Awakening Youth With Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts & His New Film ‘The Kings of Summer’

In a cinematic culture that’s become oversaturated with inauthentic emotion and the use of technology over human connection, we often forget what the joy of movies is all about. You look back on what made you first fall in love with film, on the pictures that truly excited you, and it wasn’t about cheap thrills or blockbuster blasts. It was the simple idea of good storytelling—films that felt rich and alive and took you on an adventure and made you feel as though you experienced something great. It’s the memory of those cinematic moments that stay whole in our minds and inspire what we will go on to create. And in recent years, as a new wave of filmmakers emerges, we’ve begun to see a harkening back to that kind of storytelling through the new voices of independent cinema—revitalizing a generation and telling stories teeming with life and excitement,  being made to please their artistic sensibility rather than a grand ideal of what a successful film in Hollywood should be.

And with Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ directorial debut The Kings of Summer, he recalls a certain kind of coming-of-age story that feels both anachronistic yet with a fresh take on the genre. Telling the story of Joe (played by Nick Robinson), the film is about "what the hell it means to be a man in the video game era," about teenage boys struggling to understand their own ascent into manhood and independence while clashing with parental authority, and the newfound hells of love. Joe lives with his father (played by Nick Offerman) whose tight leash is beginning to cut a little too close to Joe’s skin. In his own act of true rebellion, Joe decides to run away for the summer to build a huge fort in a secluded part of the woods. He enlists his two friends—played by Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias—to come along for the adventure, and what ensues is both a hilarious delight and a heartfelt look at self-discovery and the confusion of youth’s no man’s land.

With a successful short film, various television projects, and comedy chops to his name Vogt-Roberts’ debut feature shows the handsome promise of someone who truly knows what they’re doing and where they’re going. Here he’s crafted a classic teen tale but infused it with the cinematic beauty of something slightly more mature, elevating the overall feature to a likeness of its own. And last week, I got the chance to chat with him about what attracted him to the script for the film—written by Chris Galleta—adding his own touch of wonder, and letting his actors breathe their own life into the work.

How did you come across the script and why was this what you wanted to make as your first feature?

I’ve been out in LA for while making shorts and commercials and doing TV, but I came out here because I love movies and wanted to make movies. I’ve been looking for my first feature for a while and there were a couple things I was interested in, and then this script came my way and I just fell in love. I had such a visceral reaction and wasn’t even thinking I want to do this movie or I could do this movie, but just having this really deep-rooted feeling of I needing to do this movie. The script spoke to me so much, but I just knew what I could push in it. I knew with Chris’ base, I could make a movie that was funny but real and was cinematically grand and felt like a theatrical experience. And I wanted to push his tone even further and add in elements that weren’t in the script like all of this lyrical, impressionisitc stuff.

So those more wistful cinematic moments were your input? 
Oh yeah, none of that stuff’s in the script. The script definitely plays with tone but that was something that I loved exploring. None of the ethereal stuff is in the script but when I first started talking to Chris, one of the first things we both geeked out on was: how do we combine Terrence Malick with the Coen Brothers? Like how do we make a really stupid Terrence Malick movie that’s really funny and bizarre but also beautiful and lyrical? I had never seen that before and I felt this really intense responsibility to say, we’ve seen so many coming of age stories, there has to be something unique in every element—in the characters, in the way it looks, in the way it unfolds, in the sense that it’s a mash-up, in the music. I wanted it to feel like its own thing, as opposed to derivative of another coming of age movie you’ve seen before. I saw what I could with this script and fought my ass off to win it and miraculously they gave me the movie.

The element of playing with tone was one of the things that made the film so good because although a lot of these situations can be pretty fantastical or outlandish, you believe it and are invested because the emotion is real. 
I think you have to make it that way—or at least I felt you had to—because there are things that I pushed in the script even further, like when Biagio is staring at the cop. There’s stuff in the movie that’s legitimately crazy but because you bought into the world you go with it. The movie starts more fun and games and slowly the rug starts getting pulled out and you’re like, oh shit just got real. But when you ground something like that, it affords you the ability to say hey, we’re going to break this character’s heat one moment and then we’re going to have some crazy slapstick stuff and ideally fuse them together where they don’t break tone.

