Erin's (Drew Barrymore) wry wit and unfiltered frankness charm newly single Garrett (Justin Long) over beer, bar trivia and breakfast the next morning. Their chemistry sparks a full-fledged summer fling, but neither expects it to last once Erin heads home to San Francisco and Garrett stays behind for his job in New York City. But when six weeks of romping through the city inadvertently become meaningful, neither is sure they want it to end. And while Garrett's friends Box (Jason Sudeikis) and Dan (Charlie Day) joke about his pre-flight calorie-cutting and his full-time relationship with his cell phone, they don't like losing their best drinking buddy to yet another rocky romance. At the same time, Erin's high-strung, overprotective married sister, Corinne (Christina Applegate), wants to keep Erin from heading down an all-too-familiar road.
But despite the opposite coasts, the nay-saying friends and family, and a few unexpected temptations, the couple just might have found something like love, and with the help of a lot of texting, sexting and late-night phone calls, they might actually go the distance.
Documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein ("On the Ropes") directed "Going the Distance," which marks her feature film directorial debut, from a screenplay by Geoff LaTulippe.
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES
A raucous and romantic comedy with both heart and heat, "Going the Distance" tells the story of what can happen when a beer-and-barbecued wings-fueled one-night stand accidentally turns into something more.
When Erin and Garrett hook up, their intentions are to have a few fun and frisky weeks before she heads back to grad school in San Francisco and he stays in New York City. But when Erin's about to board a plane for home, they both realize they have developed deeper feelings for one another, and they don't want whatever it is they have together to end. So, they decide to give the "long distance thing" a go.
The film stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as the cross-country couple whose booty calls actually take place over the phone. Barrymore reveals, "I liked this story because it had a lot of humor and it was sexy, but it was also surprisingly emotional. I couldn't stop thinking about these characters and I really cared about why or how they were or weren't able to work out their issues. Any story that deals with the complexities of a relationship in a very comical and contemporary way totally interests me."
"I'd been reading a lot of romantic comedies," Long recalls, "and this one really stood out for me in the sense that it was much more raw and realistic, and very funny, too. It didn't hold back at all."
"Coming from documentaries, where I capture real life, I wanted to direct a movie that would feel as real as possible--people do swear, and they say what's on their mind," says director Nanette Burstein. "It was such a fresh story and the premise was so natural. I really responded to the material and I felt that a lot of people would relate to it."
Producer Adam Shankman agrees. "It's a pretty honest look at the perils of the long distance relationship, which can be really hard no matter how much the people involved adore each other."
Shankman and his producing partner, Jennifer Gibgot, also found the realistic, mature nature of the comedy refreshing. "It was very exciting to both Jennifer and me because we hadn't ventured into that territory, and the truth of the matter is, my sense of humor leans a bit toward the subversive," Shankman offers.
"There's a tremendous amount of freedom when you're shooting a scene, whether it's a love scene, a fight scene, whatever, if the characters can talk the way that people really talk," Gibgot states.
The screenplay was penned by first-time feature writer Geoff LaTulippe, who didn't have to look far for inspiration. "The idea for the story actually came--and this would be shocking to a lot of people--from a night of drinking," he deadpans. He and executive producer Dave Neustadter were kicking around ideas when Neustadter mentioned that he had just gotten out of a long distance relationship. "Dave had a bunch of stories about what he'd gone through, and neither of us could remember the subject being the focus of a movie before, certainly not a comedy. We thought it was full of comedic set ups and could actually bear out some really heartfelt stuff, too, but with an edge. Real life has an edge to it."
The writer had no problem pushing the boundaries when it came to the scenarios and the dialogue. In addition to his romance, Garrett has a bromance going on with the other significant others in his life, best friends Box and Dan, played by rising comedy stars Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. LaTulippe put these characters in a few unexpected, if utterly real, situations.
"It's not the `50s anymore, we're not afraid to see women's knees and hear F-bombs, and it seemed like anything that was funny was fair game in the script," Day smiles.
"There was a script? I didn't read a script," kids Sudeikis.
