FOR THE END OF THE WORLD Synopsis Taking audiences on a humorous, moving, and intimate journey against an epic backdrop of Earth’s final days, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist). Set in a too-near future where time at once stands still and is slipping away forever, the writer/director explores what people will do and how they will feel when humanity’s end is near.
A 70-mile-wide asteroid is en route to Earth, and the last best attempt to counter it has failed. Also failing is the marriage of soft-spoken insurance salesman Dodge (Golden Globe Award winner Steve Carell); the breaking news that the world will end in an estimated 21 days cues his wife to leave him on the spot.
Dodge is a man who has always played by the rules of life, while his neighbor Penny (Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley) is an extroverted woman who hasn’t. From these opposite perspectives, both initially choose to navigate the impending end of the world with blinders on. Dodge declines joining his friends in increasingly reckless behavior, while Penny fixates on her relationship issues with a self-absorbed musician.
The two misfits meet first when Penny has a rough night and then again when she belatedly delivers Dodge a lost letter. That letter could alter Dodge’s future; it’s from his high-school sweetheart Olivia, the love of his life. When a riot breaks out around their apartment building, Dodge realizes that he must seek Olivia out before it’s too late while Penny makes the decision to spend her last days with family in England. Seizing the moment, Dodge promises to help Penny reach her family if she will provide transport for the two of them in her car immediately. She agrees, and they escape.
On the road together, the unlikely traveling companions’ respective personal journeys accelerate, and their outlooks – if not the world’s – brighten.
A Focus Features, Mandate Pictures, and Indian Paintbrush presentation of an Anonymous Content production. A Lorene Scafaria Film. Steve Carell, Keira Knightley. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, Melanie Lynskey, T.J. Miller, Mark Moses, Patton Oswalt, William Petersen. Casting by Jeanne McCarthy, CSA and Nicole Abellera. Line Producer, Patty Long. Co-Producers, Kelli Konop, Jeff Sommerville. Music by Rob Simonsen and Jonathan Sadoff. Music Supervisor, Linda Cohen. Costume Designer, Kristin M. Burke. Film Editor, Zene Baker. Production Designer, Chris Spellman. Director of Photography, Tim Orr. Executive Producers, Nathan Kahane, Nicole Brown. Produced by Steve Golin, Joy Gorman Wettels. Produced by Steven Rales, Mark Roybal. Written and Directed by Lorene Scafaria. A Focus Features Release.
SEEKING A FRIEND
FOR THE END OF THE WORLD About the End of the World We’ve all imagined the end of the world – along with the attendant floods, fires, earthquakes, pandemic viruses, and the asteroid hurtling towards Earth which will be destroyed at the last possible moment by human intervention of epic proportions. That is not the end of the world as Lorene Scafaria sees it.
In writing her feature directorial debut Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Scafaria was more intrigued by what could happen to ordinary people – and how they would interact with each other – in the days preceding The Event.
Scafaria found herself casting a cockeyed glance at “apocalyptic tradition.” She notes, “I had a small obsession with ‘the end is near,’ and a larger obsession with love. So it became a fun challenge to see what would happen when worlds collide – so to speak.
“I figured I would keep the screenplay at a very human level in scope and tell a story of relationships; what people would do, and how a person with feelings towards another person would be affected.”
The writer/director didn’t necessarily want to make “a ‘road movie.’ I kept trying not to write it as that, though eventually I gave in and started to embrace the concept a little more – but I keep halting the lead characters’ road trip because of basic things like gas. They find themselves in some pickles along their route.”
A couple of drafts were written, but work stopped and Scafaria’s perspective changed once her father fell ill and passed away. She reflects, “I took six months off. Then I came back and rewrote the script, concentrating more on the concept of time – having it, and losing it.”
Ultimately, she offers, “There is a lot in this story that is me; of the two lead characters, I’m more the Penny type, but I have a strong dose of Dodge in me as well.
“Up until this tipping point, these two people have lived their lives very differently. As much as Dodge has avoided life, Penny has been diving in head first. Together, they find they can face the end of the world.”
