Hannah Marks’ new Amazon family drama Don’t Make Me Go tells the story of a father-daughter road trip across the United States, starting in California and making stops in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. But if you didn’t know it was all shot in New Zealand, you might never have been the wiser.
Don’t Make Me Go follows Max (John Cho), a dedicated single dad who finds out he has terminal cancer and abruptly decides to take his teenage daughter, Wally (Mia Isaac), on a cross-country road trip under the guise of attending his college reunion. But Max must keep more than one secret from Wally as he secretly tracks down her estranged mother, whom she hasn’t seen since she was a baby.
“It was definitely a challenge, but a fun challenge,” Hannah Marks, the actress-turned-writer-director behind Mark, Mary & Some Other People and After Everything, told MovieMaker. “The whole movie was shot in Auckland, and then a little bit in Christchurch, which is in the South Island.”
“Thankfully, we had a really committed production designer and we were very strategic about our shot list and our angles… but it was really just as much prepping and planning as we could squeeze into the time we had to really account for the fact that not every angle would work,” she added. “The landscapes there are so beautiful, and it can be a real shame to not be able to shoot them.”
One not-so-subtle but very effective way to make it clear what state the characters are in is to use title cards that say “California” or “Texas” or “New Mexico,” Marks told us. The ones that she used in Don’t Make Me Go had aesthetically-pleasing fonts like the ones you’d see on a vintage postcard.
Another challenge Marks faced in New Zealand was finding cars with the steering wheel on the left, as is the custom in America, rather than on the right, which is customary in New Zealand.
“They drive on the other side of the road there, so making a road trip movie for America’s summer when we were in New Zealand in the winter was a big challenge — and just finding enough left-hand drive cars,” Hannah Marks said.
It’s also no accident that John Cho’s character, Max, drives a vintage Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
“The reason we have a vintage Wagoneer in the movie is actually because left-hand drive cars there are illegal past a certain year,” she said. “It really opened doors to new options that I think helped the movie, because that created a new character with this Wagoneer that Max loves so much and kind of hints at his past a little bit. So that was a challenge, but also a blessing.”
Filming in New Zealand also gave Marks the opportunity to cast Skins star Kaya Scodelario as Max’s love interest, Annie. It turns out that Scodelario’s husband, Benjamin Walker, was there filming Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings series.
“It worked out great because she did a chemistry read with John [Cho] and they were just terrific together, and she was living right next to where we were shooting,” she said.
Don’t Make Me Go premieres July 15 on Amazon Prime Video.
Main Image: Mia Isaac and John Cho on the set of Don’t Make Me Go in New Zealand. Photo by Tamar Münch, courtesy of Amazon.