Q : What is it about genre film that attracted you when it was time to make your feature directorial debut ?
Dave Franco ; I think most people know me from the comedies that I’ve acted in, but personally speaking—as a viewer myself—there’s nothing that makes me more excited than playing with genre. As a first-time director, I had many reasons for choosing this script, some of them logistical: I could make it in one location with a small cast and crew. But on top of that, historically, genre films are where you can really play around and have fun with the style and the visuals and the overall vibe. I felt like I could really put my stamp on it.
Q : What are some of your favorite genre movies? The ones that had an influence on you ?
Dave Franco : I can list a bunch: Martha Marcy May Marlene, Hereditary, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Halloween, Blue Ruin, Goodnight Mommy¬—those are ones that initially come to mind. I’m inspired by this younger group of filmmakers who are approaching genre in an interesting way, people like Ari Aster, Amy Seimetz, Jeremy Saulnier and Jordan Peele. Their films are atmospheric and nuanced, and they take their time to really creep up on you.
Q : The Rental has a similar sense of dread. I’m watching it, thinking: This is the Airbnb killer movie I’ve been dreaming about for years.
Dave Franco : [Laughs] Exactly. Our goal from the beginning was to create a thriller where, even if you stripped away all of the genre elements, it would still be able to stand on its own as a compelling drama. At its core, this is a tense relationship story with horror elements sprinkled throughout, to help amplify the chaos these characters are going through in their connections.
Q : Still, you and your cowriter, Joe Swanberg, found a killer peg to hang a genre film on. Do you remember discovering it ?
Dave Franco : We were both inspired by our own paranoia over the concept of home sharing. Our country is as divided as it’s ever been, and no one trusts each other, yet we’re fine with staying in the home of a stranger simply because of a few positive reviews online. And I still use Airbnb! In fact, I stayed in an Airbnb while filming this movie—it was a decrepit shack on the beach, literally named the “Old Rustic Cabin.” I think there’s this disconnect where we’re all aware of the risks of staying in a stranger’s home, yet we never think anything bad will actually happen to us.
Q : Swanberg is a director in his own right. What did he bring to the writing collaboration
Dave Franco : I acted in his Netflix show, Easy. We quickly realized that we had similar sensibilities and interests, including genre films. And the idea of writing one with him was intriguing because his main strengths lie in character and relationships. We were excited to create characters that were well-rounded and relatable, so that when things inevitably start going crazy, the audience is actually invested in whether these people live or die.
Q : The rental house in your film is virtually its own character—like the house in Parasite. Where did you find it ?
Dave Franco : Yes, this was an actual location. It took a long time to find. Ultimately, we shot in this little coastal town in southern Oregon called Bandon. The main reason people know about Bandon is because it has one of the best golf courses in the country. Otherwise it’s pretty sleepy and no one drives over 15 miles per hour. We truly fell in love with the area. The sunsets are like nothing you’ve ever seen, and the rock formations along the coast are insane. It feels like you’re in Ireland or something. It was the perfect setting for this film, where the landscape is so beautiful but at the same time, there’s something ominous about it
Q : You also had some fairly cooperative spooky fog.
Dave Franco : We actually didn’t! Typical for Oregon, the weather was unpredictable. The fog was a challenge. Honestly, it was one of the things that gave me the biggest headache because it was such an important part of the film and if we weren’t able to pull it off, then we would lose this atmospheric quality. But we had an incredible team, pumping fog from giant machines. Everyone on set helped out. For example, there was this lawnmower that released fog, so the PAs and the art designers would take these lawnmowers and run them through the scene right before we shot, so everyone was pulling their weight.
Q : The camaraderie that happens on a shoot—especially on an indie, where everyone’s trying to make a vision happen—can be inspiring
Dave Franco : Absolutely. Looking back at the directors that I worked with, I’ve learned the most from Seth Rogen and his team. They create such a comfortable environment on the set where there are no egos. And they seek out everyone’s opinion. The main rule is: The best idea wins, no matter who it’s coming from. It makes everyone feel motivated. I also vetted my crew in an extensive way. Obviously, I wanted people who were really talented, but it was equally important to me that they were nice people who were going to work their asses off. It was worth it, because I ended up being surrounded by incredible people who made my job much easier than it could have been
Q : Let’s talk about your characters and actors, starting with Charlie. I love that you cast Dan Stevens, showing us once again that he’s more than just the pretty face from Downton Abbey.
Dave Franco : Like you say, he’s mainly known for that, and his genre work, The Guest and Legion, where he’s playing characters that are slightly heightened. I was excited to see him in a role that felt more real. It was important to cast somebody like Dan because the role requires someone who’s inherently likable, so that even when he’s acting in way that’s immoral, the audience wouldn’t immediately turn on him. Dan is not afraid to be the bad guy and play against his good looks in the service of the overall story.
Q : Sheila Vand, best known for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, brings a fascinating energy to the film.
Dave Franco : She’s incredible in that movie but she’s also playing a vampire, so she’s not really talking or emoting that much. She’s playing that role perfectly, but I was excited to recast her in a way that audiences haven’t seen before. What I learned during this process is how much range Sheila has: inherent strength, yes, but also vulnerability when the scene calls for it. That was the perfect duality for Mina, a character who is very strong-willed but who can crumble. As an audience, our heart breaks for her.
Q : Jeremy Allen White, as Josh, seems to be on the opposite trajectory, transitioning from initial vulnerability to impulsiveness and violence
Dave Franco : Jeremy is mainly known for his work on Shameless. I’ve always admired him from afar. He has this raw energy that feels unpredictable yet extremely grounded. He’s pretty much incapable of having a false moment onscreen. I swear, we would all look at each other and wonder why he wasn’t the biggest star in the world. Josh is a difficult character to pull off, in that he has to be someone you believe has this rage inside of him, but at the same time, is very delicate and scared within his own relationship. From watching his previous work, I knew Jeremy could pull off that tricky balance.
Q : And finally, Alison Brie returns to horror, nine years after Scream 4.
Dave Franco : That’s right! [Laughs] With the wrong actor, this role could have felt like the typical, stuffy type-A “wife character” that isn’t very interesting. Alison brought something layered to Michelle where, yes, she does have some of those type-A qualities but at the same time, she’s still human and likes to party. And she has a backbone. She was able to tap into the tone of the film and find the balance between seriousness and levity—sometimes within the space of a single scene. Obviously, Alison is my wife.
Q : I wasn’t going to bring it up!
Dave Franco : It was such a comfort having her there with me, for many reasons. First off, she’s so talented and she made my job easy. But also, it was nice to have someone to come home to at the end of each day, someone who I could vent to, and who could build me up in the right way when my insecurities or self-doubts would start to creep in. I really couldn’t imagine doing this without her. It would have been very lonely.
Q : You’re a gentleman, Dave Franco. You also have a good ear for very atmospheric horror-influenced music. How would you describe the work of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, your co-composers ?
Dave Franco : Danny and Saunder know how to subvert the genre and not rely too heavily on musical stings. They take what is expected from a horror score and turn it on its head. What they do best are these little accents—there’s this dull tapping noise that they’ve layered in throughout the movie that still haunts me. Honestly, every once in a while, I’ll catch Alison subconsciously humming their music from the movie and she’ll legitimately scare herself, which is what snaps her out of it
Q : Was this your first experience working with an editor and developing a story over feature-length ?
Dave Franco : For feature-length, yes. But I’ve been writing and directing short films and skits for a long time. When I first started out as an actor, I worked on projects that I wasn’t so passionate about. I would tell my friends and family, “Don’t go see this thing I just acted in.” Eventually, I paired up with a friend and started making short films for Funny or Die. They would provide us with budgets and surround us with a crew and then we would go off and have full creative freedom. So we wrote, directed, starred, edited—everything. It was a crash course in filmmaking. I’ve wanted to take the next step to directing a feature for a long time, but candidly, I was nervous to take that leap.
Q : Maybe you were waiting for the right story.
Dave Franco : Definitely. And what I realized making The Rental is that I’ve been on so many sets throughout my career, I know more than I thought I did. I actually felt extremely comfortable behind the camera, and it was gratifying to have a say in every element of the process.
Q : You have a lot of acting experience, but did you feel ever feel pigeonholed by comedy, at least in terms of perception ?
Dave Franco : Personally, no. But I know the audience knows me from comedy. They expect a certain thing from me. And this movie is not necessarily that thing. We had a few screenings where people showed up knowing nothing about The Rental except for the fact that I wrote and directed it. And some of them were pissed. [Laughs] You know, the idea of playing within the thriller/horror realm is something that some people actively try to avoid. And I realized that there’s this barrier that I need to overcome as a filmmaker. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to me. This is a space that I love more than any other.
Q : Your movie is expressly about homebound paranoia—not being about to trust one’s surroundings. Do you hope that viewers see The Rental as a unwitting metaphor for what we’re all going through right now ?
Dave Franco : Interesting. That’s a tough question. Obviously, we didn’t go into the film with those intentions. What I will say is: This is a very grandiose statement, but we figured that if we executed this film right, it could do for home sharing what Jaws did for the water—just in the sense that people will think back on every rental home they’ve ever stayed in and wonder if they were truly alone. Or if anyone was watching.
Two couples on an oceanside getaway grow suspicious that the host of their seemingly perfect rental house may be spying on them. Before long, what should have been a celebratory weekend trip turns into something far more sinister, as well-kept secrets are exposed and the four old friends come to see each other in a whole new light.
Directed by Dave Franco
Produced by Dave Franco, Elizabeth Haggard, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Joe Swanberg, Christopher Storer
Written by Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg
Story by Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg, Mike Demski
Starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Music by Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography : Christian Sprenger
Edited by Kyle Reiter
Production companies : Black Bear Pictures
Distributed by IFC Films
Release date : July 24, 2020 (United States)
Photos : Copyright IFC Films
(Source : press release)