Mandate Pictures, which had backed the Scafaria-scripted Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, came aboard the new project as co-financier, while Anonymous Content’s Steve Golin and Joy Gorman Wettels committed to produce the movie. Golin recounts, “Joy and I liked Lorene’s pitch – a small story of two people set against a looming bigger background – and how she would combine humor and drama.”
Next to come aboard was co-financier Indian Paintbrush with producers Steven Rales and Mark Roybal. The latter notes that he found the script “wholly original and surprising. The story has a big concept, yet never loses sight of its humanity because Lorene is always in tune with evoking real emotions. I was tremendously moved by it – I found myself laughing and crying by the end of the script, which is very rare.
“I think my strong response was emotional because Lorene is telling a story about a thrilling, thought-provoking situation in which you are potentially going on the most important journey of your life by yourself.”
Seeking a Cast With complete faith in Lorene Scafaria’s script and her ability to realize it as director, Mark Roybal notes, “The first thing that we asked Lorene about was the casting. She told us that she didn’t want to veer toward broad comedy, and that the actors had to be able to maintain a balance between humor and pathos.”
Joy Gorman Wettels adds, “The lead role of Dodge is that of a man who, with the world now coming to end, realizes that he regrets his entire life. An insurance salesman by trade, he hasn’t taken risks in his existence. He thinks of his long-ago love – and is moved to act on that yearning.
“In order for this to play believably on-screen, Dodge has to be someone that you can see yourself in, or your dad, your brother, your husband. Steve Carell engenders so much goodwill and conveys such warmth; he is an Everyman. People relate to him; he was the only choice for Dodge.”
Carell remarks, “I read the script and could not stop thinking about it. It haunted me, to an extent. It was funny, sweet, emotionally intense at times, and a story that I hadn’t seen. This is the flip side of Armageddon; there’s no president with a hot line to the astronauts who are going to blow up the asteroid. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is what’s happening while all of those things are going on; how ordinary human beings respond, and the choices they make when they know that everything is going to be over in a matter of days.
“Lorene delicately maneuvers the comedy and the subject matter together. What I think makes it very funny is the characters being put into a life-or-death situation so that they are stripped down to their essence – it’s really amusing when you see them trying to continue their lives under extraordinary circumstances.”
With that in mind, the actor honed in on his character straight away, noting, “Initially, Dodge doesn’t want to deal with what’s happening; he continues to go to his job. But then he decides to come to terms with his impending demise and with the end of the world; he is going to make a pilgrimage, to visit his high-school sweetheart Olivia and try to reconnect with her. He’s always idealized her as the love of his life, and before it all ends, he wants to be with her.”
“I think this, in a big way, is what our movie is about: people connecting with one another, or attempting to, when faced with something momentous. Your perspective changes,” says Carell.
Scafaria compares Carell to “actors who could do comedy with pitch-perfect timing but also be subtle and still, like Peter Sellers or Jack Lemmon; Steve can do so much with a look.
“We were ridiculously lucky to have him. When making a movie, he is a collaborative, generous, kindhearted gentleman.”
For the role of the more free-spirited Penny, the filmmakers sought out Keira Knightley. The actress recalls, “My agent sent me the script. I thought it was one of the most strangely optimistic pieces that I’d read, and I instantly said, ‘Yeah, I want to be a part of it.’ It was one of the best scripts I’d seen in years – and so unique.
“I got on the phone with Lorene and we had a great chat for about an hour. I don’t think we even actually talked about the film. We talked about our mothers, and about family.”
Roybal notes that “there’s a profound depth Keira brings to Penny even when her character’s behavior is whimsical, spontaneous, or flighty. There’s a light in her eyes that reflects her inner light, which is why Penny is Dodge’s beacon.”
Steve Golin adds, “Keira is a lot of fun to watch as Penny. She is well-known for making movies set in different time periods, so playing a funny modern girl – in sneakers! – is a fresh turn for her.”
Knightley admits, “I love doing modern-day movies – because I’m able to get up later in the morning.”
