A Conversation with the Creator and Stars of New Film “5 to 7”

Victor Levin is a four time Emmy nominee whose work includes writing for such shows as “The Larry Sanders Show” and writing and producing the very popular “Mad About You” and “Mad Men.” This week his latest project, the romantic comedy “5-7,” which he both wrote and directed, opens. He was joined in our conversation with the two stars of the film, Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”) and French actress Berenice Marlohe (“Skyfall”). They made a pretty formidable trio!

Mike Smith: Victor, what was your inspiration, if any, to write the film?
Victor Levin: I love to write about love, Michael. I think it’s the most interesting subject and one of the best things we have going as human beings. I can’t imagine life without it and I think it’s most inspiring wherever it goes. In this particular case, I was traveling in Paris in the late 1980s with my girlfriend at the time. We stayed at the home of some friends of hers who were older and married and they lived…they had…this kind of marriage. We went to a party and I saw the husband, I saw the wife. And I saw the girlfriend and I saw the boyfriend. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to talk to. My girlfriend to just keep my mouth shut and my eyes open and I might learn something new. And she was right. It was all very elegantly done. It was all very elegantly choreographed. Like the film says, there are rules and obligations. No one is ever embarrassed. And it was the way these people chose to solve what was, to them, the problem of monogamy. And I had to accept the fact, as a middle-American suburban kid, that there were other philosophy’s of life in the world. There were many, many ways to look at how we go about arranging our lives. It may not be for me, except for as a story, but it was a fascinating obstacle. It was a fascinating starting-off point for the story. And a real eye opener for me personally.

MS: You have quite a few writing credits but haven’t been behind the camera that much. Was this project something you felt you HAD to direct to preserve your vision?
VL: Yes. The film is, as you know, a little bit of romance and a little bit of comedy mixed together. And that is a very fragile mixture…it’s something that has to be done just so. The movie has to make you laugh but it also has to make you cry. You have to balance it just right. If it makes you laugh TOO much, it will not make you cry. There has to be a balance in very scene, with every joke. I knew what I wanted and I was not going to give it away to anybody else to direct. This was something that was either not going to be made or it was going to be made by me.

MS: Thank you. Anton, first off, a belated happy birthday (the actor turned 26 on March 11).

MS: What attracted you to the project?
AY: The screenplay. I read it and thought it was really, really…wonderful. It was funny and also very moving. When you read a script and walk away from it having really enjoyed it and been moved by it…that’s the reason I did the film.

MS: Brian is a very change-of-pace role. Was that something you were trying branch into?
AY: I’m not consciously trying to branch out into any certain role. I just really loved this character a lot. His journey was entirely relatable. I think one of the things that all human beings have to learn is how to deal with things that end. What, if anything, do we try to hold on to? And how that decision constructs meaning in our lives. I found it both very moving and very relatable.

MS: Thank you. Ms. Marlohe, same question.
BERENICE MARLOHE: I loved the script. I loved the dialogue. I loved that the script was about relationships…about real human beings. I love that it was a love story. About relationships. And I loved that it made you question things in general. Here, the plot of “5-7” may seem unconventional but I think it shows relationships in another point of view. It deals with love and, as Victor said, there are many different ways of loving. Love can last. Even if it doesn’t LAST, it can be eternal. It’s an emotion that is pure and beautiful.

MS: Victor mentioned that he had come across this type of relationship while in France. Do you know anyone that has this type of relationship?
BM: (laughing) Everyone thinks this only happens in France. I’m sure it happens all around the world!

MS: What are you each working on next?
VL: I’ve written another romance that I hope will also have some good laughs in it. I’m also working on the STARZ comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” which is a half-hour comedy on the STARZ network, loosely inspired by the life of Lebron James. He’s an executive producer on the show. It’s the only time that my office will be next to Lebron James’ office (laughs). I plan to enjoy that as much as possible. I’ll do some writing and directing for them, as well as producing.
AY: I have a couple films coming out. “Broken Horses” actually comes out the week after “5-7.” And I’m going to start “Star Trek 3” soon…ish. I also have a couple other films I just finished.

VL: He’s very busy, Michael. He’s actually shooting a film now, during this interview! (laughs)
BM: I just finished a comedy produced by Will Ferrell, starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. And then I have a sci-fi movie coming out called “Revolt.” And I also have the next Terrence Malick film (“Weightless”) with Michael Fassbender and Christian Bale.

MS: Final question. Anton, I’m sure you’ve been sworn to secrecy so Victor, if you or Ms. Marlohe have any clues about what “Star Trek 3” is going to be about I’d love to hear them.
VL: (laughing) All I can tell you, Michael, is that I’ll be the first one in line.
MS: I’ll be standing right next to you!

