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The Safdies hired real cops for the mall chase scene. The crew filmed during regular business hours while the mall was open to the public, so reactions in the final cut are genuine, from real customers. Some mall customers even tried to stop the cops from chasing the actors.
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After a while, Robert Pattinson's hair started falling out in chunks, due to the many times they bleached it. After dyeing it black first (to make him look more like Benny Safdie who plays his brother), they peroxided it to blonde and had to bleach it back and forth several times until they got all the scenes and the required color. They shot scenes in the bathroom where he actually applies the hair dye in front of the mirror, but the scene didn't make it to the final film because it slowed down the pace of the movie. When shooting wrapped, he shaved it all off, which led to the mugshot photo of him on TV, which was taken a day after filming finished.
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All actors didn't read the script but were given a detailed backstory of their characters and were told to improvise every scene, while Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie had scripts but were still told to react to the others as well as they could.
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During pre-production, to try out if the make-up and clothes looked realistic, Pattinson went to shops around New York and interacted with people on the streets. He also spent much time as himself with people from Queens to get the accent right and hung out with recently released prisoners. He would let some read the script out loud, so he could record it on his phone and listen to it when he went to sleep.
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To achieve authencity and not to draw attention to the shoot, film locations weren't locked down from the public. Nobody recognized Robert Pattinson and not a single cell phone picture was taken from pedestrians during the whole shoot. In case they were asked by pedestrians and residents, the crew was told to answer that they were filming for a untitled social work project. They pushed the start of production on purpose to avoid attention. Pattinson also stayed in-character off screen to avoid being recognized. He could go unrecognized to such a degree, that when they shot the scene towards the end in the security guard's apartment block, local residents asked him in the elevator if he was Bradley Cooper's security guard, having heard a movie was being shot starring actor Bradley Cooper.
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According to Josh Safdie: "There was a element of Rob (Pattinson) that was really kind of exposing, that I wanted to bring to this character. His energy - he's almost on the run all the time. He had like this Vietnam War vet quality, like he had been through something very traumatic. He's constantly trying to avoid kind of being seen all the time, which comes from his level of fame. He was like he had PTSD from that Twilight-stardom experience. I remember very specifically location scouting with Rob, we're at an off-the-beaten-path place and people started taking pictures and I saw it on his face, he went into almost war mode in his mind. If you put duck-tape on a cat they think they're up against a wall, he kind of walks like that. He thinks everybody is watching and he has this on-the-run quality to him. Someone who had been walking through life trying not to be seen, always slinking around."
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Unsatisfied with the look of rental fake movie money, and needing lots of it for a bank robbery scene, the Safdie Brothers tasked their prop department with making their own. According to Josh Safdie, "Part of the production office became a counterfeiting mill. This one guy, he literally didn't say a word to anyone. He just sat there cutting money all day long." At one point Pattinson - who'd regularly went out in character and costume - accidentally used the counterfeit bills to buy a pack of cigarettes.
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The role of Connie Nikas was written specifically for Robert Pattinson who had contacted the Safdie Brothers after he randomly discovered the poster of actress Arielle Holmes covered in pink neon light from their previous movie Heaven Knows What (2014) on the internet. He was so intrigued by the energy of the photograph, that he wrote an email to the brothers without knowing them, saying he was interested in working with them. After they met with Pattinson a few weeks later, liking him and being inspired by his enthusiastic energy, Josh Safdie started to write the script.
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Eric Roberts originally played the part of the Bail Bondsman before the scene was re-shot with an actual Bondsman, Eric Paykert. Paykert has been a bondsman for the last 20 years and owns this office in Queens with his wife, Astrid Corrales. Initially he was asked only for the use of the office space. Eventually the Safdies asked Paykert and his wife to actually play the roles and they reshot the whole scene.
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The scene in the subway was shot during rush hour with real passengers on the 7 train. In order to shoot unnoticed, they directed Pattinson by text messages while the camera and crew was filming in the same wagon.
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Josh Safdie about the feel of time in the film: "We wanted to make a piece of entertainment that has a pulpy feel to it. The movie takes place in only one night. It's a film like a dream, like a nightmare. We wanted to make it clear where each character was at each moment. I'm so petrified of time and being reminded of time. That's why I don't wear a watch. I like to just keep moving forwards because if you're moving forwards you can't stop, and then, once you stop, you get depressed. That's it for me."
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The title 'Good Time' is prison slang. It refers to a reduction in a prisoner's sentence for good behavior. According to the directors, "the backstory is that Connie behaved well in prison, got released on his good time, and this is how he spends it. Buddy Duress's character, Ray, as well. People refer to it in jail as their good time, but when they leave, there are such strict rules and opportunities to get caught up; you're not having a good time when you're on your good time. But it's better than jail, that's the one thing."
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The scene where Connie enters the hospital was shot in an active Emergency Room with real patients.
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Robert Pattinson lived in a basement apartment in Harlem for pre-production and the entirety of the shoot. According to Josh Safdie: "All he did there was eat tuna to drop some weight, keep the shades down all the time and sleep in the outfits Connie wore. I remember going over to his place and it was just like a bombshell had gone off." (laughs) Robert Pattinson: "I didn't let anybody visit me. And I didn't take the trash out or changed the sheets. So the entire place just smelled like rotting fish."
