Posted May 10, 2015 by Jeff in Flicks

Brett Haley Imagines Characters in His Dreams

I'll See You in My Dreams
I'll See You in My Dreams

Writer-director Brett Haley’s new film I’ll See You in My Dreams stars Blythe Danner as a widowed retiree who experiences an abrupt change in her life of routines after her dog dies and she develops relationships of sorts with her pool guy (Martin Starr) and a fellow retiree (Sam Elliott). Shortly after the film screened at some festivals, including Sundance, where it picked up distribution, writer-director Brett Haley spoke to us about the movie, which opens in Los Angeles and New York on May 15.

What prompted the idea for the film?
The idea of older characters was put into my head working on another show. I keep getting the question about why a 30-year-old would write a movie about a 70-year-old. Everyone thinks I knew someone it was inspired by. It’s not the case at all. It’s completely imagined. We imagined these characters. I’m honored that people think it comes from a real place. That means they think it’s real and they bought that it was something honest and truthful, which is my goal every time I make a film.

I’m not interested in making movies about myself. I’m a storyteller and this was the story I wanted to tell. It just happened to be about a 70-year-old woman. 

Was it challenging to write from that perspective?
No. It was refreshing. It’s fun coming up with different people who are not you and getting to write from their perspective. That’s more fun than writing people you know. She’s a guarded, strong woman and you peel back these layers on her throughout the film, eventually revealing an emotional side. She was fun to write. Blythe comes on and makes it her own. She brings it to life and brings a lot of herself to the character. That really fleshes it out.

Did you write that role of Bill with Sam Elliott in mind?
No, but Sam was very involved and he had some suggestions here and there. He wanted to go through a couple of scenes. I am open to that kind of collaboration. When we were writing that part, we didn’t know who it would be but we said that we’d tailor it to whoever comes on board. Sam was our first choice and the first actor we went to with it. We didn’t expect him to say yes so when he came on board, we tailored it. I was telling him, “Make this yours.” At first, he was hesitant to play something so close to himself. I don’t think he’s done a lot of that in his career. Not that he is Bill, but I was interested in bringing some of the real Sam Elliott to the character. He’s such a charming, sexy dude. He’s so warm. One of my favorite scenes is when they’re having dinner. He brings her in with this warmth and understanding. People think of him as the cowboy and tough guy. He is that, but he’s also a big, warm, lovely man.

I thought the pool boy (Lloyd) might represent you because he’s a frustrated artist.
Both the pool guy, Lloyd, and Danner’s character, Carol, are frustrated artists. I don’t know any artists who aren’t frustrated, even the successful ones. It’s a burden we carry. It keeps us driven. Even the successful ones want to do better. Carol is a singer and Lloyd is a poet and writer. I wanted to show how we all have dreams and aspirations and life gets in the way. It’s tough to get anything out there into the world.

You do know a pool boy is a cliché in porn movies?
One hundred percent. I always say is a pool guy and not a pool boy. There’s always that cliché. I wanted to play on that. It wasn’t that I wanted to play directly on the porn cliché. A cliché pops up in your head and you think about it and subvert it and make it honest and real. Take the pool guy back from the porn. That’s an old one anyway and they probably don’t use it much anymore. We just wanted to make it human. For that character, that’s not a terrible job. It’s something Lloyd could stomach.

I thought you did a good job of handling the relationship between Carol and the Lloyd.
There’s certainly some tension there. Anytime men and women have relationships depicted on screen, they’re problematic. If you look at the movies, the leading men are in their forties, fifties and sixties and they keep casting women in their twenties. It’s such a stupid double standard. Anytime men and women are depicted in a film, there is that question hanging over it. Rarely are they depicted as just friends. I was playing on people’s expectations that something should happen. But why can’t they just be friends? I wanted people to deal with that within themselves. I play the romantic comedy cliché through. I wanted them to be really there for each other and that’s what the song is about. In a way, it’s the heart of the movie.

Did you pick the songs in the movie?
I worked closely but we were limited in terms of budget. I think we did a great job. Martin isn’t a great singer. Blythe is an amazing singer but we didn’t want it to be too pristine. She hasn’t sung in years so we wanted it have that edge.

What made you want to open with the death of a dog?
That was the idea for the movie. It’s about loss. You can’t go through life unscathed. I didn’t want to kill a dog. Nobody wants their loved ones to die. It’s important to me to kick off the movie with that because it also says to the audience that it isn’t your average romp. There’s something real about it. That scene was hard. I was questioning myself as a person. It was really tough. There’s a delicate balance in the way it was shot and edited. A lot of people have had that experience and I was conscious of that. It sets the film in motion and throws that character out of her routine. It’s about loss and how we manage various expectations. The truth is that we have to keep going. There’s no movie unless the dog dies. There’s no reason to be watching. My idea is that this woman has this nice life but something is taken from her and shakes her to the core. I wanted the scene to be honest without being manipulative or exploitative. I don’t want people to be scared and not see it because there is a dead dog. That’s just a small part of it.



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].