FRESNO, Calif. — Director Lorene Scafaria had sold the idea for her script “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” in 2008, but she put the project aside when her father became ill. She spent six months with him until he died.
Most writers and directors will tell you it’s rare to step away from a project that long and have any hope the studio will still be interested. Scafaria didn’t care. The time she spent with her father was the only thing that truly mattered.
“He was an amazing person, an eternal optimist. Even in those last months, he was still making connections. He was curious and still learning. To watch someone go through that was really beautiful and personal for me,” Scafaria says. “Now I realize time is the only real commodity we have. Time is all I have to offer. And when someone wastes my time, I get upset.”
She brought that perspective back to her film, which looks at how two people use the last days of their lives before the world is destroyed by a giant asteroid. It’s a story about it never being too late to make a connection.
Despite the whole asteroid-smashing-Earth storyline, Scafaria wanted to make a sweet love story. She’d grown tired off how formulaic romantic comedies had gotten in recent years, where the men are always an emotional mess and the women have type-A personalities.
Her approach was more in line with the 1991 Albert Brooks comedy “Defending Your Life,” a romantic comedy played out against a huge backdrop of eternal salvation or damnation.
“I love relationship films but recently I haven’t seen characters who feel like me. That’s why I wanted the woman to be free spirited and the guy to have been sleepwalking half his life. These are two people who live in the same building but probably have never talked,” Scafaria says.
Getting her vision across was made easier by star Steve Carell, who understood the character so well, and Keira Knightley, who brought an energy and light to her performance. They’re proof opposites can attract, a theme the writer also explored in her screenplay for “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”
Scafaria has worked as a writer in the past. This time, she had to deal with being both the wordsmith and the director who brings those words to life. If the writer and director in her disagreed, it was always the director who won.
Scafaria repeatedly has been asked what she would do if she knew she had only three weeks to live. The director/ writer believes she’s lived an honest life, so she would just spend time with her family, friends and dogs.
There would be lots of music. Scafaria, who also writes music, believes that music — more than TV shows or films — would be the one thing people would want to consume in such a situation.
(For example, there’s R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”)