Seattle film director Megan Griffiths has been quietly moving up the cinematic ladder over the last decade with a series of features and shorts. Though her films have garnered critical praise, they haven’t been cast with A-list actors.
Her latest film, “Lucky Them,” stars Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense,” “Little Miss Sunshine”) as a Seattle rock journalist who is ordered by her magazine’s editor, played by Oliver Platt (“X-Men: First Class”), to search for a long lost rock god who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. In the story she teams up with an eccentric amateur documentary filmmaker played by Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”, “Spider-Man 3”).
In addition to those cast members, another Very Famous Actor makes a cameo appearance. We won’t spoil the surprise except to say that he normally commands a $20 million salary.
How did Griffiths get all these big-name actors in her film? It’s partly her track record and partly the script, which had to be good enough to entice big-name actors to take a huge pay cut to work in indie film, she said.
“Toni Collette is a person who is very similar to this character in a lot of ways, and I think she was excited to play someone who is so entrenched in the music world,” Griffiths said. “She’s also into music. She’s married to a musician and she’s a musician herself.”
Collette watched Griffiths’ “Eden,” a 2012 film about forced sex worker trafficking, before she spoke with Griffiths.
“She told me that she actually couldn’t finish it. She’s the mom of two young children. But she was sufficiently convinced that I could create a real universe. She said that’s all she needed to know,” Griffiths recalls.
“Thomas Haden Church recognized it was a good character for his unique brand of humor and eccentricity,” she said.
Griffiths also credits the film’s co-screenwriter, Emily Wachtel, and executive producer Joanne Woodward for pulling in the actors, particularly that Very Famous Actor. “That was all Emily’s hard work,” Griffiths said.
She has mixed feelings about revealing the actor’s identity.
“I do believe the film plays a little better without people knowing. But it doesn’t ruin the experience. He is a huge attraction for people,” Griffiths said of the actor.
Griffiths’ 2011 filmed-in-Washington feature, “The Off Hours,” premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Her follow-up, “Eden,” premiered at the 2012 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, where it won the narrative Audience Award and the Emergent Female Director award.
Griffiths also produces, including on friend and fellow Seattle-based director Lynn Shelton’s film, “Your Sister’s Sister.”
Griffiths said her first goal in filmmaking is to allow an environment for good performances and, secondly, to create an authentic world. Then, it’s about setting the right tone. In “Lucky Them,” it’s a mixture of comedy and drama.
“We never wanted to undermine the comedy in the script. Ellie is going through some stuff in this movie. She is by no means a light, fluffy character. We wanted to counterbalance that by having a lot of humor. Thomas Haden Church is such a good sidekick. He was a critical part of the comedy, as was Oliver Pratt and the other actors,” Griffiths said.
“Lucky Them” was filmed almost entirely in Seattle and the Snoqualmie Valley. Griffiths just screened the film in Los Angeles.
“A bunch of ex-Seattleites came and were so homesick watching it. I love the city and that totally comes across on the screen,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths said she has no plans to pull up stakes in Washington.
“My goal is to stay put,” Griffiths said. “When I first came here, I thought, ‘I’ll give it a year.’” That was 14 years ago. She doesn’t mind short stays away – she edited “Lucky Them” in New York for four months last year — but she can’t be gone for long.
“Every time my flights land at Sea-Tac, I breathe a sigh of relief to be home,” she said.
“Lucky Them” is just the latest of more Washington state film projects to come.
“I’ve always felt supported and embraced by audiences in the Northwest, and this movie is no different. People recognize themselves and their world in this movie.”Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541