And that made it so that you want to keep watching because you don’t know where it’s going to turn next. 
Exactly because you’re invested in the characters at that point. How did you go about finding the cast, who are all pretty incredible. Look, we have incredible comedians, incredible adult actors who are funny and have incredible dramatic chops, but at the end of the day, the movie lives and dies by the kids. That was always so clear to me and for one of them to be good wasn’t enough. No one walks out of Stand By Me or The Goonies and is like, man, one of those kids was great. All those kids are great and then the audience gets to decide who their favorite is and they get to argue about which character they liked more and which character was cool. I love movies like that. So I knew all of them had to be top notch, so it was a really long casting process and the first thing I had to say was: no one over the age of 18, no 25 year olds playing 18. Their bodies need to be going through the same thing that their character’s bodies are going through. And I found them through improv training, not so they’d be really quick and funny and witty but so they’d be comfortable enough in their own skin to where if I yelled cut or didn’t stop rolling, they could bring their teenage brain to it ands provide me with insight as to what a teenager thinks these days. At a certain point I have my own experiences and my own memories but to me—I always said to the writer and producer—if this movie doesn’t have at least ten moments where you look at it and be like, that right there, that little tick or that little mannerism, or that expression, that reminds me so clearly of what it meant to be that age. The movie would have been a failure. So it was immense pressure to find the right kids and I was fortunate enough to find a group of kids that we could build chemistry with and I wanted it to be fun for them, I didn’t want it to feel like they were showing up for work, I wanted them to feel like they were showing up to hang out with their friends and I feel like that made a big difference.

All the characters were so idiosyncratic. Did you give them a lot of room to play and freedom to see where their character could go? 
Oh, so much. There’s so much in the movie they didn’t even know I was shooting, that I was just capturing them being boys. I’m the type of director that at a certain point , my job is to make sure the actors know where they are in the story and to make sure things make sense—but I like to hire people that I can give a lot of freedom to and say, I want you to understand this character better than I do, because that’s who they are. I don’t want to hire someone to just show up and read lines. And so I gave them a lot of room to play and doing improv is a very organic process. There’s a lot of stuff in this movie that is very raw.

Did you bring in a lot of inspiration from your own teenage years?
Totally. When I 17 I left my home and went and lived in my grandma’s attic for an entire year. I grew up in Detroit and got moved to Phoenix and at one point I left and went back to Michigan and lived in my grandma’s attic and went to school there. So a lot of it is very much based on my experience, but also the universal experience—the simultaneous joy and pain that it is to be that age, like the incredible freedom mixed with incredible uncertainty. You’ll never be that carefree again in your life and in that moment when you think you have everything figured out and then the rug just gets pulled out from underneath you and you’re like oh, I do’t know anything about anything. I think that’s a universal thing that everyone goes through and that ideally sort of informs who everyone becomes. It’s amazing and horrifying at the same time.

How has it been taking your first feature around to Sundance and South By and other festivals and seeing people react for the first time?
I mean, look, it’s crazy. I’m still processing it and seeing what it all means. To see people responds like this and championing the movie, and like, Stand By Me and Goonies and Malick and John Hughes were all reference points for me when I was making it, but to see people like compare us in a positive way in print is insane. My feeble brain can’t process that yet.

After I saw the film I described it as Terrence Malick and Jeff Nichols teaming up to make a teen comedy. 
I appreciate that very much. Honestly, I was convinced going into Sundance that people ware going to hate it and I was going to go kill myself in the snow. You’re just in this crazy bubble, so to see people respond to it in this way is amazing. This movie is going to live or die by word of mouth and from my perspective at least so far, it’s great to see it striking a chord with people. I did want to make a throw back of old meets new in this mash up of movies I grew up on with things I feel are very relevant now. So to see people respond to that is incredibly gratifying and really speaks volumes to the fact that people want good content—especially with summer movie season. People are getting sick of the same shit over and over again and we’ll see how it goes, but without being cheesy about it: it’s incredible.