"The world is populated by people with a sardonic perspective, and Geoff is definitely one of them," Shankman offers. "The story was not overly earnest, because it has characters who have that sense of irony, who know they're living in the real world and doing what real people do to try to stay together in what's not the best of circumstances. That includes maintaining their sense of humor."
Producer Garrett Grant contends, "With today's economic environment making it even harder on young people who aren't established in their careers, it's a struggle to make things work when you don't have as many choices. Not having the luxury of working wherever you want or the money to travel back-and-forth very often is tough, so this really hits home."
A FEW GOOD MEN
On-screen chemistry is arguably never more important in film than in a romantic comedy, but if the filmmakers were going to push the comedy envelope, good chemistry between all of the cast members would be critical, especially since Burstein planned to encourage improvisation on the set.
"I really wanted to loosen things up and let it feel as real as possible, so I knew we'd have to cast actors that are not only tremendously talented but also funny in their own right," the director says.
"All the stars literally aligned for us," says Grant of the top-notch cast they assembled, including rom-com veteran Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Christina Applegate and comedic actors Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day.
Gibgot notes, "Because Erin and Garrett spend so much time apart, the friends and family are really important characters and we wanted to surround Drew and Justin with an amazing supporting cast, with everybody bringing something funny to the table."
The role of aspiring journalist Erin required Barrymore to be both tough and vulnerable, with a smartass sense of humor. "Drew has often played an America's sweetheart type of character, but Erin is strong-willed, she curses, she speaks her mind freely and is really on equal footing with the guys. Drew played it without losing any of her charm," Burstein states.
"Erin is a very strong girl; she can go to bars and win at video games and hang with the boys," Barrymore offers. "But she put a relationship ahead of her dreams before and resented it, so she's not going to do it again. I really liked playing someone with a sharp tongue and wit and honesty. I loved her bravado."
"Being an educated woman of around 30, still interning in a shrinking job market, there's a lot of competition and that's frustrating," Shankman says. "So, like a lot of young professionals, Erin goes out after work to blow off steam. "She plays as hard as she works," the producer adds. "I think Drew felt that was a refreshing change of pace and she was fantastic in the role."
On the receiving end of Erin's affections is Garrett, an A&R scout who's passionate about cool, indie music, but who's being forced to handle much more commercial bands at the label where he works. He's also something of a self-saboteur when it comes to serious relationships. The role is played by Long, whom Shankman describes as "a kind of 'every man' who guys can relate to and girls really like."
"Garrett's kind of stuck in a rut, both professionally and personally," Long asserts. "He's a low-level executive trying to gain a foothold in an industry that, in his opinion, has kind of sold out. And he's just been dumped by a girl he's been seeing for a few months because, once again, he couldn't go to the next level. Then he meets this girl, this crazy, pixie-ish, slightly badass girl who is cute and makes him laugh, and he's very intrigued--and, spoiler alert: they get together."
"To me, both Erin and Garrett are really honest, flawed characters," Shankman observes. "Garrett behaves pretty badly at times, Erin behaves pretty badly at other times, and they both behave selfishly. But even though life is giving them an 'out,' they're honestly trying to make a go of it before they decide if it's too big of a commitment. And while humor infuses almost everything, the emotional scenes with Justin and Drew really anchor the film."
Throughout the movie, both Erin and Garrett have the support--and skepticism--of friends and, in Erin's case, family. Christina Applegate plays Corinne, Erin's overprotective sister who is less than thrilled with her little sister's romantic choices, both past and present.
Applegate infused her character with a backstory in which "it had really just been the two of them for many years; I thought perhaps Corinne had kind of raised Erin," the actress speculates. "Therefore, she's very controlling of her world as well as her sister, but at the same time she has her own moments where she's a little naughty."
"Christina and Drew were great," Burstein declares. "Even though this was their first time working together, they absolutely felt like real sisters to me."
Barrymore agrees. "I loved working with Christina," she says. "She was totally inspiring and made me laugh all the time."
On the opposite coast, Garrett is frequently flanked by best friends Box and Dan, who like Erin but aren't sure they like Garrett when he's with her--or, more specifically, once she's left--and the constant texting and phone calls become a major distraction for him.
