A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare͛s most beloved creations. The frolicking tale of lovesick young aristocrats, energetic but inept rustics, and mischievous woodland spirits is a staple of stage and screen. In the past, filmed adaptations have emphasized the play͛s traditional, Elizabethan qualities. This production however is a fresh and stylish reinvention that takes an entirely different approach. The story takes place in present day Hollywood – a place where glamorous stars, commanding moguls, starving artists and vaulting pretenders all vie to get ahead. Hollywood is sometimes called ͞The Dream Factory,͟ and like the world of Shakespeare͛s Dream, it͛s a place where fantasy and reality collide. In the tradition of Baz Luhrmann͛s rapturous reimagining of Romeo + Juliet, this modern vision breathes new life into a classic tale. Combined with a cast of established and emerging stars, as well as a pulsing original soundtrack, the film will appeal to ardent fans of the Bard as well as audiences discovering Shakespeare for the first time.
To learn more about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we talked to Casey Wilder Mott, director of the film.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of this creative adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Casey Wilder Mott: I’ve always thought that Hollywood had this unspoken but quite rigid caste system. One of the themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the relationship between high and low, ie, the aristocrats and the commoners. But Shakespeare puts a brilliant twist on this classic “upstairs downstairs” formula but adding in the fairies, who are kind of off the spectrum all together. Additionally, Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world, and has even been called “The Dream Factory.” That felt like a great backdrop for a story that is also very much about dreams.
Bijan: You have changed the whole world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but at the same time you have managed to keep the main dramatic elements that Shakespeare had in mind. How did you manage to do this?
Casey: It was just a good fit. The characters and situations readily lent themselves to a modern Los Angeles fairy tale. Now, that belies that amount of time and thought that went into making it all work! But I really do think the strength of the conceit did a lot of the heavy lifting. There were versions of the script and the film that leaned more heavily into the “this is Hollywood” aspect. But at the end of the day, I didn’t want to make a film that was a Hollywood satire, simply a film that satirized certain aspects of Hollywood along the way.
Bijan: The look of your film is unique in many ways, how did you come up with the visual style of A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Casey:Color and location were the two most important aspects. A trusted and brilliant friend read an early draft of the script and the one thing she said was “Color… it has to be colorful.” From there I did a lot of research into color symbolism and traditions, and distributed the color scheme according to character, place, and theme. Locations were equally important. I’d long thought it was a shame that previous adaptations of Dream had all shot the woods on a sound stage. The magic and majesty of nature just isn’t something you can fake. So shooting in the forest was crucial for me.
Bijan: Casting of a film based on characters known to the audience is always quite challenging, please tell us about casting of your film.
Casey: It’s a long story! But, despite the large and formidable cast we have, the casting was largely an informal, ad hoc process. I credit Fran Kranz, who plays Bottom and is a producer on the film, with bringing a lot of the great talent into the project. It was fun to work with a mix of highly seasoned Shakespearean thespians alongside actors who were great but had done little to no Shakespeare. That’s one of many things I cribbed from the great Ken Brannagh.
Bijan: How do you work with your actors? Do you leave any room for improvisation?
Casey: I was an actor when I was younger – high school, college, and then one year professionally out of school. So I have some grounding in what actors go through. That gives me a lot of respect for their artistry and their process. Improvisation in iambic pentameter can pose quite a challenge! Nonetheless, I wanted this adaptation to have a breezy, accessible quality to it, so yes, I did encourage the actors to do some improvisation. I’m glad I did, because we got great stuff out of it.
Bijan: What is your next project?
Casey: Wait, you’re saying I have to do this again?? Why didn’t anyone tell me that! 🙂