This felt different from other teen movies because it wasn’t people partying or rebelling for the sake of it, these kids were trying to discover something about themselves. 
Absolutely. I just think the wave is coming back to the moves I grew up. And the thing I wanted to get back to—like old John Hughes movies and Stand By Me—those are films first and foremost, and if they’re funny or adventurous or heartfelt or whatever, you feel like you watched a movie that invested you in a set of characters and a story and then anything beyond that is just bonus. Now a lot of movies just feel really disposable and are just comedy or just a forgettable drama or whatever, and I wanted to make something that felt like what I grew up on. I feel like that whole wave and that whole generation is now sort of coming back and people are making things based on what got them into the business to begin with. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues, but not only continues—if it’s going to continue it needs to learn how to evolve as well.

I have to mention how perfect Nick Offerman was for that role as well.
He’s an incredible man and a fucking man through and through. It’s funny because so much of this movie is about struggling with what the hell masculinity is in a video game era and so Nick is just an incredible man, and I can’t think of anyone that would have been better for the role. He is able to be so funny but also play the dramatic side of it and it also makes it more poignant because of that. He’s a great guy. He’d walk around on set and play songs, and he’s the kind of guy who knows everyone’s name on set and it was just a great collaboration. I loved working with him.

[Related: Actor Nick Robinson on Searching for Independence in the Kings of Summer; More by Hillary Weston; Follow Hillary on Twitter and Tumblr]

From the Coen Brothers to G.W. Pabst, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York City

Now that you’ve recovered from your Memorial Day festivities, it’s time for the weekend once again. And although we look to reach some tropical temperatures in the next few days, don’t go running to the beach just yet. There’s the entire rest of your summer to do that, so why not spend the afternoon in the cool breeze of a cinema? Or, if you’re really not that misanthropic, find yourself someone to attend one of the fantastic late night screenings happening around the city this weekend. With the brilliant and bizarre classics  from  Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Coen Brothers, and Orson Welles, to some of the best premieres of the season with Zal Batmanglij’s The East and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, there’s certainly something to satisfy everyone’s cinematic appetite. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing in the city this weekend, so peruse our list, grab yourself some snacks, and enjoy.

 

IFC Center

Blazing Saddles
Frances Ha
Jaws
Something in the Air
Time Bandits
Upstream Color

 

 

Film Linc

Augustine
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Microcosmos
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself

 

 

Nitehawk

Frances Ha
The Iceman
Basic Instinct
Texas Chainsaw Part 2
Living in Oblivion
Pandoras Box

 

 

Film Forum

School of Rock
Becoming Traviata
Augustine
A Pig Across Paris

 

 

Landmark Sunshine

Sightseers
In the House
Fill the Void
The Warriors

 

 

Angelika Film Center

Before Midnight
Stories We Tell
What Maisie Knew
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

 

 

Museum of the Moving Image

Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come
The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Dig!
Neil Young in Greendale

 

Actor Nick Robinson on Searching for Independence in ‘The Kings of Summer’

This year, movies chronicling teen rebellion have been on a meteoric rise. From debauchery-fueled spring break excursions to materialistic celebrity-obsessed heists, we’ve seen kids act out against authority in the most nonsensical and disastrous of ways. But with Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ feature-length directorial debut, The Kings of Summer, we’re given a glimpse into a different side of youth in revolt.

One of the most refreshing films to come out of Sundance this year, The Kings of Summer is about more than just three boys looking to separate themselves from their authoritative parents, it’s about the desire to find oneself and understand the meaning of independence. Joe (played by Nick Robinson) wants nothing more than to feel like a man, to know that he can live on his own and off the land and build something for himself. He may still be a kid, but he’s hungry for independence in a way that he’ll never get to experience under his father’s roof. And so, in the ultimate act of defiance, he decides to run away for the summer and build a home in the woods with the help of his friends Patrick (played by Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (played by Moises Arias). 

The result is a fantastic film that’s hilarious, cinematic, and beautifully-shot, seamlessly gliding from ethereal moments of beauty to slapstick humor in the woods. And with a cast that boasts such comedy legends as Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, these young stars have some serious talent to match—which they certainly do. Charismatic 18-year-old actor Nick Robinson plays the role of Joe wonderfully, bringing a sense of heart and humor that makes you want to root with him throughout the film—no matter what ridiculous situation he finds himself in.

