Interview: Robot And Frank Director Jake Schreier
We catch up with the indie director at the London Film Festival
We absolutely loved Robot and Frank, with the film totally winnings us over at last year's London Film Festival, so we jumped at the chance to catch up with the film's director Jake Schreier. We spoke to Jake about the creation of his robot, the great cast he assembled for his feature debut and the best moments of the film.
So tell us a little about Robot and Frank?
It’s about Frank, a retired jewel thief who has lost his energy for life, except for the librarian that he hits on from time to time. He has kids but wasn’t a good father to them, so they do what any good kid would, and buy him a robot to help out. The first thing is to keep him engaged and active, which for Frank is
So what was the genesis of this project? How did Robot and Frank come about?
It’s written by a good friend of mine Christopher Ford, we went to college together. The original idea came from a short film that he made when we were in film school ten years ago. He has been reading a lot of stories were coming out of Japan about how they were developing robots to take care of their elderly, and he decided that was a fascinating jumping-off point. We worked on that with a group of friends, then we came back to it maybe four years ago when we were looking for a feature idea and thought there was something we could develop here.
It’s interesting that you say about the influence of Japanese robotics here, there’s a visual similarity to Asimo, for one.
Yes Asimo was one of them, then there was Toyota’s robot. They all have this sort of white, spaceman motif that a lot of them have, and we tried to keep it in that lineage.
It’s a great cast you got involved, how did they come to get involved?
Yeah lucky me! I’d been directing commercials for eight years, this was the first film that my commercial production company were producing. They brought on Galt Neiderhoffer to run their film division, who has made over 20 movies, with a great track record of getting these great casts together for these indie films, so all credit to her.
Frank Langella is great in the film, it must be a dream to direct actors like that in your first film.
Yeah it was an absolute dream. It was a surreal experience I didn’t even have to do very much, because they were so good from take one, they’re just like this beautifully tuned instrument.This was my first feature and it definitely made it easier.
You have a commercials background, but are you looking to stay on in the world of feature films?
I’d certainly like to make some more, I mean I’m not leaving commercials, because indie movies don’t really pay! I always wanted to make movies, and commercials are a great way to make the jump, to get used to the technology and get comfortable running a set, try out different styles, that kind of thing. It was fun to have so much to focus on (with features) to have that overarching long view of the project was a great experience.
This is a science fiction film with a real heart, is it a genre you’d like to explore more?
Well yes and no, I like the idea of doing it in as grounded a way as possible. Although you could call it a science fiction film, I never really thought of it this way – you could call it a buddy movie, a family drama, there’s a lot of genres packed into it. What I think is nice about that is that it’s not really telegraphed as to where it’s headed. There are some surprises in store for the audience as they watch it.
This is a sensitive portrayal of mental health issues such as dementia, was it always the intention to be a new voice in that area? It’s a subject that’s often skimmed over.
Yeah I mean, for Ford, he was watching his father, like in the movie, drive for five hours to take care of his grandmother so it seemed like it’d make sense in the movie to have the robot taking care of that.
What’s next for you?
I wish I knew! I’ve got a few ideas but they’re all in very early development right now.
So you’ve made an indie film on a small budget here, what would you do it I gave you a $100m budget right now to make a film?
Well the first thing I’d do is wake up Ford and say “Hey, it looks like someone’s silly enough to give us $100m!”. I think we’d try to expand the imagination base, maybe do some sci-fi that’s not so limited, a bit of adventure on that level would be great.
Is there anyone you particularly want to work with?
Not especially, it’s hard to do much better than the actors I’ve had here – it depends on the roles really.
How are you enjoying the great reaction on the festival circuit?
It’s kind of weird actually, I made the movie about ten months ago so mentally you kind of move on from it. It’s been so long since I’ve made these artistic decisions that you get away from it. It’s great to finally release it, we didn’t even know that would happen so it’s great to see it moving around the country, and to see it with subtitles is a great experience.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
There are a couple I like, I hope it doesn’t seem egotistical but you just fall in love with your actors. The first robot breakfast I like, and also the scene when his son comes round and Frank pretends to be dying, that’s kind of heartbreaking but also hilarious.
There’s that great line in the breakfast scene where Frank loses patience with the robot…
Yeah that wasn’t even in the script actually. It’s just a product of my inarticulate directing, I said to Frank “you just stand up and kina like, ‘fuck this shit’ and walk to the kitchen” and when we shot he just said the line, and it’s one of the funniest lines. It’s one of the first big laughs in the film, it lets you know you can laugh.
How was the robot created? The practical effects are great.
Yep, it’s entirely practical, I think when you’re creating a film about a relationship then they should really both be on camera. We didn’t really have time or money for CGI anyway, but it wasn;t something I was interested. There has been great work in CG, but I wanted something a little more textural. Peter Sarsgaard has so much warmth that comes through even when you’ve made it robotic.