A line of film fanatics snakes around Congress’ historic Paramount Theatre on Oct. 26. Badge holders line up like toy soldiers, waiting anxiously with red tickets in hand. They pull phones from the depths of their pockets, checking Twitter and Facebook impulsively to kill some of the anticipation. The line begins to move just as the sun starts to set, and the warm light of the evening gives way to the bright white of flashbulbs. The line moves closer. The excitement increases as a red carpet appears and two figures stand posing for photos in front of an Austin Film Festival backdrop. They are none other than Director Herschel Faber and Chad Michael Murray, here to present the world premiere of Hollywood’s newest romantic comedy, Cavemen.
By Becca Chavoya
The night marks Faber’s directorial debut, but he stands calm and coolly collected in jeans and a graphic tee-coat jacket combination while he speaks into various microphones and recorders. Murray is no stranger to the red carpet as he speaks into the camera with perfect poise, flashing a boyish smile at just the right moments, wooing every woman within 20 feet. Murray possesses Faber’s same California-cool sense of self, wearing skinny black pants, a fitted grey shirt and messy-but-still-sexy facial hair. The two have obvious chemistry, on and off the screen.
The seats in the Paramount Ballroom fill up one by one. The lights dim, and the towering screen illuminates what Faber has been working toward for the last 13 years. Cavemen was a semi-finalist in the Austin Film Festival Comedy Screenplay Competition in 2000. Over a decade later, the film makes its debut to the world.
The film follows the lives of four college graduates living in the arts district of Los Angeles. The fun-loving party animals, played by Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect), Kenny Wormald (Footloose), Dayo Okeniyi (The Hunger Games) and Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill), flirt with the delicate line between youth and adulthood as they live party-to-party, girl-to-girl and one-night-stand-to-one-night-stand. The main character Dean, played by Astin, is searching for love among superficial hookups, and he must choose between the girl-next-door best friend played by Camilla Belle and the tempting siren he meets at a party, encompassed by Alexis Knapp. As typical as the script might sound, it harnesses a feature that makes it altogether authentic — it is based off of Faber’s real-life experiences from his time in film school. “I was actually in film school in New York and we [my friends and I] lived in a place called The Cave. It was this windowless warehouse, and we had to throw up curtains and drapes to provide spaces. There was no privacy. I thought it was a very unusual living situation, so I decided to write a comedy about it,” he explains.
Faber, the pre-med-student-turned-screenwriter, caught writer’s fever almost by accident. “I was going to go to medical school, and I had a screenwriting class — it was my very last class of undergrad. I wrote this short and my teacher liked it so much that she had a local company of actors do a staged reading of it, and I just caught the bug right then and there,” Faber says. From there, Faber began applying to film schools, and by a twist of fate he ended up at Columbia University, which was ranked No. 6 in the Hollywood Reporter’s 25 Best Film Schools of 2013. Graduates of the program include notables by the likes of Greg Mottola (Superbad), Kimberley Peirce (Carrie), and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty.) Needless to say, he was among good company.
Before Cavemen, Faber had written Mac and Devin Go To High School, a comedy featuring Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, and had also served as a production assistant for Two Much, a rom-com featuring Antonio Banderas. Cavemen was his first time writing, directing and producing a film. He says he enjoyed the full creative control, but it was his cast who perfected the film to his image.
“The experience for me was really great because I thought what I had on the page was good, and actors like Chad take it and just turn it into gold,” Faber says. Murray says he prepared for the part of Jay by spending a lot of time with the material and taking care of his health. “The idea of taking his [Faber] vision and bringing it to life; there was great validation in that. I could always go to him and say, ‘Hersch, what do you think? Do you like this? Are you happy?’” he adds.
According to Faber, this kind of director-cast collaboration helped minimize some of the challenges the crew faced making the film. Cavemen was made on a tight schedule with an even tighter budget. “It was a labor of love. Everybody made a lot of sacrifices and worked really hard to get it done,” Murray says.
Because of the crew’s limited time and resources, last-minute changes were normal, which means that the cast always had to be prepared. These, according to Murray, are the hurdles of the industry. “Sometimes you get to set and you see something doesn’t work, or there will be for some un-godly reason a rain delay, or some situation where you have to pull up another scene, so I always try to prepare the entire script prior to shooting so if we have to change something on the fly I am ready to go,” Murray says. It was this kind of dedication that Faber says made filming Cavemen memorable for him. “Honestly, it is a thrill to work with actors who take the material to another level. I hope with my next one I have the same experience,” Faber says.
Celebrating the premiere of his first major film, Faber reflects on how he got to this point and offers advice for other up-and-coming screenwriters. First, he says, you must practice self-discipline: “Have a routine and commit to it. Even if you only write a couple words, it’s the process of it; of sitting down with your laptop and just getting in there. Try new things and push yourself.” Second, Faber says, screenwriters must always take pride in their work: “It takes an amazing amount of skill and confidence and belief in what you are doing to create something of any variety.” It is often too easy for writers and filmmakers to see their shortcomings as failures, but Faber says the mere art of creation is an accomplishment in itself. “If you’ve written a screenplay, that’s definitely not a failure. I just say keep writing. I think Pinter wrote, like, 30 plays before he had his first hit. It’s just about persevering and keeping at your craft,” he explains.
So, what’s next for Faber and Murray? “You know, maybe a nice meal. We should probably eat something, right?” Faber says to Murray with a laugh.
Catch Cavemen when it hits theatres in early 2014.