Jason Schwartzman Discusses the Unusual Way They Filmed Their Jewish Comedy


The Big Picture

  • « Between the Temples » is a heartwarming comedy about a cantor struggling with faith and his unexpected connection with his bat mitzvah student.
  • The director’s unique scripting and filming process adds chaos but brings a sense of life to the set.
  • The cast members found the process both terrifying and exciting, requiring a leap of faith and improvisation.


Inspired by his mother’s own coming-of-late-age story, co-writer and director Nathan Silver’s comedy, Between the Temples, made its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. While there celebrating, stars Jason Schwartzman, Carol Kane, Madeleine Weinstein, and Robert Smigel stopped by Crumpa’s Media Studio to discuss working on the film.

Between the Temples is a heartwarming film about a cantor (Schwartzman) struggling with faith when he discovers his latest bat mitzvah student (Kane) is actually his grade school teacher. From the director behind indies like Thirst Street and Uncertain Times, Silver’s latest feature balances a warm story of connection and the rediscovery of life with its laugh-out-loud cast.

The cast and writer-director of the film stopped by our Media Studio, sponsored by Film.io, to talk with Crumpa’s Steve Weintraub about working with Silver on his first of fourteen films submitted to Sundance. They explain what it was about this script that drew them into the project, how Silver’s unusual scripting-writing and filming process proved both difficult and fun, and share other projects they were nervous about stepping on set for, including Annie Hall and Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson.

You can watch the full interview in the video above, or you can read the transcript down below.

Between the Temples

A cantor in a crisis of faith finds his world turned upside down when his grade school music teacher re-enters his life as his new adult Bat Mitzvah student.

Release Date
January 19, 2024

Director
Nathan Silver

Runtime
111 minutes

Main Genre
Comedy

Writers
Nathan Silver , C. Mason Wells

Crumpa: Did you guys read any of your reviews? Because the reviews have been pretty effing good.

NATHAN SILVER: Yeah, they’re lovely. It’s lovely to come here with a movie and actually get the feedback you’d hoped for.

CAROL KANE: That’s so great. I didn’t read them, but I’m really happy, especially for our director.

(Left to right) Jason Schwartzman, Madeleine Weinstein, Nathan Silver, Carol Kane, and Robert Smigel pose at Sundance 2024 for Between the Temples
Image via Photagonist at the Crumpa Media Studio

I could be wrong about this, but did you submit a ton of movies to Sundance, and this is the first one that got in?

SILVER: This is my fourteenth time submitting.

KANE: Is that really true?

SILVER: Yep.

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: That’s incredible.

SILVER: When they called me they said they were breaking their annual tradition of rejecting my movies.

KANE: That’s so cool.


‘Between the Temples’ Is About Figuring Out the Next Chapter in Life

Jason Schwartzman (left) and Carol Kane (right) facing each other while sleeping in Between the Temples for Sundance 2024
Image via Sundance 

I hate saying this, but no one watching this interview will have seen the movie yet, so do you want to bite the bullet and give the logline of what it’s about?

SILVER: I think Robert Smigel’s very good at this. [Laughs]

ROBERT SMIGEL: I’m just used to my agent saying, “We need a logline for your project.” Jason plays a recently widowed cantor who kind of feels lost, and kind of drops out of the synagogue. He’s under a lot of pressure from different sides of what to do with his life, maybe to find a different, age appropriate… Okay, whatever. I’m giving away too much. Ultimately, he connects with a woman who wants to be bat mitzvahed, who’s not 13, who’s slightly older, and they connect and they kind of figure out a lot of things together. It says a lot of beautiful things about figuring out your next chapter in life, and also it says beautiful things about religion at its essence, and what makes religion useful and beautiful in its own way.

Would anyone else like to add to that, or is that the perfect description?

MADELINE WEINSTEIN: I thought you killed it.

SMIGEL: Yeah, my agent would say it needs to be shorter.

SILVER: Never listen to your agent

SMIGEL: “One sentence!”

For the cast, I’m sure you guys have read a bunch of scripts, so what was it about this one that said “Oh I need to do this?”

