Safety Not Guaranteed: Miami Screenwriter Derek Connolly Turned an Internet Meme Into an Indie Film Success Story
Pick up any issue of Backwoods Home Magazine and you'll find a myriad of articles about how to make paper at home and do-it-yourself fruit canning. Yet for all its helpful tips on rural living, the magazine will most likely be remembered for a small classified ad that ran in the fall of 1997. It read:
WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA 93022. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
Few readers noticed the odd, original ad in print. But it did enjoy short-lived meme popularity on the Internet, as wacky and absurd randomness like a classified ad seeking a time-travel buddy is wont to do. The ad appeared online in the mid-'00s, often alongside a picture of a spaced-out-looking dude sporting a mullet.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, Karan Soni, and Mark Duplass. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Written by Derek Connolly. 94 minutes. Rated R.
That's when it caught the attention of screenwriter Derek Connolly, a Miami native living in Los Angeles who turned the ad into the basis of Safety Not Guaranteed, a new film starring Mark Duplass, Jake M. Johnson, and Aubrey Plaza.
The film tells the story of Jeff (Johnson), a writer for a Seattle magazine who comes across an ad from a man seeking a companion for his time travel adventure. Along with interns Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (newcomer Karan Soni), he goes in search of the mysterious man who placed the ad. Enter Kenneth (Duplass), the ad's writer, an odd, quiet type who works as a supermarket clerk and whom Darius befriends for her story. Soon all four embark on a profoundly life-changing journey. (This is the movies, after all.)
"I probably came up with the story within ten seconds of reading the ad," says Connolly, a 1994 graduate of Palmetto Senior High School whose family still calls the 305 home. "But I knew something was missing. A couple of years later, I saw Aubrey Plaza in [the 2009 film] Funny People and the whole thing just came together."
Within a few short weeks, Connolly had a finished draft of his script. He shared his work with Colin Trevorrow, a fellow New York University alum he met while the two interned at Saturday Night Live. Trevorrow embraced the project, and the two set out to make their first feature film. Trevorrow directed, brothers Mark and Jay Duplass came on board as producers, and Mark Duplass himself eventually joined the cast. The cast and crew shot for four weeks in Washington state on a small budget. When Safety Not Guaranteed debuted at Sundance this past January, it earned encouraging reviews.
With his SNL pedigree, Connolly doesn't exactly qualify as a sci-fi writer or even someone particularly drawn to stories of time travel. But as a South Florida native, he grew fond of the eclectic characters in and around Miami, and enjoys using versions of them in his work. In fact, that's part of what attracted him to this story.
"Miami is a weird place where weird people end up, and I'm kind of attracted to that type of people," he explains. "Knowing those kinds of folks growing up led to my fascination with Kenneth. He's based on a lot of the people I knew when I lived in Miami."
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