High school senior ADDISON SMITH lives with his single mom, LIBBY, and paternal grandfather COLLIER in a small Santa Barbara bungalow. Still practicing to get his driver's license, Addison has never been one to rush into things – including relationships with girls. Collier, in fact – a bit worried about his grandson's development – pressures him into a friendly bet: which of them will be the first to seduce a lady. Collier picks Addison's potential conquests at the high school, as Addison picks Collier's at the local retirement facility. As the bet plays itself out in this coming-of-age lighthearted drama, Addison's mom, Libby, is herself just starting to date again after the death of her husband several years before. What ensues is three generations of a family, all looking for love – sometimes in the right places, sometimes in the wrong ones, sometimes comically, sometimes poignantly. Along the way, they learn, and teach each other, lessons about love, life, maturity, and what it means to grow into adulthood.
When I first read the script of The Bet my initial thought was that the story needed a light touch. It is a gentle look at a slightly socially awkward, yet chivalrous, boy who is thrown into the fast lane of dating by his grandfather. What I loved about Annie Dahlgren’s script was the interaction between the generations. I also liked the damaged quality of many of the characters; the mother is a bit overwhelmed by her life, the grandfather is a 'player' in his own mind, the son is still grieving the loss of his father. Flawed characters are by far the most interesting, as we all know, and to set them in a sweet coming of age story gave The Bet some depth and added humor to many of the situations. In the casting process we looked for actors who embodied the flaws, first and foremost, and ended up casting against type on occasion. For example, the character of Collier (the grandfather) considers himself a ladies' man, and in the script is described as being very into his own looks. Yet, when we met Tim for the role, he was far more relaxed about his appearance, which made it even funnier that Collier is always chasing the ladies.
I felt that the story needed to be approached in a very naturalistic manner. I held a few workshops with the younger actors where we improvised outside of the script, and spent time with the kids as they grew their characters and relationships. What happens on screen is a natural extension of the friendships that emerged during the shooting process. We were especially lucky with the 3 boys, the characters of Addison, Tyler, and Raul, who became very good friends during the shoot. We were also lucky with the natural chemistry between the characters of Jennifer and Addison.
When shooting any of the more humorous sections of the piece, I opted for a subtle approach, pulling back from over doing the comedy, and allowing the situation to tell the story, rather than driving it home. Likewise for when the drama comes into the story, it felt right to juxtapose it with some silliness.
In the end, what I hoped for with this movie was to allow the actors to shine in a natural, relaxed manner and the story to unfold without too much interference from the camera or me.