SCHWARTZMAN: I thought the story was instantly, for whatever reason, it was a gut feeling, that these people who were at the point in their lives when they were having trouble moving forward, having trouble going backward, having trouble moving through time, really, and had kind of lost their faith in all things, especially themselves. You come to feel a new life and a new energy if you just keep pushing through and asking questions. But the way that Nathan did it, I just thought it was a really nice thing to read that day.

KANE: I heard from Nathan, and Nathan told me the story, basically, and then I guess the three of us had a Zoom together, and I met Jason and Nathan on the Zoom. And I have to say that I have always hoped that I would get to work with Jason because I think he’s just an extraordinary actor, and I have come to know that he is an even more extraordinary person. And the story was just fascinating, and a gift to me as a person who’s not 13, to have a lovely, three-dimensional character to play, and a character that connects so strongly with this other human being, who’s sort of an unlikely but essential connection for her in her life. And as Robert was saying, it’s about a lot of people also starting over, and the suggestion that that can happen at any time, any age, anywhere, with some faith and support and connection. So anyway, Robert, your agent would be really mad at me. That was really too long.

What was it about the script for you?

WEINSTEIN: Well, Nathan and I actually lived together for, like, a year, like eight years ago. So I’d wanted to work with him for a long time. I have an immense amount of faith in him and his unique, wonderful sensibility, and the script just moved me and made me laugh when I first read it. It was just good, for a lack of a better word. It was wonderful.

How much does Nathan pay you to say this?

WEINSTEIN: [Laughs] Honestly, not enough. He just has such a dark, mischievous kind of sense of humor, but also a real warmth that you can feel in the movie, I think.

Chaos Was the Essential Ingredient to ‘Between the Temples’

(Left to right) Robert Smigel, Jason Schwartzman, Nathan Silver, Carol Kane, and Madeleine Weinstein discussing Between the Temples at Sundance 2024
Image via Photagonist at the Crumpa Media Studio

One of the things I read in a lot of the reviews that people commended you on is that people are doing things and saying things that are unexpected. Talk a little bit about the writing process. Is that a deliberate thing to sort of shock and awe the audience, or keep them on their toes? How much was it found on set versus all just in the script?

SILVER: So Chris [Mason Wells], my co-writer and I, we wrote a scriptment, which reads like a novella, where the dialogue is not separated out the way it traditionally is in your standard script. So we then script the dialogue a couple of days before we shoot the scenes as we’re moving through the production, and the actors don’t have time to necessarily memorize all the written lines, so we kind of edit while we’re shooting, and we find the scenes as we’re making the movie, which kind of gives it a vitality that I think it needs. It’s like a take on a screwball comedy, like, this person who’s stuck is unstuck by someone who’s a much freer spirit. I think there’s something about that that we wanted to give it like a freewheeling sensibility, but also, I mean, it’s very written and yet it’s just the blueprint, really. A film is not a piece of literature. It’s its own form, and you just have to give in to that.

It’s so fascinating to me that there is no right or wrong way to make a movie. I’ve spoken to so many actors and directors, and the process for so many people is so different. But I am curious, when you’re doing it in the structure you’re describing, do you try to film the scenes in order or are you filming out of order and then it’s even more complicated?

SILVER: We’re filming out of order.

My god.

SILVER: It adds to the chaos, which I think is essential. That’s the essential ingredient, you know? Is to have a sense of life on set.

So I’m going to ask this of the cast. When you’re in an environment where you might not be getting the dialogue until maybe the day before, two days before, is it a process that you enjoy? Or are you out of your effing minds trying to figure things out and always on your toes?

KANE: All of the above, I would say. It’s somewhat terrifying not to have a more solid blueprint because I’m used to that. And as Madeline was saying, she comes from a theater background, as do I, and you rehearse for so long, and you memorize your lines so solidly, and it’s all about that, the rehearsal. And so it’s kind of a big leap of faith to just get there and hope to fly together. It’s also very exciting and freeing that anything goes, in a sense. Because we’ll do a take, and Nathan will say, “I liked this, and I didn’t like that,” and we’ll do it again, and it’s exciting. It’s invigorating. Creative.

Does anyone else want to add?

