The Below the Line Screening Series presented a screening of Grandma at the Arclight Theater in Los Angeles, Nov. 19, followed by a Q&A with director Paul Weitz, editor Jon Corn and production designers Cindy Chao and Michele Yu. Grandma premiered as the closing night film at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
In Grandma, Lily Tomlin plays Elle, a lesbian who has recently lost her lifetime partner, ended a four-month relationship with a much younger woman, cut up her credit cards and made a wind-chime of the pieces, and is now faced with an appeal for help from her pregnant granddaughter, who needs just $630 for the abortion she already has an appointment for that evening.
And so begins a funny and heart-warming road trip with Elle and Sage (played by Julia Garner) in a 1955 Dodge Royal (the car actually belonging to Lily Tomlin) to gather up the money from a variety of sources that never seem to pan out the way they expect them to.
Weitz spoke about the process of writing the script and said that he had Tomlin in mind as he was doing the writing. He also said that several of the characters had a tendency to “misbehave,” but after having the idea is his head for several years, the actual writing was a fairly short process.
Weitz shared that the film cost under $600,000 to make and was shot in 19 days with several of the scenes shot in the production company offices, and those filmed in Elle’s ex-husband’s house (played by Sam Elliot) were actually filmed in Weitz’s residence.
Corn explained that Weitz liked to see the first pass of the edit without notes, but it was pretty clear where the cuts would be and that he mainly used those cuts to modulate the performances, a task that was made easier by Tomlin’s grounded performance.
Chao and Yu said that Weitz made their job easier by knowing what he wanted and giving them great notes. In addition to the borrowed car from Tomlin, there were other items on loan for the production, one being the treadmill desk on loan from one of the producers and used in several scenes towards the end of the film, when Elle and Sage have resigned themselves to the fact that they must ask Sage’s mom for the money she needed.
Overall the production design was warm and lived-in looking interiors that included filming on location at the Cahuenga General Store in North Hollywood.
The screening was well-attended with lots of audience participation at the end. Weitz commented afterwards that it was his “favorite Q & A so far.”