ROUNDTABLE INTERVIEW WITH SEAN ANDERS – Director and Writer of INSTANT FAMILY
Q1: Why did you decide to write the film INSTANT FAMILY?
Sean: My own real story had so many laughs I decided why not? You know, every adoption story begins with some level of anxiety, and once there are kids in your house…it’s turns into the weirdest experience. I mean, when you have kids who come into your house that are walking and talking, and you don’t know them, but you are supposed to act like a family, it feels a little strange at the beginning. You are supposed to act like their parents, and they are supposed to act like your kids…it just creates so many awkward, chaotic, frustrating situations, and obviously, not all of these situations are funny, but a lot of them are, so we wanted to do a comedy, since there have already been a lot of dramatic films about this topic.
And with that dramatic take, many people walk away from those movies with negative ideas about kids in Foster Care. They tend to give you feelings of fear, trepidation, and pity, and we wanted to tell a more complete story ~ because the story of my family ~ yes, it has these elements of tragedy and trauma too, but more importantly we share a lot of laughs and love and joy…so we wanted to send people home from this movie with a much more positive view of these kids, and this positive family dynamic.
Q2: Did you think that it would garner a wider audience from doing this positive spin of Foster Care?
Sean: That was always the idea. The idea was to make an entertaining, genuinely funny movie, that can be a date night movie, or a fun movie to see with your friends, that by the time you leave you know more about the process of Fostering and Adoption, the kids, and these families. Of course, I’m hoping that some people will be inspired to step up to Foster, but more importantly for me, is that the movie will help people be supportive of family members or friends wanting to venture into Fostering or Adoption as their own family dynamic.
Q3: Did you choose to have Mark Wahlberg play you in the film?
Sean: To be clear, he is not really playing ME. The movie is a fictional tale, inspired by my own story, but also by the lives of many other families we met through Foster Care along the way.
A lot of people ask me the question “Is this totally my life?”, and the answer is…there is a scene in the movie where Mark and Rose’s characters go to an Adoption Fair. And that is totally real. We went to an adoption fair, and it’s the most bizarre thing in the world. And just like the characters in the movie, we had no intention of meeting a teenager. That whole thing seemed really scary. But just like in the movie too, there were several teenagers over by themselves and we ended up meeting this really neat teenage girl, and it just so happened that she had two siblings. And we were matched with them, which was also really scary. I barely felt ready to have kids at all, and then we were planning to have a teenager in our house! And just like in the movie, this teenager was hoping that her mother would return for her and her siblings, so she didn’t accept the placement with us. That is where the Lizzy character came to fruition. I also sat down and met with many families too, who had adopted teenagers, as they are the most misunderstood. There is one particular girl, Marie Green, who was our Lizzy consultant. She grew up in Foster Care, and ending up working as a PA on the film. She helped us work through the actual storyline of this character every step of the way.
Q4: Did you feel that you learned anything about yourself, and your own experience with Foster Care, now looking through the lens of a camera?
Sean: I learned so much more than I had already known, because I really had to dig in and do the research and learn more about Social Workers, learn more about other families besides mine. Learn more about the laws and the courts than I originally knew. And more than anything, I got this incredible experience of being around all of these other people who have families similar to mine! I really can’t say enough about how wonderful this experience was. For example, in the adoption fair scene, all of those people are adoption families in real life. And like, when Mark Wahlberg is looking at the computer, those are all real foster care children, including my own kids. We had a young lady named Candy Daniels, who plays the ER Nurse, and we found out that she grew up in foster care while shooting. She ended up being such an incredible positive force on the set, we kept her there for a full week after her scene was through, and it was great having her there.
Q5: How long did it take for you to decide on becoming a Foster Parent?
Sean: Well our decision happened just like it happened in the movie? I made a dumb joke, about getting a 5-year-old, and then it would be as if we started 5 years ago. And like in the movie, my wife thought that was interesting, so from there, we decided not to decide, it was too scary. We went to the orientation, where we learned that we had to do 8 weeks of Fostering classes. Then after we completed those, about 3 months into the process, we decided we weren’t going to decide again. When the Social worker called at the beginning of the process to let us know that the initial teenager we were interested in Fostering wasn’t accepting the placement, she matter of factly stated, “But there are these other three kids available” …and those are my children now!
Q6: Did you share with your children, when you started the process of writing the film, that you were writing about “their lives”?
Sean: We were really open and honest about everything, so we included them from the very start. And I would talk to them and ask them about their feelings. My two youngest don’t have much of a memory of “those bad times”, and my eldest some memory of that time. So, it was mostly My wife and I who really went back and relived the “difficult times” at the beginning. You know how your brain mercifully blocks out the bad times? Well we had to go back and talk through those things between ourselves to get the process started…
Q7: Because of the subject matter of this film, was it hard to keep the material within the PG-13 Rating?
Sean: Any time you are dealing with PG or PG-13, you have to adjust what your putting out there a little bit. I feel that we were pretty honest, but still kept it within the rating. We really wanted this to be a film that the whole family could see. We wanted the kids who have been fostered, or adopted, to see the film. But we also wanted the kids that they go to school with to be able to see it too, to increase the understanding that none of the children in Foster Care are there by any fault of their own. I never wanted to really do this film with an R-rating, as it would have been counter productive…
Q8: Was there much improvising in this film?
Sean: Yes, we usually take 2 or 3 takes per scene, and would then go back and throw out ideas and let the actors go…
Q9: Did you create the dynamic of the two Social Workers?
Sean: We created the basis for it. My actual social workers were a real Odd-couple. Not exactly like Octavia and Tig, but they definitely had a different vibe from one another. So, I definitely wanted to recreate that. And when we were so fortunate to get Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer to play these parts, then you are able to write for them a little bit, knowing the amazing things these two can do! It was really fun writing that stuff…
Q10: The Cast had really good chemistry, but were there any challenges filming it?
Sean: Not at all…This movie was really a “LOVE FEST” … it truly was. We had people from the crew coming up every day saying, “You know that I was adopted?”, Or “Did you know my brother just adopted three kids?” or whatever. There was always this cool mojo around filming it every day. And Mark and Rose are really cool to work with too. They ended up setting the tone for the whole team. So many people kept coming up to share that “this was the best project they ever worked on”…you know, as far as they the most enjoyable work experience. It went ridiculously smooth. The kids were great, the parents were great. The hardest part for me is that I tend to get really emotional, and I would get touched by many of the scenes that reminded me of my own kids. I joke about it a lot, but it was really embarrassing crying in front of Mark Wahlberg. You know, one of the toughest guys you’ve ever met! But then there was so much going on that was so funny too, I had days when I would go home that my cheeks would hurt from smiling so much…
Don’t miss INSTANT FAMILY hitting a theater near you 11/16! It definitely is a MUST SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN!