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Going the Distance – Director Nanette Burstein and Producer Adam Shankman give the inside story

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Going the Distance - Drew Barrymore, Director Nanette Burstein and Justin Long
Erin (Drew Barrymore), Director Nanette Burstein and Garrett (Justin Long) on the set during the filming © 2010 New Line Cinema

Adam Shankman is a multifaceted filmmaker who has enjoyed success as a director, producer and choreographer. He directed Hairspray, The Wedding Planner, The Pacifier and Bringing Down the House, doing the choreography for such productions as Boogie Nights, The Addams Family and Miami Rhapsody. He currently serves as a judge on the hit reality series So You Think You Can Dance.

Nanette Burstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary for her film On the Ropes, and her movie American Teen earned her the Best Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008

Adam Shankman and Nanette Burstein, the producer and director respectively of the new comedy Going the Distance, spoke about the movie at the press junket for the film, which stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long.

Erin (Barrymore), who is spending the summer in New York City, meets and has an affair with newly-singled Garrett (Long). They both think it will be a short fling, but when their relationship becomes more meaningful, they decide to try to keep it going, even when Erin returns to San Francisco.

Can you talk about your approach to this movie?

Going the Distance - Drew Barrymore
Erin (Drew Barrymore), Director Nanette Burstein and Garrett (Justin Long) on the set during the filming © 2010 New Line Cinema

Nanette Burstein: Coming from documentaries, where I capture real life, I wanted to direct a movie that would feel as real as possible. People do swear, and they say what’s on their mind. It was such a fresh story and the premise was so natural. I really responded to the material and I felt that a lot of people would relate to it.

Adam Shankman: To me, both Erin and Garrett are really honest, flawed characters. Garrett behaves pretty badly at times, Erin behaves pretty badly at other times, and they both behave selfishly. But even though life is giving them an ‘out,’ they’re honestly trying to make a go of it before they decide it’s too big of a commitment. And while humor infuses almost everything, the emotional scenes with Justin and Drew really anchor the film.

Why did you choose New York and San Francisco as the two cities in this?

Adam Shankman: Since it’s a movie about a long distance relationship, the cities that the characters live in have to become footholds for them. I’ve always loved the romance of both New York and San Francisco. You can feel alone and, at the same time, be part of a community because you’re surrounded by life everywhere you go.

There’s a lot of honest language between the characters, can you comment on that?

Going the Distance - DP Eric Steelberg and director Nanette Burstein
Director of photography Eric Steelberg and director Nanette Burstein on location during the filming © 2010 New Line Cinema

Adam Shankman: One of the most important things going into this movie that we talked about with Nanette was the fact there would be a lot of honesty in the movie, which is why it couldn’t be anything but R. This is key to people who live in modern places and urban environments that are having adult relationships. You can’t do a good comedy without it coming from something that’s grounded in reality at its core. So it was always very important that that honesty be present.

Nanette Burstein: I think what we were trying to do is tonally set this as different from the traditional romantic comedy. People are uncensored; it’s a very grounded story about feelings and emotions, you really care about these characters, so from the get-go that was always our intention to make it as honest as possible.

How did you cast both Drew and Justin?

Going the Distance - Drew Barrymore
Erin (Drew Barrymore) © 2010 New Line Cinema

Nanette Burstein: Drew has often played an America’s sweetheart type of character, but Erin is strong-willed, she curses, she speaks her mind freely and is really on equal footing with the guys. Drew played it without losing any of her charm.

I’ve been fans of both of them for a long time. They’re both great comic and dramatic actors and they have great chemistry together. It was a no-brainer.

Depicting a mature, grown-up relationship does not always make for the best movie. Can you talk about the challenges of portraying a relationship that avoids all the clichés?

Nanette Burstein: We set out to make a movie that was very honest and realistic, but we never lost sight of the humor. Obviously, you can tell from the cast that wasn’t a problem, they are extremely funny.  So while you are seeing this very emotional scene, the next scene makes you laugh, so it’s a balance that keeps the audience very entertained  but, at the same time, very moved.

We wanted to stay away from a lot of the clichés of this genre as far as the way the characters were written, to the supporting cast, to the way it ends, everything about it we tried to make very fresh.

Going the Distance - Justin Long
Garrett (Justin Long) © 2010 New Line Cinema

Adam Shankman: I’d like to say something in defense of clichés. They’re real and they happen, but I understand we get bored of watching them. A lot of times they make things make sense, but I think that we successfully didn’t employ them.

What do you think audiences will respond to in this movie?

Nanette Burstein: I feel that this is a hilariously honest comedy about the trials and tribulations of a long distance relationship, and really trying to balance your life out, your career and your love life, when you’re 30 and you feel like you should already have it figured out. It is career versus love, and it’s a really funny look at what can win out in the end.

Adam Shankman: I think audiences will really see themselves or their friends, boyfriends or girlfriends in these characters. It is emotional and it’s honest and, if you ask me, funny as all get out.