SCHWARTZMAN: I mean everything that Carol said is absolutely spot on. And I also think that, you know, I had spoken to Nathan so early on in the evolution of this, at least I spoke to him right at the beginning of it, from my perspective, and Nathan was so great at just being this constant in my life for this year, and staying, and “We’re gonna make this movie. We’re gonna do it.” It was always alive, so I do feel like we had a lot of time to free-associate leading up to it that we typically don’t have. So I feel like even though maybe a line, some of the lines, maybe you are figuring them out on the fly, I felt safe, though, because all of the other stuff had been fertilized, in my opinion. Maddie and Carol both said, it’s this faith in Nathan, I think that’s the ultimate thing. That’s why collaborating is so wonderful, and you pick the people that you work with for a reason. Every day on set I was like, “This is the only way to make a movie.” And it’s fun that way.

Between the Temples star Jason Schwartzman (center) talking and Nathan Silver (right) smiling in an interview at Sundance 2024
Image via Photagonist at the Crumpa Media Studio

SMIGEL: I was just excited to be in a movie. [Laughs] No, I’m mostly a comedy writer, but I’ll say this being a writer and sometimes director, and all-the-times control freak, I have a certain empathy when I work in a movie as an actor — and maybe I go too far that way — I just want to make the director happy. That’s all I’m focused on. I’ve done movies with different processes, like Noah Baumbach, I was in Marriage Story, and he didn’t want a word changed. And then there’s other people like [Judd] Apatow who, they’re shouting jokes from behind the camera. And Nathan’s was his own process. It was essentially scripted in its own way. Like he said, at first it reads as a book, but then there’s dialogue the day of, but it’s flexible. For me, it just made it easier for me rather than harder because I’m not used to memorizing lines in the first place, and so it was just capturing the essence of the scene. It made it easier for me as an actor, a quote-unquote actor.

SCHWARTZMAN: Another thing I was going to say was, you know, if you’re working with a certain type of material, or cereal, or milk, there’s an amount of time that something has to cure, you know? That was part of the process of doing this, was like, this is a quick-curing resin. Once we get to the set, this is how much time we’ve got before it dries, and I like that. And I also will just add that, though it’s hard, I will also say for the whole crew, it was like that in a great way. Like Sean Price Williams, our cinematographer, he’s in there with the camera and he’s moving it around, and he’s also responding and he’s in the same flow of how Nathan wished to make the film. Every department is in that way. It’s kind of like every department really is like the same department and it’s all about helping the other one. You signed up to do it because you knew it was something worth doing.

SMIGEL: Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever worked with a more invested crew. They were incredible.

Because I don’t have that much more time with you guys, I want to throw in some questions to be answered quickly, like some curveballs if you will. If someone has never seen anything you’ve done before, what is the first thing you’d like them watching and why? Or someone who’s never seen anything you’ve directed before.

SILVER: This movie.

I kind of figured that was the answer. From the cast?

SMIGEL: I would kind of say the Sandler movie that I just did, the Leo animated cartoon because it’s funny, but it also has a message that I’m proud of. I’m not gonna get into it here.

Also, Leo is fantastic.

SMIGEL: Thank you.

SCHWARTZMAN: Can that be the movie that I would want people to see?

7:16

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[Laughs] Yes, but if you also want to say something you’ve done.

SCHWARTZMAN: I’m proud to be here. I think that this movie is a real reflection of where we all were at that time, and so currently I would say this.

WEINSTEIN: Okay, I’m gonna say that I can’t choose this one, I’m making that rule for myself.

SMIGEL: I did that for myself, too.

WEINSTEIN: I’ll say Beach Rats.

Between the Temples' Madeleine Weinstein (center) talking and Carol Kane (left) listening at Sundance 2024
Image via Photagonist at the Crumpa Media Studio

KANE: I’m going to break the rule, I’m going to say two, because I’m old enough to get two.

That sounds great.

KANE: I’m going to say this movie because this is where we are right now and I’m very, very proud and grateful to be in it. And I think maybe I’ll say Hester Street just because it was sort of a very incredible role and experience, and black and white, and interesting.

SILVER: It’s a huge influence. I mean, Joan Micklin Silver, the movie’s dedicated to her at the end.

KANE: Is it?

SILVER: The initials, yeah.

KANE: Oh, I didn’t know that. Oh, that’s so great.

SILVER: Her spirit, the sense of comedy and humanity that she imbues in all of her films.