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Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie worked in-character at a car wash in Queens for a camera test and as part of the preparation for their brother relationship. Pattinson would go as Connie to show Nick how to function and be a part of normal society by drying the cars. Nick would get distracted from work and did things like pulling off other people's windscreen wipers. Connie would get frustrated and angry at Nick for not being able to do a normal job. Pattinson got the experience of having a disabled brother and how difficult it is in trying to include Nick in conversations and interactions in daily life.
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Josh Safdie on similarities between Connie and Pattinson: "I think the same person who thinks he can go in and remove his brother from police custody in a hospital is the same person who contacts small independent filmmakers after seeing just a poster from a movie. I mean, that is the same person... there's a mania to him, a manic desire to conquer the world. Rob is constantly overturning rocks to see if he can find a worm to eat. He is genuinely interested in discovering things. He wants to prove himself to himself, and that is the best basis for good work. He always thinks he's not good enough. After every scene, he thinks he can make them even better. It is not for nothing that he takes on completely different roles - he wants to lose himself in the role. He wants to find his place in these very different places - to disappear completely. He said that very often."
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They actually used Holi powder for the dye pack explosion in the car scene. An actual dye pack like there are used in banks wouldn't have brought the required effect.
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Robert Pattinson's performance in this film is reportedly what brought Matt Reeves to consider him in the title role in The Batman (2022).
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The Safdie Brothers (directors) found out about being in competition at the Cannes Film Festival because Robert Pattinson texted them a photograph of an electronic japanese toilet. Pattinson first heard the news from the director of the Festival, but couldn't call the Safdie's because they were in the middle of a meeting, so he sent the picture instead. The Safdies and Pattinson made a bet, that if the film makes it into the competition at Cannes, Pattinson would buy them the toilet. It was installed in the office at the Safdie brother's production company Elara Pictures a few weeks later.
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The film was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2017 and received a six-minute long standing ovation after its premiere.
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Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) on the theme of the soundtrack he created: "We looked at the music in Good Time as another character. There are 50 min of music in this 100 min movie. The conceptual thing I was working on was time and that when time becomes apparent to you, then you're in trouble. If time doesn't become apparent and you're just living your life then you're probably not experiencing any stress but if you're up against the clock or you feel the presence of time on some level then everything changes and I think everything is one step from falling apart and I think that's what this film is about. So I have to think how do I make music that immediately thrusts you into this where time is just pumping right now. The soundtrack was about also activating weird environmental sound design. The best example of that is when Connie uses the hydraulic lift of that Access-A-Ride bus. I loved the hydraulic lift so much, so I figured out what key it was in. My thought was that if the music could somehow be in concert with the key of the hydraulic lift, it's going to be subliminally cool. That kind of sonic language embedded in the film also refers to those New York textures. It makes New York feel like this bioluminescent, science-fiction, sentient being, even though it's real brutalist."
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Josh Safdie got arrested during filming for driving with a suspended license in a shady car. Peter Verby, the actor who plays the psychiatrist in the film, is actually a criminal defense lawyer and represented Josh Safdie after shooting wrapped. He also represented actor Buddy Duress in the past, who got released from prison just weeks before filming started.
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Josh Safdie on why they are drawn to stories about the misfits of society: "Because they're all winners, in my opinion; they're all heroic. Connie is a very heroic person, in that he's not willing to accept his situation. He does a lot of despicable things in the movie, but he is doing it in the name of a dream, a vision, a purpose."
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The story of Ray (played by Buddy Duress) where he jumps out of a moving taxi happened to the actor and ex-con in real life. His prison journals and other anecdotes were used as raw material for the script. Buddy Duress's story about a late night out, a lost wallet and an angry cab driver who refused to be ripped off: "This guy just went ape s**t. He put his foot on the gas like, 'F**k this, I'm taking you to the precinct!' He's speeding, it's the middle of the night, there's no cars around, he's whipping around corners and running red lights. I was on parole at the time and I was out past my curfew. I was like, 'No way, I'm not letting this happen.' I kept waiting for him to slow down but he never did. Finally, I opened the back door and jumped."
