Jake Schreier Interview
Jake Schreier Interview
Jake Schreier, the director of the charming Robot & Frank, talks to View about the creation and filming of his film, working with great actors and old friends on a great script, and how this is not your usual run-of-the-mill robot movie.
Tell me where the idea for Robot & Frank came from, first of all?

Jake Schreier

It was actually a short film that Chris Ford, the writer, made in film school. We went to NYU together and he had been reading about Japanese robots that they were developing specifically for elderly care, for that purpose. He and I have kept working together since then, with a bunch of other friends of mine. About four years ago we kind of returned to the idea as something that we thought would be interesting to develop as something longer.
How did you bring the criminality element into it?

Jake Schreier

That's all Ford, he told me, 'Listen, they're going to have to do some project together, and it could be painting, but I think burglary is going to be a lot more fun', and I went along with it.
Did you look at any other robot-related movies?

Jake Schreier

Yeah, we watched them, more of a reference came from the actual robots they're developing. As a movie it doesn't relate much to other robot movies, as much as it does to buddy movies, or family comedies or dramas, in a way. But I've seen all the ones - I've seen Short Circuit, and Moon and Wall-E, and 2001 and all the classics. Flight of the Navigator was a favourite of mine as a kid.
Did you use any specific references in terms of the buddy movies or anything?

Jake Schreier

Not too many specific ones. Ford is very good at weaving genres together into a script, so there are definitely moments that feel like movie moments. Where Frank's looking at the surround sound across the room and says, 'We'd better get back in the house', there are little things like that, but very few of them are an homage to a specific film. The one thing that is, is when the robot catches the glass. For that, we didn't know how to do a glass catch, so [cinematographer] Matt Lloyd dug up that scene from Ronin with Stellan Skarsgard and Robert De Niro, and we basically copied it shot for shot. So that's the one real lifting piece.
How did you do the robot effect, is it all a man in a suit?

Jake Schreier

It's a girl in a suit; sometimes she wouldn't be in the suit if it's just standing there stationary, or if it's being picked up, or for certain shots of Frank. But it's almost entirely in camera. If anything, in post, we would do split screens every now and then to slow down its movement or freeze it, but there's no real CG involved in it. The rest is just Paul Hsu, our sound designer, coming up with these great sounds to bring it to life, and Peter Sarsgaard's voice.
So how did you audition the robot?

Jake Schreier

It was going to be a friend of mine in LA, and then actually the whole thing came together so quickly, that when she finally put on the suit (they finished the suit maybe two days before production, and then they were going to ship it out, and she was going to fly out) for the first time, she had an extreme claustrophobic reaction to putting it on and couldn't do the movie. So we had to basically just put out an emergency casting call for anyone that matched her measurements, because the suit had been built around her. And we were lucky to find Rachel Ma who did a great job. She's a dancer and an actress and has great movement skills.
Did you have an idea in your head of how you wanted the robot to move?

Jake Schreier

Yeah, I had a sense. It wasn't based on a lot except just watching her move, and I'd kind of done the movement myself and tried to show her. But a lot of it was that as soon as the suit shows up it's a whole different level of concerns; how does that movement look in the actual suit, what does the suit let you do, what does it keep you from doing? We tried to build some limitation into the suits so that it would help her move more robotically. Maybe we went too far, it was a pretty limited suit in terms of what it could do.
The process of working together on the robot movements seems like it was a very short period.

Jake Schreier

Very short, yeah. If anything we just went very limited, so it was, 'Let's see what we know we can get across'. And then really by the third week we finally had it down, but really we'd been playing it safe for the first two weeks.
Was there a sense of relief the first time you saw it and thought, 'Yes, okay, that's working'?

Jake Schreier

Yeah, you're always nervous on set, but it's a great looking suit and we got it close enough that when we were shooting it was pretty funny. The first day we had it moving around, it was pretty fun to watch.
Tell me about the casting, with Peter Sarsgaard doing the voice, did you audition robot voices?

Jake Schreier

No, his kids went to the same school as one of my producer's kids. He has such a level of warmth in his voice, and caring, that even when you have him do it in this very regimented fashion, and take the emotion out of it, and make it sound like a robot, there's still a level of empathy and caring that comes through which is very valuable.
So he was attached from very early on, then?

Jake Schreier

No, no, he came on after. We didn't know it was going to be him when we were shooting.
So were you voicing the robot during shooting?

Jake Schreier

Frank Langella's nephew was a PA on set and he would read the robot lines.
How did you get Frank Langella involved?

Jake Schreier

I had been directing commercials for eight years, and my commercial production company produced this film, they're called Park Pictures. And they brought on Galt Niederhoffer to run their feature division, along with Sam Bisbee, and she's made over twenty movies in New York, independent films with great casts. So she knows all the agents, and she got him the script and he really responded to it. He brought me and Chris Ford in to meet with him and he said, 'I like this but I'm not doing a silly robot movie'. He wanted to make sure that we took it seriously, and we did, and we were lucky to get him on board.
So he wasn't interested in doing Short Circuit 4 or whatever?

Jake Schreier

That was not the interest for him, no.
I wonder if he's had bad experiences with silly robot movies?

Jake Schreier

[Laughs] Hard to say, exactly.

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Content updated: 21/11/2018 12:43

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