3rd Street Blackout
What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
Nearly everyone on the 3rd Street Blackout team had a Hurricane Sandy story. Both directors, Negin Farsad & Jeremy Redleaf, were in the blackout zone following the hurricane. That bizarre stretch of Manhattan without power or cell towers created a New York fantasia lit by flashlights and sky. Sure it was annoying to take cold showers or miss out on Instagram, but suddenly we had neighbors, people we had never spoken to before, and suddenly everyone checked in, cared, and actually made eye contact. Negin’s 3rd Street neighbors (she actually lives on 3rd Street) seemed to come alive with impromptu acoustic song sessions or offerings of ice cream that was on the melt. Jeremy saw people walking up to the power border so they could get a little juice for their phones or just call their moms. It was a time when people left notes on random buildings, where communication was precious and tangible. Some people still had battery-powered boom boxes, who knew! We wanted to capture the strange and wondrous New York that emerged from an otherwise destructive Hurricane.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
Negin plays a TEDFellow in the film and is one in real life – though in the film she’s a neuroscientist, and in real life she’s more of a dirtbag comedian. She was, in fact, in the midst of romantic shenanigans during the Hurricane, shenanigans which informed part of the story. Jeremy is also no stranger to romantic tomfoolery and actually does have a techy background like his character in the film. Add some flaws and strange habits and voila, you have the main characters Mina & Rudy AKA sideways Negin & Jeremy. There were a few characters based on real neighborhood fixtures. For example, we meet a character called The Chillmaster who is based on the 3rd Street’s own actual Chillmaster, so named by the neighborhood because he pumps sweet jams out his window… and chills. Other characters in the movie are composites of people we see in real life, Janeane Garofalo as the high powered connector or John Hodgman as the batt-shit hackathon judge. These people exist, and they’re just as nuts as they’re portrayed in the film.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
There’s all the small ways in which an independent movie changes during production – you’ll find yourself saying, “let’s pretend like one location is two different locations to save money! No wait, let’s make it three locations! Yeah, great idea!” That stuff happens constantly and it might have a small effect on the look of the film but what we found really shocking was actually seeing the actors play their part. Ed Weeks, for example, plays the “other man” in the story. We had seen him in umpteen episodes of The Mindy Show playing the heart throb/self-involved doctor so we knew that he would be funny. But he brought so much dimension and charm to the part that we ended up wanting to devise ways to use him more and more and more. Seeing an actor knock the pants off a character, that can change any script.
What influenced the visual style of your film?
The East Village of New York City is a colorful, graffiti-ful, mural-laden neighborhood and that influenced how we shot the film and the general color pallet. East Village weirdos have spent decades painting buildings and affixing mosaics everywhere – you’re basically living in art and we wanted the movie to reflect that through production design and more importantly through the animation we use throughout.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during writing and production?
We filmed in a couple of locations where we… weren’t supposed to be filming. Did the fear of shooting in these conditions make us pee our pants? Yes. Was it necessary in order to stay on budget and on time? Also yes. But beyond that, I think the most courageous decision came when we said “so let’s shoot this thing.” Writing a script isn’t courageous but spending all that money on production? That’s either courageous, totally reckless, or completely narcissistic (or all three!).
Were there any risks that you faced during writing/production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
You can get all the permits and locations agreements you want and then all of a sudden, you’re like “can I operate a drone off this rooftop?” Probably not. But you take many small risks like that making any movie and we did it in spades. There were a couple of roof and bridge shots that were… dangerous. We embraced them by saying “You have Obamacare, right?”
What risks does your story take?
The biggest risk our story takes is putting an Iranian-American Muslim female in the lead role. It shouldn’t be so risky in 2015 but it is. How many films with ethnic leads do well? How many ever even get made?
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screen writing or film producing?
If you have a story bursting at the seams – a story that keeps nudging you in your brain – write an outline. Just take the first step. The story might die there. But if it still gives you an itch, if it won’t leave you alone, then take the next step: write a beat sheet off the outline. See how you feel. If the story is like a bunion that keeps aching (bunions ache, right?) then, bust out a scriptwriting software and write the dialogue off the beat sheet. Basically, take it step by step. If the story is important enough to you, you’ll know because it’ll take up space on the inside of your head and drive you nuts till you actually get it out.