First published on 20 Aug 2012. Updated on 2 Oct 2012.
In Colin Trevorrow’s first feature-length film, which screened at Sundance earlier this year, a Seattle Magazine employee (JM Johnson from New Girl) enlists two interns to track down the man who has placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel: ‘Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.’
The idea for the film came from an advert published in an issue of Backwoods Home in 1997 – “a survivalist magazine that helps you prepare for the coming Armageddon,” says the director. The ad achieved cult status in the US. “I think the original author didn’t quite get the ironic-hilarity of it,” says Trevorrow. “We tracked him down and got him to meet me for lunch. He brought his own gun.”
For the production of Safety Not Guaranteed, the filmmakers bought the rights to the advertisement as though it were a book. “It’s probably the shortest literary adaptation material, ever.” John Silveira, who wrote it, was apparently pleased with the treatment of the story. “He gets it. I think what was important to him was that we treat the character with respect, and that’s how we approach comedy in general – to treat all our characters with respect and to take them seriously. And I think he liked that it was a love story. He’s kind of a romantic.”
Actress and comedienne Aubrey Plaza, whose role as April Ludgate in TV series Parks and Recreation garnered her a reputation for deadpan performances, was the foundation for the film’s cast. “Both [writer Derek Connolly and I] agreed that we were going to build this around Aubrey. It was her or bust.” And Mark Duplass, who plays the ad’s author, Kenneth, initially came to the film as an executive producer with his brother Jay Duplass. “Honestly, I don’t remember the exact moment, but it just became this cool idea to have him play the role. I was very interested in having the character not be a movie star. If that character was broad or silly, the wheels could come off the whole thing, it just might not work.”
The film’s genre is ostensibly an indie sci-fi, but the lasting sentiment is more like a rom-com – a sly undertone of emotion that whacks a punch just before the credits roll. Though Trevorrow admits, the original ending would have been a little different. “It was an ending that was much more grounded in reality... I had this feeling: waking up nights thinking this isn’t the way people should be feeling. So I changed it.”
Safety Not Guaranteed opens Oct 18.