“I knew she’d be amazing and stunning and super-smart,” says Scafaria. “But here’s the surprise; she is so damn funny. So there’s this refreshing blend of Keira, known as a dramatic actress, being more of a comedienne; and Steve, known as a comedic actor, doing a more dramatic role.
“Steve and Keira play off each other so well and have such great chemistry. Getting to hear my words said by these two actors? I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Carell’s real-life wife, actress Nancy Carell, makes a very brief but memorable appearance opposite him in the first scene of the film – as Dodge’s wife Linda, who abandons him upon hearing a breaking news report; namely, Earth has less than one month left because the attempt to obliterate the 70-mile-wide asteroid (“Matilda”) has failed. As Scafaria remembers it, “Since she was so right for the part, I suggested it to Steve’s agent; would his wife be interested in playing his wife? I was secretly a little worried, but Nancy saw the humor in it.
“It was the last scene we shot, and we filmed it on their actual anniversary, which was both very appropriate and very inappropriate.”
A key sequence further dramatizing people coping – or not – with the world ending soon follows with the dinner party hosted by Dodge’s closest friends, Warren (Rob Corddry) and Diane (Connie Britton). Scafaria wrote the set piece as one “which would normally put Dodge in a safe place, but it’s not quite as safe any more. There are couples, and individuals, acting out. Some debauched behavior ensues, which is not what Dodge is looking for even at this critical time.”
Dodge’s journey is jump-started after he and his barely acquainted neighbor Penny are set on their course – by a full-blown riot. “I’ve always found the mob mentality to be so strange,” says Scafaria. “I don’t know how people get so caught up in it and lose sight of the fact that they’re human beings and not animals. But if the world were ending, I do think some people would get violent.
“So, in the story, people are rioting but it’s like, for what? Against what? For what possible result? I wanted it to feel not only scary but also ridiculous.”
Roybal sees the sequence as “crucial, because Dodge and Penny reach their decisions to trust each other. The presence of Adam Brody as Penny’s very-soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Owen brings comic absurdity to a dangerous situation.”
Knightley found filming the sequence rewarding, above and beyond what it meant for her character’s evolution. She reports, “Penny has parked her car in a small space and can’t get it out easily, so I got to bash these other cars! I don’t know that Steve Carell enjoyed it so much, but I really did.”
Carell confirms, “I’m not a big mayhem guy. Now, I do think it was highly cathartic for Keira, because she’s not much of a driver back in the U.K. and she readily admits that. Here was a good learning experience for her, actually feeling a car smashing into another car, giving her a sense memory of reality for that day when she does in fact start to drive.”
“Our amazing crew got the scene done, with stunt work and pyrotechnics and vermin, as how I had envisioned it,” enthuses Scafaria. “Which was, basically, as a mini-version of a sequence I admired in Children of Men.
“I also had fun filming our Friendsy’s [restaurant] scenes, where things get chaotic for Dodge and Penny. Our Friendsy’s extras should win MVP awards.”
Knightley laughs, “Penny thinks it’s excellent at Friendsy’s, then all of a sudden it goes a little bit wonky…T.J. Miller and Gillian Jacobs are so funny – completely brilliant – in this crazy sequence.”
Scafaria notes, “Every few days, we’d have new ‘special guest stars!’ It was a wonderful group of actors.”
Many of these performers had adjusted their schedules so that they could be part of the highly original story. As Connie Britton, who was contacted directly by Scafaria to be in the movie, remarks, “For an actor, it’s great to have it on the page – who and what your character is, and with Lorene you get that.
“The sequence I’m in is hilarious and provocative, and during filming of one scene Steve Carell and I turned to each other and said, ‘This is heartbreaking.’”
Britton adds, “The environment on the set was welcoming and comfortable because Lorene is a great collaborator.”
Carell states, “You would never have known that this was Lorene’s directorial debut. She knew what she wanted to achieve, and set a tone of support and grace.”