The Kings of Summer marks the first feature for the Seattle native in what’s sure to be a career to look out for. I got the chance to chat with Robinson after class last week—he’s about to graduate from high school—about taking on the everyman role of Joe, working fast and loose with Jordan, and stepping up his game.

I loved the movie and thought you were great. What I enjoyed so much was the mix of humor but real attention to making it very cinematic.
Yeah, that was Jordan’s goal. He wanted to create a comedy that wasn’t quite so disposable. So, Ross Riege, our DP, was a genius and he and Jordan were kind of on the same wavelength.

This film is not only your first starring role but your first feature. How did you become involved?
I was sent the script and, like everyone who has ever read it, I loved it because of its sensibilities. It captured what it is to be 15 and desperately want to be an adult, but everyone treats you like a kid. So I went in and did an audition and didn’t hear anything for a long time. But then I got a call to come in for a chemistry read with other actors, and eventually I got a call that was like, "Alright, we’ll see you in Ohio!"

How was stepping into this major role and working with the other guys in the cast?

They were great. We did an improv class beforehand to get some chemistry going, but also to get us on our toes because we’re working with some of the funniest people alive. It was a whole new experience for me and I was lucky to be involved.

Did you and Gabe and Moses spend a lot of time playing around together and discovering who your characters were?
Yeah, we did. On our days off we’d hang out, and even after shooting. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, we were staying in a little town but it was great. I remember the first night I got to Ohio, Gabe was there and we took our rental cars and did doughnuts in some parking lot—just shenanigans like that.

Was Jordan really into having you guys do a lot of improv and giving you room to experiment?
Yeah, he ran a very loose set. He’s a big fan of improv, he comes from Second City himself, so you just kind of let the cameras roll and see what happened. We would have 15, 20 minute takes sometimes and once the dialogue ended, everyone would just start riffing. I’d never done any improv before but working with Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Alison Brie, it just stepped my game up and started to become a lot more comfortable with it.

How was working with Nick Offerman? He’s quite a man.
He’s an amazing guy. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever worked with and one of the nicest. I was very intimidated at first because he sort of is Ron Swanson in his regular life—he commands respect. But he’s a teddy bear once you get to know him and he’s amazing. The whole cast was just fantastic.

You’re 18 now but at the time you were definitely going through things very similar to Joe I’m sure.
Yeah, Joe is kind of an everyman. He’s this young man who’s just very confused. He lost his mother, and so he’s left with just his dad and their relationship is not very good. He just wants to have some independence for once and that’s really what drives him away from home—to assert himself as a man. So I resonated with that. I’m from Seattle and I grew up playing in the woods, and I really responded to that. Joe has an amazing imagination. He doesn’t always think his plans through, but the imagination and thought is there. I was 17 when we filmed this, so I was coming up to legal adulthood—I’m still a kid—so shooting this film was nice because it just reminded me a lot of my own childhood and we just got to play around in the woods and have a lot of fun, so in that regard it was refreshing and just a great way to spend the summer.

How did you find your way into acting in the first place?
I come from theater. I did a lot of theater in Seattle. I was never really very good at sports so I had to do something and I started community theater and really enjoyed it. It was one of the first things I truly felt a passion for, and I just kept working at it. I came down to LA on a whim and Melissa and Joey—the television show I’m currently on now—was my second audition in LA. That was my first big break, I guess you could say.

Was it nerve-wracking to take on a leading role such as this for your first feature? 
Perhaps it helped that this was Jordan’s full-length directorial debut as well. Honestly, I believed in the script and the people involved. But it was intimidating because Joe is in almost every scene, but once I actually got on set and started working with these guys, all of the reservations and nervousness kind of went away and I trusted Jordan’s process and it really worked out well. The first time I’d seen the film was at Sundance and I was just blown away.

Did you know that the film was going to have those very ethereal elements to it?
I always had an idea of that. Jordan and Ross would just elope off into the woods and do crazy nature shots, but I didn’t know the extent of it. But we were at really, really beautiful locations so it was hard to not take advantage of that.

Do you want to continue taking on feature roles like this?
Yeah, I’d love to continue down that road. There’s a lot of creative freedom there and it’s just a very fun place to be. There are not many better ways I could spend a couple of months than making a movie.

