As a well-known actor, Gordon-Levitt is constantly in the media, and he was able to draw from his experiences to give his film a distinct look and feel that would reflect the way people react to all kinds of media. “[Don Jon] is a movie about how we can have unrealistic expectations about each other and how media can contribute to that,” says Gordon-Levitt. “Real life is not as simple as it is on a screen. I think real life is actually more beautiful and there are a lot of details and nuances that you can never possibly capture in a movie or in a TV show or in a pornography clip or in a commercial or in a pop song. So we wanted to poke fun at comparing your real life to these expectations.”
Gordon-Levitt was contemplating the film’s concept while working with Seth Rogen on the film 50/50, and that experience helped him to decide that a character-based comedy would work perfectly for Don Jon. The most difficult part of the film’s conception came with working alone as a writer. Gordon-Levitt admits to being confronted by negative voices in his head that would tell him, “Somebody else can do this better. You should probably just quit right now.” “Certainly, I have met those voices to and those are difficult to overcome,” says Gordon-Levitt. “I think the only reason I did finish writing the script was that I was having a lot of fun doing it. Scarlett was one of the first people I showed it to, and she really liked it, and we had these really interesting conversations based on what I had written. [So] those voices of doubt started going away and [were] replaced by real people. There was still a ton of hard work to do, but from that point forward it was a different kind of challenge.”
As an actor, Gordon-Levitt has been fortunate to work with top-notch directors on films like Inception and Looper, and he’s been learning what it takes to create a film worth seeing. “The year before shooting Don Jon, I worked with Rian Johnson then Christopher Nolan then Steven Spielberg, and they are three extraordinary filmmakers,” says Gordon-Levitt. “These are three very different directors, but I’ll tell you something I notice that the three have in common is the ability to balance a thorough plan with a sense of spontaneity. That is what you really need on a movie set.” Finding a workable balance on set can be a challenge for any director because it’s easy to get too wrapped up in the material “If you’re too married to your plan, you may end up with something kind of stale,” says Gordon-Levitt. “If you don’t stick to your plan enough and you’re too seduced by whimsical notions and new ideas, you can lose your train of thought and end up with something that doesn’t have a solid through-line.” The better directors in the business know when to stick to their guns, and it always helps to have a crew that shares the same vision.
Gordon-Levitt hired Los Angeles-based Location Manager Peter Wulff (The Future, Sympathy for Delicious) as his location specialist on Don Jon. Having worked for nine years on indie films and commercials, Wulff (pictured right) admits that Don Jon was unlike any other project he’s worked on. “It’s nice to work on a project that has found its way into the world and had national exposure,” says Wulff. When it came time to scout locations in L.A., Wulff was determined to find the east coast on the west coast. “It was all about trying to find the interiors that could pass as something from the east coast or New Jersey, specifically,” he explains. Wulff first sought out the film’s bigger locations, like the collage, nightclub, Don Jon’s parent’s house and apartment buildings. The nightclub scenes were shot in Downtown L.A., which was logistically challenging, but finding a suitable parents home proved to be tougher. “To find a house that looked like a parents’ house from New Jersey took some time,” admits Wulff. “The house we ended up using was owned by a woman who moved to Los Angeles about 50 years ago. She bought it and turned the interior into her version of New Jersey. The interior of the house was perfect, and the production crew didn’t have to change much.”
When the time came to work with Gordon-Levitt, Wulff was impressed with how the filmmaker took on so many roles on and off the camera. “It was fun to work with him because he had a great acting reputation with a real wide variety of independent films,” says Wulff. “He was really passionate about [Don Jon]. It was fun seeing his perspective on his character in that world he created.” Independent films require hard work by everyone involved, and Wulff was most impressed with how Gordon-Levitt handled being captain of the ship. “It was my job to make this idea come to life. [Gordon-Levitt] had a good idea about what he wanted as far as the look, feel and age. He was dedicated to his ideas yet was very open. When you make an independent film you have to be aware that every department, including the directing department, is limited with what you can do financially. He was very intuitive to everyone’s skills and was able to put them to use to create the best possible film he could.” Don Jon is currently in theaters nationwide and will open on more screens around the world in November.