Writer-director Becca Gleason and actress Joey King sat down with Cultured Vultures following the premiere of Summer ’03 at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.
Thanks for joining us today and congrats on the world premiere of Summer ’03 at SXSW. Joey King: Thank you!
How much of a thrill is it to premiere Summer ’03 at SXSW? Becca Gleason: It’s like an unspeakable amount of stress and joy.
Joey King: Stressed joy. I’m so excited. I love festivals. The only other festival that I’ve been to for a film that I’m in was Sundance and that was amazing. Now being here for a movie that is directed by someone who I love and adore and became with so close with and I’m also the lead in is so exciting.
Becca Gleason: I’ve been here before. To come with a feature is so crazy and so much pressure but so much fun! Everyone cares a lot more about the fun, the movies, and the atmosphere than the craziness that is other festivals where it’s like acquisitions, acquisitions, acquisitions! You’re not spending time actually appreciating the art of going to see a bunch of really fucking cool movies. That’s what I like about SXSW. After this, I’m going to binge watch a bunch of cool stuff.
I just went to my first Sundance in January and I’m enjoying the nicer weather. Becca Gleason: It’s definitely less cold.
Joey King: It’s hot as hell here.
Why Cincinnati? Becca Gleason: I’m from there!
Oh, really?! I’m from Louisville and went to Northern Kentucky for college. Becca Gleason: Really?! I was at UC for a hot sec and then I left. It’s a great place to grow up. There’s something about Midwestern towns or at least Cincinnati is for me. I love the childhood I had there. It’s a great place to grow up but it’s given me so much material in my life. It was the suburbs but it wasn’t boring. I always go back to Cincinnati no matter what I’m doing. I’m always thinking about how can I shoot this in Cincinnati even though we didn’t. We shot it in Atlanta but we made it work.
Given that you directed a few shorts before making your first feature, did that help with the process being less overwhelming? Becca Gleason: What’s cool with shorts is like ten people see them. You can just throw whatever you want at a wall and see if that works. That’s the great thing about shorts. You have a ton more room to play and be really experimental and do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Through shorts, I found myself as a filmmaker. I know what I like and I know where I want the camera to be and how I want to shoot things. I learned my style and my voice through making short films. I think it’s an incredible tool for a filmmaker. I couldn’t imagine going into this movie without having ever made anything before. Shorts have helped. I sold a short not too long ago to the Sundance Now network. Shorts will get you made sometimes. I’m a big proponent of the short film work.
Joey, you absolutely carried the film and were phenomenal. Joey King: Thank you.
It’s one of my favorite performances of the year so far. Joey King: Oh my God, wow! Thank you so much.
This is coming from someone who’s seen maybe 110 films this year. Both: Whoa!
When you cover Sundance, Slamdance, and SXSW… Joey King: I have a friend just like you and he’s seen 100-something movies already this year. I think that’s amazing. Thank you so much! That means a lot to me and this movie means so much to me.
What attracted you to the script? Joey King: What didn’t attract me to the script?! My God! When I first read this, it was number one, unlike anything I’ve ever read. I felt so excited when I read it because I wanted this. I wanted to do it so bad. They were like, Oh, you have the offer. I was like, What, like me?! The story, the relationship that she has with parents. The relationship with her priest-in-training lover. The lessons that she learns, the way she learns them. I also love that, yes, she is a young girl in the script, but she’s doing and learning very adult lessons and making very grownup mistakes. It’s a movie that’s good for anyone. It’s not a kids movie by any means: number one, it’s rated R. But number two, it’s just really good to know that even though I’m a young person portraying a young person, I can try and reach out and relate to people who are not just young people.
Was it strange having to deal with dumb phones as I call them these days? Joey King: Oh my God!
Becca Gleason: What are they?
Joey King: Dumb phones. Dealing with a Nokia was amazing. That scene where you see me playing snake on the phone, they were setting up the cameras all around me. I was playing snake for 30 minutes. It’s like the best! I love them!
I remember playing that all the time in the car. Joey King: What else are you going to do? There’s nothing to do on the phone.
It was before the internet. One of my friend’s last night at Second City in 2010 was one of the my last days having a dumb phone. Becca Gleason: Those phones were fun. They broke a lot.
