Five Questions With... HOT SUMMER NIGHTS Writer/Director Elijah Bynum

Daniel (Timothée Chalamet, Miss Stevens, NFF 2016) has been sent to spend the summer of 1991 with his aunt on Cape Cod. He quickly falls in with the town rebel, Hunter (Alex Roe), and falls for the town beauty, McKayla (Maika Moore), who just happens to be Hunter’s sister and thus off-limits. As Daniel re-invents himself in surprising—and illegal—ways and a hurricane looms on the horizon, the stage is set for an unforgettable coming-of-age drama in writer/director Elijah Bynum’s assured feature directorial debut.

We spoke to Elijah about Imperative Entertainment’s  HOT SUMMER NIGHTS - read more below, and see the film on Thursday, June 22 at 6:30 PM and/or Friday, June 23 at 4:30 PM!

NFF: The film is based on a "mostly true story" - can you talk a little about your inspiration?

Elijah: It's based on two kids I knew in college. Daniel and Hunter are much different than the two kids I knew but the unlikely friendship or so called “odd couple” dynamic is the same. They started out selling weed around a dorm and then they were selling in two dorms, then 10 dorms, next the entire campus and the five other colleges in the area were getting weed from these two. As their success grew so did their paranoia and distrust for one another and you could see their friendship starting to come apart at the seams. Eventually it all came to an end in dramatic fashion and both kids dropped out of school and vanished. Nobody really knows where either of them are or what they're up to. Still gives me chills to think about.

NFF: This could be classified as a "coming of age" film - were you influenced or inspired by any coming of age films when you were working on it?

Elijah: Absolutely. The John Hughes movies of the 80s were certainly an influence. As were other classics such as The Sandlot and Stand By Me. The Last Picture Show was another film I found myself revisiting over and over again while making Hot Summer Nights. But the biggest influence was probably the book Virgin Suicides. It haunted me and has stayed with me in ways few other movies or books have. 

NFF: You have an impressive young cast. Tell us a little about casting and how you found them?

Elijah: First of all, I'd like to say I love all the actors. They are all incredibly talented and dreams to work with. I had seen Timothée Chalamet on “Homeland” and then again in “Interstellar” and thought he was great. One of our producers, Ryan Friedkin, was also a big fan and everyone was on board right away. As far as the role of Daniel goes Timothée was always the first (and only) choice. Alex Roe was brought to us by WME after a long search for Hunter. The role was really tricky to cast and a bunch of great actors came in and read for the part, but nobody felt quite right. Alex did an audition tape, and it was basically love at first sight. Then we skyped and he held up well under interrogation and the rest is history. I think he did a fantastic job and now I can't imagine Hunter being played by anyone else. Another producer of ours, Bradley Thomas, had seen Maika Monroe in “It Follows” and called me up and said "this is McKayla". I went out and watched “It Follows” and agreed. She did a great job with a role that could have very easily turned into a clichéd mess. Maia Mitchell had come in and read for the role of McKayla but at this point we were closing in on Maika for the part. But she was just so good I knew we had to have her in the movie. Again, she took a role that didn't give her much on the page and turned Amy into a fully formed human being. Maia is great. I first saw Emory Cohen in Place Beyond The Pines and thought he was fantastic. I remember thinking "if I ever get to make a movie I want to put him in it." Originally I had imagined Dex as being played by someone much older but Emory had gotten hold of the script and responded to the role. We met up and talked about it and he had really exciting ideas. He's such an incredibly inventive actor and it was a joy watching him work. He's also one of the funniest people I've ever met.

NFF: The soundtrack is so important for setting the tone of the movie - and you have a diverse, engaging collection of songs throughout. How did you decide on the music you wanted to use?

Elijah: A lot of the music in the movie were songs that I would listen to while writing the script. Their energy seemed to seep into the story. I would play them on set whenever I could to set the rhythm and mood. While the story is set in 1991 I wanted the story to feel timeless -- I wanted it to feel suspended in some bygone summer of America's yesteryear. I knew the wardrobe and production design would tell audiences the movie was set in 1991, not to mention the fact we slap "1991" on the screen, so I didn't think we had to also remind them through the music. The tone of the movie is slightly heightened, it's a dreamy memory,  more so than a fact based account. It's a story about teenagers with raging hormones who's emotions run the full gamut. We felt that this gave us the artistic license to choose music that complemented the story and characters on an emotional level rather than try to use music that felt grounded in a specific time and place.

NFF: Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Elijah: Not only is Nantucket a great film festival but it's only right that a movie set in Cape Cod, a movie in which Cape Cod plays an integral character, gets to be seen in Cape Cod. Hopefully the Nantucket crowd can relate in some way to that special feeling of being on the Cape during those summer months while also taking note of some of the more subtle social-class issues and the effects it can have on the kids who live there.