Creator of “Doc McStuffins”, Chris Nee talks about season two and spin-off series “The Doc Files”

Photo Credit: ABC/BOB D’AMICO

Chris Nee is the creator, as well as writer and producer of Disney Junior hit series “Doc McStuffins”.  The show recently completed its first season and has become a worldwide phenomenon from merchandise to phone apps. The series has already spawned a new short-form spin-off called “The Doc Files”, which starts airing on July 22nd. and recently released its first season soundtrack, “The Doc Is In”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Chris about her work on the show and what we can expect from the spin-off, as well as the upcoming season two.

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s talk about the new short form spin-off series “The Doc Files”, what can we expect?
Chris Nee: What I think is exciting about this show is that we are able to go back and revisit our favorite toys from past episodes. Like Bella the Ballerina and Poppy, some of the toys that have been on the show and been big hits but we haven’t found a way to bring back in the actual season. So that has been exciting for us as writers. So we also able to bring back some of our favorite songs from season one, so that is also fantastic. For me what was exciting is seeing the show in a new visual style. Obviously they are shorts, but are are anxious to get more material on the air as we get ready for our big push for season two coming up. We are going this series in a 2D style and it is a really exciting way to open up the view of what this show is.

MG: How many episodes have been produced so far?
CN: We have done ten episodes so far of “The Doc Files”. Five are starting to air on July 22nd and five are being
tucked away and will air later in the year.

MG: Any challenges in doing from the regular series to the spin-off series?
CN: It is always hard for me to be short-winded (laughs). So getting my sensibility down to a three minute format was definitely difficult. For people that watch the show, I think that one of the things we do well is marry a lot of tones and make sure we are getting a lot of jokes in while still having emotion. It takes a full twelve minutes to do that usually. So this is like a haiku version of “Doc McStuffins”.

MG: Talk to us about the recently released soundtrack “The Doc Is In”?
CN: I think we got very lucky on this show by bringing in Michelle Lewis and Kay Hanley, our composers. They really haven’t done kids music before. I think you can hear that in the music, as it is incredibly catchy for kids but also for adults as well. I am really excited about the soundtrack. For me, I live and breath these shows and I have heard these songs so many times and you think I would be sick of them by now but when I popped in the CD, I was just so proud of them. I am excited that we were able to get all those songs together. In season two, we are looking to do some longer form songs. It is exciting stuff.

MG: How important do you feel music is to the show?
CN: I think it is a huge part of the process. A lot of our songs end up telling the lesson of the episode. I think it is a great way for us to get very specific with the lessons that we are trying to teach without them feeling too preachy in dialogue. Suddenly when you put them into a fun, boppy song, you can talk about drinking water or wearing glasses and it is very different. We thought to ourselves that if we were successful that every kid would think of our song when they go to wash their hands and will sing this song. So everyone one in a while we hit a topic and we are aiming for something bigger.

MG: In the mobile world, tell us about the recent “Doc McStuffins: Time For Your Check Up!” app?
CN: We spent a lot of time working with the app and tried to find a way to do something that is very unique to
the show. It would have been very easy to do an app with a game where Stuffy had to bang into things but we
really pushed the team we worked with to capitalize on what is different and great about the show. You can
actually use the app as a x-ray machine and a magnifying glass in order to do a check-up of your toys. It is
really different and not your typical app, which I think is really cool.

MG: Are you taken by the success of the show after just one season?
CN: It is pretty mind blowing I have to say. This was an original idea of mine influenced by my son who has asthma. I was setting out to do something personal for him and to see it take off like this is just totally astounding. I recently read some numbers that we were in 190 countries with 16 different languages and over 100 million unique viewers. I find that shocking. I just took a trip to Europe and there was “Doc McStuffins”merchandise on the shelves. I thought how is this possible, since it started as an idea I hope in the shower five years ago [laughs].

MG: What can we expect the upcoming second season of “Doc McStuffins” this Fall?
CN: I think it is just going to be a further diving into this world. We are exploring a bunch of medical topics that we didn’t get to in season one. It is a challenge to tell these stories in a toy-centric point of view. There was a couple of big obvious things that we didn’t do in season one, like wearing a helmet. So we are getting some of those episodes in. We are spending more time we our beloved group of core characters. There is some really wonderful and emotional stories with Lammie and Hallie. It’s suprising to think that we have only had one season on the air so far. Animation just takes a very long time. We have been very busy working on season two. I know people are dying for us to get season two out but for no lack of effort. It just takes that long to get a new season out there. We are closing in on that time and it is going to be very exciting to get the new world of the clinic out there.

Kurt Sutter, Creator of FX series “Sons of Anarchy”, talks about Season 5

Kurt Sutter is the creator/writer and director of the hit FX series “Sons of Anarchy”. Now in its 5th season the series is showing no signs of slowing down. Media Mikes had the privilege to speak with Kurt recently about the death of main characters and what he looks for when casting roles on the show.