That underwater scene — the cinematography was so beautiful. Becca Gleason: We fought so hard almost to the point where here’s my credit card to get the underwater housing. Luckily, that didn’t have to happen. We were able to finagle it. There are a bunch of different options as how to shoot underwater. You could do the really janky way where you put a splash bag over the camera and you only get to submerge it halfway. It’s scary. It’s like an aquarium. Or there’s the way where you’re in the pool on top but you’ve got a bag over the camera and you’re shooting down. We were like no, we’ve got to get down in there and it’s super expensive. We rented it with a guy for a day and at that pool, we just made Joey hold her breath for so long — like twenty times.
Joey King: The problem is it wasn’t even that long. You guys are being very kind.
Becca Gleason: We did a lot of slo-mo.
Joey King: I am normally –I hold my breath in contests with friends at the pool. For some reason when someone tells you you have to hold your breath, it makes it ten times scarier which is so stupid. I had such a hard time with that scene. That was the one scene where, oh my God, I had such a difficult time and I don’t know why. I think the underwater scene looks great but I can also tell because it’s me on my own face — I’m like oh, my God, I’m scared! That was easily one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
Just the whole scene with June telling you the most important lesson in life is to have a proper blowjob. Joey King: Filming that scene was hysterical.
Becca Gleason: She’s amazing.
Joey King: Meeting June Squibb was—she’s just so kind and hilarious. Every line she delivered was—
Becca Gleason: Perfect.
Joey King: She’s just crazy good. I love that scene so much. “I had you baptized and you need to give a good blowjob.” It was so good.
Becca Gleason: She’s awesome. I love June Squibb. She came the most prepared out of anyone, even those guys (Paul Scheer and Andrea Savage).
Joey King: It’s true.
Becca Gleason: She just knew all of her lines. She did improv at the right spots. Luckily, she was in a bed the whole time so she was just chilling.
Joey King: She was happy. She took a nap every now and then.
Becca Gleason: She was very happy. Occasionally she would fall asleep.
Joey King: It was so cute.
Becca Gleason: It was just a dream to work with her. She’s just an amazing woman. She totally got the character being this maniacal woman. The day I got an email saying that June was reading, I was like, I don’t even care what happens, she’s reading my script! This is so cool!
Did you have anyone else in mind for the role? Becca Gleason: June Squibb was the one.
Joey King: Betty White would have been cool, though.
Becca Gleason: Betty White would have been cool. The only other person that was pitched to use was Ellen Burstyn but I think she was doing a play so June worked out for us. We love June.
Joey King: She was great.
Who are some of your influences as a filmmaker? Becca Gleason: We watched so many coming-of-age movies, my cinematographer and I. We watched The Perks of Being A Wallflower, which was like a solid but we wanted to get a little more artsy. I live in hand-held so we watched The Diaries of a Teenage Girl, which is one of my favorite fucking movies of all time. I’m obsessed with Marielle Heller. We watched this movie —it’s Portuguese, I think— Adrift with Vincent Cassel and this young woman. It’s her sexual coming-of-age. It’s incredible. We watched that because the style of it is similar. It’s a little more beachy than ours. Ours is a little more suburbs but the style and the way we shot it is drawn from that movie. We watched this weird Norwegian movie called Turn Me On, Dammit! which is a great movie if you haven’t seen it. We watched it and loved it but it was the opposite of how we wanted to shoot this movie. Everything is very static and things sort of happened in the frame and that was really cool. Just a bunch of movies that are about young people and told through these POVs, we watched and it sort of morphed into this weird piece of a film that we loved.
What was it like having to get advice from one of the Russo brothers for the blowjob scene? Becca Gleason: It was nice to be able to talk to another director and someone else understanding that, Oh yeah, that would be a hard thing to shoot. There aren’t very many ways to shoot a blow job without showing a dick.
Joey King: Or without showing a mouth.
Becca Gleason: You have to miss a lot. There’s a lot to the imagination. We were able to shoot the insert of her toes or her putting her hair back. We had to kind of fill it with things that you do.