Box, who works at the record label with Garrett, is played by Jason Sudeikis. "Box is Garrett's cutting, know-it-all best friend," Sudeikis remarks. "Thanks to all the technology that makes it possible to date someone who is miles away, Box is a little frustrated by the fact that his friend isn't really present, even though he's right in front of him."
Charlie Day is Dan, Garrett's roommate and earnest but dimwitted friend, who tries to further Garrett's romance by taking advantage of the fact that the walls in their apartment are paper thin. Day explains, "Dan often listens to whatever's going on in Garrett's room, and either comments through the wall or plays music that he feels suits the occasion. He's not only his best friend, he's his life DJ."
"Jason portrayed Box with great acerbic wit, and Charlie was all sweetness as Dan, so the way they played off each other was really funny," Gibgot says. "The trio of guys felt very genuine. They had fun and truly connected with one another and I think that comes through in the movie."
Adding to the mix of men in the film are comic actors Jim Gaffigan, who plays Corinne's husband, Phil, and Ron Livingston, who is Will, Garrett's music biz boss.
"We really had a tremendous cast," Burstein commends. "They were even funnier than I could have ever imagined. Being a first-time feature director, I felt extremely lucky."
FAR AND AWAY
"Going the Distance" was shot entirely on location in and around New York City, with a second unit crew capturing the necessary San Francisco exteriors after the main production had wrapped.
"Since it's a movie about a long distance relationship, the cities that the characters live in have to become footholds for them," Shankman asserts. "I've always loved the romance of both New York and San Francisco. You can feel alone and at the same time be part of a community because you're surrounded by life, everywhere you go."
To capture just the right feel, Burstein collaborated with cinematographer Eric Steelberg, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and costume designer Catherine Marie Thomas.
Among the exterior New York locations used in the film were various areas of Central Park. Key scenes were shot in the famous Sheep's Meadow, the Literary Walk at the south end of the Mall, and the Lake by the Boathouse, in which Barrymore, Long, Sudeikis and Day all piled into one of the coveted row boats.
Taking advantage of her documentary training, director Burstein took a very small unit on a guerilla-style shoot for several scenes between Erin and Garrett. "We wanted to show them falling in love over a series of dates, so we went out and shot some stuff in high def, completely unscripted, through Coney Island and Chinatown," the director relates. The crew and the actors were able to fly under the radar for a short while, before the crowds of people began to spot them and recognize Barrymore and Long.
The production shot at The Half King, a downtown bar/restaurant co-owned by Burstein that was used as the place where Erin waitresses and which became a favorite hangout of cast and crew during production. They also filmed at no fewer than 11 different bars and/or dining venues, from the Upper West to the Lower East Sides and into Brooklyn.
Several interior scenes were also shot at Hellgate Studios in Queens, where Kavanaugh and his team created several sets: Garrett and Dan's apartment, including Garrett's bedroom, the décor of which influences Dan's first opportunity to DJ Garrett and Erin's hookup; the tanning salon where Garrett attempts to warm up his pasty, east coast skin tone; and Erin's bedroom in her sister's San Francisco home. The rest of the San Francisco residence was filmed on location in Riverdale, New York, and a real house represented the remainder of Corinne and Phil's suburban San Francisco dwelling.
They also hit such notable locales as JFK Airport, which also filled in for Oakland Airport; Chelsea Piers, where the boys practice their golf swing; and the Pratt Institute, which subbed for Stanford University. Two newspapers were also utilized by the production. The offices of the New York Daily News doubled for the San Francisco Chronicle and featured the paper's editor as an extra in the scene. The working offices of the Associated Press stood in for the fictitious New York Sentinel offices where Erin works as an intern. This marked the first time a production had shot inside the historic wire service offices, which remained open during filming. In fact, some of the real AP staff members can be seen hard at work in the background of the shots.
