The truth is, 'Lying' came easily


Without lying where would we be? No politics. No advertising. No Wall Street.

Maybe even no movie business!

How the whole concept of telling lies came to be is the premise of Warner Bros.' comedy "The Invention of Lying." Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson, it stars Gervais and Jennifer Garner. After its fest premiere in Toronto on Monday, it opens Sept. 25.

"Lying," according to Robinson, stems from a weekend in the winter of 2007 when he and his wife were sick and confined to bed watching their "Twilight Zone" DVD box set.

"Because I was so inundated with that I just woke up one morning with these 'Twilight Zone' ideas. One of them that stuck with me was a world where people can't lie."

There was, for instance, an idea about a blind date where two people just can't lie. "I thought how funny that would be," he said, adding that it wound up as the film's opening scene.

Robinson wasn't sure his idea was enough for a movie, but after putting together a few more thoughts on the subject, he sat down and knocked out a script in two weeks.

"It eventually got into the hands of Gervais, who called me and wanted to somehow get involved."

Robinson, who'd done theater and commercials but no features, was delighted: "I went to England and we basically chucked the third act and rewrote it together, but pretty much the rest of the film stayed. The shooting script was about 70% of that first draft I wrote so quickly."

They wound up co-directing "Lying" after worrying during a dinner meeting about how everyone on their directors' lists might ruin the material.

"He was equally worried that he would ruin it and didn't want to direct it himself. I agreed and I was worried about it. My wife, meanwhile, was kicking me under the table and I had no idea why."

Mrs. Robinson (to her husband, afterward): "He was hinting he wanted to do it with you. Why don't you put yourself forward?"

Robinson (to Mrs. R): "Oh, that's insane. He wasn't saying that."

Well, she was right. When Robinson landed in L.A. an e-mail was waiting from Gervais proposing that they co-direct.

To make it work, they agreed to be a committee of two with one simple rule: "One 'no' equals two 'no's' and only two 'yeses' equals a yes."

"It was a nightmare for everybody else involved in the film because they had to walk around with two sets of everything and had to get both directors to sign off on everything," Robinson said.

They wound up agreeing, he told me, on 95% of everything. "We just had the same sensibilities and the same ideas. That's why it worked out so easily."

What didn't work out was DGA approval for them to co-direct. "You have to have a precedent of having worked with each other before," he explained, "and you have to have some sort of proof that you will continue to work together."

That reflects, Robinson added, the guild not wanting to see people start handing out co-directing credits in order to get deals done.

"You'd give your lead actor 'co-director' if you wanted to use it as a leveraging tool," he observed. "Or people would just start throwing it out as rewards. Or people would start demanding it."

Note to the Producers Guild: Just like they do with producer credits.

Bottom line: "Lying" was a non-DGA film. "It means we're not in the guild and we couldn't use DGA first and second AD's."

It didn't hurt them in any way. Media Rights Capital put up the film's $18.5 million budget. Warner Bros. took domestic distribution, and Universal's releasing it internationally.

Shooting was done over 36 days from April through June 2008 outside Boston, where there were great tax incentives and the right look.

Actually, "Lying" came easily even with Gervais having to be on camera for all but one day of filming: "We had been working on his character for over a year together and had rehearsed every scene while we were writing. Directing him was the easiest thing in the world."

It also helped that "the film has the scale of 'My Dinner With Andre.' We don't have any big set pieces. We're a small, thought-driven film of mostly people talking and sitting and laughing and walking."