The plot of “Best Sellers” sounds like an award-winning novel in itself: A frustrated author (Michael Caine) must reluctantly brave through a book tour to save a boutique publishing house, run by executives played by Aubrey Plaza and Ellen Wong. Put down your book because “Best Sellers” is one of the best films we’ve seen this year.
And, The Knockturnal now knows what the cast is reading in real life! Director Lina Roessler, who made her feature debut with Best Sellers, exclusively detailed how the film came to be, plus shared her favorite picks to read, along with star Ellen Wong.
The Knockturnal: First of all, how did you get connected to the script? How did this film come to life?
Lina Roessler: It’s kind of a fun story. I was part of the Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab where they take emerging filmmakers from around the world. I’d done a few short films, and part of this lab is to make a self-portrait film, and the first day of the lab, you have to present it to these mentors. One of the mentors was Cassian Elwes, this great producer, and he loved the self-portrait film, and after the lab, he sent me an email with the script of Best Sellers attached. He just said, “Tell me what you think.” And the rest is history, as they say.
The Knockturnal: What was the casting process like, and did you always know that you wanted to get Michael Caine and Aubrey Plaza in the leads?
Lina Roessler: Obviously it’s a dream come true. The whole story is a dream come true. To top it off having these brilliant, talented actors on board is just amazing. It still feels unreal, and I’m just so lucky to have them. Casting was working with Michael on a different project and they sent him the script and the plans for the film. Michael loved the story and it was just sort of like an amazing dream come true. The two of them are such a fun and unexpected casting choice, and each brought so much to these characters. It just elevated the film to a different level because of them. I’m really, really proud of their performances, and I think they both really shine in this film.
The Knockturnal: What was the premiere like at Berlinale Film Festival, and what was 2020 lockdown like as a filmmaker?
Lina Roessler: It was definitely challenging. In fact, we shot a couple days in New York and it was really just a couple days before the “bleep hit the fan,” as they say. We were really lucky to have wrapped before the lockdowns, especially with our actors. As far as post-production, it was such a jigsaw puzzle to kind of put together with pieces all over the place—and those pieces included our actors. Aubrey’s in L.A., Michael’s in London, so to do ADR and things like that, it was tough. I still haven’t met our composer in person! So the whole post-production process was challenging, to say the least. But we managed to do it.
Berlinale is another great example: we were invited to premiere there, but in the end, we couldn’t do an in-person screening. It wasn’t this festival experience that you imagine or that you had dreamed for, for your film. But I was in the Czech Republic with Michael and we got to screen Best Sellers there in front of an audience of 1,500 people, and you can’t beat it. There’s really nothing like being in a theater to watch a film.
The Knockturnal: This film is so ingrained in the publishing industry. Do you consider yourself a bibliophile?
Lina Roessler: Absolutely. I grew up reading. We’d go on family vacation and that meant like, reading together. Also at school, we had summer book reading lists, and a lot of kids hated it but I loved it. It’s kind of a nerdy thing, but it’s more than just the books too. It’s a love of story, and also my parents read us bedtime stories together. It’s more about that: telling a story, and getting lost in a different world. It’s a way to understand ourselves and the human condition. It’s just what we do, whether we like it or not. We’re creating a story about the story about the story, even now. This is how we interact as humans. It’s sort of inherent, it’s deep, deep in our blood. It’s what we do, for good or for bad. It’s just part of who we are as humans. Whether or not people love books, they understand story because it’s how we make sense of our world.
Ellen Wong: Of course! At the time when I had read the script, I was like, ‘Oh, I love movies about books,’ because that’s the original thing. Before the Internet got into the world, we were just reading. It brings me back to this nostalgic place in myself, as a kid, just sort of reading and getting lost into these other worlds. I just love that. Currently I’m reading this memoir called Crying in H Mart, about the musician, Japanese Breakfast. Her real name is Michelle Zauner, and it’s about her life. I’ve been really into memoirs and autobiographies lately, so that’s been really big. Another one I really love is Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou. It’s about her relationship with her mother, and what I loved about that was she wrote it after she was 85, and I just think little facts like that are really interesting.
We all have stories but it’s about that journey in our lives that we have to take where we can feel free enough and able to share it. It also pertains to the movie in a way, because you have this character like Harris Shaw who’s just been tinkering away to write and write and write and he’s unable to. It takes this unlikely friendship with Lucy and Rachel to come into his life to realize, ‘Oh, I’m capable of this other thing that I didn’t think that I was able to,’ but it takes time and wisdom and growth and just being open in life.
The Knockturnal: Can you share what’s next for you, beyond Best Sellers?
Lina Roessler: I’m happy to say I’m going to be working with Cassian and his daughter Ariel again and our producers in Montreal, and I’ve got two different features for me to direct that are both wildly different, and also very different from Best Sellers. Just different genres, completely different films. So I’m really excited to kind of stretch my wings, as it were, and to learn even more on the next projects, because I learned so much on Best Sellers. I can’t wait to do more.
“Best Sellers” is now in theaters.