Film & TV

Safety Not Guaranteed: Local Film Writer Derek Connolly Channels Miami's Meme-Ready Weirdness

Pick up any issue of Backwoods Home magazine and you'll find a myriad of articles on 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-2000s, often alongside a picture of a spaced-out-looking dude sporting a mullet.

That's when it first 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) the three go out in search of the mysterious man

who placed the ad. Enter Kenneth (Mark 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 10 seconds of reading the ad,"

says Connolly, a 1994 graduate of Palmetto Senior High whose family

stills call 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 NYU 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; the Duplass Brothers came on board as producers; and Mark

Duplass himself eventually joined the cast. The cast and crew shot for

four weeks in  Washington state, working with a small budget. When

Safety Not Guaranteed debuted at Sundance in January 2012, it earned

encouraging early reviews.

With his SNL pedigree, Connolly doesn't exactly qualify as a sci-fi

writer, or even as someone particularly drawn to stories of time-travel.

But as a South Florida native, he'd grown 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's a weird place where weird people end up, and I'm kind of

attracted to that type of people," he explained. "Knowing those kind of

folks growing up lead 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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Kareem Tabsch