Jeffrey Blitz Interview: Rocket Science

81“Absolutely delightful” is an understatement when describing Rocket Science, a story centering on Hal (played by Reece Thompson), a highschooler with no game and a stuttering problem, who gets the shock of a lifetime when a fellow popular classmate, Ginny, (played by Anna Kendrick), recruits him onto the high school debate team. A stutterer on the debate team?

That’s right! And for the first time in Hal’s life, he finally belongs to something, which pulls him out of his troubled home life. However, things take a dramatic turn with Ginny, and just when you expect Hal to miraculously get “saved” from his stuttering problem and win each round in the debate championship, writer/director Jeffrey Blitz completely strays from the traditional Hollywood clichés and gives his audience something to really think about.

Directed By (Acted By’s sister site) got a chance to ask Blitz a few questions about his latest comedic masterpiece following his teenage spelling bee documentary Spellbound, and this is what the hot up-and-coming filmmaker had to say:

DB: How did Rocket Science come about?

Blitz: When Spellbound was playing on the film festival circuit, I met Maud Nadler, a producer at HBO Films. She encouraged me to write a screenplay set against a high school backdrop. That eventually morphed into Rocket Science. There are certain basic autobiographical components: I stuttered and joined my high school debate team. But the rest is invented. I wrote the script off and on while I was directing commercials; it took about a year of that halting work.

DB: The thing that really stuck out in Rocket Science was the ending. It wasn’t your typical ending where the guys beat out everyone in the spelling bee! However, they did, in fact, walk away victorious. Did you get pressured to re-write the ending? What did the main characters take away from the entire experience, as you see it? How did it change them?

Blitz: Well, I’m not a fan of formulaic endings. It’s not just that they’re easy, it’s that they make a movie predictable and that’s about the worst thing a movie can be. HBO was supportive of the ending all the way. They felt it was organic to the story and that it was satisfying in its own way. I never want to make a “lesson” film where there’s an easy moral at the end. I believe in stories that are good and complex and that have inherent value apart from any “lesson” they might contain. So I’ll leave the question of what they “take away” for audiences to consider.

DB: Was it difficult to cast for each role? What was it like working with a group of young actors/actresses?

Blitz: Casting was enormously difficult. We decided to put major resources into it, as major as we could for a low budget film, but even so, it took about six months of searching before everyone was in place. Casting Hal in particular was tricky. It’s a very hard part-emotionally and technically, because of the stutter-but I’m glad we held out until we found Reece Thompson. Working with a young cast was great. The actors were incredibly receptive to my direction and eager to dive into the depth of their talents. That’s a great environment to be working in.

DB: How long did Rocket Science take to shoot??

Blitz: 30 days.

DB: What was the budget?

Blitz: Under 6 million.

DB: What road blocks did you run into during the actual production??

Blitz: It’s the usual stuff on a low budget film: not enough time or resources to do all you want to do. But, on the whole, I can’t complain. I got pretty close to the movie I set out to make.

DB: Are you nervous about its theatrical debut??

Blitz: Indeed. You never know how a movie will be received, I guess, and there are so many variables now that I’m not in control of. But I try to remind myself that movies take on a life of their own, and I try to be as removed from it now as possible.

DB: What did YOU take away from the experience??

Blitz: Great question, but I’m not sure of the answer. I guess the idea came to me that directing a film requires learning and speaking many different languages. How you speak to a cinematographer is different from how you speak to an actor and that’s different from how you speak to a producer. That kind of multi-lingual experience is exhausting and, when you discover yourself to be fluent in all these languages, it’s pretty exhilarating. Especially for a stutterer.

DB: What is your favorite color??

Blitz: I like shades of gray, metaphorically-speaking.

DB: What was your favorite scene to write?? To shoot??

Blitz: Probably the scene where Hal tosses a cello through Ginny’s window after several failed attempts. No matter how bad I made it for poor Hal, I always laughed as I wrote it.

DB: What are your future plans in filmmaking??

Blitz: I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that I get to have a future in filmmaking.