A Conversation with “I Give it a Year” Director Dan Mazer


Filmmaker Dan Mazer may be known for his credits as a writer, but he jumps into directing seamlessly. “I Give it a Year” isn’t just Mazer’s directorial debut, it’s also a complete re-imagining of the rom com genre.

Mazer, who is known for writing “Bruno” and “Borat,” delivered a comedic indie film, which in his words, just happens to be about romance. We sat down with Mazer for a short talk about the film, his directorial debut, as well as the characters of the film. “I Give it a Year”, now out in select theaters and on DVD/Blu-ray, centers around newlyweds, Nat and Josh. Although their family and friends believe from the start their relationship is doomed to fail, the two are determined to make things work-at least for the first year.

HTS: Bruno and Borat, very different from “I Give it a Year.” So, what drew you to do a rom com?

Mazer: Well, I mean, I’m not sure it is a rom-com. I know a lot of people like to say it is. I think it’s sort of more a comedy that happens to be about romance because the term rom-com is slightly pejorative, almost. I think you have a, you know, preconceived perception of what that is. And um, you know, that generally involves kind of, a convoluted plot, a slightly kind of manufactured ending, and a couple of laughs along the way. Where as this, hopefully there were lots of laughs. And um, and that, comes from, you know, my background, having done “Borat” and “Bruno,” and “Ali G,” and all those sorts of things. You know, I like edgy comedy and I like laughs and I like big set pieces and I wanted to bring that sort of sensibility to a slightly more mainstream genre, if you like, to the world of relationships and to something that was kind of relatable on a sort of, on a kind of human level. It was kind of melding the two.

HTS: What was it like writing, cause you’re used to writing with Sasha Baron Cohen a lot, so what was it like kind of doing this on your own and especially directing for the first time?

Mazer: Yeah, you know I’ve written stuff solo before, and I’ve done re-writes and stuff, so I’m kind of used to writing on my own. But um, so that was fine. But what is interesting is that um, as a director, it’s just- it’s really nice to not have to sit in a room on your own and have people to kind of interact with. The problem with writing is that it’s kind of infinite and solitary. And can be slightly miserable where you can drive yourself crazy about it. Whereas a director, you’re the opposite. You’re there with 200 people everyday on set. And you’re having fun. And also at the end of the day, it’s done. By the time when somebody calls cut, that’s it. You can’t go back. You can’t go and change it. Whereas writing you can just, you know, you can constantly change it and people always ask you to change it. So it was nice to have that different discipline.

HTS: So were the actors kind of on script the whole time? Or were they doing a lot of improvisation?

Mazer: Well sort of, it’s mostly scripted. Uh, I would say 95% scripted. But, um, what’s you know. What’s fun, what I wanted to do was assemble a cast who are kind of really funny in their own right. And uh, who were you, you know, unique and interesting, and comic voices, and you’d sit in a room and they’d make you laugh. So when you have those sorts of people, its crazy not to let them do their thing and, allow them to go off piece if you like. But, so what we do is we generally, we’d go off, we’d get the scripted version, and then be like “Okay, let’s just, you know, play around and see what comes with it.” And I’d fire off suggestions, or they’d come up with suggestions. Because they’re all kind of so adept comically. It was a fun process.

HTS: Can you talk about the casting process.

Mazer: Sure, of course. You know, I think kind of almost universally, people go like, “Wow what a fantastic cast.” And it’s those sort of people that you look at things, and you look forward to seeing. And for me, it was a bit like playing fantasy football, as a director, where you know, over the past however many years, I’ve sat down and watched things and just thought “Oh I really like that. I really like that person.” And kind of made a mental note to myself that said, “Okay, if, you know, when/if- when I get the chance to direct, it’d be great to work with them.” And low and behold, pretty much all of them said yes, which was fantastic. And, my sort of perimeters, my brief, if you like, for casting was really um. As opposed to uh find actors who could be funny, what I wanted to do was find funny people who could act. Which maybe doesn’t sound like such a distinction, but you know. The test was not necessarily so much, can they deliver a line that’s been written in a certain way. I wanted them to connect with the sensibility of the film. And so, as opposed to getting them to read lines and audition in that way, my process was much more sitting down in a room with them and talking to them, and seeing if they shared my comic sensibility. That to me was much more important because, you know, I’d seen everybody before, I knew they could act. I just wanted to know that they kind of understood what the film was.

HTS: What character would you relate to most in the film?

Mazer: Oh, well if you ask my wife she would say I’m basically kind of the feckless, lazy, slightly annoying, useless writer that is Josh, the main character. There are definitely elements of Josh in their for me. I mean, you know, I think- You know as a writer you give yourself a little bit of you in everyone. So, there’s probably a little bit of me in the kind of slightly foot-in-mouth Steven Merchant, always kind of slightly saying the wrong things. Um, there’s probably a little bit of me in the Minnie Driver character which is- sometimes can just be a bit kind of brutal and blunt. But, yeah, more than anything I would say Josh is quite close to home.

HTS: Well, I was just told to wrap it up…

Mazer: Too brief! Too brief!

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