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Actors and filmmakers stay honest and spontaneous in making long-distance romance ‘Like Crazy’

Long-distance relationships are tricky to portray on film. Hollywood usually glosses over the less-than-desirable romantic situation with a dose of comedy, but the new film “Like Crazy” tries to shine an honest light on the subject and not shy away from the inherent heartbreak.

The film follows the relationship of Jacob (Anton Yelchin), an American starting college in Los Angeles, and Anna (Felicity Jones), a British exchange student. When Anna is forced back to the U.K. after her visa expires, the two are thrust into a long-distance relationship complicated by their growing careers and spots of infidelity.  

In trying to keep the film as genuine as possible, director Drake Doremus said he opted against using a traditional screenplay and instead co-wrote a rough outline of every scene with no written dialogue

“What’s more important during the writing process is to outline the characters and define them and figure out what the story is,” he said.  “Then, we organically approach trying to find the actual moments through the rehearsal process.”

The actors had to completely improvise their performances — something that proved to be both liberating and terrifying for the two leads having to follow their characters over the film’s eight-year period. A pre-rehearsal process helped them create the characters from scratch. 

 “Preparation is vital for something like this because it was improvised. You have to make sure you have a very clear understanding of who the character is and their journey,” Jones said. “Obviously in eight years, people change a lot, so you have to make sure that you utterly chart that progression and their changes.”

Yelchin, perhaps best known for his appearances in big-budget fare such as “Fright Night” and “Star Trek,” said he appreciated this film’s more liberated shooting style and took it as a learning experience. 

 “The whole experience is pretty great and kind of magical because we’re in a little bubble and everyday we were just creating all these moments and being able to explore,” he said.  

The heavy improvisation gave Doremus an opportunity to draw reactions from the cast that a traditional script wouldn’t usually let shine through. Finding it hard to decide when to yell “Cut,” he said, he would often leave the camera rolling on the actors long after the key plot points of the scene had been shot.

 “It’s kind of amazing what happens to actors when they’re dumbfounded and don’t know what to do,” Doremus said. “They’re just forced to just be in the moment. When the scene is done or it’s perceived to be done, they suddenly go into a mode where they just don’t care, and when they don’t care and they’re not exerting effort, they can be real and genuine.”

The film was a rousing success at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, winning the Grand Jury Prize and acclaim for not being afraid to explore a relationship in a bittersweet, altogether un-Hollywood, light. 

“It doesn’t try to over-sentimentalize the characters or the story,” Jones said. “It’s about really trying to interrogate what it’s like to be in a relationship rather than resorting to clichés.”  

Doremus said he feels that the tone of the film is very authentic and realistic.

“Hopefully, it feels like it’s almost a documented relationship that we stole and presented to you,” he said.  

“Like Crazy” opens in limited release Friday, and will begin playing in Tampa theaters in late November.