Based in part on his own college education at the State University of New York at Binghamton, writer-director Marc Lawrence crafted the new film, The Rewrite, in which a washed-up screenwriter (Hugh Grant), takes a teaching job at the same SUNY school. “I’ve had this thought about writing this story of a fallen screenwriter for a while,” Lawrence said from his New York base. “Something that had been percolating. I’m interested in that whole argument of whether you can or can’t teach creativity.”
In the story, for which Lawrence noted “the timing was right,” Grant’s Keith Michaels, a one-time Oscar winner, is so bereft of work, he is forced to take a temporary professorial residence at Binghamton – which The Rewrite’s script notes is the top publicly funded university in the Northeastern United States despite its rustic surroundings.
“Binghamton was a backwater place where his initial reaction was to sort of slowly let the colors seep in, and the romance becomes apparent to him,” Lawrence noted.
After he pitched the story directly to Grant, the actor gave him a verbal commitment, putting in motion their fourth feature collaboration. “Hugh said, ‘Sounds good,’” Lawrence recalled. “It’s always based on how he reacts to the script. Once Hugh said, ‘Yes,’ we were off and running.”
Citing his ongoing synergy with Grant on their growing body of work, Lawrence stated how their routine conversations consistently center on the screenplay. “The thing that I think is most responsible for me and Hugh having a successful working relationship is that we’re both very focused on the script,” Lawrence relayed. “We kind of live or die by that, so any criticisms he may have are always in service of making the story and emotions work better, and even if I disagree with a note, I understand the impulse and desire to re-examine and hone. Add to that our collective neuroses and hypochondria, and it’s a very good pairing.”
With Grant on board, Lawrence lined up Castle Rock, which put a deal together. Lawrence then brought in notable supporting players Marisa Tomei, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Chris Elliot and many new faces portraying Grant’s disparate group of youthful screenwriting students. “It was not a big studio film,” Lawrence reflected. “We didn’t have to go through a lot of layers or echelons. I have been doing films for them since Miss Congeniality,” which he co-wrote and executive produced.
After the Lawrence-Grant creative partnerships on Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Lawrence approached The Rewrite as a simpler project. “We wanted to keep it very small compared to the other films we’ve done together,” Lawrence confessed. “It’s a micro-budget. It was relatively easy at that budget — with Hugh and Marisa committed — to get it going. We wanted to keep it small, story-wise.”
As with most smaller films, The Rewrite’s 28-day shoot schedule mandated several production challenges. “We wound up, because of the bizarre logistics of movie financing, that it was prohibitive to shoot it all at Binghamton,” Lawrence related. “It would have blown apart the budget. We shot there for only four days, and what we got was exteriors. We shot the rest at the campus of C.W. Post,” which is on Long Island, New York and is Lawrence’s childhood home.
During a screening at SUNY Binghamton with Grant in attendance, Lawrence noted that they were predictably playing to a guaranteed audience of devotees. “Any view of the campus received a standing ovation,” Lawrence recollected. Additional shooting took place in Brooklyn, Queens and in Manhattan on soundstages at the Javits Center.
Of working at as fast a pace during principal photography as he ever had on a film, Lawrence professed that it energized his cast and crew. “The actual shoot was really terrific,” he detailed. “I like working at that speed. Time can be wasted when you are working at a bigger budget. You’ve got to get three-and-a-half to five pages a day instead of two pages a day. It was the first time I made a movie at that budget. It was an enormously pleasant shoot.”
With his film debuting on Feb. 13, Lawrence is pleased with the final results. “I think the cast is so good, that once we got that group of people together, we knew we were going to be in relatively good shape,” he said. “Your chances of it being interesting and enjoyable are fairly high. I was excited to go out and do it. I’m pretty pleased with it, though it’s hard to ever talk about your own stuff.”