, where the three most beautiful women in the world are in one shot and I have to deal effectively with lighting situations and have to bring them out as beautifully as possible. All three women on their own are all in their own way extremely beautiful, but they are totally different – and I can’t have any of them looking better or worse than the others.”
What’s more, the character requirements of the film required Van de Sande to put story first. At the beginning of the movie, Aniston’s character is very unpretentious – not unattractive in any sense, but Aniston honors the idea that Katherine is a single mom of two kids and trying to make it on an assistant’s salary. Van de Sande’s lighting and camera work emphasizes the character’s extreme makeover that comes as the film progresses. “She goes from down-to-earth to over-glamorous – she’s trying to get revenge on Nicole’s character – to unbelievable beauty,” says the cinematographer.
After four weeks in Maui, the production moved to Kauai. For Van de Sande, where the challenge on Maui was to keep that island’s harsh light in balance, the challenge on Kauai became keeping that island’s humid, rainy elements looking like they belong in the same movie. “Everything we did in Maui was a push to a more colorful and a more stable image,” he says. “In Kauai, they go into nature, so it could look a little different, but we had to keep in mind that the island was much more humid and rainy from where we had just come. Still, Hawaii is paradise – I enjoyed it tremendously.”
The Kauai location was chosen because of its waterfall. “We looked everywhere in Maui first, since we knew we’d be shooting there,” says Blake. “We looked on Hawaii. We looked on Oahu. And finally we found what we were looking for on Kauai. We walked around the corner and we saw this amazing waterfall. We had found the holy grail of waterfalls. We walked through the jungle about three miles – our guide said it was going to be about a half a mile, and three miles later through the bugs in the jungle we came to this waterfall, which was just spectacular. After looking at so many different ones, what was cool about this one was that it was cinematic – a lot of waterfalls are tall and have a lot of height and were spectacular, but for us we wanted something that spread across more in the format of a film screen. It wasn’t a little thing coming down into a small pool – it was a massive wall of water coming into a big, beautiful pool. It was perfect.”
Dugan says that this is the waterfall Sandler had in his mind’s eye: “This is Adam’s dream of a waterfall. In fact, when we showed him, he said, ‘That’s the one.”’
Though the waterfall was perfect, the set would still require some design and decoration. Despite the location’s jungle vibe, says Blake, “It wasn’t really lush and beautiful, so we brought in plants and flowers. Everything we brought in was a plant that can exist in this environment – but you don’t find everything you’re looking for in any location. So, we made the jungle more jungle-y, but that’s the way you do it in the movies.”
In addition, the script calls for all of the characters to approach the pool and dive in. “But the water was much too shallow,” says Blake. The solution was to bring in fake rocks to dress a deeper part of the pool.” Brooklyn Decker’s character also lounges on foam rocks after her dive into the pool.
The screenplay also requires the characters to cross a rope bridge. The filmmakers didn’t find what they were looking for, and so, a bridge had to be built. Blake explains, “It seemed like the best solution – we could build it at the exact height we wanted, we could make it look rickety, and we could make it safe. So we found a great, huge mango tree, and on the other side, we anchored the bridge up into the rocks. We wanted it to look like it’s been here forever, so once we built it, we aged it and threw plants all over it. It looks dilapidated, it looks dangerous, it looks scary, but it’s completely safe.”