Katie Aselton faced a lot of unexpected challenges while directing Mack and Rita, her new body-switching comedy starring Diane Keaton and Elizabeth Lail.
À la Freaky Friday, Keaton plays Rita, the 70-year-old version of Elizabeth Lail’s 30-year-old writer, Mack, who questions her identity so much that she tells a dodgy past-life regressionist (Simon Rex) that she just wants to be a grandma already. She gets her wish — and has to learn to navigate life in her new body with the help of her best friend (Taylour Paige) and her neighbor (Dustin Milligan).
But with a relatively small budget and a production delayed and then largely hindered by COVID, Aselton, an accomplished actress who played Keaton’s daughter in the 2018 movie Book Club, had to get creative with what she could do as a director.
“I came onto this project in January of 2020, which is the beginning of all great stories — the big dreams of January 2020 and what we all thought was going to happen, and then what didn’t happen,” she told MovieMaker in a video interview, which you can watch above. “For me, that was like, ‘Remember when I was going to direct Diane Keaton in a movie?’ Because it felt like it just like completely went away. Our funding went away. We were supposed to shoot at Coachella, like the whole body [switching scene] — the whole regression pod was in a side tent of Coachella. That went away. And so it just didn’t feel like it was going to happen.”
Miraculously, producer Alex Saks pulled through with new financing — but it came with a catch.
“In October, Alex [Saks] called and was like, ‘I could get us some money, but we’re gonna have to really scale the movie down, change these major set pieces and rework group scenes.’ We couldn’t have more than a certain number of people in a certain amount of space. And so there was just a lot of juggling and reworking, and we did it,” Aselton said.
Aselton’s experience making her first two films, The Freebie and Black Rock, prepared her to work within the confines of what is considered a small budget by Hollywood standards.
“I can’t wait to see what it’s like to work with a ridiculous budget that allows for time and all,” she said. That seems so foreign to me… this movie was made on still a very tiny, small budget but it was so much bigger than the two movies I’ve done before. My first movie I made for $10,000. So that’s no money. The next movie was made for $250,000 or $200,000. So a movie of this size, which was made for under $500,000… I still felt like my playground just got enormous and I had so much fun. But still, we were having to exist within the constraints of time and budget. And you know, I guess any filmmaker will say there’s never enough time and there’s never enough money, and they’re probably right, because the more money you have, the bigger problems you have.”
Because of the pandemic, she didn’t get to test the actors chemistry together before they filmed their scenes together.
“None of my actors met before their first day of shooting. There were no rehearsals, there were no chemistry reads. It was just a crapshoot of, like, me sitting down over Zoom like this and being like, I’m getting a vibe from this personality. I feel like Taylour Paige and Diane [Keaton] could be really fun together… I think that Elizabeth and Dustin could have cool chemistry, maybe. And it really was — it was wild to get them all on set and watch it work,” she said. “I thanked my lucky stars every night when I went home because it could have gone either way.”
Another problem they encountered was wind at the Santa Monica Pier, which caused two very important shoot days to be combined into one.
“We had crazy logistical things as we were shooting — our day out at the beach shooting the Marie Claire Power Summit, there was like an insane wind storm with gale force winds that picked up our tents like we were in the Wizard of Oz and just sent them up to Malibu,” she said. “We had to go back and finish shooting that day. The only day we could fit it in was the day that Diane is stepping out of the tanning bed. So it was like, my two biggest moments got crammed and truncated in on the same day. That was crazy.”
In the end, though, Aselton is happy with the changes that had to be made.
“I kind of love the script more now than what it was then, which is like — sometimes when the set pieces get too big, you get caught up in that and you sort of lose your characters and your story a little bit. So I loved scaling it down the way we needed to.”
Mack & Rita is now in theaters.
Watch the full interview with Katie Aselton above.
Main Image: Dustin Milligan and Diane Keaton in Mack & Rita.