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Interview

Game Night: Q&A With Directors John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein

Synopsis

Jason Bateman (Zootopia) and Rachel McAdams (Doctor Strange, A Most Wanted Man) team up in New Line Cinema’s action comedy GAME NIGHT as Max and Annie, whose weekly couples game night gets kicked up a notch when Max’s charismatic brother, Brooks, arranges a murder mystery party, complete with fake thugs and faux federal agents. So, when Brooks gets kidnapped, it’s all part of the game…right? But as the six uber-competitive gamers set out to solve the case and win, they begin to discover that neither this “game”—nor Brooks—are what they seem to be.

Over the course of one chaotic night, the friends find themselves increasingly in over their heads as each twist leads to another unexpected turn. With no rules, no points, and no idea who all the players are, this could turn out to be the most fun they’ve ever had…or, it’s game over. Jason Bateman and Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams team up in New Line Cinema’s action comedy “Game Night.”  John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein are directing the film, marking their second film as co-directors, following “Vacation.”

Q&A

What drew you to GAME NIGHT?

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: It was a very smart script with some great plot twists.

We both loved that it was a different kind of comedy, in that it wasn’t purely a comedy. It gave us an opportunity to do something that was a mash-up of genres, and we keep talking about the film as a comedic thriller. We wanted to try and reinvent the genre a little bit.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: We’re big fans of twists and surprise endings in films, and we haven’t seen that very often in the comedy genre. So, it was a fun chance to flex not only the humor muscle, but the surprise one, as well.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: We wanted to keep the audience off-balance – beginning with the way we play with the Warner Bros. logo at the beginning of the film. Right away, audiences will sense that they’re watching something that’s, surprisingly, a little ominous. They might start wondering, “Oh, I thought this was a comedy.”

Do you have any touchstones – other films that you’ve enjoyed over the years that you had in the back of your mind when you began work on GAME NIGHT?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: We tried to make GAME NIGHT what we call “David Fincher Lite,” in that it evokes the moody and edgy lighting he uses in many of his films. We are also huge fans of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, which is darker than our movie but blends traditional humor and black comedy in a skillful way.

Do you split up directorial duties?

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: Because we’ve been writing together for over ten years, we kind of do it all together. Sometimes we wish we could split it up; we’d probably get more done. But we tend to do it all in the same place and do a lot of preparation before we ever get to set.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: We largely come from the same position and have similar ideas on how things should go, but we often disagree and that’s actually where some of the best ideas come from, because it’s nice to have a sounding board and someone you can bounce ideas off of and create something more refined than it would be if it were coming from one brain.

How do you resolve conflicts?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Whoever wins the fistfight [laughs].

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: You know, it gets pretty bloody.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: We have them pad every director’s trailer that we work in so that we can pummel each other without anyone knowing.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: Seriously, the best idea wins. With comedy, it’s always good to have a lot of alternative ideas you can play with in the editing room and sometimes something that you’re so certain is going to work doesn’t actually work when you see it in the cut. It’s always good to have multiple options.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams portray a married couple in the film, and are at the heart of the comedy and action in GAME NIGHT. What was their dynamic like?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: They complement each other so well. It was refreshing to see Rachel in a comedy, because she hadn’t done one in years. They had very different energies that fit together really nicely.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: As different as Jason and Rachel are from one another, they share an understated acting style. We recently saw Jason in the television series Ozark, which highlights his skills as a dramatic actor. And Rachel has always been a naturalistic actor. You put those two together and it really feels like they’ve been a couple for many years.

What was your approach to casting the other actors – and the department heads?

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: We cast people who you don’t often see in comedies, like Rachel, Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Our main note with all the actors was don’t play for the comedy. Treat GAME NIGHT as though it is a thriller. And the humor inherently comes out of that because you’ve suddenly raised the stakes and you’re not betraying the stakes with jokes.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: We cast our department heads like we cast the actors – they’re best known for their dramatic work. Our composer Cliff Martinez made his comedy debut with GAME NIGHT. He’s scored several of Steven Soderbergh’s films.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: We just listened to the final mix of Cliff’s score. We knew from the get-go that we wanted almost entirely a synth score because it evokes the moody fun of 1980s movies that take place in one night. Hearing him go in that direction with this modern slant was one of the most exciting parts of making GAME NIGHT.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: We had long conversations with our director of photography, Barry Peterson, about visual comps of films that we loved and inspired us. Our production designer, Michael Corenblith, who has worked mostly on dramas, had a great line that we embraced, which was, if you were watching this movie with the sound off, you shouldn’t know it’s a comedy. That informed a lot of what we did.

GAME NIGHT is about competitive people. Who’s the more competitive between you two?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Don’t ask us that, because we’re both so competitive that we’ll start fighting! [Laughs]

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: I am definitely the most competitive and I don’t care what John says.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Jonathan’s wrong.

In the film, there’s a strong element of sibling rivalry between Jason Bateman’s and Kyle Chandler’s characters. Did you ever engage in those kinds of games of one-upmanship with a brother or sister?

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: Well, I have a brother who is three years older than me and he was not easy on me when I was a little kid. We did play a lot of games together but his age advantage allowed him to almost always win. Some of that comes across in the movie’s notion that Jason’s Max never beat Kyle’s Brooks, at anything.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: I’m an only child, but that has probably made me more competitive in some ways, because you start to have a high opinion of yourself. So, I started hosting game nights every week with our most competitive friends and it would often become ugly between us because we took it all so seriously. What’s fun and relatable about the concept of game nights is that it’s a way of letting off steam. They usually happen at the end of a long week of work and it is a chance to really flex that competitive muscle.

What is your favorite board game?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: I am a huge fan of Stratego. It’s only a two-person game, but it’s like a combination of Guess Who? and chess, which I think is a cool mix.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: I always loved the game of Life because it’s so unfair. Basically, your fate is determined in the first five minutes of the game. You’re either a doctor or a lesser-earning person.

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: Which is pretty accurate.

What do you hope audiences take away from GAME NIGHT?

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: The biggest compliment we got from the early screenings of the film was people saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” in a good way. And if most people who experience this movie come away feeling like it was unique and different and special, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.

JONATHAN GOLDSTEIN: This film is very much a ride in that it’s relentless in the way revelations unfold in almost every scene. There are jokes that are funny because you don’t see them coming. We really tried to make it look different from traditional comedies, and that was one of the more challenging and gratifying experiences.

Game Night opens 3 March 2018, in South African cinemas.

By Andrew Germishuys

Founder of SAMDB, Andrew has worked full time in the film industry since the early 2000's. He has trained as an actor, completing his LAMDA Gold Medal, and attending many courses in Cape Town acting studios, with masterclasses with some of the international industries top directors, producers and filmmakers.

Working as an actor and armourer in the film and television industry have given Andrew a great balance of skills across the board when it comes to the entertainment industry.

Catch him on Twitter: twitter.com/andrewgerm_za
And IMDb: www.imdb.com/name/nm5390453/