Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Constructing The Event
We’ve all imagined the end of the world – along with the attendant floods, fires, earthquakes, pandemic viruses, and the asteroid hurtling towards Earth, which will be destroyed at the last possible moment by human intervention of epic proportions. That is not the end of the world as Lorene Scafaria sees it. In writing her feature directorial debut “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” Scafaria was more intrigued by what could happen to ordinary people – and how they would interact with each other – in the days preceding The Event.
Set in a too-near future where time at once stands still and is slipping away forever, the writer/director explores what people will do and how they will feel when humanity’s end is near. A 70-mile-wide asteroid is en route to Earth, and the last best attempt to counter it has failed. Also failing is the marriage of soft-spoken insurance salesman Dodge (Steve Carell); the breaking news that the world will end in an estimated 21 days cues his wife to leave him on the spot.
With complete faith in Lorene Scafaria’s script and her ability to realize it as director, producer Mark Roybal notes, “The first thing that we asked Lorene about was the casting. She told us that she didn’t want to veer toward broad comedy, and that the actors had to be able to maintain a balance between humor and pathos.” In addition to its main actors Carell and Keira Knightley, the film features an all-star cast, including Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, and William Petersen.
Carell’s real-life wife, actress Nancy Carell, appears in the first scene of the film as Dodge’s wife Linda, who abandons him upon hearing that the Earth has less than one month left because the attempt to obliterate the 70-mile-wide asteroid (“Matilda”) has failed. As Scafaria remembers it, “Since she was so right for the part, I suggested it to Steve’s agent; would his wife be interested in playing his wife? I was secretly a little worried, but Nancy saw the humor in it. It was the last scene we shot, and we filmed it on their actual anniversary, which was both very appropriate and very inappropriate.”
Dodge’s journey is jump-started after he and his barely acquainted neighbor Penny are set on their course – by a full-blown riot. “I’ve always found the mob mentality to be so strange,” says Scafaria. “I don’t know how people get so caught up in it and lose sight of the fact that they’re human beings and not animals. But if the world were ending, I do think some people would get violent. “So, in the story, people are rioting but it’s like, for what? Against what? For what possible result? I wanted it to feel not only scary but also ridiculous.”
Roybal sees the sequence as “crucial, because Dodge and Penny reach their decisions to trust each other. The presence of Adam Brody as Penny’s very-soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Owen brings comic absurdity to a dangerous situation.” Scafaria notes, “Every few days, we’d have new ‘special guest stars!’ It was a wonderful group of actors.”
The film takes place sometime in the future – but not too far away. Producer Mark Roybal found that “the aesthetic that’s been achieved is that of a future which is recognizable. Since things are not overdesigned, there is no detracting from the heart of the story. Costume designer Kristin Burke was tasked with anticipating the near future. She notes, “When a script ventures even a little bit into the future, you naturally wonder, ‘Okay, what are we going to be wearing? What fabric are we going to have that we don’t have now?’ But Lorene wanted to make the clothing as classic as possible, so that the film doesn’t date itself and also so it wouldn’t be implausible. For example, where were we 10 years ago and how much is the fashion sensibility different from today’s? Well, it’s not that far; between 1972 and 1962, now there was a huge gap…What we were trying to do overall was ‘retro future,’ and as accessibly as possible for the viewer. As apocalyptic as this story might seem, it’s not depressing, and our costuming reflects that.”
Burke was particularly pleased to be able to costume Knightley for a rare non-“costume” role. The designer says, “Penny is eclectically minded; we were looking to create a look for Keira which spoke to that. The way Penny dresses incorporates vintage elements and something of that mindset. “While there were no corsets for Keira on this movie, Penny is accessorized with something from the past – vinyl record albums.” What Scafaria described as a “wonderful group of actors,” many of whom were on-set for just a couple of days, proved eager to chat with each other and the crew between takes, comparing notes on ultimate musical collections and cities of their final destinations.
Steve Carell says, “I think Lorene Scafaria’s story beautifully transcends aspects of the normalcy of life. The movie is about finding the value of life, and finding what makes you happy.” Producer Steve Golin says, “I feel everyone harbors the beliefs that somebody is out there for them and that options exist.” Producer Mark Roybal adds, “‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ is about coming together at the most crucial time – at the end of time. It’s profound, funny, and uplifting.”
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