Though he has plenty of experience directing TV episodes and documentaries, R.J. Cutler is making his feature film debut with “If I Stay,” starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a girl having an out-of-body experience while she lays in a coma. Cutler, who serves as an executive producer on “Nashville” and directed the show’s pilot, spoke to Zap2it about the differences he encountered moving into feature films.
This is a much bigger canvas,” he says. Beyond what you might expect, in terms of a bigger budget and more time, there’s also a very different role the director plays. “You have a directorial prerogative that you don’t necessarily have in a TV environment,” Cutler continues. “In TV, not only is the writer of the project the principle creative force, but you’re working with many other layers in the TV universe.”
There are some things that never change, though. “The principles of good storytelling are all the same,” he explains. “The principles of how you’re working with structure and character, and how narrative is impacted by then, it’s all the same.”
Additionally, there’s one specific and important way “Nashville” informed the movie. Much like the show, music plays a central character in “If I Stay.” “I think my experience on ‘Nashville’ helped me understand from moment one that if we didn’t do that work in advance, we wouldn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve,” he says. “Months before we started shooting, we started collecting songs.”
Indeed, Cutler and the music supervisors spent time focusing on each main character, and the music that would tell the story of their life. From Mia (Moretz), an avid fan of classical, to Adam (Jamie Blackley), who is influenced by everything from punk to pop, work was done to discover their musical identities
Beyond being his first feature, there was one other aspect of the movie that was unique to him. “If I Stay” is an adaptation of a young adult novel, which already has an established fanbase. “I love that we have this great fanbase and that it’s discovering new fans,” Cutler says. Still, in turning the book into a movie he couldn’t focus on simply serving the fans.
“I’m thinking about creating a film that is a true response to the book,” he says. “For me, I wanted viewers of the film to have the same kind of emotional experience I had while reading the book.”
In achieving that, some things may get added to the movie that simply wouldn’t work in the book. “When spirit Mia is standing high above the scene and watching as Mia in the past is playing the cello on Labor Day, that’s not in the book,” he explains. “It’s a purely cinematic moment. Yet, it’s truly faithful to the book.”
“If I Stay” is in theaters Aug. 22.