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Josh Safdie on the collaboration with Robert Pattinson: "We were in Austin at the South by Southwest premiere of our previous film Heaven Knows What (2014) and I just remember sharing this hotel room with our producer Sebastian Bear-McClard, and I got this super-cryptic kind of weirdly obsessive email from Rob Pattinson out of the blue, basically saying, 'I saw this photo from Heaven Knows What (2014) on the internet', and the way he spoke about stills was very much like Connie: It was such an important thing, it was tied to his purpose and he feels like it's exactly what he wants to do. At first I almost didn't want to reply and was like, 'what are we gonna do with this?' But our producer was like, 'you write back!' And I asked Rob, 'Have you seen the movie?' He's like 'No, I haven't seen anything, all I saw was this photo.' And I was like, that's a little bit insane of him, big movie star reaching out based on the merit of a photograph. But I liked that. I liked the insanity of it. So yeah, when we met up with him in L.A., we had no idea what to expect. He was very confident about trying to find something to make together, because at that point he had seen "Heaven Knows What" and he's like 'I saw the movie and it's exactly what I thought it would be, I love it, whatever you are doing next, I want to be a part of it, I'll do catering on your next movie, if that's what it takes to work with you.' And he can't even cook a hot dog so I was not interested in that talent of his." (laughs)
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Robert Pattinson on Connie's behavior: "There are certain elements of Connie that you, as a person, really object to. In the first scene, when I break Nick out of his therapy session, we shot in an active hospital and there were a lot of mentally handicapped people around, and Josh (the director) was like, 'say to Nick: This is what you think you are?' And I was like, 'I can't say that! That's fucking crazy to say that.' And it's like, no, that's a thing: he refuses to accept that there's anything wrong with his brother, simply because he's his brother. There's definitely a narcissistic streak throughout, and I think that's a typical thing among lifelong criminals as well."
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The directors about working with the motto 'Seek forgiveness, not permission' while filming: "You get police permission to film on one block and we just take the five blocks around it. We can have $20m to make a film, but we're still going to approach it like we have 40 bucks because that's how we're wired to make something and I don't think that will ever change."
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Robert Pattinson found much inspiration for his character Connie in Jon Alpert's documentary One Year in a Life of Crime (1989) which follows three petty criminals in Newark. Filmed by a hidden camera, the three are stealing, using drugs, getting caught and convicted.
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Benny Safdie on the realism of the movie: "We wanted to bring this idea that we didn't have permission to do certain things, even though we had all of the permits. So when he's (Connie) running through the mall, it feels like we just stole that shot. We just wanted to bring that energy to it. Like mixing Rob (Pattinson) with certain people who hadn't acted before because they add a realness to the situation. When we were shooting at the mall, the cop said that we had permission to shut all of it down to film, but we wanted to keep it open for the energy. He just said to make sure not to hit anyone."
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Director (alongside his brother) Benny Safdie plays Connie Nikas's brother Nick. He also served as an editor and sound technician on the film.
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Almost all actors were street-cast and first-timers from NYC except Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Souléymane Sy Savané, and Barkhad Abdi.
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According to Josh Safdie, Robert Pattinson's character Connie was, at least partially, inspired by the late cult leader Charles Manson.
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Pattinson about bank robberies today: "People think that bank robbery has gone away as a crime in a lot of ways. But people do these little bank robberies all the time. I was talking to a guy, a 21-year-old guy who was in prison - well, he'd just been released, but he got put in when he was 21. He had robbed like 70 banks or something. And he did it the exact same way, just robbing them for like five or six grand at a time. Apparently that's a big thing, because every bank has an insurance policy. Most banks don't have an armed guard anymore. If most banks had an armed guard there would be no bank robberies whatsoever, pretty much. But a bank robbery, yeah, a teller will pretty much give you the money, basically. Oh, I guess I shouldn't say that so loud." (laughs)
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According to Pattinson: "He (Connie) believes what he's doing is the right thing, even though he's caused a lot of his brother's problems. And he doesn't even really know his brother. It's about faith, in a way. You see it with people who start cults, where they believe nothing that they do is wrong. So much of the movie is basically just Connie's imprisonment. He has basically lost his mind. He is kind of crazy to begin with, and he's having visions. That's why, when the bank robbery is happening, no one is particularly scared or anything. It's ordained. Everything for Connie is ordained. Me and Josh (Safdie) would joke in the beginning that Connie is sort of a superhero. But his superpower is that he can see about 40 seconds into the future, and that's it. [Laughs] So you are constantly being able to predict things that only are a millisecond in advance."
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Pattinson on Connie manipulating other people: "He has an innate understanding of what people want. He's very good at diverting attention. When we were first developing it, they really wanted to push in the direction of making him a sort of mystic. He doesn't really realize what that is. He's a loner, and the more you live in isolation, the more you develop a unique fantasy life in your head. When you live isolated from others, the imagination gains more and more space and you just lose contact with reality. I think he's running stories rather than lies. When he's in the hospital, he bumps into a cop and tells him he was with his father in a room and that there is a problem with the TV. I was imagining that he's not lying: in his head it happened. The immediacy was the really interesting part to me: he doesn't have to think, it's so instinctive. He is like an actor without realizing it. He also is like a dog running after his own tail. It's always fascinating to see, this animal going faster and faster in such an obsessive way. There's something very personal for me here but I can't really define it... on one side he is immersed in reality but he is constantly in an imaginary world, too. And that's something I share with him."
