Nice knowing you.
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.
As writer / director 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.”
Related Link: View the Full Production Notes for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World