Roybal remarks, “Lorene is a confident filmmaker with a distinct voice. She inspires everyone to work at a high level.”
Production got underway in mid-May 2011 – with one date, believed by some to be the set date of the end of the world, among the first shooting days of the 34-day filming schedule.
“We were all curious that whole day,” admits Scafaria. “We stopped in our tracks around 9:00 PM because someone did the math and said that was ‘the time.’ Everyone stood there and nothing happened, so we went on to the next shot.”
Golin muses, “It was a good omen. Our movie will be released not long before the Mayan calendar runs out and the world is supposedly ending, so we have another ‘stop date’ to, well, look forward to.”
They’re All Sorry Even before Dodge and Penny band together as traveling companions, Dodge encounters someone else who positively impacts his life. “Sorry,” reads the note attached to a canine’s collar, which has been affixed to Dodge’s leg during his overnight blackout following a failed suicide attempt. Upon awakening, Dodge reads the note and takes it literally, addressing the Terrier as Sorry; Sorry is portrayed by Aleister.
“Sorry enters the story right when Dodge has reached his lowest low and given up hope altogether,” explains writer/director Lorene Scafaria, herself a longtime dog owner. “He wakes up that morning and finds he has been given someone else’s burden, which becomes a responsibility that gives Dodge’s life meaning again.
“When I saw Aleister and his wonderful scrappy snaggletooth and wiry coat, I loved him and felt, ‘Here’s our hero dog.’”
In keeping with a story that is about last chances, Aleister was a shelter dog. Dog trainer Sarah Clifford of Animal Savvy reveals, “He was adopted from the shelter a couple of years ago, and ever since then he’s been acting in TV commercials.”
Dogs’ lives were saved anew for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, by virtue of the fact that “when a dog has a movie role as large as the Sorry one, you have to have a couple of different dogs at the ready,” comments Clifford. Accordingly, she scouted local animal shelters and found doubles for Aleister. She named one Mulligan, meaning “second chance,” or “do-over,” and he served as Aleister’s stunt double.
“Mulligan was rescued from the shelter on the morning he was scheduled to be euthanized,” reports Clifford. “He learned the ropes, and was doing takes only two weeks after we took him out of the shelter. Mulligan did the scene where Sorry is crawling down the fire escape, and anything else that required a lot of action.
“Rita, another double, was loaned to us from I Care Dog Rescue, which pulled her out of an animal shelter. All of these dogs were lucky.”
“There was another Terrier on-set, a fourth Sorry,” adds Scafaria. “They just make the set better. Or maybe I’m a crazy-dog-lady-in-the-making...”
As first among equals, Aleister won hearts early and often; he was particularly enamored of Keira Knightley, meeting her just before production began. “He went up to her and nestled on her dress,” recalls Clifford. “It was so cute, and right away she thought he was charming.”
But it was his on-screen interaction with Steve Carell that was crucial to the story. Clifford says, “Steve is good with dogs, so he was a natural with Aleister.
“We would take a little bit of time every day before we started filming for what we called a bonding session; we’d get Steve and Aleister comfortable together. Steve gave him treats, and kissed and cuddled him. That way, when Aleister worked with Steve on camera, there was already a bond.”
The writer/director was relieved to see that bond. Regarding Dodge and Sorry, she notes, “When you know that you have a responsibility to someone who is more in need than you are, that forces you to stand up and take care of them. That starts changing Dodge’s outlook and giving his life purpose, leading him towards more human contact – beginning with Penny and then going further for him on his journey.
“I like to think that Sorry also represents our capacity for forgiveness.”
The Future is Now and Then Seeking Friend for the End of the World takes place sometime in the future – but not too far away.
Writer/director Lorene Scafaria explains, “I always intended to be vague about it in the telling. The only time we see a date is on a bottle of cough syrup, and we don’t know if the expiration date is coming up or it’s already come and gone.
“By being only relatively in the future, I had options to play with the look of the film. [Production designer] Chris Spellman and [director of photography] Tim Orr helped create the aesthetic for the movie.”