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Benny Safdie and Robert Pattinson prepared for their roles by working in-character at a car wash in Queens. According to Benny Safdie, "there was a camera test and also a little character history building. You know, for both Rob and I, it was almost like a tamer version of the beginning of the movie. Like, I'm going to take you (Nick) to a car wash, and you're going to work in here and dry the cars. And I'm (Connie) going to give you this experience to show you that you can be like a real part of society, you don't need to be in any social program where they say you should be. So we went and we worked there, and the cars would come out and I would try to dry them, and of course, I would get distracted by something, or a car would run over my foot, and he would get really frustrated, as Connie he can get frustrated and be like, 'Oh my God, why can't you just do something so simple?' And I remember there was like a wax thing that I got really obsessed with because it was this giant tub and you'd press that and the wax would kind of just squirt out all over on the floor and on the cars, and I just kept doing it and he got really annoyed and angry at me and wanted me to stop doing it. But I wouldn't listen to him and he just grabbed me and put me in like this kind of headlock and just screamed at me 'Stop it! Stop it!' But then I seized up and he sensed that. And I was just going to respond as Nick would respond. I'm going to throw Connie into the wall and it's going to get really dangerous and that's the way I wanted to start a relationship with Rob, but he felt that I was going to do that, and he backed off and said, 'I can't do that with Nick, I can't make that step.' And it ends up being in the film, when he grabs Nick and he kinda hugs him and gives him a kiss. That's a risk that Connie's taking and he's really saying 'I'm going to go out on a limb and I'm going to show you that I love you in this sense.'"
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Robert Pattinson on Connie's love for his brother Nick: "If you're in love with someone, they'll either not love you and you'll realize and be heartbroken, or you'll love them and it's all wrapped up and everything's fine. There's also this other kind of love, which I thought was really interesting: You can not know what love is. You can think you're feeling love. He's (Connie) like, 'I love my brother, and therefore I know what's best.' And it doesn't fit. It's a very one-sided kind of love, and he's not even listening to what his brother is saying to him. He's just a narcissist, but a narcissist still loves, too. The love, for him, is as real as any normal person would feel it. But it's also this toxic, delusional kind of love. He does genuinely love his brother, but you really don't want to be loved by someone like that."
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Robert Pattinson on the character's motivations: "I find it so interesting when people look at a movie and they try and immediately define it by something with which they can relate to, where people say, 'Oh, I empathize with it because I understand the character's beliefs and motivation.' I find it more interesting when I don't understand the character's motivation; when a character has contradictions that are impossible to resolve. And it's fun to play as well, because you can pull from anywhere, and it feels more realistic to me."
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Pattinson about shooting unrecognized in New York: "What I really loved about it was the kind of seamlessness where the movie bled into real life. My experience of shooting in New York years ago, it was like this is literally going to be physically impossible because if there's a bunch of crowd and they're all looking at one thing, and then there's a film camera and paparazzi, every single person on the street is going to be looking at that. So I warned them (the directors), 'If we have one person who finds out, we're f-d.' One of the most pleasurable surprises that came out of it was that it was never a problem, the entire time. We were on such unbelievable lock-down, but I know we didn't even get a single cellphone photo the entire shoot. It's kind of crazy, considering. I've never seen a less conspicuous crew. People literally had no idea we were shooting at all, it's just like someone bought a camera at the corner store and was standing on the side of the street."
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Pattinson on Connie's never-resting, twitchy energy: "We started the shoot with the first scene in the social worker's office. I was incredibly nervous, a nut case. So I was in this extreme state, and there were power cuts all the time that where delaying the shooting for this scene. I was boiling, full of adrenaline and I told myself, that's it! I am going to do this during the whole movie! No more thoughts, just 'wowww!' Even for the scene where I am kissing Taliah (Crystal), where I should have been relaxed, simply seated on a couch, I put myself in this frame of mind. And I think I scared her."
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Cinematographer Sean Price Williams about the decision to shoot on 35mm film: "I have an abiding love for film and love watching films shot on film. It's a flexible, versatile recording medium that you can use to create very nostalgic or naturalistic aesthetics. But I also like to electrify the filmed image and colors, especially strong colors, look great on film. Combined with its grain structure, film is made for a stimulating picture that is easier to create on set and more interesting to watch than a digital interpretation. Film sees what is in front of you on set; it's alive. However, I was not interested in contemporary naturalism for the mainstay of this production. After the bank job takes place, I wanted Good Time to become a surreal nightmare and to get as wild and as expressive as I could with the visuals."
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As preparation for the brother relationship, Pattinson and Benny Safdie started writing letters in form of emails to each other in character. Pattinson would write as Connie, four months before he got out of jail, trying to get back in contact with Nick and trying to turn Nick against their grandmother. According to Benny Safdie, "It was just this back and forth relationship over a couple months where he would send me emails and Josh would say 'don't answer and let's see how Rob responds.' And he wouldn't respond and he sent like three or four more emails trying to really get an answer. And all that just helped build our relationship and it helped build the performance with us, too."
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Principal photography took place in February and March 2016 and lasted 35 days/ 16-18 hours a day. Because there were many night shoots, the crew would often sleep during the day and start shooting in late afternoon until the next morning.
