CS Interview: Dave Franco on directorial debut The Rental
Dave Franco has wowed audiences in the comedic genre for over a decade but now he’s ready to pull the rug out from under them with his directorial debut, psychological thriller The Rental, and ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to chat with the 35-year-old to discuss his stepping behind the camera for the first time. Click here to rent his haunting directorial debut!
Franco found his biggest inspiration for crafting this story and making it his directorial debut was his “own paranoia about the concept of home-sharing” and his thought process of the US being “as divided as it’s ever been” with “no one trusting each other,” and yet “we trust staying in the home of a stranger simply because of a few positive reviews online.”
“All that being said, I still use all of the home-sharing apps,” Franco chuckled. “In fact, I stayed in an Airbnb while filming this movie. And I guess I was just trying to explore this disconnect, where we are all aware of the risks of staying in a stranger’s home, but we never think anything bad will actually happen to us.”
In addition to diving into this theme of paranoia, Franco and his co-writer Joe Swanberg, well-known in the horror-thriller genre for his work in V/H/S, You’re Next and The Sacrament, sought to develop a compelling balance of a relationship drama with the thriller element and found it to be “the biggest challenge.”
“The reason I wanted to work with him is because his main strengths lie in character and relationships,” Franco explained. “And so, our goal was to create a tense relationship drama where the interpersonal issues between the characters were just as thrilling as the fact that there was a killer stalking them. And so, at its core, the movie really is about these characters and their relationships. And then, we sprinkled the horror element on top to help accentuate the problems that they’re going through. The tone was definitely tricky because even though there is underlying tension from the opening shot of the film that slowly builds over time, the first half of the movie really focuses on these characters and their relationships. We needed to find ways to sustain the tension of the movie, even when there was nothing overtly scary happening on screen. And so, I really leaned on my DP and my composers to help just build a tone and an atmosphere in that early portion of the film.”
On top of making his directorial debut and helping pen the script with Swanberg, The Rental acts as one of Franco’s first times being a producer on a feature-length production, having produced a number of short films and the upcoming indie dramedy Zola, but rather than find this as an additional weight, he saw it as a real blessing.
“I think it just gave me more freedom, where I was involved in every single conversation surrounding the film,” Franco noted. “And it allowed me to build a nice rapport with the other producers and the financiers and to instill confidence in them that I knew what I was doing and you know, in the end, they really let me run with my vision and they allowed me to take risks and try to make a film that felt unique and different from other films within this genre.”
Franco also found a lot of the help in easing his tension behind the camera was his small ensemble cast, consisting of his wife and Golden Globe nominee Alison Brie (GLOW), Dan Stevens (Legion), Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless) and Toby Huss (Dickinson), who he brightly said “made my job much easier than it could’ve been.”
“Once Joe and I wrote the script, the next step I took was tracking down everyone’s email and reaching out to them personally because I knew that they were the right people for each role,” Franco recalled. “And I didn’t want to bring the script to financiers before I had these actors attached because I didn’t want anyone else telling me who to cast. And so, I was lucky that they all responded to the project and wanted to sign on. And then, once we were going, they’re all such naturally gifted, grounded actors, which was really important to me because the story lives in the real world. And I knew that the more grounded it was, the scarier it would ultimately be. And so, it was also important to me that the actors could play their roles in a very human, real way, so that audience members could relate to them and put themselves in their shoes.”
Though building the big-name roster may cement in audiences’ minds who will and won’t survive, the filmmakers frequently pull the rug out from audiences and deliver a number of twists and turns and Franco had one notable filmmaker in mind when it came to building these twists for the cast and viewer.
“I think about filmmakers like Tarantino who create these scenarios where no one is safe and anyone could die at any moment and it doesn’t matter how much you love them as an audience member, how invested you are in them,” Franco described. “What that does is, it really keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing the whole way through. And that’s what we were trying to do in general, where our basic premise sounds familiar. It’s two couples going on vacation for what should be a celebratory getaway and then things turn dark. And so, even though we’ve heard that premise before, we wanted to make the film feel unique in its execution, and we wanted to subvert the genre whenever possible and keep audiences on their toes and keep them guessing.”
Co-written by Franco and Joe Swanberg (You’re Next), the film follows two couples as they embark on a weekend getaway to a seemingly perfect house they’ve booked online, but what begins as a celebratory weekend for the four close friends turns into something far more sinister as secrets they’ve kept from each other are exposed and they realize they may not be alone.
In addition to Brie and Stevens, the cast of the film features Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Snowpiercer) and Toby Huss (Halloween). Franco is best known for his acting work on the big screen, starring in such hits as Neighbors, the Jump Street and Now You See Me franchises and indie darlings The Disaster Artist, The Little Hours and If Beale Street Could Talk.
The Rental is produced and financed by Black Bear Pictures with Franco, Elizabeth Haggard, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Swanberg and Christopher Storer serving as producers and Michael Heimler and Sean Durkin attached as executive producers. The film is now in select drive-ins, theaters and on demand!