I really loved the opening scene of the film where you’re banging on the pipe and dancing—but that wasn’t even in the script was it?
No, that actually was all improvised. On our day off, us guys and Jordan, Ross, and Chris, we all went out and we started banging on this pipe and Moses started dancing—we had no idea it would make it in. I thought it would go into the huge archive of B-roll we’d shot, but it turned out to kind of be the backbone of the film. It kind of ties it all together.

Were there a lot of moments like that throughout the film?

Jordan would basically just turn the cameras on us and say "do something," and a lot of that made it into the film and actually added a whole lot to the actual tone and made it more authentic.

[More by Hillary Weston; Follow Hillary on Twitter and Tumblr]

Get Excited for ‘The Kings of Summer’ With New Clips + Stream the Full Soundtrack

So far, we’ve seen two trailers for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ hilarious, energetic, and beautiful male coming-of-age story The Kings of Summer. As the first feature from the director—best known for his short film Successful Alcoholics—Vogt’s new film has an extremely unique and fun sense to it that calls to mind the great teens films of the past but in a fresh way that will surely rope in audiences across the board.

With a cast that boasts Nick Offerman, Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, Gabriel Basso, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, etc. the film tells the tale of three teenage friends who, in an act of rebellion against their parents, decide to run away for the summer and build a home in the woods, attempting to be real men. 
 
And now, with the film premiering this Friday, we’ve got three new clips from the film along with Ryan Miller’s soundtrack for the film streaming. And although the clips don’t quite show you the truly cinematic nature of the film, they surely lure you in with laughter. Watch the videos HERE, take a listen to HERE, and check back on our site later for our interview with Robinson and later in the week to hear Jordan’s wise words on making a different kind of teenage movie.
 

Watch a New Red-Band Trailer for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ ‘The Kings of Summer’

It’s certainly been a year full of coming-of-age, teen-centric films. From Spring Breakers‘ sex and drug-fueled debauchery odyssey to the upcoming shiny young fashion heist film The Bling Ring, we’ve seen myriad portrayals of youth loosening their morals and rebelling against their mundane lives in the most nonsensical of ways. But when it comes to the most enjoyable films of the year, one of the best depictions of youth has yet to hit theaters—Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer.

As hilarious and delightful as it cinematically gorgeous, Vogt-Roberts’ film feels like Terrence Malick and Jeff Nichols teamed up to direct a Judd Apatow script—you know, if that makes sense. And being someone who wouldn’t usually boast teenage boy coming-of-age films as her usual fare, this one was certainly tops. As the first feature from the director—best known for his short film Successful Alcoholics—Vogt’s The Kings of Summer has an extremely unique and fun sense to it that calls to mind the great teens films of the past but in a fresh way that will surely rope in audiences across the board.
 
With a cast that boasts Nick Offerman, Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, Gabriel Basso, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, etc. the film tells the tale of three teenage friends who, in an act of rebellion against their parents, decide to run away for the summer and build a home in the woods, attempting to be real men. And so far, we’ve already seen a trailer for the film but today a red band trailer has arrived, giving a much better look into the feature. 
 
See for yourself below, and stay turned for our interview with the filmmaker next week.
 

First Trailer for Sundance Favorite ‘The Kings of Summer’

Coming-of-age stories are nothing new to Hollywood—in fact, they’re pretty well worn territory. And for every Stand By Me or The Sandlot, you can bet there will be a thousand Free Willy sequels. One of the most lauded films from Sundance this year will vie for a place in the coming-of-age movie pantheon, and has the favorable reviews from its festival premiere to back it up.

The Kings of Summer tells the story of three adolescent friends (newcomers Nick Robinson, Moises Arias and Gabriel Basso) who, bored, frustrated with authority and feeling stifled by their ho-hum suburban lives, decide to go all Thoreau, live in the woods and build themselves a house there. Of course, things don’t quite turn out the way they expect, as tends to happen in these kinds of situations. Adding to the fun of the coming-of-age-flick idyll is the cast of adults alongside the young stars, including the wonderfully grizzled and deadpan Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie. The Kings of Summer hits theatres May 31st; in the meantime, check out the trailer below.