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According to Josh Safdie, "I think that from our point-of-view, we weren't interested in investigating the side of Rob (Pattinson) that, as a performer, was more like a quiet type. Because a) he's already done it, and b) I was more interested in kind of the more manic side of him, the side of him that is super paranoid and questions the world and everything. The side of him that sends me conspiracy theories, and et cetera, et cetera." (laughs)
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Josh Safdie and Ronnie Bronstein wrote a complete character biography for Connie, beginning from his birth, up to the first minute of the movie. According to Josh Safdie: "Connie had an uncle who had a car dealership where he worked. And there was this amazing scam that I learned about, where you can scan VIN numbers, the digital codes, and get car keys made. So, Connie would sell someone a car and then in the middle of the night steal the car from their garage. He got away with it for a while, and then the uncle did the math, and was like, 'It was my f***ing degenerate nephew,' who he then had to pull away from the grandmother because he was fighting with his disabled brother (Nick) all the time. When it got to Connie's prison time - there are a lot of people in prison who use the time to reflect, and suddenly they know their purpose. So that became a thing that we talked about to Rob (Pattinson) a lot about, and that informed his character's psychosis, that he was obsessed with this idea of freedom, complete and utter freedom with his brother, who he once maybe didn't treat so well. You know, he doesn't even really know his brother. He loves him, but they don't really know each other. So we had this insane backstory for Rob's character, and it was immensely helpful just to know who that guy was with all these little details of his life. And it was also very helpful for us to write the dialogue, because we knew exactly what Connie would say in every situation, because we knew him so well already."
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In the mall-chase scene, real police officers were hired to act in the movie to achieve authenticity. They didn't shut down the mall but filmed when the daily business was going on, so they had real reactions from real mall visitors. A few customers even attempted to block the in-pursuit police from chasing Pattinson. According to the directors: "We didn't tell anyone we were running through the mall. We had permission to shoot there, but we didn't make an announcement to everybody in the supermarket area, 'Hey, we're going to be running through, we're making a movie.' We just ran through with the idea of, 'Don't hit anybody.' So everybody that was in the mall just saw two guys run in getting chased by the police. We did it like four or five times, and when we did it again, it was a new group of people, and they saw the same thing. But they left with something: this theater of what they saw. They'd be like, 'It was the craziest thing, I was checking out, and there was a police chase in the middle of this mall!' Part of it is that we want to give stories to people that have nothing to do with the movie."
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As preparation for the brother relationship between Connie and Nick, Robert Pattinson and Benny Safdie hung out with people that Connie might be friends with in real life and went to different places in-character, including a car repair's in Yonkers, a Dunkin' Donuts shop and a car wash where they worked for a day. Pattinson got the experience of having a disabled brother and how difficult it is in trying to include Nick in conversations and interactions in daily life.
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Josh Safdie about Pattinson disappearing into the city: "I wouldn't even call it a performance, if you were to show the film to someone who has no idea who Robert Pattinson is, they would just assume that we found this guy. Personally for him he wanted to disappear. When he was fully in character, in costume, in make-up and when he knew his voice, he would just take a walk around the neighborhood, simply because normally he can't do that. He would walk into a pharmacy and buy a Coca Cola and no-one would say anything to him or look at him, or take a picture of him, and that's how he knew he had the character down and if it was working."
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As part of the film, they needed proper mug shots for Connie to show on the screen when he's watching TV with Crystal. Josh Safdie wasn't satisfied with the mug shots of characters in other movies because they all missed the bureaucratic touch and were too well done. So they enlisted a photographer to mimic the type of photography done by an NYPD officer late at night in a precinct. Then he transferred and degraded the image to make it look more realistic.
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Josh Safdie about writing the amusement park scene and showing the racial issues: "As writers, we were thinking how can he get out of this scenario, this is a very tough scenario. And then, when we realized how he can get out, we're like, 'oh my God, society is so f****d up that this could work.' I think that is the microcosm of the movie's macrocosm, which is that white people can get away with a lot more than black people. And people of color are often the victims of white manipulation. I showed that scene to friends and they were like, 'Whoa, it's crazy that the cops arrested the people of color.' And I'm like, 'Isn't it?'"
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Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) about recording the song for the final scene: "There was this Lewis song 'Like To See You Again' that I thought might work for the end, but I was too involved tracking him down. My manager said something like, 'think big,' and I said, 'Iggy Pop.' I went back to the studio and wrote this weird ballad and a top line to it, because obviously I do not sing in a baritone. I heard this tune in my head, so I sampled some Tuvan throat-singing, just to give him some general reference to what I was thinking. But I just wanted him to do whatever he wanted to do. Iggy's like a poet laureate to me. So when we talked to him, he couldn't be sweeter and we were just all really in awe. Anyway, Iggy was like, 'Hey, I watched the movie. What I get from it is that essentially, paraphrasing, but everybody's f***ed. Nobody gets out.' So then he said 'I'm gonna try a few things. I'm gonna try some spoken word stuff', and I look at Josh (Safdie) and we were like, 'What are we gonna do?' 'Of course, he can do whatever he wants'. And honestly the hardest part was... the piece is so stripped down. It's so careful in what it does at any moment and in how little it does. There was a lot of pressure with the story I told and the composite edits of his improvisation takes on the top line. That was what made me nervous. I was scared that with a piece like that that if it wasn't all the way through, one shot written that it would suffer by feeling like a Frankenstein scenario. However, everything he said and everything he sung was so interchangeable with the music in some way that it became perfect, it's like the voice of god speaking to you. But when Iggy had done his part, there was still one important question left, 'do we want to end it on the 'pure' or the 'damned'? What are we actually trying to say at the end of this? We were like, 'f**k it! Let's just end it on the 'damned'. He invented punk after all!"