Adam Lawton: When a main character like Opie is killed or is going to be killed off the show does the actor or actress know ahead of time prior to getting the script?
Kurt Sutter: I like to let my actors know what’s going on. I don’t like to just hand them a script and let them read it for themselves. With Ryan Hurst who plays Opie we sat down and talked about how things were going to play out and how it all fit in to his characters story arc. Opie has been a character on the show since day 1 so I had to make sure everything leading up to and after his death was going to have the right flow. Though I wasn’t on set the day the scene was shot I know it was very emotional. Ryan had asked for everyone to be there so he could say good bye. This cast has a really solid bond with each other so this was the important for him to do that. When you see Opie looking at Jax through the window before he is killed he is in a sense saying goodbye to everyone.

AL: How did you go about choosing the Opie character as the one to die?
KS: From when we first see Opie in season one getting out of prison we notice his struggles to fit in. Not only is he trying to fit in with the club but he also is trying to do right by his family. After his wife is killed accidentally during a hit ordered by Clay is when you really start to see his decent. That arc was furthered by the death of Opie’s father Piney last season. Once Opie found out about all that went on and that Jax’s knew about it and didn’t tell him was when Opie was really tested. That family has endured so much that ultimately Opie chooses to stand up for the club and Jax by putting himself in the position to be the one to die per Pope’s request. Jax didn’t choose who was going to die and he probably never would. This was Opie’s way of doing right by everyone. Though that story arc comes to an end the lines between Jax and Pope are just beginning.

AL: Can you give us a little background on your use of brutality in this killing and a couple of others in the show?
KS: When I bring in an episode there are almost always some things that need to be cut out. The world we are showing is a brutal world where brutal things happen. In order for the stories to be told correctly a certain amount of those elements have to be present. The episode where Clay cuts a clowns scrotum off is a perfect example. During the shooting of that scene there was a shot that showed the scrotum lying on the floor as I felt it really sent a message. Did that make it in to the show? Obviously not, as it went too far. We had to cut that episode down to make the scene work while still including that brutal element. This was also the case with the killing of Opie. Sure I could have had Jax looking into the back of Opies caved in skull but I think that would have been too much and ultimately it was more dramatic the way you saw that scene. It’s funny because I actually have a sticker on my mirror now that says “You cannot show the clown scrotum”. (Laughs)

AL: The show has really great casting and each season it seems to get better and better. What do you look for when casting roles on the show?
KS: The first thing is I don’t want them to be dick! That really is the first piece of research I do. I like my set to stay a safe, creative and nurturing environment. I do my homework to ensure I’m not bringing a pre-Madonna into my world. Then it is really about the level of their work. This season with Jimmy Smits and Harold Perrineau they have a tremendous body of work that I am aware of. We try to make interesting casting choices. The obvious choice for the Damon Pope character would have been picking an actor that plays more hard or dangerous. We wanted to break that so we looked for a guy who could sort of compartmentalize that danger and hardness and tuck it into the pocket of his Prada suit. Harold was a wonderful choice for the role as he can go dark and scary but, for the most part there is something warm and almost vulnerable about him. These things make him a very interesting antagonist. As the season progresses you will start to see this weird mentorship type thing happen between Pope and Jax. When you think about it in terms of what Jax wants to do with the club Pope is the perfect guy for that. Pope is a guy who turned all of his dirty business in to very legitimate things. I couldn’t avoid that obvious circumstance. With Jimmy Smits I had the idea for his character but I didn’t know what world he was going to play in. I wanted him to be an outlaw but not another biker. I felt like we had the African-American dynamic with Pope and the Niner’s so I sort of wanted to stay away from that world. We landed in the Latino ethnicity on terms of there are a lot of Latino gangs in the Stockton area. That’s where the roots of that character began. With Jimmy it was one of those instances where I was able to start at the top and get the guy I wanted. This is not always the case. Not that you don’t ultimately end up on a great actor but I have had 2 or 3 circumstances in my career where I thought that this role needs to be this specific person and this was one of those times. The last time I think that happened in terms of guest stars was when Forrest Whitaker appeared on “The Shield”. I remember going in with the idea of getting him but knowing it probably would never happen. It was the same thing with Jimmy when I went to the network with it. We were able to sit down with Jimmy and get him excited about the role and wanting to come in and do it.

AL: You have stated that the season 7 will be the last season of the show. Is this still the case?
KS: I have said that quite a bit and talked in length on the subject. But as the show continues on with season after season budgets inevitably increase. After a certain amount of time there is just not enough left on the bone for the show to be economically viable. The people at FX have been very generous in allowing me to do what I do and I am sure that if I start to think that I can’t wrap up the story in 7 seasons they would probably allow me to make 7 or 8 more episodes to get it done. However looking at my giant story board I think I am going to be able to wrap things up in 7 seasons.