Press Play, which is available on digital and On Demand, is film about time travel with a tragic love story at its center. Starring Clara Rugaard (Teen Spirit, I Am Mother) and Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: Maverick), the movie follows their characters Laura and Harrison from their first meet cute to their last parting – and then goes beyond. After losing her boyfriend in an accident, Clara discovers that the mixtape they made contains special properties that send her back in time to be with him again.
Directed by Greg Björkman in his feature film directorial debut, Press Play shares certain similarities with The Fault in Our Starson which he worked as assistant editor. But it also incorporates everything he has learned in his career since, and the talents of his co-writer James Bachelor (Dungeons & Derrick). Together, they crafted unusual yet heartwarming romance that blends science fiction with a love of music and a stellar cast that includes Lyrica Okano (Marvel’s Runaways), Danny Glover, and more.
Screen Rant spoke to Björkman about how Press Play‘s concept was first introduced to him, his creative evolution from post-production work to writing and directing, and why music you can hold is so much more powerful.
Screen Rant: What inspired the concept of Press Play? It has familiar elements, but all of them put together feel pretty unique.
Greg Björkman: The idea was originally given to me by Josh [Boone], and he said, “If you can fix this, you can go make it.” And it took me a very long time to be able to find the emotional firepower and find what the story should be, but meeting James [Bachelor] to help write it was key.
I went through a difficult relationship at one point, and I think that gave me the needed support in order to start the process. Because I, and many people who go through relationships, did not want to let go of it. So, I think that the emotional firepower was there because of that.
You and Josh both worked on The Fault in Our Stars. Two is not enough to say this is a pattern, but I could accuse you of really liking tragic romance 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 film a couple of years ago, About Time, and we definitely learned a lot from that movie. One of the things that we learned was that if the time travel logic does not quite make sense, you can fill it with emotions to make sure that it makes sense emotionally.
I think that James and I were able to do that with this. We tried 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 life, like how losing Harrison sent Laura farther apart from Chloe too. Can you talk about any meditations you can on those themes outside of the sci-fi aspect?
Greg Björkman: Yeah. That friendship she has with Chloe deteriorates a little bit over the course of her trying to fix things. I think that we all do that sometimes, when we neglect those who care about us for things that we want. I’m definitely guilty of that.
And [her grief] does bleed over into other relationships – multiple relationships even, like her friendship with Cooper. She’s no longer as close to Chloe, and she’s damaging friendships and because you push these people away when you’re going through something difficult. I think that everybody does that. If you feel like you’re alone in a situation, you’re going to turn inward. Some of us turn inward; some of us do crazy things. Personally speaking, I turn inward, so that’s where James and I decided to go with it.
Speaking of James, he had a little bit more experience as a writer versus this being your feature film debut. What was that dynamic like?
Greg Björkman: Speaking of The Fault in Our Stars, I met a good friend named Hannah working in post. Flashforward a couple years to 2016, and James came into the picture because Hannah introduced me. I asked her, “Hey, do you know anybody who knows time travel like the back of their hand?” and the first name out of her mouth was James.
We started writing it together, and I had this story structure in mind of what it was supposed to be. James came in, and we developed it over the course of two and a half years, just trying to get it to where it was good enough to go out. It was good to have that perspective, because James is a fantastic first writer. I come from editorial, so you could probably imagine that I’m good at working with pre-existing [material] and editing from there. It was a good dynamic between the two of us.
Given your background in editorial, how does that change your approach as a writer?
Greg Björkman: Being that I got to observe films like The Fault in Our Stars getting made, that’s showing you how a good movie is supposed to be made. I’ve worked on other movies that weren’t quite as good, so it’s good to see how something is supposed to go.
You learn what works in editorial, and you’re not supposed to go into directing or writing thinking how it’s going to work and editorial and how it should go. But we work with the mindset that we have. [Laughs] Having a background in editorial was super helpful.
Are you personally a big fan of Japanese Breakfast, and what goes into the song choices? Because they’re all very meaningful and tell a story within the framework of the film.
Greg Björkman: I could bring up an email for you that has me begging our music supervisor, “Can you please, please, please, please reach out to Japanese Breakfast? I would love to have them in the film.” And they just happen to be available. It was amazing. Michelle’s one of those people that, if I were to get into a bar fight, I would pick her to be on my side. She’s awesome.
But as far as the other music goes, we scripted a lot of the songs in the script, and there were a couple songs that survived all the way from the first day that I met James to the end of post-production. And because a lot of the songs have to be in two different scenes, and those scenes mean different things, it was a challenge picking music. If you think about it in terms of a regular story where there is no time travel, you do not have to worry about length; you do not have to worry about the song being overplayed. But we had to pick music that would work for both the present and the past.
I love the concept of the playlist being on a cassette tape, because it’s already a relic from another time. What speaks to you specifically about music on tape?
Greg Björkman: Well, there’s this thing about holding music in your hands. I grew up playing a bunch of different music and musical instruments my parents forced me to – and I’m very happy that they forced me to. I did not want to at a certain point, and they kept me going. But there is something about being able to hold an album, whether it’s on a cassette form or in vinyl form. You’re literally holding the music, and you can not really do that with streaming.
You’ve got an incredible cast, from Clara and Lewis to Danny Glover and Matt Walsh. How did you get them, and what led in choosing the right people for the roles?
Greg Björkman: When we found Clara, I had just seen I Am Mother, and she was fantastic in that. Then I talked to her on Skype, and there were a thousand sparks going off in her eyes when we were talking about the character. There was this energy, and you could tell that she wanted to be this character like nobody’s business. She knew who Laura was supposed to be.
Likewise, with Lewis, we’d spent three hours chatting about the character and previous relationships that we had. I was like, “I know this guy. I know who he wants Harrison to be, and he knows who Harrison should be.” And Danny brings this kind of warm old soul to the mix, and that’s who Cooper was supposed to be. I grew up watching him in Angels in the Outfield.
It’s interesting to watch the film and television industry become more global. As a Kdrama enthusiast, I’m familiar with CJ Entertainment in Korean television, but I was still surprised to see that they produced this film. What was that collaboration like?
Greg Björkman: They were very supportive. When I pitched the film to them, they immediately jumped on board and wanted to be involved. Some of the key words that I had in the back of my mind that described the movie were mentioned by them in the pitch meeting, and I was like, “I should have said that to them, but I did not.”
It did not hurt that they were halfway to Hawaii, and we were the other half. We picked that location and went with it, but CJ was very kind. I think they trust their filmmakers’ visions, and the process was fantastic. I felt like family.
What is next for you? What do you want to step into next genre-wise, or what specific projects are you working on?
Greg Björkman: I would like to jump into a studio picture of some kind. While I did do a romance time travel movie, I think that it shows a little bit of range for different types of projects that I’m capable of doing. I think it was in my mind when James and I were writing it. I was like, “Alright, I know that a lot of people can get pigeonholed into specific genres,” and I did not want that.
Really, I’m just looking for the right project. I think. The one that speaks to me and says, “This is what we deal with on a human level.” But one that, at the same time, is a fantastic journey and explores a lot of cool stuff.
Press Play Synopsis
Laura and Harrison have the picture-perfect romance built on the foundation of a shared love of music. After a deadly accident, Laura gets the chance to save the love of her life when she discovers that their mixtape can transport her back in time.
Check out our other interviews with Press Play stars Clara Rugaard and Lewis Pullman, as well as our previous interview with Lewis Pullman for Bad Times at El Royale.
More: 9 Romance Movies That Almost Didn’t Provide Viewers With A Happy Ending
Press Play is currently on digital and On Demand.
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