Filming Flipped: An Interview with Director Rob Reiner

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Originally appeared in Inside Scoop- News and Views from Inside American Libraries on 8/25/2010.

The feature film Flipped directed by Rob Reiner and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, opened in six cities (New York, Toronto, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Indianapolis) August 27. Based on the 2001 YA novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, the film flips back and forth in showing the thoughts and feelings of two protagonists, 8th-graders Bryce and Juli (played by Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll) as they develop crushes on each other, though not exactly at the same time. Reiner first came to prominence playing Archie and Edith Bunker’s son-in-law on the TV sit-com All in the Family in 1971–1978 and has since directed a string of successful films, among them This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Stand By Me (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Misery (1990), The American President (1995), Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), and The Bucket List (2007). In this interview, he shares his insights on books, writing film adaptations, and reading. American Libraries’ Senior Editor George Eberhart had an opportunity to view the film and talk to Reiner by phone August 23. 

American Libraries: How did you come to select Flipped to adapt for the screen?

ROB REINER: My son Nick was assigned to read the novel in school about five years ago when he was 11, and we read it together and I literally flipped over it. It was so insightful in capturing the feelings of when you first fall in love, and it portrayed it in a way that I remember from when I was 12 years old. In the ending credits of the film, Nick is listed as having inspired the film.

Was it the dual perspective of the two kids that made this an interesting challenge?

At first I questioned keeping that convention in the film because I was worried that the audience might not sit still seeing the same scenes played over again, but I kept going back to the feeling that I had when I first read the book. Boys and girls just see things differently. I was totally engaged and completely eager to find out the young character Juli’s take after hearing the boy’s (Bryce’s) story. That worked for me, so I thought let’s keep the two contrasting perspectives.

How long did it take you and Andrew Scheinman to write the screenplay?

It took a couple months. We were fortunate to have a great novel, one that was well laid out. Our first major decision was to set the action in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The book is set in present day, but we put it back in that time because that is when I came of age and had my first crush. It worked well because you can skip dealing with kids’ use of cell phones and texting and Facebook and concentrate purely on the face-to-face interactions of the kids. The second decision was to figure out what elements in the book to use and what not to use, and be judicious in our choices.

The Poster for FlippedWas the author on the set?

Wendelin Van Draanen visited the set once. We checked with her before filming and sent her a copy of the screenplay that I had written with Andy to make sure she was okay with it, and she was very happy with it. On August 22 she watched a screening of it at her home, and she loves the film. Setting it in an earlier era lent a timeless quality to the story. What it really captures is the feelings you have as a kid when you first fall in love.

In choosing that setting, did you think that you might lose part of your younger audience?

In Stand By Me, we used a similar time frame that was the same as when I was growing up. It caught on right away with adults, but a younger audience discovered it later. It’s rare when you get a movie that both adults and kids can like and enjoy together and get different things out of it. Adults won’t think they have to sit there and watch something that only their kids are going to like. Flipped is the same way.

It looks like you had as much fun choosing the music for this as you did with Stand By Me.

It is in that same time period for me. I used the songs in Stand By Me that were appropriate for that film, and I found the love songs that fit Flipped. I’m a big Everly Brothers fan, and I have my two favorite Everly Brothers songs in this film, “Devoted to You” and “Let It Be Me.” I got to pick all the songs that are my favorites.

There was one scene set in a school library. Was that a set or did you use an actual library?

The scene was filmed in an actual school library outside Ann Arbor, Michigan. We had to get rid of some of the newer books and fill some shelves with 1960s-era materials. If you could turn the cameras around, you would see a whole bank of computers and modern furniture. We created a period library.

The author says the central theme of the book is seeing people for who they are instead of what they seem to be. Is that also what you are saying in the film?

Absolutely, and it was fortunate for the young boy Bryce to have his grandfather come live with him, because it’s the grandfather who is the moral compass of the movie. He ultimately puts Bryce on the right path so he can really see all of Juli’s great qualities. And Juli’s father basically shows her that you have to take in more than just how somebody looks. It has to be who they are as a person.

What were some of the touches you added that were not in the book?

The feelings I had at age 12–13 were exactly like Bryce’s. That is absolutely how I felt. The summer I spent in Ann Arbor shooting Flipped was one of the best things I have ever done—the actors, the kids, the story, all of it added up to the best experience in my entire life.

One personal touch were the addresses where the Flipped kids lived, on Bonnie Meadow Lane. Growing up, I lived at 48 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, New York. Then when my dad [Carl Reiner] produced the old Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, he set it at 148 Bonnie Meadow Road, so this was an homage to my youth.

What kind of books make the best adaptations?

For me, it’s books where the characters are well-drawn. With character-driven plots, you can tell a good story. I make movies about human beings who live on Earth. It’s hard to find studios these days that will make movies that are character-driven. But that’s what I look for. In Stand By Me and Misery, I had great characters created by Stephen King. In Flipped, I had great characters by Van Draanen.

How do you find books that you’d consider making into a film?

I’ll read books, and people who work at Castle Rock Entertainment will read books; we look at book reviews, and we try to follow what new ones are coming out. My partner and coproducer Alan Greisman, is a ridiculously voracious reader. He literally reads two or three books a day. He is constantly looking for material. I’m a slow reader, unfortunately, but luckily I got to read Flipped.

You’ve said that Princess Bride is your favorite book ever. Is that still true?

Yes it is, to this day. I remember when I first read it, it was as if the author William Goldman was in my head. If I could write, I probably would write something like that. I’ve read most of Philip Roth’s books, and I’ve read virtually everything that William Goldman has written. I read a lot of nonfiction now more than I do fiction, mostly political books. I’ve read The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin’s book about the Supreme Court. In preparing for my 1995 film The American President, I read a lot of books about presidents.

Has reading to your children, like Peter Falk did to his fictional grandson Fred Savage in Princess Bride, been an important family activity for you?

Clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t have found Flipped. I read it with my son Nick and I’ve read maybe eight or nine of the Lemony Snicket books with him; we read them together when he was younger. We would read to the kids virtually every night before they went to sleep when they were little—a lot of Goodnight Moon and a lot of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

In 1997, you and your wife set up the nonprofit Parents’ Action for Children to distribute videos on parent–child relationships. How can people become better parents?

One of the things they can do is visit the Parents’ Action for Children website, where we have a number of DVDs available that speak exactly to that—materials on early bonding and attachment, early learning, reading to your children, safety, child care, and health issues.

Are you planning to write an autobiography?

I’ve been asked this many times, but I don’t think I will. I love making films and prefer writing about life rather than how I have lived it. Right now I’m working on an original screenplay for my next film.

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