Melanie Shaw on Putting Improv into the Script for ‘Shut Up and Drive’

By @ZShevich
Melanie Shaw on Putting Improv into the Script for ‘Shut Up and Drive’

While they were simultaneously attending NYU, Shut Up and Drive actress Sarah Sutherland had heard buzz about the film’s director Melanie Shaw. “She was sort of this golden child of Tisch film,” she mentions in Way Too Indie’s interview with the Shut Up and Drive cast. Shaw’s process of working with actors, collaborating through improv to develop a character, was a prospect that excited many of the actors in Shaw’s films. It’s also something that allows the world in Shut Up and Drive to feel authentic, with fully formed characters occupying even the most minor roles.

In Melanie Shaw’s interview with Way Too Indie, the fresh filmmaker discusses her method of incorporating improv into scripts, how films evolve through the production process, and her self-critical thoughts while watching her films.

Was your premiere a fun day or do you get nervous for things like that?
Oh, sitting there watching anything you do — you can’t [laughs]. All you see is like, “I could have done that, and I could have done that. What is going on?” That’s all that you see, you don’t see anything [you like] — but everyone once in a while you pick up something you like. But that is what it’s like.

When did you start working on Shut Up and Drive? When did the idea first come to you?
Two of my friends came up with the story. My friends were Zoë Worth, who’s in the film, and Kelsey McNamee — they brought it this to me, we developed it together. We have a process of doing a lot of a lot of improv. We will develop a specific story for specific actors, the characters for them, and work on it with them. Do scenes with improv, put that into a script, improv again, put that back in a script and keep going. Then Sarah [Sutherland] came along and we began to really craft these parts to make them for Zoë and Sarah.

So it all came out of rehearsals and practicing it together?

The characters are then very much geared for these actresses.
Yeah, exactly. Each actress had a lot of input into their part, and really were a part of coming up with the script, which is kind of an incredible thing. That way you can really show off the performances. I just think it’s a more interesting way of shooting.

Shut Up and Drive movie

How much time were you actually in the production process, actually making the movie?
Pretty short; very short shoot. I want to say two weeks but it was a little more than that. Two and a half weeks, very short shoot.

You’re fitting a lot into a small period of time. How’d you accommodate for such a short shoot?
I thought that one of the biggest [obstacles] was — basically, I’m used to working with the same few people and oftentimes they’re my friends. I’ve been doing that for a while. Just having new people and learning very quickly how to talk to them, how to communicate with people that you don’t really have a way communicating [with] already. I think that that was the biggest thing.

How different does this movie look than when you first envisioned it?
I think that it looks really different but I think that all films do that. Every film changes so many times and I think you change the film to go with the actors, or to go with different things. Hopefully you still keep what it was always supposed to be. I would say that the film changes when you write it, it changes when you cast it, it changes when you shoot it, it changes when you edit it.

Is there something you can identify from that production process that influenced the final movie?
What I do see is I see elements of each of actors being brought into the characters. It’s incredible to see them in the film. I guess that’s what I like to see in performances so that’s what I was interested in.

Are you working on anything else coming up after Shut Up and Drive?
I’ve been doing a short with one of the actors who’s in this film, the guy who plays Milo, and I guess that’s it? Small shoots.

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