Spellman remembers, “When Lorene and I first met up, we talked about some films that she wanted me to see.”
“I was inspired by films like Defending Your Life and Songs from the Second Floor, movies which created their own world,” says Scafaria, who also discussed with Spellman how the design, sets and set dressing should not overpower the story and characters – as in many an end-of-the-world tale – but instead inform them. “Chris and I figured out the tiny little stories within our story, whether it was for an object or for a person you see only fleetingly.”
Producer Mark Roybal found that “the aesthetic that’s been achieved is that of a future which is recognizable. Since things are not overdesigned, there is no detracting from the heart of the story.
“Chris was so good at doing research when it was needed; for example, the plot point of if a small plane could in fact transport someone overseas was something that he ratified.”
Spellman notes, “We went with what the script dictated. Tim – whom I’ve worked with before – and Lorene and I went through it page by page, and discussed what the mood might be in terms of lighting, for instance.”
Scafaria reveals, “I had had high hopes we would get Tim for Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; I’d seen and loved his work. When that didn’t pan out, I became obsessed with working with him some day, and I felt so fortunate when we landed him for this – my first time out as director.
“We mapped out the entire shot list well before production started, then revised it as we went along, and certainly improvised when we had to on a given day. It was a very symbiotic collaboration. We agreed on our process together out of the gate, coordinating on shot composition. I come from a theater background, so I had to keep reminding myself to try to get as much coverage as possible. I learned more from Tim than from anyone else, and often referred to our time together as ‘my film school with Tim Orr.’”
The writer/director also worked closely with Orr’s actual film school classmate and longtime collaborator, film editor Zene Baker; during filming, Scafaria would watch all of the dailies as she went along and then discuss them with Baker, which in turn made the post-production phase progress that much more efficiently.
Like Spellman, costume designer Kristin Burke was tasked with anticipating the near future. She notes, “When a script ventures even a little bit into the future, you naturally wonder, ‘Okay, what are we going to be wearing? What fabric are we going to have that we don’t have now?’
“But Lorene wanted to make the clothing as classic as possible, so that the film doesn’t date itself and also so it wouldn’t be implausible. For example, where were we 10 years ago and how much is the fashion sensibility different from today’s? Well, it’s not that far; between 1972 and 1962, now there was a huge gap.”
She elaborates, “What we were trying to do overall was ‘retro future,’ and as accessibly as possible for the viewer. As apocalyptic as this story might seem, it’s not depressing, and our costuming reflects that.”
Burke was particularly pleased to be able to costume Knightley for a rare non-“costume” role. The designer says, “Penny is eclectically minded; we were looking to create a look for Keira which spoke to that. The way Penny dresses incorporates vintage elements and something of that mindset.
“While there were no corsets for Keira on this movie, Penny is accessorized with something from the past – vinyl record albums.”
The Next and Last Songs You Hear While Dodge totes along Sorry, Penny hand-carries vinyl albums from her coveted record collection.
As Lorene Scafaria muses, “There’s always that ‘what if’ question; in case of a fire, what are you going to grab when you’re on your way out the door? What can you in fact physically carry?
“Dodge by then feels responsible for the dog, but for Penny these albums have long had meaning to her; her record collection is something that she’s taken care of for years and years – in part because it is a connection to her parents.”
Scafaria reveals, “Music is important to me, so I felt that this story wouldn’t be complete without it. Part of showing Penny’s journey was through what – if not who – she has.”
Production designer Chris Spellman and his team didn’t have to search far for the record albums that Keira Knightley would be clutching; Penny’s urgently streamlined collection is curated from Scafaria’s own. Specific songs, albums, and artists had been written into the script from the earliest drafts.
When asked which albums she would rescue in case of fire – or worse – the writer/director says, “Lou Reed’s ‘Coney Island Baby,’ some Gene Clark, The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds,’ The Beatles.”
Knightley states that her picks would have to be “Supertramp and Talking Heads. Also, if in fact the world were ending, I would get on the road to North Devon.”
