Williams also highlights the influence of Timur Bekmambetov and ‘Searching’ director Aneesh Chaganty.

The screen life format has become especially popular in the horror genre with films like 2014’s Unfriended and 2020’s Host delivering scares through stories told entirely on computer screens, tablets and phones. 2018’s Searching successfully took the format into the dramatic thriller zone, but perhaps the biggest genre swing yet for screen life is the Sundance 2021 official selection, R#J.

The movie is an adaption of the William Shakespeare classic featuring a cast of “Montague and Capulet Gen Zers” using their phones to capture the rift between their communities. And, of course, as that feud intensifies so does the romance between a young Montague and Capulet, Camaron Engels’ Romeo and Francesca Noel’s Juliet.

With the film celebrating its big debut at the virtual festival, I got the opportunity to hop on a call with R#J director Carey Williams to discuss what his reaction was when he was first pitched Romeo and Juliet screen life-style:

“Bazelevs and Interface Films approached me a couple years ago after my short was at Sundance, my short Emergency. They had a script for this story and they told me they wanted to do a Romeo and Juliet in screen life format, and I was like, ‘Okay, interesting.’ I had no idea how to do a screen life film, but I had seen a screen life film and I thought it worked – Searching and it really drew me in. I thought it was really great.”

Aneesh Chaganty and John Cho on the Set of Searching
Image via Sony

Williams even got the opportunity to connect with Searching director Aneesh Chaganty:

“I did speak to the director of Searching, Aneesh, and he gave me some pointers, some good thoughts and I was really thankful to him for that because I was like, first of all, how do you write a script in this format, what are some of the ways to shoot it, [and the] editing process. And he was really gracious enough to give me some time to talk it through. I think that’s really important to be able to communicate with other filmmakers about some things just to bounce feed back off.”

Even with so many talented individuals like Chaganty and “screen life OG” Timur Bekmambetov supporting Williams, one still might wonder, why make yet another Romeo and Juliet adaptation and why do it in the screen life format? Here’s what Williams had to say on the matter:

“So I thought to myself, ‘Okay, this could be a great opportunity to not only push my own filmmaking boundaries, but also a great opportunity to put people of color in this iconic story, you know? So I was like, ‘Yeah, I think this would be a great movie to make. I think the world needs something like this now and we’ll be doing something that really gives Romeo and Juliet a reason for another version of it.’”

Cameron Engels and Francesca Noel in R#J
Image via Sundance

If you’d like to hear more about Williams’ experience putting the screen life-spin on Shakespeare, you can check out our full conversation in the video at the top of this article!

Carey Williams:

  • 00:18 – Williams explains exactly how to say the title of his movie.
  • 01:50 – When did Williams get involved in the project?
  • 03:10 – Did Williams get any tips or tricks from other directors who’ve made screen life films?
  • 04:04 – What was Williams’ biggest takeaway from making R#J that he’ll bring with him to future projects?
  • 05:33 – Did Williams find that his editing experience was vital to making R#J?
  • 06:34 – How editing during the pandemic influenced the film.
  • 08:14 – How did the screen life format change Williams’ approach to directing his actors on set?
  • 09:08 – Williams on the possibility of students seeking out his movie before reading the text.
  • 10:12 – Williams on making the decision to maintain Shakespearian language in his dialogue.
  • 11:14 – If Williams could make a similar adaptation of another Shakespeare text, what would he pick?
  • 13:20 – What does Williams have cooking next?

A still from Tribes of Europa
‘Tribes of Europa’ Trailer Reveals Particularly Grim Dystopian Netflix Series From Makers of ‘Dark’

Well let’s hope it doesn’t come to this.

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