Your new movie A Good Couple
- in a few words, what is it about?
in a house in the woods on an anniversary getaway, protagonists Julia (Julie
Ann Earls) and Dan (Alex Mandell) have a blowout fight where Dan storms off
and is gone all night. Suddenly alone, Julia finds herself questioning whether
sheís really in love. Dan returns in the morning ready to make up, and Julia
agrees to take him back. However now he seems eerily perfect, and Julia begins
to notice strange things. Julia attempts to ignore these omens to continue to
enjoy their newly rekindled happiness, but when they go for a walk in the
woods Dan leads her into a cave where she encounters her boyfriendís
doppelganger. From then on, we donít know who is who or what is real, and
are forced to question everything.
What were your sources of inspiration when writing A
Good Couple, and is any of the movie based on personal experience?
I had a few elements - I knew I wanted to work with Julie Ann Earls, the lead
actress. I had directed her in a few ads for the UN, and we were both excited
to collaborate on a short. Narratively, I knew I wanted to make a subjective,
psychological thriller, and I had an idea about a missing person and a double.
As soon as I started writing and found that the missing person was a
boyfriend, and that the double was a perfect version of him, the rest of the
script came relatively quickly.
movie is personal but not based on personal experience. I think the
relationship between perfect and good is something our culture deals with
fairly constantly, and it was something that motivated me to explore it in this
story. Whether itís controlling appearances through a perfect image on
Instagram, perfectly tracking or anticipating traffic through an app, or
judging oneís accomplishments against an imagined alternative perfect
reality, the ideal is constantly nearby. I wanted to explore how this might
apply to a relationship, and especially what would happen if the main
character lost the ability/desire to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
few words about your movie's approach to horror?
particular movie approaches horror from a psychological perspective. Itís
less about jump scares and demons and more about the unsettling existential
experience of the main character. The horror comes from entering into a kind
of Faustian bargain, and then being unable to decide whether or not it was a
mistake that you sold your soul. It was important for me that the movie still
functions as entertainment, so there is plenty of surreality, romance, and
scares in the film as well.
can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at
approach to directing starts with the script and deciding what kind of story I
want to do and what that means for the genre and point of view. With this
story, itís about a woman who doesnít know whether or not her newly
perfect boyfriend can be trusted based on surreal behavior she witnesses.
Given the story and point of view, I approached directing by creating a
subjective mis-en-scene. This basically means that the ďsetting of the
sceneĒ is subjective to the main characterís perspective; from the camera
placement and lens choice, to the wardrobe, production design, sound design,
score, and color. If sheís feeling guarded in a scene, this might mean a
layered wardrobe design, blocking that avoids eye contact, and camera
placement that foregrounds her and puts the other actor at a distance. For the
lens choice, it can mean specific things - for instance, I often used a 32mm
or 40mm and put the camera physically closer to the main character, and then
showed what they were seeing further away on a 50mm or 65mm lens to lock the
audience into the sense of space the main character would be experiencing. I
enjoy this approach. One thing that is unique to cinema is the ability to use
point-of-view shots to put the audience inside the main characterís
perspective. Itís what makes Rear Window one of the most cinematic movies
ever - weíre essentially watching an audience member (Jimmy Stewart) watch a
movie plot that he literally gets mixed up with.
the actors, we rehearsed, and I answered any questions they had. We discussed
tone and experimented with different approaches their characters had toward
obstacles in the scenes. Itís fun to try dialogue with different intentions
Do talk about A
Good Couple's cast, and why exactly these people?
cast Julie Ann Earls because we had worked together on a few commercials for
the UN and were excited to make a short. Julie Ann has incredible range and
can take a handful of notes for a given take and do the next take spot on.
Making an independent film can be challenging and I knew her work ethic,
talent and drive would be unwavering through the process.
I knew Alex Mandell
for a while through mutual friends and always wanted to make something with
him, and this story was finally right. Heís an incredible actor and also an
extremely nice person, and heís got these jet black eyes that can look kind
but also deceptive if you put them in the right scene. Since the film is about
an eerily perfect boyfriend, casting him would be the perfect opportunity to
play against this natural aspect of his personality. Julie Ann and Alex knew
each other as well, and it helped to have that established chemistry between
also have to talk about your location, and what was it like to film there?
And how did you find it even?
location was a rental home that belonged to the descendants of an old Dutch
shipping magnate. It was a few hours north of NYC and there was another house
next door that we used to house the crew, which was full of miniature ships,
paintings of shipping captains, and several ornamental anchors. The other
location was a cave, which was actually a defunct concrete mine in upstate New
York. It has been used as a trout farm, supplier of whiskey water, a mushroom
farm, and, now, a film set.
A few words about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shoot was three days in upstate New York with a crew of friends with whom I
regularly work on corporate and commercial projects. Everyone was completely
focused and brought so much to the shoot. Our DP, Adam Carboni, is from
Alabama, and I have a secret theory that his accent puts Northerners at ease.
