What inspired you come up with the idea for the film?
I like stories about the misfits of society. The supporting characters in other movies – they’re the ones I want to see a movie about. Romantic comedies are often about the perfect young couple. But the rest of us have romantic lives, too.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I was directing Rusty in a short, and it was so much fun, I said to her, “Let’s do this again, but make a feature.” I had this idea about a lovelorn phone sex operator, and I thought Rusty would be perfect. Rusty is amazing and a highly respected actress, but she’d never been cast as the lead before, much less a romantic one. She said on set, “This is the first time I’ve ever been at the top of the call sheet.” With her talent, it should be the norm not an anomaly.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
The whole contrast of Chicago versus LA – that’s my life. Gabby is a stranger in a strange land, here in LA. I’ve been here 20 years, but I still have those Chicago roots.
Also, Gabby is 49 years old, and her life is a mess. She still doesn’t really feel like a grown-up, which I very much relate to. I think a lot of people my age relate to that. I’m not sure why – maybe everybody just forever secretly feels like their younger self. Or maybe my generation is caught in some sort of arrested development. Or both.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Well… I guess my wife’s role, because she got pregnant! I came up with this role for her, I thought she’d be really funny as this LA personal assistant. I was taking the script around, meeting with producers, and when we got pregnant, I thought, “So much for that. There’s no way we can make an indie feature with a newborn, not at the level that I’m used to.” You just get totally immersed in it. But now we had this tsunami about to hit us, in nine months. And my friend Mike Davis, a fellow director, convinced me: “You’ve just got to do it. You’re a filmmaker. You’ve got to find a way to make it happen.” And I went back and rewrote her character, and that became the springboard for me saying, “I think we can do this.”
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
I spent a while trying to get this movie set up, get just a small budget for it, and I was basically told, Rusty’s not a star. And nobody wants to see a romantic comedy about a middle-aged, normal woman like her. It’s weird, but I cannot think of any romcom starring a woman who looks like Rusty. Not a single one. But I knew this film has an audience, that it’s so relatable. Even if she is a phone sex operator – it’s really about trying to find a connection. And trying to figure out who you are in the process.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Everything at this low budget level sort of feels like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Making a movie like this, the whole thing is a tightrope walk. I had a lot on the line. I wasn’t working and we had a baby right around the corner – but I knew if I was going to make this movie, it was now or never.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
The contrast of Chicago versus LA, which is also Gabby versus Martin and Gabby versus her sister – that’s the big thematic contrast in the film, and it’s reflected in the colors. The Chicago scenes are in the dead of winter, and it’s all cool, and blue. And then she gets to LA, and it’s this land of promise, and the colors are bright and vibrant. But then, as things start to spiral for Gabby in end of the second act, everything drifts towards the opposite end of the spectrum: orange and smoggy, with this bleached look like you’ve been out in the sun too long.
I’m inspired by the films of the early 70’s, which was the golden age for rich character portraits and freewheeling, risk-taking cinema. Which fit our circumstances, because it was all very run-and-gun. There was little chance to plan ahead. My DP Tom and I often joked that we were basically operating on instinct.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
It was all about adapting to the situation. I wrote the first twenty pages or so, and realized that if the first act is going to be set in Chicago, I have to film it in winter time. Chicago was in the throes of the coldest winter in recent memory, they were calling it the “polar vortex.” And I was like, I have to film this! I went home to Chicago and filmed the first act on a shoestring. And the rest of the crew would say, “What happens next?” And I’d say, “Oh, you’ll see…” But I had no idea – I had only written the first twenty pages!
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
Embrace your circumstances.
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