KANE: That’s great!

From ‘Annie Hall’ to Donald Trump’s Inauguration, First Days Are Hard On Everyone

Annie Hall smiling widely

For everyone, you’ve all done different things. What is the most nervous you’ve been the night before the first day of filming something?

WEINSTEIN: This movie, for me.

For real?

WEINSTEIN: Yeah.

Can you explain what was in your head that night before?

WEINSTEIN: Well, I got into a car accident the night before [laughs], so that definitely was part of it. I was fine. No, I mean I think just…

SCHWARTZMAN: Well, you just had your license, too.

WEINSTEIN: Yeah, the year before, so I get some generosity in the assumptions about my driving now. But no, I think just not having the whole text and script, just the amount of trust, and not being able to really deeply arc your story, because you don’t know what’s gonna happen. Scary but fun.

KANE: Again, I’m old enough to get two. I’m gonna say Carnal Knowledge because it was my first role in a movie, and it was Mike Nichols and Jack Nicholson and Jules Feiffer. It was just terrifying because I’d never had a real part in a movie before, and you know, so lucky. And then secondly, I would say Annie Hall because I think, just like Robert was saying, I just wanted to please Woody so much, and I had no idea how to do it. So, I was terrified.

Nathan Silver (left) listening as Carole Kane (center) talks and Madeleine Weinstein (left) smiles during an interview for Between the Temples at Sundance 2024
Image via Photagonist at the Crumpa Media Studio

SMIGEL: I just have to ask, how much feedback did he give you while you were doing it?

KANE: Not a lot. No, not a lot. I think if he didn’t like something I would’ve heard, but I didn’t get a lot. But I was so anxious to please and so oblivious as to how.

SCHWARTZMAN: Carnal Knowledge — I love when Jack Nicholson says, “I’m taken by me.”

KANE: Yeah. Oh god, that’s a great scene.

SCHWARTZMAN: She goes, “I want you.” “I’m taken. By me!”

KANE: Ann-Margret.

SCHWARTZMAN: That scene is incredible. I mean, again, I try to have a bit of amnesia. So I would say, the night before this, and all nights before this. I’m excited, but it’s scary, because everyone who’s there with you has left some other part of their life to be there, and their time is valuable. And so, my feeling, too, is just, “Gosh, I’m nervous because I want to make everyone feel like it was worth not seeing their child for a few weeks or so,” you know what I mean? Like you want it to be that way, so you don’t want to show up, and the person’s watching you work like, “This is why I’m not going to be at the tooth fairy thing?”

SMIGEL: I’m just going to talk about a different kind of fear, which is playing Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. You just don’t want to get the shit kicked out of you. Sometimes you go to these things, like I went to the Donald Trump inauguration, and a couple of people got in my face. And I wasn’t really being particularly harsh, but a biker guy, a couple of people aggressively took Triumph’s cigar and, like, crushed it in front of me, so I was really scared. The next year for Colbert I covered Ted Cruz’s candidacy for Senate, and I was going down to Texas and I just was a little paranoid. But once I got there, people are just people. They’re just gathered for these events and it was pretty cool. And I actually got to meet Ted Cruz and make him look bad.

Sir, I really mean this [applauds]

SMIGEL: Nah, he was a good sport.

No, but I really do think you’re fearless, in terms of putting yourself out there with Triumph. I really do.

SMIGEL: I’m occasionally fearful. Occasionally fearful. [Laughs]

What’s the most nervous you’ve been before the first day of filming something?

SILVER: It’s not even the first, it’s usually the last day. I’m nervous before the last day of the shoot because I fear that something horrible will happen, like an accident that will prevent us from filming, and then we won’t have a movie. So, that’s always a sleepless night.

SCHWARTZMAN: We should just never tell you what the last day is. We’ll tell you afterwards, like, “By the way, that’s a wrap. That’s the last one.”

I have a million other questions, but you need to go do other interviews, so i’m just going to say congratulations on the reaction here at Sundance for the film. Is it for sale?

SILVER: It’s for sale.

Have there been any conversations last night?

SILVER: I have to keep mum.

Special thanks to our 2024 partners at Sundance including presenting partner Film.io and supporting partners Pressed Juicery and DragonFly Coffee Roasters.

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