His wife Tansy was our production designer, and their dog Fuji came to the
shoot too. My friend Jackie produced and was our on-set AD. After the shoot
each day we would all eat and hang out. It was a good time! The only challenge
we encountered was that the generator we ordered for the cave scene didnít
work, but the cave already had a generator there by chance when we arrived
because they had an event the day before. By the time we got the backup
working, we lost a lot of time and exterior daylight and had to shoot the
scene backwards to shoot around the mouth of the cave, but no one would know
$64-question of course, where can A
Good Couple be seen?
is premiering at Dances With Films Festival September 1st and then will be
playing Rhode Island International Film Festival in October. Follow us on
Instagram @a_good_couple_short for festival updates!
Anything you can tell us
about audience and critical reception of A
reviews so far have been very positive. People are enjoying it on a pure
entertainment level but also talking about the ideas and how it leaves them
feeling. The audience has been responding to this strange and messy desire for
perfection in the main character, and how they relate to that.
Any future projects you'd like to
have a few features that are in development now. The main one is called Influencers, developed with screenwriter Benjamin Reeves, and is a neo-noir
thriller about a conspiracy theorist who murders a hated white-collar criminal
and sex abuser, and then goes viral as he goes on this insane three-day
journey deeper into the conspiracy. The script is being shared with name
actors to attach to the lead role. The script was a quarterfinalist in the
2020 FinalDraft Big Break competition, second round in the Launch Pad Features
competition and was an official selection for the 2020 Northeast Filmmakers
Lab. The other feature Iím developing is called Scarsdale, and is written by
Reeves and is about a hedge fund manager whose Russian nanny slowly inserts
herself into and takes over his familyís life. There are some other smaller
projects, but those are the main ones Iím pursuing at the moment.
What got you into filmmaking in the first place,
and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
parents are both passionate about the arts and my father is an abstract
painter. Looking at it retrospectively, a big part of how we communicated was
through art and music. I fell in love with film and found I had an intuitive
understanding of it, and for previsualization. I did go to college for
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to A
to making A
I made a lot of shorts and a feature. After college, in 2011 I made a short
film called Advice and
a micro-short on Super 8mm called Skyglow,
then directed 28 sketch comedy shorts for a comedy collective called Local
Empire during 2013-2014. We would screen these monthly at a club in the West
Village. After that I wanted to make a more produced film that took place in
its own universe, and made a short comedy called The Refrigerator, which won
the Best New Director at Brooklyn Film Festival. I made a super talky low-key
drama called An
and then directed my first feature in 2015 called Trivia
which played festivals and won Best Feature Film at Omaha FF and is now
available on Amazon Prime. After that I wanted to experiment with
psychological thrillers, so I made a short about sleep paralysis called Shut
which played a lot of festivals and won some awards. I really enjoyed working
in that style, so I wrote A
I also just directed a mini-doc called Color
to Color on
my dadís painting process as an abstract painter. Parallel to this film
work, Iíve directed and DPíd commercials and am part of the team at a
production company called All of Us Films.
Besides narrative movies, you have
also shot a handful of documentary - so how does filming fact compare to
shooting fiction, how does your directorial approach differ (if at all)?
And what do you actually prefer?
really enjoy documentary filmmaking. I had a chance to go to Kuwait to film a
doc on entrepreneurship there, and got to make a film on the renovation of
Stephen Colbertís late show theater. Documentary filmmaking often requires
you to make a scene out of reality, both through what youíre focusing on
with the camera, but also how you manipulate it all in editing later, and
knowing what elements you need to capture in the moment in order to make that
possible later. It has impacted how I direct narrative work because at the end
of the day, you need to create something on set which is worth documenting, and
you need to be ready to be able to cover a scene in very little time if
necessary. I remember the first time I learned that Kubrick would work with
the actors to find and create an interesting scene, and then figure out how to
film it in meaningful way. Thereís a bit of a documentary approach to
setting the scene that way.
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
outside perspective would probably be more valuable, but I try to prepare and
be as clear as possible with what the intentions are behind creative
decisions, and then be as collaborative as possible with the crew and actors
to make that happen.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Werner Fassbinder, Vincent Minnelli, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, Robert
Eggers, Francois Ozon, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Jordan
Peele, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Orson Welles, F.W. Murnau, Fritz
Lang, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Douglas Sirk, Eric Rohmer, Richard Linklater,
Hal Ashby, Powell & Pressburger, Harmony Korine, Quentin Tarantino, Billy
Rosemaryís Baby, Barry Lyndon, The 400 Blows, Us,
Taxi Driver, Chinatown,
The Red Shoes,
The Marriage of Maria Braun, The
Lighthouse, Night of the
Indemnity, Persona, The King of Comedy, The Swimming
Pool, Dog Day Afternoon, Badlands.
... and of course, films you really
donít really deplore anything. I tend to become bored and irritable when
watching films that were developed by committee. You can feel there is no
perspective or heart. I also find it eerie when people refer to films or
stories as ďcontentĒ. Just one of the many specters of late-capitalism.
Your/your movie's website, social media,
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
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Anything else you're dying to mention and
I have merely forgotten to ask?
recorded the score remotely. I was concerned it would be impossible because
music is such an experimental thing sometimes. I worked with an amazing
composer, Jerome Leroy, during quarantine. He would sometimes be in LA at home
(I'm in NYC), and then sometimes he would be in the south of France visiting
relatives, but we did it all remotely. And then he directed the recording with
an orchestra and conductor in Budapest. And it worked!
Thanks for the