Off to the Movies with Josh Schwartz
ABOVE: JOSH SCHWARTZ ON THE SET OF FUN SIZE. PHOTO COURTESY OF JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD.
The Killers, The Walkmen, A.C. Newman, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, Imogen Heap, Sufjan Stevens…it’s difficult to talk about Josh Schwartz’s first show, The O.C., without mentioning myriad bands it introduced into the mainstream. When Schwartz created The O.C., he was only 26—not the age of your average showrunner. It introduced actors Rachel Bilson, Mischa Barton, and Adam Brody to the world (or the paparazzi), but by now, the show is better remembered for the bands it showcased, and for launching Schwartz’s career, than for its fading stars.
But that was five years ago. Since The O.C., Schwartz has gone on to helm Gossip Girl, Chuck, and produce and write for Hart of Dixie and the upcoming Carrie Diaries. He’s a name synonymous with television success, and film seems like the obvious next step. This Friday, Josh Schwartz will make his directorial and feature film debut with Fun Size. Sticking to the teen genre, Fun Size stars Victoria Justice as Wren, a high-schooler who just wants to go to the Halloween party being thrown by the hottest guy in school (our friend Thomas McDonell). Unfortunately for Wren, she also has to baby-sit her little brother, and she loses him in the process.
Here, Josh and his frequent collaborator, music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas, discuss the Beastie Boys, Fun Size, coming of age at any age, moving away from MTV, and picking the perfect song.
ALEXANDRA PATSAVAS: I was just thinking today that we have been working together since the fall of 2003.
JOSH SCHWARTZ: That is a long time.
PATSAVAS: I remember how delighted and excited I was when I got hired on The O.C. Had you always intended that to be as musical as it turned out to be?
SCHWARTZ: Great first question. The pilot had a couple of key musical moments that were in the script from the get-go— Joseph Arthur’s song at the end of the pilot—and so music was something that was very important to me at that time. What I did not expect was how much the music on the show would end up becoming so defining of people’s experiences of the show. You put some songs in an episode that you really like, and all of a sudden you realize that people are not only buying the music that’s in the show, but talking about it. That was one of the greatest parts of doing the show. Certainly, when we started the pilot, I did not expect that a year later there would be a Bait Shop where bands would be performing.
PATSAVAS: Right, and a series of covers.
SCHWARTZ: Yeah, six soundtracks.
PATSAVAS: I remember in the first soundtrack, almost all the songs were scripted, so you must have had so many of those songs in mind…
SCHWARTZ: Part of the reason why we were like, “We must hire somebody!” and we brought you on board very early in the process, was there was a moment where I was literally scouring the aisles of Amoeba [record store in California] back when I used to buy CDs: “I think I’ve used up all the songs that I like right now, where else do you find new music?” And then Alex Patsavas was brought into my world.
PATSAVAS: Aw, gosh. Well, you’re still scouring, and certainly a great deal of the music is personal to you and music that you found and that you like.
SCHWARTZ: A nice collaboration. The other moment where I remember very distinctly going, “Oh, the music on the show is really breaking through to the audience,” was there was an episode where the kids go to Tijuana—it was the last of our summer episodes—and Seth and Summer get in an argument in the car about Death Cab for Cutie, and the fact that he was just talking about that band got people into the music.
PATSAVAS: That’s right. Those kids went to see bands and they talked about it just like any teenager would talk about bands in real life.
SCHWARTZ: Yeah. The thing I can look back on now and appreciate is the timing of our show, that the music we were using on the show—the music that was important to me, to you, to the characters—was music that you couldn’t really find anywhere else. It was the kind of end of MTV playing music, and [it] predated the explosion of Internet radio or satellite radio. It was really the only place that you could get turned on to new music that wasn’t just top 40.
I would argue that we used music that sounded just as good in Gossip Girl and in Chuck, but the difference is that The O.C. was happening at a time where it was the only place you could get that music. Certainly, I was all of a sudden really hearing songs that we used in the show in other people’s shows or in trailers or in movies. Sometimes even a year later.
PATSAVAS: Right, at a restaurant, at Target. It was so interesting to feel that ripple. All your shows are so delicious and addictive and about growing up.
SCHWARTZ: With Fun Size coming out, I’ve been asked a lot about, “So when are you going to get over teenagers?” Undefensively, my answer is “Never.” Chuck was a guy in his 20s—and I’m still hoping to do this Bright Lights, Big City movie, which is a guy in his 20s—but they’re still coming-of-age stories. I think coming-of-age stories can happen at any time. Movies I grew up on—the John Hughes movies, the Amblin [Entertainment] movies—those were movies about kids or teenagers, but treated in a way that they always felt like adults. Their issues were not looked down upon. We tried in our shows to have the same attitude, and the same goes for Fun Size: the issues that these characters are facing, we’re not just rolling our eyes and saying they’re “teenage problems,” we are treating them like they are the adults of the story. Very often in these shows, and especially in Fun Size, the adults in the movie are much less well behaved than the kids.
PATSAVAS: [laughs] When you first read Fun Size, what was it about it that grabbed you and made you want to direct it?