Steve Carell would not take “albums because my car lacks a turntable. My family would go to Disney World, with a steady stream of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez; what the kids are listening to these days –
“‘What the kids are listening to these days?’ I just sounded about 85 years old…I would eat a lot of junk food, but I wouldn’t steal it; I would purchase cupcakes and brownies. Chinese food and pizza, too.”
Scafaria muses, “I might stay put; I’m happy in L.A. I might drive north. I do have a ‘what if’ box ready to grab, plus my dogs and the person I’m with. I would want to be with friends and family as much as possible.”
Producer Mark Roybal says, “There would have to be one serious camper with full entertainment, and a limitless supply of gas so we could go anywhere we wanted. There would be debaucherous eating and drinking – within the confines of safety, since I have kids. But I do think there would be hot dogs for breakfast.
“Our family road trip’s soundtrack would include ‘Harvest Moon,’ by Neil Young. That was our wedding song. Also, U2’s ‘Joshua Tree,’ The Band, and lots of Adele, because my kids love to belt out her songs.”
Producer Joy Gorman Wettels demurs, “I’d do anything within reason that’s under a good rationale. If the idea of living on an island in Greece is moot, I would just try to relax.”
For everyone on the set, variations on these questions and answers were invariably put forth and debated on a daily basis. What Scafaria had described as the “wonderful group of actors,” many of whom were on-set for just a couple of days, proved eager to chat with each other and the crew between takes, comparing notes on ultimate musical collections and cities of their final destinations.
Actor Derek Luke offers, “I’d go and find people to help, or friends that I need to apologize to.”
Actress Connie Britton reflects, “I would probably drive across the country and I would listen to every single kind of music, especially music from my childhood and Prince’s ‘1999,’ even though he was off with the year by a little bit.”
Expanding on Britton’s playlist, Scafaria’s assistant Virginia Shearer “would take ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘Sign o’ the Times,’ ‘Dirty Mind,’ and ‘Controversy.’ And, Prince himself.”
Actress Melanie Lynskey comments, “My husband and our dog and I would hopefully go to Savannah. I’d bring The Cure and The Smiths and Pavement, and just listen and feel comforted.”
Camera loader/production assistant Josh Novak picks “anything by Otis Redding – let’s just say ‘Greatest Hits,’ for the sake of not carrying bulk on the road trip to somewhere peaceful and tropical.”
Opting for neither peaceful nor tropical, actress Gillian Jacobs enthuses, “I’ve never really broken any laws in my life, so I’d probably break a lot of them. I would probably destroy a lot of buildings using heavy equipment from construction sites. Maybe crash cars into medians on the highway, firebomb empty buildings – standard stuff.”
Actor Patton Oswalt states, “I would have the theme to the TV show The Facts of Life on a loop, and drive towards Elton John, wherever he was. Because I’d want to hear him sing ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ while the meteor was approaching us; I just don’t think there’s any better way to end the world.”
Gail Scafaria, the writer/director’s mother, says, “Just to be with Lorene. Yeah, that would be it.”
Beginning at the End Well before the whole world and/or one’s own life might end, every one of us ponders how we will face that moment.
Steve Carell says, “I think Lorene Scafaria’s story beautifully transcends aspects of the normalcy of life. The movie is about finding the value of life, and finding what makes you happy.”
Scafaria reflects, “Time is the great equalizer, and our time here is limited. Everyone can relate to that, and hopefully learn from it. One of the most precious things you can offer to another person is your time.”
Producer Steve Golin says, “I feel everyone harbors the beliefs that somebody is out there for them and that options exist.”
Producer Mark Roybal adds, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is about coming together at the most crucial time – at the end of time. It’s profound, funny, and uplifting.”
Keira Knightley offers, “For these two, it’s about what suddenly becomes important. I think what’s actually being said here is, why do we not live as we should live? Why do we not see what things are important? Why do we not spend time with the people that we love? We act as if we have ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ but what if we don’t?
“That’s why I found the story so optimistic; aside from the occasional riot, positive things will come forth from humanity at the turning point.”