Grandma: Writer-Director Paul Weitz about his Serio Abortion Comedy Starring Lily Tomlin

grandma_3_tomlinGrandma, starring Lily Tomlin, will be released by Sony Pictures Classic August 21, 2015.




Interview with Writer-Director Paul Weitz

Studio comedies versus smaller character-driven films

I think comedy is pretty depressing unless it’s character driven. I’m drawn to making smaller films, and when my studio films have been successful, it’s been because they felt smaller and more intimate. Happily there is no connection between how funny and emotional a film is and what its budget is.

Idea for the film?

grandma_2_tomlinI had had the idea in different forms, but it only clicked when I worked with Lily on the film Admission. I didn’t know her that well, but her intelligence rang like a clear bell. It made me think of a character and how much that character would have to offer a young woman under duress. I really don’t know though where it all came from. But I returned to the same dingy cafe every day to write it in a small white notebook.

Female-driven film

The film is female driven. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of 2008, 30% of women had had an abortion by the age of 45. So it’s unlikely that most people don’t at least know someone who has faced the question of whether or not to end an unintended pregnancy. The film doesn’t make light of the issue. It puts it in the context of the characters, who all have their own perspectives towards the issue.

Personal statement

grandma_1_tomlinI am not trying to make a statement in the film. In my personal life I am a feminist, and I would have said that even before Emma Watson’s lovely speech to the UN.

Casting process–Lily Tomlin

I wrote the script hearing Lily’s voice. Then I asked her to lunch and told her I had written a script for her and told her the story and gave it to her. I’m sure that was a bit nerve-wrecking for her.

How long did it take you to write the script?

I thought about it in some form or other for a few years, and then wrote the first draft in about a month. Then I messed with it for a few more months.

Shooting days?

Nineteen days.

Was the story changed?

No, it wasn’t.

Unanticipated Issues while filming

The thing that I didn’t anticipate is that there would be so few issues. I was surprised that I had the time within those nineteen days to do as many takes as I wanted, and that’s thanks to the actors and to Tobias Datum, the cinematographer, whose work I had liked in Smashed and Terry and other films. I had a great crew, all of whom were new to me.

Scenes that turned out better on-set

A number of scenes turned out better than I imagined, because I was fortunate in casting. That’s what I hopefor, and it’s probably why I write plays and movies as opposed to fiction.

Message for the audience

The film is largely about moving on from loss through wit and empathy and the ability to say “screw you.” I just hope a splinter of it will lodge in their memory.