ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Casey Wilder Mott, the director of the new film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The multi-layered comedy depicts frustrated lovers who have fled into a forest, “mechanicals” or actors who perform for aristocrats, and spirits whose magic potions cast mayhem and confusion over everything. Originally set in ancient Athens, the story has been shifted to contemporary Los Angeles. The movie opens on July 13.

Why did you want to make a film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and set it in present-day Los Angeles?  What themes are the play and film exploring that are relevant for contemporary times?

Casey Wilder Mott: I’ve always been intrigued by the tacit caste system that exists in Hollywood. What’s most striking about this structure is that it has not just a vertical axis (which is defined by fame, money, power), but a horizontal one as well (which is defined by job function, i.e, artist, suit, or somewhere in between). Midsummer Night’s Dream can also be viewed as a class parable, with the nobles occupying one end of the vertical spectrum and the mechanicals the other. But what’s most interesting through this lens of analysis is that Shakespeare throws the fairies in there, which introduces that horizontal element. Shakespeare has been called the first modernist, and he was clearly a committed humanist. I think the observations he made not just about how people relate to one another, but how groups of people relate to one another, are as relevant today as when he made them.

Were you influenced at all by Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which of course featured Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio?  Do you have any thoughts on that film or other modern adaptations of Shakespeare?

Mott: Absolutely I was influenced by Baz’s R+J! It’s one of my all-time favorite films. We made several not-so-subtle homages to it (e.g, the massive red curtain at the top of the film). And yes, I’m a sucker for the entire mini-genre of modern Shakespeare adaptations. Some of my favorites (in addition to R+J) are Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and Julie Taymor’s Titus.

Why do you think that so much of Shakespeare’s work lends itself to being set in the present day?

Mott: Because his themes, characters and situations are timeless. Shakespeare himself was a master of reinvention, and nearly his entire body of work was based on existing material that he updated and made relevant to the audiences of his time. If you’re interested in this, James Shapiro’s books 1599 and The Year Of Lear are excellent sources.

Are there any other directors that you particularly admire?

Mott: I admire all directors! It’s such a hard job, and somewhat unique in that it’s taxing on multiple systems – physical, emotional, creative, psychological, strategic, etc. Among famed auteurs, I most admire the artistry of Kubrick, Malick, Baz, and Altman. But I’m probably more drawn to filmmakers who are a bit more like chameleons, who will try new and different things. Soderberg, Lumet, Danny Boyle, and Iñárritu are all amazing in this regard.

How did you get your start as a film director?  What advice would have to give to those who would also like to pursue careers as film directors?

Mott: I made a lateral move after 12 years on the transactional side of the business. I started in the agent training program at William Morris before working variously in international co-production, acquisitions, script development, and film finance. In some ways I was probably underprepared to take the plunge as a feature director. But in other ways I had a lot of exposure and experience that the film has benefited from.

Is there anything in general that you would like to tell audiences about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Mott: Watch out for the color scheme! The red palette in the woods is the most intense choice we made, but we peppered the film with bright, beautiful color from start to finish. Each color was chosen for its symbolic associations, and the specific colors used on certain scenes and characters can tell you a lot about what’s going on.

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Mott: I’m not sure what’s next, but I think it will be something very different!