It’s a tricky balance to strike, but somehow two of its executive producers, Magic Mike XXL director Gregory Jacobs and novelist-screenwriter Joe Gangemi made it work. The pair had intended to make a coming-of-age movie until Steven Soderbergh, who’s worked with Jacobs for decades – most recently on the gory medical TV drama The Knick – suggested they make Red Oaks as a TV show; he subsequently signed on as executive producer while the group enlisted fellow producer David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) to direct its pilot. With the team complete, Jacobs and Gangemi were able to tackle the character’s bigger issues, some of which mirrored their own life experiences.
“Greg and I have been swapping stories of our adolescent misadventures for years as we stood around on various films sets,” Gangemi says. “He regaled me with tales of teaching tennis at clubs in and around the New York metro area, while I shared my own misfit tribulations working in restaurant kitchens and video stores in suburban Philadelphia. But Red Oaks is only superficially autobiographical. The simple fact is that my life hasn’t been nearly as interesting or eventful as our protagonist’s.”
“Most coming-of-age stuff tends to be high school,” Jacobs says. “I think a lot of the movies we like, the John Hughes classics and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, were in high school. We just thought it would be more interesting to do something coming of age more college-aged. The big thing for us, thematically, was that everybody’s going through something.”
“Where I did borrow from my own experience was in the emotional subtext of scenes: What it feels like to be 20 and confused about the future,” Gangemi says. “What it’s like to be in a relationship that’s outlasted its sell-by date.”
It’s a sweltering, July day in Pearl River, New York, where the thing everybody’s going through is sweating. The cast of Red Oaks is wrapping up some of their final scenes together an interminably hot office, and Kind is huddled up to a portable air-conditioning unit. “Is this thing on?” he bellows at passing crew members. “Nothing’s coming out of it now.” The central air is out, so the actors have to rely on the makeshift wind machine, which shuts off completely every time the cameras roll. Roberts, and his onscreen buddy, Oliver Cooper – the curly-haired actor who appeared in Californication‘s final season as the mouthy Levon – are sticking close to shadier parts of the set.
“I can’t decide whether or not the Eighties were any good,” Kind quips in his trademark authoritatively stentorian boom, wiping his brow. “I can’t remember.”
The scene at hand is a short but pivotal one. After episode-upon-episode of Kind’s character encouraging Roberts to go into accounting like him, the son has relented and has donned a shirt and tie. Without giving too much of the plot away, the disgraced younger Meyers has resigned himself to his fate, answering phones at his dad’s accounting office, as Kind ad-libs accounting terms in the background at the behest of director Green. When his best friend Wheeler calls, the director focuses the camera on Roberts and tells him just to mouth his words.