Interview: Zac Efron, Max Joseph and Emily Ratajkowski Talk ‘We Are Your Friends’
It’s easy to watch the trailer for “We Are Your Friends” – a movie in which Zac Efron plays a DJ trying to make it in California — and think it exists solely to capitalize on the EDM madness currently dominating the music scene. But director Max Joseph, who’s best known for traveling the country to expose those who pretend to be other people on the internet in the MTV show “Catfish,” had a much bigger end game in mind. Female lead Emily Ratajkowski perhaps said it best when she called “We Are Your Friends” “’Saturday Night Fever’ for this generation.” Because in fact, this movie isn’t just about DJing; it’s about young people on the brink of adulthood trying to navigate the world. More specifically, it’s about this generation’s aspirations.
For Miamians, the film’s portrayal of the young job market is pretty on the nose. Cole’s (Efron) entourage is made up of party promoters trying to get attractive girls into the clubs, while Cole is an up-and-coming DJ looking to make a name for himself. When things look like they’re staying stagnant and the boys go into money-hungry mode, they decide to take on the world of real estate – a career choice that’s become increasingly appealing to those entering the job market today.
“I spent the past couple of years doing ‘Catfish,’ [so I’ve been] going around the country and hanging out with a lot of kids in their 20s and seeing what they’re going through, and [learning] their hopes and dreams and aspirations,” Joseph says.
“And between everyone making so much money [through] social media and the technology boom, and also the crumbling of the formal institutions — whether it’s college or corporate jobs — there seems to be no set path anymore. There’s all this chaos, and the DJs are kind of reigning on top. So when approaching a subject like EDM or electronic music, I didn’t want to just talk about it in a vacuum; I wanted to talk about it against a cultural backdrop, like where it stands in the world today.”
Efron’s character goes through a key transformation over the course of the movie. In the trailer, there’s a line that riled up EDM enthusiasts: “If you’re a DJ, all you need is a laptop, some talent, and one track.”
But what the trailer doesn’t show is how Cole goes from viewing DJing in purely shallow terms to realizing that it’s passion and an upmost commitment to his craft that’ll take him all the way.
“It’s interesting because the term DJ gets used very loosely,” says Efron. “The guys we see performing on stage, the guys that are really crushing it these days – the festival headliners – they’re also producing their own music. And to produce a hit track is really complicated…that’s something that I could not even come close to learning for this film…and it really is art. It’s math, it’s science, it’s an incredibly complicated algorithm these guys have, and they’re brilliant.”
There’s a certain energy to “We Are Your Friends” that makes it a blast to watch – an energy that you can tell Ratajkowski, Efron, and Joseph were feeding off of while making the movie. In a brilliant marketing move, the cast didn’t just come to Miami for the usual press day in an upscale hotel; instead, they threw a party at Downtown Miami’s Grand Central nightclub, with interviews taking place in the upstairs greenroom before the trio greeted the pumped up crowd on stage. And the larger-than-life press tour is just one of the memorable moments they experienced while working on “We Are Your Friends.”
“We always talk about Vegas,” says Ratajkowski, who shot to fame after appearing in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” music video two years ago. “We got to run around with a super small crew…we shot from like 1PM to 4AM, but we had a blast; It was just Max with basically a little camera and a boom, and we just went for it.”
The biggest scene, however, and perhaps the most crucial one to get right, is when Cole performs at a huge festival called Summerfest at the very end of the movie.
“We threw a block party in Los Angeles – we couldn’t afford to actually hire that many extras to show up,” Joseph says. “So we threw a festival and invited people to come for free and we had real headliners, and Zac would get up and perform 20-minute blocks in between the headliners. We had no control over the crowd; we were at their mercy. Thankfully they were very generous with us — they played along and it was great. And I think it really brought out the emotion in Zac too…having a real crowd there, it all of a sudden was a live performance.”
For Efron, that experience was an absolute thrill. “It brought me back to theatre, for sure,” he says. “I had butterflies through the roof…my hands were really shaking; it was insane.“
“We Are Your Friends” is now playing in South Florida theaters.
Lauren Cohen was born and raised in Miami Beach and graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in Motion Pictures. She has been writing about film since 2009, with her movie reviews and features appearing regularly in Examiner.com and Miami Beach News, among others. She’s interviewed some of the most recognizable faces in the film industry, including Daniel Craig, Emma Stone, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Javier Bardem. An avid supporter of the arts, Lauren also works with the Miami Film Festival to promote the best of world cinema to the Miami community.