SCHWARTZ: There was one scene in particular. I was, at first, a little afraid of it because it was a comedy, and while there is humor in our shows, I’ve never done anything that was a straight comedy. But there’s a scene later in the movie that—the story is about this girl who loses her little brother on Halloween and the adventures they all go on, but it’s really about this family and this family needing to heal itself—so there’s a scene late in the movie where that becomes very clear. It’s a much more emotional scene than what’s taken place before that and surprising to find in what you think is a hijinks-driven comedy. That scene, for me, was the reason I wanted to direct the movie. I said to the actress from day one, “If we can get people to respond to that scene, that meant that they were invested in the characters, whether or not they were laughing at every single gag that came before it.”
PATSAVAS: Can you talk a little bit about the experience of directing Fun Size?
SCHWARTZ: Sure, it was a great experience. It was extremely hard in some ways, just the sheer kind of physical challenge of having a limited amount of days.
PATSAVAS: That’s right, all night shoots, wasn’t it?
SCHWARTZ: After the first day of shooting they were like, “This completes the daytime portion of the movie,” and we converted to hard nights for the next four or five weeks. It didn’t get dark, ’cause it was summer, ’til nine o’clock at night and you were shooting until the sun came up, so you had shorter shooting time then you would normally have. They tell you to never work with kids or animals; obviously, [the character] Albert, an eight-year-old, played by seven-year-old Jackson Nicoll, is the heart of the movie. The sheer amount of parties, kids in costumes, that we had throughout the whole film…
PATSAVAS: I know you really had to recreate that quintessential Halloween.
SCHWARTZ: Trying to recreate Halloween in the middle of July when it’s, like, 102 degrees out and people are passing out from heat exhaustion. So, all of that was challenging, but it was incredibly exciting. Every day a thousand things could go wrong, and you always had to be on your toes and willing to make the best of whatever situation you were facing. I was very lucky that the cast was so excited and so collaborative and so trusting. For a lot of them, it was their first movie.
PATSAVAS: It has so much heart and is so exciting to watch. I’ve definitely watched it a bit and I love it.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you. I’ve never watched anything more in my life, there was a period that I was watching it three times a day for weeks and weeks and weeks on end. On TV, you make an episode, you’ve got about a week to edit it and then you’re on to the next one. The idea of just working on one thing where, in that same span of time in TV you’ve made 22 of those things, was a whole other discipline. [It was] actually quite fun and liberating.
PATSAVAS: Did you enjoy the focus?
SCHWARTZ: I did enjoy the focus; it was nice being able to focus. TV, especially network TV, is by its nature a medium of imperfection, ’cause you just never have enough time.
PATSAVAS: Fun Size, like so many of your TV projects, does have a musical sort of song-based point of view. What were you thinking about for this movie? And what are some of the special band and song elements in it?
SCHWARTZ: One of the challenges was, we shot the movie last summer so we put a bunch of music in the movie that we knew, by the time the movie was coming out a year later, would be out of date.
PATSAVAS: Which is not something you like to do.
SCHWARTZ: Usually you find a song —”This is the perfect song, we will never beat this song”—but you know in the back of your head you have to beat it because it’s played out a year later. I’m really glad we had that extra time, because there’s a couple Passion Pit songs, there’s a Milo Greene song—I can’t imagine those songs not being in the movie, they just feel so perfect and they feel much better than what we had temped in a year ago. Those songs wouldn’t have even been available to us [a year ago], I don’t even know if they had been created then.
PATSAVAS: They were still gestating, I think.
SCHWARTZ: There were a couple of songs that you went after to find some sort of indie-rock version of a Halloween song.
PATSAVAS: Which I must say, there’s not a lot out there.
SCHWARTZ: There’s not a lot of Halloween music out there. So we have “Make Out In The Grave Yard” by Self and “Masquerade” was performed by Sleeping At Last.
PATSAVAS: That’s right, Ryan O’Neal.
SCHWARTZ: But then there was a big component to the movie, which is the idea that Wren’s father worked in the music business for a little while when he was much younger. In the movie, he’s passed away, and Wren reveres him and wears a jacket of his that for her is her way of holding on to him. Originally, it was Thin Lizzie, and we did the math on that and realized it was going to make her dad much older.
PATSAVAS: That was actually going to be her grandfather.
SCHWARTZ: Exactly. So we needed to figure out a band that felt appropriate; age appropriate in terms of the fact that Wren’s dad could have worked on that album, a classic reference that all the parents, the adults in the movie would get, but also timeless and still relevant so that for 15-year-olds or 13-year-olds seeing the movie who may not know this band as well as people our age do.
There’s not a lot of bands that fit that bill, and it was the Beastie Boys who felt like they checked all those boxes. We really made a concerted effort to reach out to the band and their manager, and really talk about how the band would, not just have a song featured in the movie, but actually be a part of the story of the movie. We were able to, not only license “Fight For Your Right To Party,” but some artwork that was from License To Ill era. Wren’s jacket that she wears in the movie is based off of Mike D’s Def Jam jacket. I think it’s probably the coolest musical integration that we’ve done, not just because it involves The Beastie Boys and one of the all-time great albums, but also the way it’s so much a part of the story.
PATSAVAS: Yes, yeah and the jacket—she’s so at home in that jacket.
SCHWARTZ: Everyone that sees that movie wants that jacket.
PATSAVAS: I would like that jacket, for sure. Great, well I think that’s it.
SCHWARTZ: Well done, Alex, you’re a good interviewer. I can see a public access show in your future.
Alexandra Patsavas is a professional music supervisor and has worked on Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy, Chuck, The OC, Supernatural, Gossip Girl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Twilight: Breaking Dawn. Patsavas frequently collaborates with Josh Schwartz.
FUN SIZE COMES OUT THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26.