I recently had the chance to speak with a promising young director named Aram Rappaport whose upcoming film, Syrup, looks to be quite promising. Adapted from the novel by Author Max Barry, the film focuses on the marketing of an idea and the lies and mistrust that come with selling that idea. The film also has a young and rising cast such as Amber Heard (Zombieland, The Rum Diary), Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect, Hairspray), Kellan Lutz (Twilight), and Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead). Aram had some very interesting things to say about all aspects of this film, as well as some intriguing details about the cast and their roles in the film.
Your film ‘Syrup’ is based off of a novel by Max Barry. I haven’t read the novel myself but have read the synopsis and know the premise for the story, which I think has some key elements for a good film. How about you give us some details of that transition from Barry’s story to film?
Starting back to when I originally found the book, a good friend had handed it over to me thinking it would make a good movie. I immediately read it and what struck me as most interesting wasn’t the marketing knowledge and tidbits of the book, but the characters. The characters were struggling with living life in a form that wasn’t honest and true to themselves and were creating images to become more alluring to the general public. The screenplay was adapted more towards these characters themselves than the actual story of the book. The author’s [Max Berry] only criteria for taking this film on was doing justice to these characters and making sure that the decisions that they make in the film were mirrored from the novel. This made it easier for me because had already taken the path of adding screenplay so my adaptation came from his own adaptation which steered away from the novel’s story and made me feel empowered to continue in that direction and it was freeing as a filmmaker.
I don’t usually make preemptive assumptions about a film, but making character development the focus is always the best way to go in my opinion because the characters are the dynamic that drives a film.
I totally agree. One of the lead characters, Six, is a woman who changes her name to a number that resembles the word “sex” so that she can become more alluring. And that’s just the first of many things that she does to brand herself as a living, walking advertisement. To me it’s a commentary on our world and times right now. You walk into Times Square and there’s not a single foot that’s not covered by an alluring ad that says “Fuck Me.” That’s what this film is, it’s getting wrapped up in that world. I’m not trying to hand feed my personal agenda or answers to an audience, it’s more hopefully leaving the audience with a set of questions. The film starts with the characters and then broadens to an overarching theme of who we are and trying to be.
I know in the novel the product is made out to be Coca Cola, is there any references to Coca Cola in the film or an entirely new product?
There is a nod to a very large drink conglomerate but it’s not called Coca Cola. We are centralizing things around this drink that the main protagonist Scat has created but the world that we create will hopefully elude to the fact that he’s pitching this product to a large soda company like Coca Cola but not exactly Coca Cola.
Would you say that there are any moments in the film that you can relate to personally or that you may have done in a way that appeals more to your nature?
That is why I fought for this for so long and it was a long process to get the film going. I literally called Max Barry for six months to just get things started. I think I was so diligent because I fell in love with this notion that the main character Scat was me and I was wrapped up in the fact that I was the only one that was going to be able to direct this movie because I felt so connected to that character. In retrospect there are probably a number of directors that could direct this in a number of ways, it just happens that my passion came about from Scat’s perspective. I felt like Scat would be calling Max Barry consistently and pitching the hell out of this film and be overambitious in every way and feel that he could absolutely succeed under every circumstance. I think it was that frenetic energy that I brought to the set. When you watch this film you will see that everything moves, there wasn’t a single shot where steadicam wasn’t used. Because of that there’s this hectic and energetic feel to the film where everything is constantly moving and changing.
You have a young cast that is pretty well known. The thing that I love about indie films is that they are usually passion projects for the performers and you get to see who these actors and actresses want to be. Out of the usual characters that you’ve seen some of these leads play, how would you say it differs from their usual roles? Using Brittany Snow for example.
We didn’t have Brittany’s role cast until the last minute. Brittany really took the role on and she’s a pivotal part of the cast. She doesn’t have a lot of opportunities on screen to bring across the gravity of her character so I think she felt pressured to come to set and nail those moments. I was entirely surprised at how she was able to command the scene with both Shiloh [Fernandez] and Amber [Heard] who were anchoring the film. In knowing Brittany’s work, she’s always been the lead and been a little bubbly and very passive in her roles. This role was one where she was supposed to be a very proactive girl and challenging Amber’s character and she came in on day 2 of shooting and nailed the role. As a director, I’m still young and very much learning and one of those learning moments was when I was talking Brittany through the scene and having her just say, “Please stop talking and let me try it, just trust me, you hired me, let me try it.” And I said, “You’re right, I should stop talking to you, you’ve heard my piece and I need to trust that you’re the one that’s going to do it.” And sure enough, once the camera started rolling she nailed it and started surprising me with things that she was doing. It’s always exciting when you write a character and imagine it one way, then cast someone that you get really excited about, and then once you say “cut” on set you realize that she made it sound better than what I had written.”
How about Kellan Lutz? Everyone knows him for his role in “Twilight,” what’s his role like in this film?
Kellan is one of the first people that we met with at a hotel in Hollywood and he came in as the character, Sneaky Pete. Originally the character was this Asian stereotype that always wears sunglasses and never speaks. For various reasons Max and I decided that the character didn’t have to be Asian and we could open it up to all races if we found a great actor that could play the role. So Kellan walked in, shook my hand and sat down not saying a word the entire meeting. For the first ten minutes I had no idea what he was doing and then I realized that he had read the script and was trying to play this character with me. It became very farcical because we walked out together and there were paparazzi taking pictures and Kellan remained in character. On top of all of that, what really sold me was while we were sitting the waiter came over to ask if he needed more water and he would just look at the waiter and raise his eyebrow and the waiter said, “OK sir, I’ll get you some water right away.” I thought if this guy could command the room by raising his eyebrow with a pair of sunglasses on indoors then this is the guy that needs to play this character. There wasn’t even a question about if people would relate his character to ‘Twilight’ because this role is so far removed from that.
And Amber Heard?
We were talking about offering the role to someone else and then I met Amber at a party and after a short period I realized that this movie was not going to happen if she said no to the role. She was absolutely 6 [the character]. When you watch the movie you will be able to tell hands down that she is 6. On set I just knew that she was going to add to whatever I had already written and just surprise me. That was one of the most exciting things about shooting this movie. Every take was different and she continually commanded the situation exactly as this character. There was a scene that we were shooting in New York and Max Barry was with us as she started this scene where she was pacing back and forth. Max was apprehensive at first but then Amber started spitting lines and Shiloh mumbled something that wasn’t in the script and she snapped back in character yelling, “Are you talking, because I’m right in the middle of a thought right now.” Everyone was silent as they kept doing the scene until I called cut. I looked back and Max Barry was crying and said, “This is the girl that I wrote, no matter what we give her to say, she is it.” That was such an amazing moment and I was so grateful that I had cast her.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing this cast playing roles that we’re not used to seeing them in.
That’s what I love the most. It’s a risk but with high risk comes high reward. Casting Kellan outside of his comfort zone and definitely casting Shiloh [Fernandez] outside of his comfort zone. Shiloh is playing a fast talking business man and he’s never done that before. He came out a month early to just hang out with me and follow my day since I related so closely with this character. He was very nervous about playing this role but without him it would have been a very different movie. It’s a little less mainstream as far as casting goes but it was so worthwhile to cast outside of type for these people because I felt so strongly that they were right for this.
There are a lot of great elements that seem to be apart of this film. The plot is dynamic, you’ve got a great cast, and some very dynamic characters to coincide with the plot. When can everyone expect to see this film?
The film is being released in June but we don’t know the date yet for a theatrical US release.
Thanks Aram, we’d love to hear back from you as the date approaches.
Thanks Ryan, I’ll make sure to keep you posted.