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According to Sean Price Williams, "the premise of Good Time is simple - two character, one who is mentally-handicapped, the other mentally-unacceptable, and their inability to make a life for themselves with nothing and no-one to help. But the production was far from that. It's a pretty crazy movie, and we made it in our normal gonzo-style - no marks for the actors, dark and difficult exposures, always chasing the action around. Essentially, we make production as hard as possible. And the immediacy of this punk style of filmmaking translates into an unmistakable on-screen energy."
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Josh Safdie about street-casting first-time actors: "We've always been interested in the quote unquote 'sudden star', like the idea of someone who's a star that you might not have seen before. That they basically have this gravitational pull and they are just emitting their own magnetism. The film that we made prior to Good Time, was almost perversely interested in that. We were casting people playing parts where they were recreating scenes from their real life that happened, sometimes, a few weeks ago. So it's like this weird psychodrama happening there. With Good Time, we wanted to do like a genre film, like a thrilling piece of pulp, but we wanted to pepper in this idea of, this movie, of it's like a thriller, but it's actually thrilling because you don't know where the movie ends and real life begins. Taking that alchemy, the chemistry of taking someone who has no baggage, who's basically playing a version of themselves, opposite someone you know is not playing a version of themselves, is creating a really cool, kind of almost dangerous element where the stakes are higher. It's like, if Rob (Pattinson) messes up as an actor, the failure is actually tenfold because it looks so bad opposite someone who's just being real. It raises the stakes."
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Benny Safdie's character, Nick Nikas was created a view years prior in a script written for a different movie, but that never happened. According to Benny Safdie: "We were looking at people who had developmental disabilities to maybe play the part of Nick. But that was kind of problematic for us, because in order to get them to do things and say things in the movie, we'd have to push them, manipulate the situation. It felt wrong, morally, to do that. So, we did a bunch of work to try to create this guy, and I realized I could do this voice... It became this person, but that movie never ended up happening. He was just there, inside me, nascent in my brain. I went through changes in life, he went through changes in life... whatever happened with me, I would tack onto this guy. When we started to work on Good Time, it was like, 'Ok, now I really have to think about what happened with him.' We went into the backstory of the characters, what happened to Nick. He had aged eight years from the film we didn't make - and there's a bunch of footage and rehearsals from that, that were really intense. But over those eight years, he became stronger and bigger, and he became more aggressive because he got whatever he wanted. He was able to take whatever he wanted from his grandmother, he was able to not go and do the things that he didn't want to do, so he hardened and became a much more fearsome guy. I was thinking, with his physical abilities and the developmental disability he has, plus the fact that he wants to do things he want to do and now he can actually take them for himself, mix those together - that became Nick. We did a screen test with the social worker (Peter Verby), and we sent it to the producers and there were like 'Wow, where did you find this guy?' So, then we decided that I would play him."
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Benny Safdie about filming unrecognized in the NY subway: "We wanted Rob to disappear in the city. I think the biggest triumph for us was that when he's on the subway and nobody even acknowledges. Rush hour. We shot rush hour, where there's a train packed with people. We directed him by text messages and I'm telling Rob, 'closer, closer, closer.' He's like, 'my dick's going to enter this guy's face.' But the closest we got him being recognized was as he got off the train and I heard from his LAV mic, trailing away, 'Was that Robert Pattinson? No, it couldn't be.' I was like, 'Yeah, right.'"
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Josh Safdie about the origins of the film: "The movie wouldn't have existed if Rob (Pattinson) didn't reach out to us; that's the first off. But the origins of the movie were definitely born in this kinda a confluence of "Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer, "In the Belly of the Beast" by Jack Abbott, and then, at the same time, downloading every episode of the show Cops (1989). And of course, Buddy Duress's (who plays Ray) prison journals. When we finished our previous film, he got locked up. So he was in prison, and he did a state bullet, which is basically a year. While he was locked up, I spent so much time with him on the phone and visiting him. I brought him Stanislavski's "An Actor Prepares" while he was at Rikers Island. I brought him a couple of other books that he had never read before, and he was devouring them. We would talk for hours and hours until, basically, his commissary account would go empty. Then I asked him to start writing about it. When he started writing about these things is when the seeds of this project kind of came about. It's seeing society in such a naked form, which is in prison. And watching him try to assimilate back into society after he got released. Seeing the mentality of someone on the run, the prison ethos in general. All these things together, combined kind of created this world."
