Part cinematic Lake Tahoe travelogue, part dysfunctional-family drama, the new film “Last Weekend” (available on video on demand) carried other distinctions as well when shooting began in fall 2012.
Tom Dolby, who wrote the film and co-directed (with Tom Williams), is a son of the late San Francisco audio innovator Ray Dolby. Tom Dolby and Williams shot “Weekend” at the Dolby family’s Tahoe vacation house.
Built in 1929, the house has been in the Dolby family since 1979. It made its screen debut before that, appearing as rich girl Elizabeth Taylor’s family retreat in the 1951 melodrama “A Place in the Sun.”
“Weekend’s” fictional homeowners Malcolm and Celia Green (Chris Mulkey and Patricia Clarkson) also are rich, having built a fitness-equipment and gym empire. Trying to live up to that success has put pressure on the Greens’ grown sons (Zachary Booth and Joseph Cross).
Also present is a pressure that cuts across economic lines: that of a mother who wants to see her grown children more. Celia Green believes the vacation home does not get enough use, and plans to sell it. She has yet to tell her sons, whom she has gathered, along with their partners and family friends, for a long Labor Day weekend at the house.
Tom Dolby, a novelist making his feature screenwriting and directing debut with “Weekend,” lives in Los Angeles with his husband, Drew Frist, and their young twin daughters.
Last week, he spoke to The Bee by phone while visiting his hometown of San Francisco.
He gets up to Tahoe often, he said, and the Dolby family has no plans to sell the lake house, which is one of those stunning yet homey Tahoe residences where wood, stone and windows compete for dominance.
You have said you started with your family house and wrote a movie around it. So how autobiographical is “Last Weekend”?
Certainly the setting was, and the general setup of the family was. But then, as I developed the different drafts of the screenplay, the characters really changed, and certainly the things that happen over the course of the weekend are not autobiographical.
The movie presents being born into success as bringing its own pressures. Did you feel those pressures?
I am sure there are (wealthy) families out there who don’t care. (But) certainly, anyone who is self-made cares about what their kids are doing. For me personally, my parents never really put that kind of pressure on us. But it was always understood we had to make our own way and do our own thing.
To what degree are the house and surroundings we see in the movie different from what was in “Place in the Sun”?
It is all still the same, actually. For “A Place in the Sun,” they did the exteriors there. They shot the interiors on a stage. But what is interesting about that, though, is if you look at the interiors, I have a suspicion the production designer probably did see the house. Because the interiors they rebuilt on the stage actually look pretty similar to the house, but bigger.
There is a scene in which Joseph Cross’ character leaves his girlfriend back at the house and takes a ride on a vintage boat with his brother’s actress friend (Jayma Mays, from “Glee”). At one point he cuts the engine and they sit there, alone and surrounded by water. This scene evokes the fateful rowboat scene with Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters in “Sun.” Was that on purpose?
Well, she doesn’t go overboard. (laughs). You know, I never thought of it that way exactly. Casting Jayma was this wonderful bit of serendipity because there is something about Jayma that conjures up a different world. We went to the costume designer, and I said, ‘I love this idea they are on this vintage boat, and what if her bathing suit sort of conjured up Marilyn Monroe or something?’ We intentionally wanted to give it this slightly retro (feel).
In between shooting the film and its release, your father died. Did that affect how you view this project?
It did. He visited the set with my mom, and he definitely understood what was going on (Ray Dolby had battled Alzheimer’s and leukemia before he died in September 2013). He is actually in one of the scenes. In the big party scene.
It certainly was never my intention, but it has become this nice little bit of remembrance for me. The film is an homage to a house and to Tahoe, but it is also sort of an homage to him and the life he created for all of us.