Press PLAY, which is available on digital and on demand, is a time travel film with a tragic love story at the center. With Clara Rugaard (teenage spirit, I’m a mother) and Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: Maverick), the film follows their characters Laura and Harrison from their first sweet encounter to their final bride – and then moves on. After losing her boyfriend in an accident, Clara discovers that the mixtape they made contains special traits that send her back in time to be with him again.
Directed by Greg Björkman in his debut as a director, Press PLAY shares some similarities with Blame it on our starson as he worked as a deputy editor. But it also incorporates everything he has learned in his career since, and the talents of his co-author James Bachelor (Draft holes and oil rigs). Together they have created an unusual, yet heartwarming romance that mixes sci-fi with a love of music and a fantastic cast that includes Lyrica Okano (Marvel’s Runaways), Danny Glover and more.
Screen Rant talked to Björkman about how Press PLAYThe concept of him was first introduced, his creative development from post-production to writing and directing, and why the music you can hold is so much more powerful.
Screen speed: What inspired the concept Press PLAY? It has familiar elements, but all of them feel quite unique.
Greg Björkman: The idea originally came to me from Josh [Boone], and he said, “If you can fix it, you can go and do it.” And it took me a long time to find the emotional firepower and figure out what the story was supposed to be but to meet James [Bachelor] to help write it was the key.
I was going through a difficult relationship at one point and I think it gave me the support I needed to start the process. Because I and many people who go through relationships did not want to let go. So I think the emotional firepower was there because of that.
You and Josh were working on Blame it on our stars. Two is not enough to call it a model, but I could accuse you of really liking tragic love stories. Is there a Stars to Play pipeline there?
Greg Björkman: I think so. I also worked on his first film, Stuck in Love. But I found a movie a few years ago, About Time, and we certainly learned a lot from that movie. One of the things we’ve learned is that if the logic of time travel doesn’t quite make sense, you can fill it with emotion to make sure it makes sense emotionally.
I think James and I were able to do that with it. We did our best to make sure there was a balance between time travel and the emotional side of the story.
One aspect of the story that was particularly poignant was how grief affects so many aspects of our lives as how the loss of Harrison also alienated Laura from Chloe. Can you talk about possible meditations on these themes outside of the science fiction aspect?
Greg Bjorkman: Yes. This friendship she has with Chloe deteriorates a bit as she tries to figure things out. I think we all do it sometimes when we neglect those who care about us for things we want. I’m definitely guilty of this.
And [her grief] transfers to other relationships – even more relationships, such as his friendship with Cooper. She’s not that close to Chloe anymore, and she’s hurting friendships, and because you’re pushing these people away when you’re going through something difficult. I think everyone does. If you feel alone in a situation, you will withdraw into yourself. Some of us turn inward; some of us do crazy things. Personally, I look inward, so that was where James and I decided to move on.
Speaking of James, he has a little more experience as a writer than this is your feature film debut. What was this dynamic?
Greg Björkman: Speaking of The Fault in Our Stars, I met a good friend named Hannah, who worked at the post office. Flashforward a few years to 2016, and James came into the picture because Hannah introduced me. I asked him, “Hey, do you know anyone who knows about time travel like his own pants pocket?” and the first name that came out of his mouth was Jacob.
We started writing it together and I had this story structure in mind about what it was going to be. James came in and we developed him over the course of two and a half years and we were just trying to get him to where he was good enough to get out. It was good to have that perspective, because James is a great first author. I come from the editorial office, so you can imagine that I’m good at working with [material] and edit from there. It was a good dynamic between the two of us.
Given your editorial background, how does this change your approach as a writer?
Greg Björkman: Being able to watch movies like The Fault in the Stars is made, it shows you how a good movie is supposed to be made. I’ve worked on other films that weren’t that good, so it’s good to see how something is going to go.
You learn what works in the editorial office, and you should not go into instructing or writing and thinking about how it is going to work and how it should be. But we work with the mindset that we have. [Laughs] It was very helpful to have a written background.
Are you personally a big fan of Japanese Breakfast and what happens to the song choices? For they are all very meaningful and tell a story within the framework of the film.
Greg Björkman: I could send you an email asking our musical director: “Can you please contact Japanese Breakfast? I would love to have them in the movie. And they happen to be available. It was amazing. Michelle is a of the people who, if I had to fight in a bar, I would choose her to be by my side.She is amazing.
But when it comes to other music, we wrote a lot of songs into the script, and there are a few songs that have survived from the first day I met James through post-production. And because many songs have to be in two different scenes, and those scenes mean different things, it was a challenge to choose the music. If you think about it in the form of a normal story without time travel, you do not have to worry about the length; you do not have to worry about listening to the song. But we had to choose music that would work for both the present and the past.
I love the concept of the playlist on cassette, because it is already a relic from another time. What specifically speaks to you about music on tape?
Greg Björkman: Well, there’s something about holding the music in your hands. I grew up playing different music and musical instruments that my parents forced me to – and I’m very happy that they forced me to. I did not want to at some point and they made me continue. But there is something about being able to hold an album, whether it is cassette or vinyl. You literally love music, and you can’t really do that with streaming.
You have an incredible cast, from Clara and Lewis to Danny Glover and Matt Walsh. How did you get them and what made you choose the right people for the roles?
Greg Björkman: When we found Clara, I had just seen I Am Mother, and she was amazing at it. Then I talked to him on Skype and there were a thousand glints in his eyes when we talked about the character. There was this energy and one could feel that she wanted to be this character as no one’s business. She knew who Laura was going to be.
Likewise, we had spent three hours with Lewis discussing the character and the previous relationships we had. I thought, “I know this guy. I know who he wants Harrison to be, and he knows who Harrison should be.” And Danny brings that kind of warm old soul to the mix, and that’s what Cooper was supposed to be. I grew up watching him in Angels in the Outfield.
It is interesting to see the film and television industry go global. As a Kdrama enthusiast, I know CJ Entertainment from Korean TV, but I was still surprised to see that they produced this film. How was this collaboration?
Greg Björkman: They were very supportive. When I presented the film to them, they immediately went on board and wanted to join. Some of the keywords I had in mind to describe the film were mentioned by them during the pitch meeting, and I thought to myself, “I should have told them that, but I did not.”
It did not hurt that they were halfway to Hawaii and we were the other half. We chose this place and went there, but CJ was very nice. I think they trust the visions of their filmmakers and the process has been amazing. I felt like family.
What’s next for you? What genre do you want to enter, or what specific projects are you working on?
Greg Björkman: I would like to get into some form of studio photography. Although I made a romantic movie about time travel, I think it shows a bit of reach for different kinds of projects that I am capable of making. I think it was in my head when James and I wrote it. I thought, “Okay, I know a lot of people can gather into specific genres,” and I would not.
Really, I’m just looking for the right project. I think. The one who speaks to me and says, “That’s what we have to deal with on a human level.” But one that at the same time is a great trip and explores a lot of interesting things.
Press PLAY Synopsis
Laura and Harrison have a picturesque romance built on a shared love of music. After a fatal accident, Laura gets the chance to save the love of her life as she discovers that their mixtape can transport her back in time.
See our other interviews with Press PLAY stars Clara Rugaard and Lewis Pullman, as well as our previous interview with Lewis Pullman for Bad weather at El Royale.
Press PLAY is currently digital and on-demand.
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