Drake Doremus is a fan of bad love. Though the filmmaker started out making comedies, including 2010’s “Douchebag,” his last three outings have been about relationships that face some kind of adversity. With “Like Crazy,” it was because of immigration headaches. In “Breathe In,” it was about an affair. The lovebirds in “Equals” face the worst hurdle: Played by Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, they live in an antiseptic dystopia where feelings are believed to be a disease. Love is forbidden, and the two try and hide their relationship, since it’s punishable by death.
This isn’t a huge film, relatively speaking, but it is big for you. Did you still have room to shoot in the semi-improvisatory way with which you made your previous films?
Yes and no. It was cool making something bigger and forcing myself to try something new. We had more tools; we had a little more time. There’s over 700 VFX shots in the movie, but it’s very practical. There’s no green screen. There’s a lot of locations we built, but a lot of them are real, too. For the most part it felt like we were in the backyard, still making our little intimate movies. It did and it didn’t feel different in the right ways. I’ve been working with the same production team for many years, and we didn’t want it to feel not us.
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I always wonder what it’s like for those directors who made tiny indies and their follow-up film is some $200 million extravaganza.
I can’t imagine that. To me, this is a pretty big movie. But never say never! I’d like to make bigger films, if it’s the right story and the right time in my life. But I also miss making smaller movies, to be honest. I want to make those as well.
Were there aspects of this production that were particularly hard for you?
The effects. I don’t have a lot of patience with that stuff. I had to learn a lot. It took a very long time. We shot this movie two years ago, and it’s just coming out now. A lot of that is due to the months and months and months of working with different VFX teams all over the world. Often times you go back and forth, back and forth, keep pushing. It’s a really tricky process. But I’m really proud of the effects in the movie. They feel very real, and that’s because we took so much time to get it right. I do look forward to making movies with less visual effects, though. [Laughs]
You wrote the story but Nathan Parker wrote the script. How defined was your story before you handed it off to him?
It was pretty vague, to be honest. Nathan brought so much to the forefront, like the idea of feelings as a disease. All I had was a love story taking place in a world where love doesn’t exist.
Are you a big sci-fi person?
I’m not, and I’m not that interested in the genre, to be honest. I’m interested in using it as a tool to make a metaphorical film about a relationship. I don’t even think of the movie as a sci-fi film. I think of it as a love story with some futuristic elements in the background.
It is, at heart, trying to capture the experience of falling in love for the first time — how those initial feelings are so all-consuming.
Our first love defines so much about us for the rest of our lives. It’s a theme I love exploring repeatedly, in different ways. For me the film is a metaphor for a long-term relationship and how it changes over the course of years. You sometimes have to think about why you’re with that person in the first place, to remember that.
I honestly don’t think there are enough movies about failed relationships, even though there are many great ones.
I love watching relationships crumble. It makes me feel better. [Laughs] I was really affected by “Blue is the Warmest Color.” Seeing films like that I think, "Thank god. Thank god movies like that are being made." I crave dramatic love stories, and there just aren’t enough of them.
“Blue is the Warmest Color” is really rough.
I agree. I was just sitting there balling my eyes out when the lights came up. Oh god. [Laughs]
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge