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Behind The Scenes
As a filmmaker, Brett Haley counts himself an admirer of 1970s-style naturalism and tried to bring that kind of feeling to I'll See You in My Dreams. "Filmmakers of that era got to the heart of the issues people face every day with brutal honesty and truthfulness," he says. "They had a sense of independence and working around the system that I hope I have to a large degree. I try to make films that don't fit into any clean package. They have more emotional beats than one would expect."

The director says he tries to let real life inform everything he does on set. "I don't like showing off as a director, with soaring music and crane shots and Steadicam. It wouldn't fit this story. I've been working with Rob C. Givens, my cinematographer, since college. We have an efficient shorthand, and we collaborate very closely. My first feature really solidified us as a team, and I see myself working with him for a very long time. Knowing he's handling the camera means that I can focus on my actors with the confidence that he's going to shoot what we discussed and make what's in the frame look even better than what I had envisioned."

Having only 18 days to shoot a full-length feature meant getting each scene right quickly and then moving on. "That was one of the biggest challenges," says Haley. "I had to go with my gut. I couldn't get a lot of coverage or a lot of takes. We had to really nail it and keep going."

The story was originally set in Florida, where Haley was raised. But the producers urged him to consider setting his story in Los Angeles for financial and other practical reasons. "They astutely pointed out that it would be more difficult to get such a high-caliber cast in Florida," he says. "In Los Angeles, people would be more willing to sign on to a small project with just a few days on set. So we rewrote it for Southern California. We found the perfect house with the perfect pool for Carol in Studio City. It's a recognizable part of Los Angeles, but not 'Hollywood' or necessarily Los Angeles in any specific sense."

The retirement community where Carol's friends live is the real-life Royal Oaks, a community located in Duarte, a small city in Los Angeles' San Gabriel Valley, where the original Kickstarter video was shot. "It's not the prototypical California with palm trees and beaches, which could evoke a specific type of person and lifestyle," says Smith. "We wanted as neutral a setting as possible so these characters could exist in the world Brett and Marc created without being defined by the shooting locale. And they were so great and engaging at Royal Oaks when we shot the video there, we wanted to return for the film. Many of the residents volunteered to be extras, and they let us into their community and their homes. They literally opened their doors for us and helped bring it to life."

Costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier was asked to develop for each of the women a signature style in tune with her character's personality. "We wanted all of them to look great and have their own specific way of dressing," says Haley. "For example, Rhea's character's style is loosely based on how my mother dresses - plaid shirts and cute jeans and little sneakers. Blythe brought a lot of her own sensibility to the way Carol dresses. Carol is beautiful and elegant but also a little edgy. It was really important to have both of those elements. Mirren did such an amazing job of working with each of the actresses and making them feel comfortable and appropriate for the character."

From a touching and amusing evening of karaoke to the film's final poignant anthem, music features prominently in I'll See You in My Dreams.

Composer and musician Keegan DeWitt provided the film's evocative score, one of six he has written for Sundance Film Festival selections in the past three years. DeWitt is also the lead singer and songwriter of the band Wild Cub, whose hit song "Thunder Clatter" recently spent over 12 weeks in the top 15 on the Alternative Radio chart.

"Keegan gave us a terrific musical score," says Haley. "He has let me use music from his band in other films, and I really wanted work with him on this one. His music has the ability to drive the storytelling in a way that I think is just great. It has momentum. We wanted the score to be in that sweet spot - emotional without being sentimental. I'm really specific about music, so it was a real collaboration."

DeWitt also wrote the original song, also called "I'll See You in My Dreams," for an important moment scripted in the film. "I didn't give him any specific direction except that I wanted him singing to a ukulele," says Haley. "Some people interpret it as a spurned lover saying goodbye, but I see it as someone who lost the person they love and they are looking forward to seeing them again. Keegan tells a story about writing it while looking into the next room at his newborn baby in the crib. Whatever you personally connect it to, it has such a poignancy and simple beauty. I remember hearing it for the first time while I was on a location scout, and he had just nailed it in a way that I never imagined."

Haley is gratified by the reception the film has received even before its theatrical release. Screenings at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival were greeted with standing ovations. "It's been a dream of mine to have a film at the festival since I was a 12 year-old wanting to make movies and first heard the word Sundance," he says. "Getting into the festival was a dream come true. To have an audience of 1,300 people watching my movie for the first time was pretty emotional. The response showed that the audience was truly connecting. I knew then I had made something I could be proud of."


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