"We were lucky enough to be filming in New York City in the summertime," Grant says. "The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the city is so visual and has so much character. We didn't have to do too much to make it look great; it was just there for the taking." The cast and crew spent a great deal of their down time together, taking in the famously good food and drink at the various locations. "It got to the point where everybody was saying, 'okay, no more food, we have to stop eating now,'" he laughs. "We had a lot of fun."
Music adds to the fun in "Going the Distance," and the filmmakers felt very fortunate to find The Boxer Rebellion, who figure into the story as an unsigned, unsung band Erin takes Garrett to see while he's visiting her in San Francisco. Guitarist Todd Howe, bassist Adam Harrison, drummer Piers Hewitt and front man Nathan Nicholson comprise the grassroots British group who are, in life as in the movie, not signed to a label. They were brought to the film by a New Line executive who had seen their show in Los Angeles. Originally thinking they would have to cast actors to portray a fictitious band and play to a track, the filmmakers were thrilled by the discovery. The band played live during the shoot, giving the scenes a realistic edge and the actors an authentic concert environment.
"I am so happy to have The Boxer Rebellion in the movie," Burstein says. "They have such a fresh voice, and their sound is just so cinematic. When I heard it, I could instantly imagine the scenes that their songs would play to."
While the band is accustomed to writing music to perform on stage, they found the process of writing songs for a film to be a bit different.
"There are a lot of guidelines," Nicholson states. "For instance, we had to write a longer-than-usual intro to the song we played during the concert in the film, so that it could have dialogue over the top."
Nevertheless, the band mates found themselves up to the challenge. Hewitt notes, "Normally when we write, we never have a script directing us in terms of the subject or the tone, or anyone saying 'do a bit more of this or a bit less of that,' so it's a different way of writing. But it was a nice change."
In addition to writing the songs and watching the shoot, they also enjoyed being on camera. "I never would have thought we'd have a chance to be in a film, but this was absolutely awesome," Howe says.
"It was both a great experience and great exposure for us," Nicholson adds.
"That's right--so far our faces have only been used for radio," Harrison jokes.
Like many real couples facing time apart, the characters in "Going the Distance" try to maintain both the humor and the emotion that flows freely when they're together.
"Even though Erin and Garrett are separated by thousands of miles, we wanted to make sure that we didn't separate the heart and the humor," Drew Barrymore states. "We tried to bring in both everywhere, across the board."
Justin Long agrees, adding that "part of the appeal for me, and I hope for audiences, is that the movie doesn't hold back at all, just like relationships, just like life."
According to producer Adam Shankman, "I think audiences will really see themselves or their friends, boyfriends or girlfriends in these characters. It is emotional and it's honest and, if you ask me, funny as all get out."
Director Nanette Burstein says, "I feel that this is a hilariously honest comedy about the trials and tribulations of a long distance relationship, and really trying to balance your life out--your career and your love life--when you're 30 and you feel like you should already have it figured out. It's career versus love, and it's a really funny look at what can win out in the end."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
NANETTE BURSTEIN (Director) is a critically acclaimed director and producer primarily known for her work as an award-winning documentarian. In 2000, Burstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary and the Independent Spirit Awards' Truer Than Fiction Award, and won the Directors Guild of America's Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, for her film "On the Ropes." The film was also awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. Burstein returned to Sundance in 2008 with her film "American Teen," which earned her the Directing Award at that year's festival. She also received an Emmy nomination in 2008 for "NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell," a TV documentary that she wrote and executive produced.Burstein's additional directing credits include the highly lauded documentary "The Kid Stays in The Picture," as well as the television mini-series "Say It Loud: A Celebration Of Black Music In America." She also served as a producer on those films, and as an executive producer on the comedy feature "American Shopper" and the television series "Autobiography" and "Film School." Along with her documentaries, Burstein also directs commercials, including campaigns for Nike and Sprint. Burstein studied film at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is co-owner of a Manhattan bar called The Half-King.
GEOFF LATULIPPE (Screenplay) marks his feature film debut with "Going the Distance." He currently has several projects in development, including the comedy horror "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament," based on the novel by S.G. Browne and produced by Diablo Cody.Latulippe is a graduate of the James Madison University School of Media Arts & Design in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING