Director Jeff Chan’s ‘Plus One’

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Heard of director, Jeff Chan?

If not, you will very soon. The LA-based writer/director/producer’s first feature Plus One premiered in select theaters and On Demand Friday.

The Tribeca Audience Award winner represents a step up from doing short films such as the Vimeo Staff Picked Pregame and Post-Party.

Plus One successfully attempts a new spin on the wedding rom-com. The gist is this – longtime single friends Alice (Maya Erskine) and Ben (Jeff Quaid) agree to be each other’s plus one at every wedding they are invited to.

The film, co-written and – directed by Chan and Andrew Rhymer, stands at a very respectable 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics such as the New York Times’ Ben Kenigsberg says, “Chan and Rhymer execute some showy moves, swanning their camera over dance floors and through hallways with the grace of seasoned waltz partners.”

Chan has also written for Hulu’s Pen15 and directed episodes of TruTV’s Adam Ruins Everything and numerous broadcast TV and branded content spots for NY production company, Bindery. Quite the Renaissance Man!

Reel 360 had a chance to sit with Jeff and talk about his new project as well as his beliefs on diversity in the industry, especially when it comes to Asians in front of and behind the camera in film, TV and advertising. Before that, take a look at the very funny trailer for Plus One below:

How nervous were you moving from short films and writing on shows like PEN15 and Adam Ruins Everything to taking on an entire feature? Not as nervous as I might’ve guessed! Actually, my experience in the advertising/branded content world was most useful in preparing me for my first feature. I’d spent about four years working at Bindery as an in-house director, and just getting the opportunity to direct and work on a set regularly was huge for building my confidence and preferred working style. By the time Plus One was actually filming, I felt comfortable enough in my skin as a writer/director that it wasn’t scary. I honestly just looked at it as doing a bunch of commercials or shorts – just in a row! That helped keep me from panicking.
  

What was day 1 like shooting for your first feature? The first shot took forever. It was one of the speeches (there are 10 in the film), and we were being real nitpicky about it. It was scary, not just because it was the first shot, but because it was the first speech we were shooting. We knew it would set the style for all the other speeches. So we spent something like two and a half hours on it, adjusting the camera, and having Christine Bullen (the maid of honor giving the speech) do nearly a hundred different takes and versions of it. As we got into the swing of production, we’d eventually start shooting those speeches out in 30 minutes. After getting the speech done, we shot two scenes in a tiny cabin space – one where Alice pitches the team up plan to Ben, and then a scene where they argue about cuddling (it’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and we only had an hour to do it, because we spent so much time on the speech!)
  
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The film feels a little like a male/female version of Wedding Crashers. Any influence there? We always knew that the concept was quite akin to Wedding Crashers, but if anything, we were trying to keep it further from that movie and closer to something like When Harry Met Sally, and even Silver Linings Playbook, which was a huge stylistic reference point for us. I really love Wedding Crashers, but it’s more in the broad studio romcom space, and we wanted to try and give Plus One a grounded tone that felt really universal and relatable.
  

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(Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in “Plus One.” Courtesy Everett Collection)

 
I heard Bindery pushes its directors to go beyond advertising. How did they push you? Bindery is an incredible space for creatives in general. It’s one of those places that is just a playground for people who want to make stuff. The founder, Greg Beauchamp, and I would consistently talk about how we could push ourselves further. He’s extremely open to new ideas and projects that serve no business function beyond just being a story we all want to tell. I remember bringing him the script for Plus One and nervously asking him if he’d be open to having Bindery produce it as the company’s first feature. He didn’t even bat an eye. He just said, “Yup. We’re doing this. Let’s get started.”
  
 
Which filmmakers influenced you the most? Hayao Miyazaki is my filmmaker idol. He is such a brilliant storyteller and so technically talented, but he uses all his powers for good. Like some kind of filmmaking superhero. He creates these Trojan horses that appear on the outside as just fun animated films, but once you let them in, all these complicated messages about war, love and the environment come flooding out. Ever since I started watching his work in high school, I was inspired to infuse whatever I was making with bigger ideas or at least a heartfelt message. I know Plus One is just a romcom, but we tried to get in some insights and perspectives on love and loneliness in there, too.
  

What to do you think of the rise of audiences recognizing Asian talent? It seems that film and TV are ahead of advertising (for me having worked in an Asian agency, I saw the tiniest of budgets for our work with a growing audience). It’s about damn time! The thing that Crazy Rich Asians did that was so amazing was that it proved there’s a massive hunger for Asian stories told with Asian actors by Asian creatives. The film world is largely guided by box office returns, so once executives saw the financial opportunity in an audience that has been starving for representation, all these new projects started getting greenlit, which in-turn meant more Asian talent getting to establish themselves. It’s really wonderful. As for the ad world, I do think there’s a tendency to just colorblind cast and say “Ok let’s just make it an Asian man with a Hispanic wife. Boom! Diversity!” instead of actually generating it from a diverse perspective. I do think it will change though. It’s inevitable.
  

What’s next? I’m developing a few new movies, directing some TV this fall and always collaborating with the Bindery team on new work, whether it’s commercial spots or original content.
 
 
Contact Colin Costello at colin@reelchicago.com.

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