Love, Antosha is a searingly beautiful look at Anton Yelchin’s life. Director Garret Price uses home videos, personal journals, notes, and writings, as well as interviews with friends and colleagues to celebrate Yelchin’s short but extraordinary career.
I caught up with Price to talk about why this documentary was his most profound experience to date and how having Anton’s parents provide unlimited access helped to craft the story Price tells; a coming of age story about a young genius who made over 60 films in this beautiful Anton Yelchin love letter that is Love, Antosha.
What was your relationship like with Anton before you even started this?
I met Anton through the making of this film. I didn’t know the fortune of knowing Anton when he was living. The way I got involved was when his parents started to explore this idea of possibly finding a filmmaker to tell their son’s story. They initially reached out to a good friend of mine, Drake Doremus who made Like Crazy with him. It was such an important film. He loved Drake as a filmmaker and a friend. Drake convinced them that, even though he was honored to be asked, he said, “You really should bring an objective eye to telling Anton’s story because he’s such an authentic and real person who deserves to be real explored from all angles.” He called me up and said, “I think this is a project you should do. I’ll come on as a producer and you jump in the director’s seat. We’ll both do things we’ve never done before, and in the spirit of Anton, let’s take a risk and make this.”
That’s the genesis of it all.
I didn’t know much about Anton, and I was hesitant about taking it on. I knew about the tragedy and his roles in Drake’s movie and Star Trek, but I wasn’t sure if there was enough to warrant a feature film about him. I went and sat with his parents one afternoon. I feel in love with the story. I fell in love with him as a person. He was so layered and interesting. There was so much there to explore and I was hooked and I was on. That’s where it started. It fell in my lap, and it’s been the most profound thing I’ve ever gone through.
The home movies were so great to see. You brought so much authenticity and humanity to it. There’s so much there that you put in, from his process to his music to his journaling. There’s also his love for cinema and being a cinephile, all these things we learn through the film. Where do you begin?
I met Anton through this. The only way to do this was to do it sequentially. I started from the beginning and worked on it to the end. Every stage of Anton’s life informed the next stage. I really wanted to reflect in this film, as I learned about Anton. There were surprises. I learned who he was, who he worked with and what he was dealing with.
When I met his parents, they had been archiving everything: all his journals and his letters. The very first clip I saw was that scene of him getting drunk and filming himself. I thought, “Oh, this is going to be a coming of age story.” Anton is experiencing all the things that we all experience. I thought I was going to tell it in that order. I thought that it was going to be a coming of age story; a kid growing up in this world. It was so important for me to tell it from his view as much as possible. It’s Anton’s story to tell, it’s not mine. I’m just there to help guide it. That’s why the letters are so important because it was really a window into him to use his diaries, his notes and everything as much as possible. It was a movie about life and not death.
You do feel that. You feel that it’s a celebration of what an amazing person he was.
I loved that you had Nicolas Cage as the narrative voice. I can’t imagine anyone else doing that.
When I was framing the film. I went to his mom and told her the idea. I really wanted someone who could read his words but wasn’t going to be Anton and to read his words with the tenacity and veracity that Anton had. It was really important that this person had an emotional connection to a person. She blurted out, “Nicolas Cage.” It was genius. We reached out to him, and he was on board from the beginning.
I sent him everything I wanted him to read two weeks before I went out. I thought he’d read it, and come in and read off the page. He came into the recording studio, and he had memorized everything. You can hear it in his readings. He said, “We’re doing something really important here.”
I liked the aspect of the animation and the letters too. I thought it was such a great touch.
I never wanted filmmaking to get in the way of Anton’s story. That’s why I love the interviews. We went in with a DP, a light kit and a sound guy. No backdrops and nothing. I think that’s why a lot of the interviews feel so unguarded, authentic and real. They didn’t feel the pressure. I think we got a lot out of that. You get a side of these people you don’t normally get, and you get the impression that Anton left on their lives.
The animation is the most stylistic we get in this film. I wanted to bring some energy to this because he was so voracious in his writing. In every script, he was just like that. He wrote page after page, after page of notes. He worked so hard. He was so prepared for everything. That’s why I think it’s so amazing. Some things didn’t come naturally to him, but he worked so hard to get there. He just loved the process so much.
I loved learning that about him, learning about his love for the craft. I love what we learn about him, but really the best is through those home videos. What was that like as you say to have access to that and not be all over the place to piece your story together when it’s right there in your lap from his parents?
It was so helpful. I’m a film editor by trait. To have access to this treasure trove of stuff, making it less daunting to jump into the director’s chair for the first time. I got to answer to myself and go with my own vision versus working with a director.
I was nervous going in because his parents were involved. I’ve worked on films where estates are involved and it’s a balancing act. Everyone wants to put their loved ones on a pedestal which is totally understandable, but to their credit, they gave me full autonomy to tell their son’s story. They were completely hands off unless I needed them for something.
No matter how hard it was, they knew the importance of certain things to help tell the full story. They helped out a lot during a lot of the interviews. We didn’t have to go through the politics of reaching out; they were able to reach out personally, and that’s how we were able to get so many people involved because it came through them. Having them as partners really lent to this working out.
How do you even filter through all the people you could interview with his career?
[laughs] The Star Trek gang was always going to be a part of it because he spent so much time with them. It’s a coming-of-age story, so I used the movies he did as chapters in his life. The movie wasn’t about what he was in, it was about how the movies formed this incredible human being. I didn’t want it to be a clip show. I wanted to use scenes to carry the narrative.
And, it absolutely did. I loved the genius in the making narrative. Talk about his parents seeing it for the first time.
I was scared but excited. I showed it to them. Irina said, “Anton would love this movie.” Before she said that, she loved it. It meant the world to me. She has a hard time watching it. They’ll be parts of the Q&A, but she’ll leave during certain parts. People have asked at Q&As how they watch it because it must be so difficult, and Anton’s dad answered, “Every time I see it, I get to spend an hour and a half with my son.” You can’t beat that. If no one ever saw this, at least I gave him a last love letter from Anton.