Director Jake Schreier made a conscious decision to prevent his first feature-length film “Robot & Frank” from becoming overly sentimental and therefore sappy.
“In the end, with films, it is all manipulation,” Schreier said during a recent interview with pingroof.com. “It is just how much slight of hand you use to make people feel like they have not been manipulated. The rest is trusting your taste and sensibility and hoping that you keep it in a place that feels honest.”
In “Robot & Frank,” which opens tomorrow exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5, Frank Langella plays a retired cat burglar whose has two grown kids are concerned he can no longer live alone. They are tempted to place him in a nursing home until one of them buys him a walking, talking humanoid robot programmed to improve his physical and mental health.
“The movie is actually the feature-length version of a short film that the screenwriter Christopher D. Ford made at film school,” Schreier said. “He and I were friends and I was a producer on his short. About 4 years ago, we were trying to come up with something to develop as a feature and we came back to this as something that would be achievable on an indie scale but also have a hook and really stand out from the pack.”
Schreier never thought of “Robot & Frank” as a science-fiction flick. He pointed out that, after all, robots like the one in the film are really being developed. However, the director wanted the setting to feel as familiar as possible, thereby making it easy for viewers to relate to and connect with the characters and their story.
“You have got this rural environment with this old man and there is this very clean piece of technology that enters into his world,” Schreier explained. “It is supposed to be an incursion upon him so I did not really want too much of the rest of the future to be around him – just little hints of it so that we had a visual contrast set up in his world.”
Of course, even though the robots are really being developed, that does not mean that one was ready to star in “Robot & Frank.” Instead, an actress named Rachel Ma suited up inside of the robot, which was created by visual effects company Alterian, Inc. Schreier gives kudos to Ma for suffering through temperatures upwards of 100 degrees in the suit.
“We are just trying to raise a lot of issues about technology and the way that it changes our interactions,” Schreier added. “There is also stuff about what it means to be aging and the way we treat people who are aging. We are essentially asking whether or not a robot could be a better friend to a man who is aging than people and whether or not it could teach him something.”
Schreier is also grateful for “Robot & Frank’s” talent cast – especially Langella, whom he said did not have any problem acting opposite a robot. The actor told him that he substituted the robot for something in his mind but refused to reveal to Schreier exactly what – or who – that was. Moreover, the director said that Langella’s pure acting process was a wonderful thing to watch.
“The first day and a half, I just sort of forgot to direct because I was watching Susan Sarandon and Frank Langella act 10 feet away from me,” Schreier said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I should probably do my job and direct a bit.’ But when you only have 20 days to shoot, an actor’s ability to turn it on and be so real and engaged at the drop of a hat is an amazing advantage to have.”
“Robot & Frank” (PG-13 – 90 minutes) opens tomorrow exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.