Greg Björkman on directing the time travel romance ‘Press Play’

Director Greg Björkman. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.
Photo courtesy of The Avenue.

Director Greg Björkman makes his feature film directorial debut with the time traveling romance, Press Play.

Press Play stars an ensemble cast of Clara Rugaard (Teen Spirit), Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale), Lyrica Okano (Marvel’s “Runaways”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”), Christina Chang (“The Good Doctor”) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon franchise). The film was written by Greg Björkman and James Bachelor (Dungeons & Derrick) from a story by Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars).

Synopsis: Laura (Rugaard) and Harrison (Pullman) have the picture-perfect romance built on the foundation of a shared love of music. After a deadly accident, Laura is given the chance to save the love of her life when she discovers that their mixtape can transport her back in time. Featuring a moving soundtrack with songs by Japanese Breakfast, Father John Misty, Dayglow, and more, Press Play reminds you that love can always be replayed.

Check out our interview with Greg!

You are billed as the co-writer for this film with James Bachelor. How did you two get to work together to write the story?

Greg: What’s funny is that if you look at James’s other credits, he comes from the horror genre, which, I guess they are related in a way because you know, you can be a terrorist with emotions in both places. But I met him through a friend who worked on The Fault in Our Stars with me, Hannah Hadar. She and I worked in post. And then two years later, I asked her, ‘hey, do you know anybody who knows time travel movies?’ And the first thing out of her mouth was James Bachelor. James and I went and grabbed dinner, and then the next weekend, we sat down to start writing. And it was a process. Actually James just found an early recording that we have of us like spitballing ideas and talking about other time travel movies, and that was an experience to go back and listen to. It’s so weird to know how far we came with that story. But yeah, so we met and in 2016 started writing, and then, you know, it became what it is now.

(L-R) Director Greg Björkman and Clara Rugaard as Laura in a behind the scenes image of the romance film, PRESS PLAY, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.
The location of the movie was just stunning, where did you film all of this?

Greg: This was in Oahu, Hawaii and we got to film on the North Shore, the West Side, and the Lower East Side. It was such an amazing experience. I don’t think we wrote Hawaii into the script, but I had definitely started using Hawaiian shampoos during the writing process and at a certain point it was like, ‘just make it Hawaii. We have the opportunity to go there, we might as well.’ So we were able to get Hawaii thanks to Jonathan and Paul and CJ because we kind of met halfway across the world, CJ coming from South Korea and us coming from the United States. It was kind of a nice vacation movie in a way.

What inspired the use of mixtapes?

Greg: I grew up with cassettes and CDs, but the thing about creating a mixtape with a CD is you kind of just create the whole thing and then hand it off to whoever you’re giving it to. But with cassettes, you have this ability to just record one song and then pass it to someone else who then has to listen to the songs that you put on it and then maybe add on. It’s kind of almost like a Spotify or an Apple playlist. I think it almost feels more meaningful because you actually get to hold the cassette in your hand and you get to write little notes on the track listing and it makes it more permanent. And today, like with movie making and music making, you know, we have vinyl records, but for film we really don’t have anything to hold in our hand at the end of the day. So I was kind of inspired a little bit to make something that could be held in your hand.

(L-R) Director Greg Björkman and Danny Glover as Cooper in a behind the scenes image of the romance film, PRESS PLAY, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.
How did you decide which songs went on Laura and Harrison’s mixtape? 

Greg: We started with the script. We had to devise a plan to figure out how long each scene was going to be based on the song that we were going to be putting in there and then keep track of that song because it was going to be used in a second part of the movie where it would play again. So James and I did a really beneficial thing to production by trying to write as many songs into the movie as possible. I think we put as many on the mixtape as we could and then in addition to that we did like transitional music as well. So when we were picking songs, we picked stuff that would work emotionally the first time around, and then also the second time around. If you think about it, it’s a little complicated because you know, you have a certain song that makes you feel a certain way in one scene, and then you have to go and you have to use it twice, or in some cases four times. How is that going to play back? Is it going to work for each particular scene that you’re putting it in? So we spent a lot of time and I think maybe every writing session that we had, we’d be listening to music, trying to figure out what songs to use and there were songs that stuck. We found the cover that Father John Misty did of the Flaming Lips and that was like, ‘okay, this has to be here.’ And then we found a song by Robin Kester on Reddit and messaged the person who had posted it and asked if they had the artist’s contact info and sent her a message. She believed in the idea of the film and granted us permission to put it in the script. 

There are certain songs that are in the script that aren’t in the movie, but were replaced by, you know, songs that work just as well. It’s an interesting industry that we live in where we have to work with rules that are about getting the most emotions and feelings and being cost effective at the same time. But I’m very happy with all the songs that we have in there. The soundtrack plays all the way through and I think that was something that James and I really tried to emphasize was, ‘okay, we can put a song on their mixtape, but it also has to be able to fluidly play back back to back to back to back, otherwise like what’s the point? You wouldn’t go from like, I don’t know, Nelly to like Iron and Wine. That would be hard to do for a mixtape.

The use of time travel in this movie felt very unique. 

Greg: Well, I mean, time travel is complicated. I wouldn’t choose to do a time travel movie for my first movie ever again. Luckily, I don’t have to. But I think we were inspired a lot by Back to the Future and the way that that time travel works. The other film that we were very much inspired by is About Time. That’s also a time travel movie, but what they do really well in it is if there are holes in the time travel, they do a really good job of filling them with emotions and making you feel a certain way and you’re blinded to maybe some of the logic that doesn’t quite make sense. So, we knew that if we got the time travel down really well, we would be able to make a really warm and, you know, emotional story that worked well. So, I think that having the audience already know films like Back to the Future’s logic really helps in understanding that these are the rules. These are the rules of this time travel.

(L-R) Lewis Pullman as Harrison and Director Greg Björkman in a behind the scenes image of the romance film, PRESS PLAY, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.
What was it like working with Clara and Lewis? 

Greg: That was such an experience because they are two of the most unique, warm human beings that I think I’ve ever met and they’re goofy and fun. And just meeting them for the first time, I’ve met Clara after seeing I Am Mother and I met Lewis after, actually I didn’t know that he was in Top Gun I don’t think at the time, but I met both of them and in both of the meetings that I had with them, there were like little sparks in their eyes when we were talking about like their characters and it became such a collaboration going back and forth and throwing ideas around. And it felt like these two people knew these two roles really, really well. It was quite an experience because they actually hadn’t met until maybe about 10 days before we started filming and like the chemistry is just there, it just works. But yeah, it was fun just waking up every single morning, it didn’t matter how early it was, but there would always be good music playing in the transpo van. I mean, it was a fun time. I had a great time.

I really liked all of Laura’s paintings, especially the one under the bridge. Did Clara paint those or did someone else?

Greg: Someone else painted that. That was Rachel Ashley. She works at Nickelodeon. She was a really good friend of mine for a number of years and I contacted her and said, ‘hey, there’s nobody else that I would want to do this. Can you do this?’ And so what we did was I was in Hawaii and I would take a photo and I would send it to her and then she would paint it and then send production the painting. That was also a fun collaboration to have as well.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about Press Play?

Greg: I hope that people enjoy it. I’m hoping that there will be more, so stay tuned. I’m hoping to do something for a studio next.

(L-R) Lewis Pullman as Harrison and Clara Rugaard as Laura in the romance film, PRESS PLAY, The Avenue release. Photo courtesy of The Avenue.
PRESS PLAY  is now available in theaters, on demand and digital.