Josh Safdie about the significance of the film's name: "I learned the term from Buddy Duress. When we finished our previous film, he got locked up. So he was in prison, and he did a state bullet, which is basically a year. And he was like, 'if I behave well - and I'm behaving well - if I don't get in trouble, I'll be able to get out on my good time.' I was just like, 'whoa, I've never heard about this expression before.' Basically, when most people get released on their good time, they're out but on parole for the remainder of their sentence. You're still basically serving your time, but you're serving it in the world. People get release on their good time, then they violate and have to serve the remainders without any if's, and's or but's."
Josh Safdie on deleted scenes: "One of the deleted scenes from the film was a small one. A solemn moment where Connie dyes his hair in Crystals' bathroom. It dragged the film down... so it was cut. But there was something great going on with it. This grown man trying to bleach his hair in an attempt to blend in. In the scene, Crystal knocks on the door and he pauses. That was the reason we ditched it. We didn't like their first interaction to be awkward in that way."
Josh Safdie about the cinematographer Sean Price Williams: "He really is one of the greatest operators out there. He is a performer. And 35 millimeter was this gift to him because he had never done that before and he always wanted to. There was probably one shot in every scene that meant a lot to him. On day one, I was leaning on him for the emotional kickoff into the film. And it was the scene in the elevator, between Benny (Safdie) and Rob (Pattinson), right in the beginning of the film. I said, 'Let's do another take. Sean, do whatever you want.' And he just got within inches of them, it was so intimate. And I was watching the monitor and I knew what the movie was. And I was depending on Sean to show that to me emotionally."
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As part of the character development, the make-up went through different stages to get the required look of Pattinson. They tested fake prostate noses and Robert interacted with people from the street to see if it looked realistic. As a final result, they created fake pockmarks to get the greasy skin. An inspiration for this was Tommy Lee Jones who portrayed Gary Gilmore.
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The three dogs' real names who where sleeping on the bed in Corey's room are Toast, Muppet and Underpants. The name of the dog in the security guard's apartment at the film's end is Mufasa.
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According to Benny Safdie: "The racial politics were a response to Rob's (Pattinson) character. In a way, being exposed to that knowledge he sees how he can take advantage of society to his benefit. This includes when he drugs a security guard and steals his uniform to avoid being arrested by the police. Connie knows the police won't question it. This is massively problematic as a reflection of society."
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Josh Safdie about visiting jail for preparation: "When we were developing the look of Connie, we brought Rob (Pattinson) to an active jail. I had become friends with the warden, this woman Raylene, who is actually in the movie as the voice of the operator at Elmhurst. And I befriended through this interesting character who I knew, the commissioner of jails. So we had this unfettered access and when we brought Rob there, he didn't say a word because his accent wasn't down yet, but he'd be able to walk around and see what a real jail looks and feels like and what it's like to be going through the system. We had like notepads and stuff and everybody kind of thought we were from the city and asked for their lawyers. Rob went in an oversized hoodie, so nobody could recognize him and he looked a bit like a teenager. I think someone actually asked if he was there for Scared Straight." (laughs)
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Locations for the film were Queens, Brooklyn, Adventureland Amusement Park on Long Island, New World Mall in Flushing, Tivoli Towers in Crown Heights, Popular Community Bank in Elmhurst, American Liberty Bail Bonds in Kew Gardens, Elmhurst Hospital and White Castle in Jackson Heights.
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Films that inspired Good Time: 48 Hrs. (1982), Miami Blues (1990), Cops (1989), Short Eyes (1977), Law & Order (1990), One Year in a Life of Crime (1989), Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island (1994), Heat (1995), Thief (1981), Scarecrow (1973), Jackie Brown (1997), After Hours (1985), Jackson County Jail (1976), The Running Man (1987).
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Josh Safdie about the photograph of the film Heaven Knows What (2014) that made Robert Pattinson contact them: "He thought that the energy of the still was incredible and it's just a photo of the protagonist, Arielle Holmes looking off screen, covered in pink neon light. He wrote an email that was extremely confident, because he can be and said that it somehow, in one still, it was able to capture a nuance and an energy that he had never seen in one image before. She was just so uniquely beautiful and he saw what we initially saw in her, too. I think that he just saw this confluence of casting, energy, cinematography and lighting in one image, and he was just like, 'I want to be part of whatever that is. Whatever I'm feeling in this image, I want to be a part of it.'"
Josh Safdie about the development of the script: "In order to write the genre elements of this thrilling narrative stuff, because this was by far the most plotty narrative movie that we've ever done, and we were excited about that, but we really needed to know who Connie was. So I wrote a very extensive character background that started when his character was born and ended when he enters the movie, basically. And Rob would question these landmarks in his life in a very particular way that would force me to go even deeper into that digression, and then weirdly, it'd become really helpful when we'd get to the fork in the road of the movie and we'd need to know exactly what this guy would do or say because we'd developed exactly who he was. Rob was very involved within the development aspect. When he was shooting Lost City of Z, we'd talk a lot, and I would send him script pages occasionally and then i sent him a first draft, and then I was like 'hold on, I'm going to send you a new draft', and basically change the entire movie, and then I'd send him another draft three weeks later. So he was involved way more than he is in other stuff because most of the time actors get the finished script in front of their noses."
