“This movie feels like a story I know personally…” hmv.com talks to Zac Efron about We Are Your Friends
In We Are Your Friends, Zac Efron plays Cole, one of four 20-something lifelong friends bonded by a love of dope, dance music and a desperation to transcend workaday lives in the San Fernando Valley.
All dream big, but Cole dreams biggest, longing to be a globe-hopping, brain-melting superstar EDM DJ. A chance encounter with an established DJ named James (Wes Bentley) fast-tracks Cole, as James mentors him while offering access to his fancy studio.
James doesn’t offer access to his smoking hot and much-younger girlfriend (model Emily Ratajkowski notable for appearing in Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ video) but Cole goes there anyway, leading to conflict between the alcoholic James and the hungry-for-fame Cole whose aspirations also threaten to cleave him from his Valley pals.
At once a coming of age story and knock-kneed love letter to the rave scene, We Are Your Friends is the debut feature film of Max Joseph, best known for his work on American reality-based dating series Catfish: The TV Show. If you can get past its glorification of drugs - which, in fairness, is tempered with a fatal overdose - the film has a ton of heart, not to mention a sizzling soundtrack. And it's clearly a passion project for all involved.
It hits DVD shelves today and hmv.com sar down for a chat with stars Efron and Ratajkowski and director Joseph to ask about the movie, and why success isn’t always measured at the box office.
Zac, for previously roles you’ve immersed yourself in training, boot camps and so on. Did you do DJ training for this?
Zac Efron: “I had a DJ mentor, a guy by the name of Them Jeans (a.k.a. DJ/music producer Jason Stewart) and I got a crash course. It was DJ 101 and I learned to use the decks to the best of my ability. Then over the course of the movie I started learning the style to make it look cool. It’s not just twisting knobs. It’s actually boom! Really twisting knobs. It became really fun. So I’d say I’m proficient at it… and good at acting it (laughs). I wouldn’t call myself a DJ just yet.”
What about the others – any on-set learning that was exciting or unexpected?
Emily Ratajkowski: “Well, we definitely got to dance. And we got to run around through Vegas both on-screen and off.”
Zac Efron: “Plus we shot really quickly so it was fun to watch Max navigate. This was his first go at a feature film…”
Max Joseph: “Directing was a skill I may have learned because of the movie (laughs)…”
Zac Efron: “…and it was fun to be with Max through that experience. It’s really hard to do and it takes a lot of effort from everybody. We had a killer crew, and we banded together to make a movie that could have taken a lot longer but ended up taking a very short period of time.”
Max Joseph: “I think people would be surprised to know how little money or time we had. This started off as a very small film and then picked up thereafter. We had few resources and it was just supposed to be this small little cult film that just kind of grew and grew. It didn’t grow in budget. But the actors were great; we could only do a few takes and then have to move on. So every day was a challenge.”
Music is the heart and soul of the movie. How difficult was it getting that just right and what was the process for that?
Max Joseph: “It was a big undertaking and we had an amazing music supervisor, Randy Poster, who is a legend and a great filmmaker as well as having a great ear for music. He helped me chose songs that were emotionally correct. A lot of songs were written into the script. But the biggest challenge of course was the song at the end of the film (where Zefron’s DJ character blows away the crowd and establishes his DJ cred).
"We originally went out to a couple of different DJs and producers and this one guy in particular – Pyramid, who I discovered on Spotify – was the first person to respond, and also the hungriest. He felt in many ways like the French version of Cole’s character – slightly introverted, up-and-coming, and he just really wanted this. So I flew him out to L.A. after having worked on this back and forth for a year and we made the song out of all the sounds we’d created for the movie. It was hard to do but he pulled it off, so hats off to Pyramid.”
The movie seems to say that all a DJ needs is one big song to be catapulted to fame. Are there parallels to that in acting and movie-making?
Emily Ratajkowski: “I’m not sure the movie says that, or if it does it contradicts it. The point is that one song is a step towards finding yourself in the creative process. And I feel that much is the same for acting.”
Max Joseph: “At the beginning of the film, Cole says that because from his perspective, getting that one hit is the thing. You can tour the world on one hit. It can launch you but it means nothing if you don’t understand why it was a hit, why it resonated with people.”
Zac Efron: “It all comes from honesty and who the character of Cole is. He knows that one track was the moment he figured out who he was and how to apply his skill set. That’s why it was important. Cole learns how to tap into himself such that there will be another song, and another.”
Box office aside, what will success look like for each of you with this film?
Zac Efron: “I would like for our generation to identify with it in the way I did. I know while we were making the movie, it felt like we were telling a story that I knew and felt. It was current and represented a phase I went through in my life as well. And I just hope it’s taken that way.”
Emily Ratajkowski: “Personally I hope this is a step forward in my career. I liked my character Sophie because I think she’s a dynamic young female character who has her own story to tell. I feel like the movie is starting a dialogue, so in some ways it really already feels like a success to me.”
Max Joseph: “This is already a success for me. I was psyched that I got paid to write a script let alone have the script go into production, get these amazing movie stars and get picked up by Warner Brothers. This is success. But I know that’s not the question. I agree with Zac: if this resonates with one or two people - they got chills or left the theatre with a bounce in their step – that to me is success. That means the movie connected. And that is the coolest thing you can do.”