Joey King: Like the knee on the ground. It was very clever, I must say. When I was filming that scene, I was very nervous—not because I was putting my head in Jack Kilmer’s lap or anything but because I was like, is this going to look super-provocative and distasteful?
Becca Gleason: I actually showed you the monitor that day. Everyone was like don’t show actors monitors. I think they should see the monitor because I think it will make them realize that no, this is the shot. It’s not going to be weird.
Joey King: What I like about working with Becca, too, is that she knows somehow what an actor’s brain is like–
Becca Gleason: I’m not an actor.
Joey King: –and how narcissistic and neurotic we are. I think the best thing about Becca is that she didn’t make anyone feel bad about the way they felt. A lot of times and they’re like, you’re never allowed to see the monitors, you’re never allowed to do this or this. It’s like, okay, I’m this but I’m a person. I think Becca really knew how to communicate with us to make us feel protected, respected, loved, and just cared for. When she gave me privileges of showing me what the shot was because I was scared or taking me aside and talking to me about certain things like how they’re going to shoot the sex scene and how all the stuff is going to go. She preempted me knowing I was probably going to be worried about it. Working with somebody who takes your feelings into consideration is amazing. The blowjob scene looked awesome!
Becca Gleason: It was so fun to cut!
What did you think of the reception following the film? Becca Gleason: It was kind of a whirlwind. I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations. A lot of people came up to me saying that they really liked it. I’m not looking at my phone. I’m hoping people feel satisfied afterwards and that they saw something that would hopefully mean something to them in some aspect for their life. You don’t have to be a woman to like this movie. You don’t have to be a man. There’s something for everyone in this movie even if it’s told through the eyes of a 16-year-old white girl.
Joey King: I think what’s amazing is how prominent the other characters are. It’s not just told through the eyes of me. I feel like every character has their own arc, a story. They’re not just background noise. My friend Emily in the movie, if Becca decided to write it on a whim, she could have easily been the slutty friend. Emily had so much more depth and so much more love. You cared for her in the end. Everyone had such heart, especially Paul and Andrea, who played my parents. They are amazing. Erin Darke, who plays my aunt — everyone just absolutely crushed it!
Becca Gleason: We’re all friends, too, which is really weird. That never happens.
Joey King: Everyone liked each other.
Becca Gleason: We’d all go out after set at 9 and eat dinner and close restaurants.
Joey King: We’d hang out on the weekend and go to escape rooms.
Becca Gleason: It was a family. Whatever happens with this movie and there’s no way to know. Hopefully, obviously other people will see it and it will get distribution because that’s the goal. I just made a bunch of really great friends that we still have a text chain together. This is six months later.
Joey King: Six months after the movie is done, the text chain is live —
Becca Gleason: All the time. At least we have that.
How long was the shoot? Becca Gleason: 20 days.
Joey King: 20 days of love and laughs.
Becca Gleason: And Becca nearly jumping off the cliff. It all worked out.
Joey King: Boobs and Jews–
Becca Gleason: Boobs and Jews.
Joey King: Boobs and Jews is going to be the name of my next book. I don’t have a book. I’m not going to write a book.
Why Fahrenheit 451? Becca Gleason: There’s so many reasons. The first reason being it’s just that book that you feel like you’re forced to read in middle school. Or it’s that book that you get that you’re like burning books or whatever. You’re reading these books and it’s really arbitrary and you feel like it’s something that you have to do. When it was me, that book in particular is the one that I was like, oh, no—this genre, I dig. I went right through my high school and middle school reading lists reading all the sci-fi ones like Brave New World and 1984. Fantasy-wise, even The Princess Bride—the book is so good. I just devoured that shit growing up.
That was so much of me in the story of just a woman who likes to talk about it. When I was kid and I was flirting with a guy and started bringing up George Orwell, it probably wouldn’t lead to a blow job or vice versa. I would do it all the time and not learn from my mistakes. Basically, I just wanted to write a story about this girl who isn’t afraid of who she is and likes what she reads and talks about it and eventually she gets what she wants. It’s a weird sort of fantasy in my brain.
Thank you again for your time and congrats on the film. Joey King: Thank you so much.
Becca Gleason: Thank you.
Summer ’03 premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and is awaiting distribution.