While he has been making a name for himself in the hit series New Girl and an appearance in the blockbuster hit Jurassic World, Jake Johnson has been up to so much more. His latest project, Digging for Fire has him not only starring in the film, but serving as writer of the film as well. The film features a great cast including Steve Berg who has been busy in his own right appearing in films such as Gentlemen Broncos and Drunk History that Johnson also appeared on. I had the chance to sit down and speak with Jake and Steve to talk about working on Digging For Fire.
Bobby: You were a writer on Digging For Fire, where did this idea come from?
Jake: It is based on a true story. I found a lot of the artifacts that are in the movie in my backyard. I called the police like my character does and the police said to me what they said to my character and then it gets fictional. When I told my wife about the stuff I found she said lets go digging for that body and in the movie the wife says “I’m out” so to separate the two characters and tell each of their stories.
Bobby: Was there ever a time where the mystery aspect of the film was more than the metaphor it actually is?
Jake: Yes, there was a time where the whole pitch of this movie took place on the hill and was more of an action adventure story looking for this body. As it went along though, we wanted to show the wife’s story as well and when we got Rosemarie DeWitt that is so talented we wanted her to help create and really write her story because there isn’t really a script. We brought her in early to story meetings and conversations and then Orlando Bloom came in and we knew we wanted the guy there. He added a lot to it and is a super talented guy and he was really game on this process. A movie like this when the actors come in with a lot of ideas the director is really open into listening.
Bobby: Steve how did you get involved in this project?
Steve: I am an old friend of Jake’s; we have been friends for about ten years. We started improve comedy together and I was actually there when he found the real bones in real life and he wanted me to play one of his buddies.
Jake: Yeah, I also wanted part of the truth on set to help me to make sure it felt the way it really felt while we were digging. Obviously the world is way more fictional and writing other characters, like Sam Rockwell’s characters didn’t exist in reality, but I also wanted something there that we could keep talking about it. We actual dug for about ten days so in real life what were we feeling so Steve helped bring a lot of that.
Bobby: So you spent ten days in real life digging for this stuff?
Jake: Yeah, in the movie it takes place over a weekend, but in real life we dug for ten days and we would do it for 10-12 hour days. We had 4ft holes all over my backyard, it was insane. We busted a water pipe it was crazy.
Bobby: In a movie like this you don’t think about action or anything, but here you are digging the whole time. How exhausting was it to have to be the character and act while doing so much physical labor?
Jake: I love that. By nature these movies are very talky, that’s what they are. They are indie and it was shot on film and it was going to be a very contemplative movie where there were a lot of discussions. I knew how to make a movie with two people sitting across from each other so as much physicality as I could do and as much as you could watch these actors shoveling and getting sweaty. I didn’t want to start a scene where they just finished shoveling and was like “Good stuff guys.” A big part of the story is that he is searching and when you are searching it is not easy.
Bobby: With no script how hard is that to feed off of each other to make sure you take everything in the right direction?
Steve: It wasn’t terribly difficult for me since I come from improve and I feel very comfortable doing that. The director Joe kind of takes the pressure off because he says this is what the scene is and do not worry about being funny. That is all he said to me. You are just around a camp fire with your buddies.
Jake: Joe really edits as we go because he is also the editor so when you watch it, it seems like they just turned on the camera and people were talking, but he will say in the middle of a scene “Stop talking about that, talk about this because I will never use that.” Because we were shooting on film we can’t just shoot for days so this scene has to start here, this is what it is about and you have to get to this point. So whenever they say action however you want to say that thing that was just discussed you can do it in your own words, but you have to get there for that next turn.
Bobby: Does that force a lot of retakes or do you just move on?
Jake: If you don’t get it you have to keep shooting. But because Joe is an editor as soon as he views the take of what he is going to put in the movie he doesn’t need coverage of it that is what he is using. There are times you keep shooting and we don’t know why and that is because he didn’t get the take he needed so we need coverage so he can do a cut here and a cut here in editing.
Bobby: Do you ever feel as part of the group of friends having to improve that fear of overshadowing someone or trying to find your moment to speak?
Steve: Not really. You know in real life real friends will talk over each other, but it’s not a competition to get the most words in. I didn’t really feel any trouble there at all.
Bobby: Going back to the digging aspect, how hard was it to find a location that didn’t mind you digging up everything on their property.
Jake: Very hard. There was a long version where we were going to try and shoot this in my own backyard and then found a friend Audrey who is a mutual friend of ours who offered hers, but she was also renting. Then the movie almost fell apart because we didn’t have a place. The home owner of this place is actually a famous screenwriter in LA and had been a fan of Joe and knows him and told him years ago that he wanted his house in a Joe Swanberg movie at some point. The house is so beautiful and is its own character so Joe called him and told him “I got a weird one for ya.” and they were totally game. Everything in the house is all theirs we didn’t do any set decoration. We just shot at their home and tore up their backyard.
Bobby: So did you just leave it after filming and just walk away? (laughs)
Steve: Yeah, we yelled we wrapped, later. (laughs)
Jake: (laughs) No we filled them back in.
Bobby: Stepping away from this film, you both appeared on Drunk History as well, with Jake playing one of the reenactment characters and Steve being one of the drinkers. How do they shoot that show is it pretty much how you see it?
Steve: We are both old friends of Derek Waters and he usually asks you what you want to talk about. Something that I know a lot about and then you drink a ton. You really drink though, a lot of people ask that, but you really drink a lot there. I think there might be some that don’t drink as much.
Jake: They use breathalyzers and if you are not to a certain level like, what is it?
Steve: It’s like 1.8.
Jake: Yeah if you aren’t drunk enough then it’s a no go and they have a nurse there to make sure you don’t go to hard.
Bobby: You have to then do the voice over?
Jake: Yeah, the way we shoot the other side of it is we get on set they are playing on a speaker the narration and you just keep doing it over and over until you hit that rhythm perfectly. “You hear it over and over until you just know it and then block out the entire scene.
Bobby: That’s cool I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. The movie is great.
Jake: Thanks man I appreciate you talking with us.
Steve: Yeah man, thanks.
Check out Digging for Fire in theaters on August 28th at the Dallas Landmark Magnolia.