The One I Love

The One I Love was a family affair. Watching the film, you might notice that it has only three actors--albeit three very well-known ones--and predominantly takes place in one location. The feature directorial debut of Charlie McDowell was a low-budget affair that was shot in just 15 days and with the help of family and friends. We've already told you how McDowell's girlfriend Rooney Mara contributed by pulling together costumes, but his step-dad Ted Danson helped out by playing the couples' counselor to Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

The script was not set in stone. McDowell and screenwriter Justin Lader worked out the story together, but to help keep the film feeling authentic and intimate, they allowed the actors to improvise a lot of their dialogue. But this is not the brand of improv favored by the Apatow mafia, an endless series of one-liners and lunacy looking for what pops. Instead, they began with a "scriptment," McDowell explains, " which is a script and a and treatment. It’s basically, every scene is very detailed-ly written in terms of the intricate plotting, where it goes and where the characters are emotionally and where they’re heading. Then what was kind of off the cuff was just the dialogue."

Duplass explained how this worked using a scene involving Russian nesting dolls as an example. He said:
"Let me kind of walk you through how that happened. We knew we wanted a scene where the two characters would be connecting. We knew we wanted something that related metaphorically to the plot of the film and the Russian dolls were interesting for that reason, and then we knew we wanted Sophie to have really cool insights into women.

"And so since Russian dolls kind of all line up next to each other, we were like ok, let’s all start talking about interesting profiles of women that we just kind of know. So, on the spot, we just started talking about oh, there’s this girl, and I know that girl, and I know that girl. And it was a collaborative experience with me and Lizzy and Charlie and Justin and Mel, our producer and even our sound designer, Sean O’Malley, threw one in there. Then within about twenty minutes of that discussion, while they were lighting and setting up, we had armed Lizzy with what she needed to go through that. And so what you’re seeing is--and this is why I don’t believe in rehearsal for these kinds of movies--you’re seeing it come together in her mouth, while it’s happening.

And that’s the spontaneity that you feel. She had not memorized that;l she had not prepared it. And she’s kind of figuring it out and talking through it and almost making herself laugh at times, because we hadn’t come out yet, and I just believe that you can rehearse that stuff and nail it, but it’s not always guaranteed to come out. The way it’s guaranteed to come out is when you’re doing it while the camera is rolling."

The script allowed shifting on set. Because of the delicate character work The One I Love requires, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss had the rare opportunity to shoot most of the film in chronological order. To that end, sometimes the scriptment would change based on how an improvised scene turned out. Moss recalled, "Me and (Mark) and Charlie and Justin would get together and be like, 'I feel like she’s going in this direction a little bit too much and I don’t want that impression to be given, so I think we need to--' and we’d literally take out an entire plot point because of what we just shot. So, it was this constant maneuvering through it and building this thing as you went along. I’d never been part of anything like this."

McDowell confirmed that this workflow kept the screenwriter (Justin Lader) on set, and how that was an advantage that allowed the film to grow in an unorthodox but suitable manner. Duplass loved this style of working, and said, "It was great. It allows you to shuck and jive and keep your movie from falling on its ass, in my opinion. Because, again, you’re like 'In scene 13, they were more connected than I thought they would be, so we can afford to make scene 14 a little more disastrous, because we’ve got a bedrock now.' We tried to shoot as much of the emotional scenes in order as possible, without giving too much away. There are quite a few effects in the movie and those had to be shot in a certain order to make it efficient, but in general, we tried to be able to build upon what was previously happening in the narrative."

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