What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
Michael B. Allen: We were really inspired by films like Slacker, American Graffiti, or Elephant that so realistically capture a specific time and place. We wanted to do that for Austin, twenty-something social culture in 2015.
Will Bakke: This film is a time-capsule, in a sense. We wanted to create something very simple, that rang true with millennials who felt directionless.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
Michael B. Allen: If there’s one emotion we tried to capture it’s that feeling of being alone at a party. You don’t want to be there, but you have to be out of some social obligation. As our main character wanders around in search of that one person he does want to talk to, he keeps getting caught in these pretentious conversations about things like podcasts, environmentalism, or dating apps. We’ve been on both sides of this, often sick of people trying to one-up each other in cool factor, sometimes being the ones trying desperately to impress people.
Will Bakke: I feel like we’ve all been to a party where deep down we think everyone else there is the WORST. You’re either bored, tired, or going through some existential crisis that the last thing you want to hear about is some stranger talking about our ecological footprints. This film is for the people that roll their eyes a lot.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
Michael B. Allen: We actually went into production without a script, believing that the concept would be best served by having the actors improvise. Our film is an unbroken 9 minute shot with a lot of complex blocking, so we figured we were saving the actors from having to remember both nine minutes of dialogue and movements. After the second night of rehearsals, we decided to stay up all night and write a script. We’d learned that asking the actors to think on their feet and improv lines was even more mentally exhausting than just memorizing them. In the end, we were so happy it came together like it did because we got the best of both worlds, having the opportunity to write the original intent of our story while adding in our favorite improvisations that happened in rehearsals. The finished product really does carry the hyper-realistic acting style we’d hoped for.
Will Bakke: We rehearsed the film one night and shot the whole thing the next night. Problem was, as soon as we were camera-ready on the second night, a massive storm came through and flooded half of our set. We spent the next three hours pushing water out with brooms and digging trenches in the backyard to guide the rain water out. By the time we were ready to shoot, we only had about an hour and half until the sun came up. We got the final shot that is used in the film just before 5a.m.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
The obvious comparison is Birdman since it’s a long tracking shot, but we’ve wanted to carry out this challenge for a long time. We love the look of David Fincher films, and it’s become a big part of our style to shoot comedy with a style usually reserved for drama. Many of the shots and production design carry a certain nostalgia similar to a John Hughes film. We love coming of age films and see 20 Somethings as a unique take on the coming of age story.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
We’d planned to do the whole thing with improv. We pitched, casted, and rehearsed it that way, assuming that would allow for most natural performances and better memory of the complex blocking required in the piece. Then, after the first night of shooting, we ditched the improv and stayed up all night writing a script. Even after we changed the whole approach, the actors nailed it, and we think it saved the film.
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
We shot during some of the stormiest nights in the past several years. It was hailing during part of our shoot, and we have long, complex outdoor sequences. At one point, several of the cast and crew were digging trenches in the backyard to sweep excess water into to prevent the set and equipment from being ruined. It was awesome.
What risks does your story take?
For one, we never cut, so there was nothing we could in post to save the story in post if it wasn’t working.
Another risk was that nearly the whole A story happens through subtext. This guy is following the girl around the party to try to talk to her, but he never talks about it. All the dialogue is about podcasts, birthdays, environmentalism, dating apps, and needing to make a beer run, but the story’s really about the guy pursuing a girl. It’s a storytelling approach that only works well in cinema, and I think it works in our film.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
“Write what you know” is an old piece of advice, but it’s worked for us. It’s important to keep in mind that only you know what you know. There’s always something interesting about your perspective, and having the courage to write a script forces you to find it.
We also have learned to operate under a “nothing is precious” mindset. Nothing you write is genius, groundbreaking, or perfect. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s always room for improvement. When you’re willing to scrap everything and rewrite from scratch, the next version will almost always be better. When you embrace this approach, the only thing that makes something “finished” is a deadline, which is the last piece of advice.
Everyone starts something, but few finish. Put some things in place that will force you to finish your project. Just by completing something, you put yourself into a rare class of creatives.