Josh Safdie: "It's always important to us that we love our characters. They are heroes, always. They refuse to accept the status quo of life and try their best to make their mark. With Rob, we found an extremely charming and likable man - but also an incredible paradox. He could create this electric fuse of an outsider who also desperately wants to connect. When you're writing for someone, you must bring a piece of him to the character. I think Rob's true essence captures a sense of yearning and vulnerability in Connie that I find incredible endearing."
Eric Roberts originally played the part of the Bail Bondsman before the scene was re-shot with an actual Bondsman, Eric Paykert.
Benny Safdie about his character's (Nick) disabilities: "He's hard of hearing, he has deep emotional and social anxiety and he has definite certain IQ deficiencies, LD. So you kind of add that all together, and you get this guy who is uncomfortable a lot, because he's comfortable only within what he wants. And now you have this guy, Connie, telling him, 'You can do whatever you want, when you want,' and that is beautiful. That's Nick's paradise. But then it quickly becomes his nightmare, because he doesn't know certain limitations to that." And according to Josh Safdie, "Weirdly, we never had a clinical categorization, because Nick has never been clinically categorized. The first scene is him talking to a doctor trying to determine that. You could argue that he's someone on the spectrum. You can argue that because he doesn't have the social awareness that he doesn't understand... Like that scene in the bank, in the middle of the bank robbery, that Connie turns to Nick and says, 'What are you thinking about?' And Nick says, 'Nothing'. The fact that Nick says nothing in that moment is so heroic to Connie, because anyone in their right mind, in the middle of robbing a bank, would be feeling everything but nothing. In that regards, he's disassociated from society in a way. There's a lot of learning disabilities involved, he's very low IQ, and I think that had he gone through the system, probably he would be diagnosed with autism, but I don't think that he's an autistic guy. It's more nuanced and tricky than that."
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Benny Safdie on the film's perspective on race: "What I think is most interesting about the film is that it does answer the questions it poses in a way that a film normally wouldn't do. People are realizing this while watching it. Like, 'Oh, it's bad that he did that!' And it is. The film is saying that it's bad. I like that the movie is doing that, because if it didn't I don't think it would make sense. I do believe that Good Time has a perspective on race - like, race on acid. You're seeing race with this weird hyper-clarity. When cops come in to the amusement park, you want to be like, 'Why aren't they questioning him?' The fact that they don't plays with the systemic racism of society."
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Books that inspired Good Time: "Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer and "In the Belly of the Beast" by Jack Abbott.
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While filming, nobody recognized Robert Pattinson and not a single cell phone picture was taken from pedestrians during the whole shot. To keep the shot a secret, the whole crew was told to answer that they where filming for a untitled social work project, in case they were asked by pedestrians and residents. They also pushed the start of production on purpose to avoid any attention. Pattinson stayed in-character as many of his co-stars were playing versions of themselves on screen. That meant heading straight home right after filming and crashing corner delis in-character to avoid being recognized.
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According to Benny Safdie, "he (Pattinson) wanted to kind of disappear into our world, and he's like, 'You guys can take me there.' And we're like 'Okay, but don't tease us, cause we'll go, and we'll take you at your word for it, and we're like times a thousand'. And he did it. You can see the dedication that he brought. But we could sense that he wasn't kidding from the beginning. Because a lot of people say, 'Oh yeah, I'll do this, I'll do that', but he meant it. And we could tell that he meant it. I think he really wanted to disappear into this character and we could see that this level of commitment wasn't just a verbal one. We could see that he really just wanted to go for it. And when he left, we're like, 'I think we can do something interesting', because he has like a mania and an energy that not a lot of people see and we wanted to tap into that. And there was an element of that, that we really wanted to bring to the character."
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The directors on white-privilege themes: "Crystal (Taliah Webster) has a line when Connie knocks at her door... her grandma says, 'Who is it?' And she says, 'I don't know, some white guy.' White people coming to this woman's home like it's their right. The grandmother is one of the sweetest people in the whole movie. In terms of class, the Jennifer Jason Leigh's character's inclusion is very important because it shows that mental illness knows no economic boundaries. Just because you have enough money isn't a guarantee that you won't have mental illness in your family. She's just as much in prison as Nick is. The prison ethos is dictating what's happening in the movie more so than anything else. With prison culture - both penal society and people moving out to the suburbs and locking their doors out of fear of some imaginary Charles Manson type or due to anti-crime propaganda - everyone is so isolated, they're in their own prisons. Connie is just barging around, across the boundaries, into a rich white person's home, into a Haitian family's home, into an African immigrant's apartment, etc. Connie has a key to every cell in the prison because he's so brazen and cynical."
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The "opening sequence" takes over 17 minutes before the opening credits, very close to the amount of time it takes in Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind.
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Features two cast members of Oz (1997-2003) Robert Clohessy as Officer Sean Murphy and muMs da Schemer as Arnold 'Poet' Jackson.
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At the end of the film (1hr, 34) the camera slowly pans away from Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie's character), and a sign saying 'Director' can be seen to the right of him. This is an easter egg pointing to Benny's joint directing credit.
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