Director Jay Stern on the set of SAY MY NAME | ©2019 Electric Entertainment/Huw John, Cardiff

Director Jay Stern on the set of SAY MY NAME | ©2019 Electric Entertainment/Huw John, Cardiff

The quirky, dark-ish rom-com SAY MY NAME (opening Friday nationwide) takes place on a small island off the coast of Wales. Here, a visiting American woman, played by Lisa Brenner (also one of the film’s producers), gets together with a depressed local man, played by Nick Blood, for what both will imagine will be a one-night stand. Things take a turn – and then many more turns – when their hotel room is invaded by a couple of thieves.

Jay Stern directed the Electric Entertainment production from a script by Deborah Frances-White. Stern’s previous work includes the features THE CHANGELING, SPIRIT CABINET, and THE ADVENTURES OF PAUL AND MARIAN. In this exclusive interview, Stern talks about keeping things unpredictable.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you become involved in the project?

JAY STERN: Lisa and I were old friends and had been looking for a project to do together. I was also old friends with Deborah Frances-White, and had read the first draft of SAY MY NAME back in 2009. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to direct it, and I told Deborah so. She was already working with a production company on the project and it wasn’t available. Years later, after several almost-starts, the rights had reverted to Deborah. Once I found that out, I immediately connected Lisa and Deborah.

AX: Did you steer the script in any particular direction once you were involved?

STERN: Yes, we did rewrites to tailor the script to Lisa and to give her character a fuller backstory. Deborah, Lisa and I worked through several drafts together. The whole resolution of the movie is new. And the idea that Mary is an American on a remote Welsh island is new to this version, and was a really good addition to the story.

AX: Was it always set in Wales?

STERN: The first draft of the script I read was set in America. In fact, that’s why I read it – Deborah wanted me to give it a look-over to make sure it felt properly American. The most recent incarnation of the movie was set in the UK though. We changed the locale to Wales for production purposes.

AX: Do you think the movie would have been different if it was set and shot in the States? What did shooting in UK afford you that you couldn’t accomplish anywhere else?

STERN: Oh yes, it would have been quite different if we shot it in the States. First off, all of the character types would have been quite different, and the dialogue and atmospherics would be quite different as well.

Shooting in the UK gave us access to an amazing pool of character actors who we wouldn’t necessarily have access to if we shot the movie, say, on an island off the coast of Washington State. And Welsh crews are of top quality – much more experienced and professional than your average American indie crew. Since there are such few indie British movies made, our Welsh crew, which normally works on TV shows such as DOCTOR WHO and CASUALTY, really relished the chance to spend three weeks on something different. That would have been harder to find in the States. And of course the Welsh locations gave us instant production value. You’re not going to find a 600-year-old church to film in in the U.S.

Lisa Brenner in SAY MY NAME | ©2019 Electric Entertainment

Lisa Brenner in SAY MY NAME | ©2019 Electric Entertainment

AX: How would you describe the genre?

STERN: One of the strengths of SAY MY NAME and any true indie movie, is that it dances between genres. Deborah was influenced by screwball comedies when she wrote the script, and in many ways it’s a modern screwball. But there’s a darker, more dramatic element to the movie that takes it somewhere else in the end. For practical purposes we refer to the movie as a “rom com,” but it’s really much more than that.

AX: How would you describe your approach to comedy in SAY MY NAME?

STERN: My approach to SAY MY NAME and to any comedy in fact, is to keep it real. I try not to play things for laughs, or to “perform” the comedy for the audience. Deborah’s script is so witty and the characters so well-defined, that pushing the comedy would have lessened its effect. If we had played it “wacky” or super broad, the meaningful moments wouldn’t have landed, and the audience wouldn’t care about the characters the way they do. I encouraged the actors to simply commit to the situation and to the attitudes of their characters and trusted that the comedy would arise out of that.

AX: Did you have different approaches to different revelations within the story?

STERN: I treated each moment as its own genuine thing. So I suppose I approached them differently, but not intentionally so. I wanted the more emotional moments to harmonize with the sillier moments, so we were attentive to make sure the tone of the movie was consistent overall, although the story takes the audience really different places.

AX: How do you like to work with your actors?

STERN: I work in both theater and film, so I’m possibly a bit more collaborative with my actors than other film directors. If I’ve cast the movie correctly, I mostly stay out of their way.

AX: What was the most challenging aspect of making the film?

STERN: Shooting a low budget movie in another country among another culture — and Wales is far more foreign to an American than I anticipated — with a new crew in a short period of time was challenging all around. One of my biggest challenges as a director though was making the long opening section of the movie in the hotel room continuously interesting and surprising, even though it takes place in one room.

AX: What was the most satisfying aspect of making the film?

STERN: Working with this cast and crew on this amazing script. With this team and this script, every day on set was satisfying. That hardly ever happens.

AX: What would you most like people to know about SAY MY NAME?

STERN: SAY MY NAME evokes some of the great qualities of old-school screwball comedies, but with a modern perspective. And it’s the rare rom com where the woman drives the story, while the guy is the one forced to go on the adventure. It’s a satisfying corrective to that genre, without being dogmatic or preachy about it. Mostly, SAY MY NAME is a genuinely fun indie film. That makes it more unique than you would think.


Related: Movie Review: SAY MY NAME

Related: Exclusive Interview with SAY MY NAME actress Lisa Brenner on her new romantic comedy

And on Saturday, June 15, 2019, director Jay Stern and actress Lisa Brenner will appear for a special Q&A after the 6:00pm show at the Arena Cinelounge in Los Angeles. CLICK HERE for more details

SAY MY NAME Q&A | ©2019 Electric Entertainment

SAY MY NAME Q&A | ©2019 Electric Entertainment

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Article: Exclusive Interview with SAY MY NAME director Jay Stern on his new quirky romantic comedy



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