On How to Meet Girls From a Distance

Features, FILM, Interviews
How to Meet Girls From a Distance was made for $100,000, from conception to screen in six months. “Pretty much all interaction that Richard and [director] Dean have is a comic moment,” Aroha White, who plays Mel, told ALEXANDER BISLEY, who chatted to leading man (Toby) and co-writer Richard Falkner.

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I liked your leitmotif use of the Eversons’ ‘Creepy’ and inspired ‘Marriage’ (which I’ve had on high rotate). At the Roxy Q & A, you said it was a “revelation” hearing those songs in pre-production. Elaborate on their role?

Totally! The night before the shoot commenced we had a few beers. Just before leaving I was on Facebook, and saw a friend had posted a link to an Eversons song. I was kind of miffed I’d missed them in my colossal trawl of Kiwi bands for potential use. I followed the link, and the first track I heard was ‘Marriage’. The lyrics were just so perfectly suited to the story, with their fanciful romantic whimsy, and the rest of the band acting like the voice of doubt telling the vocalist he was a dick and would never get married because he’s a jerk. It was like being inside Toby’s head! I promptly bought the album from bandcamp and listened to the rest of the tracks. I saw ‘Creepy’, and obviously the title alone is fairly much bang on. When I heard the lyrics, employing exactly the same schtick of the vocalist being off-kilter romantic and the band decrying him a creep in the backing, it was mind-glowingly ideal. We couldn’t have commissioned someone to write a song more ideal for the soundtrack. It became the backing for a ‘research’ montage, which it plays against beautifully. I was also very impressed with The Eversons production, I think they do it all themselves, and it sounds great. There’s that kind of Pixies-esque rhythm section with a kind of Weezer-ish vocal style that is really nice. It’s got a great indie feel that is still melodic and broadly enjoyable enough to use comfortably in a romantic comedy. It was important to find stuff that wasn’t going to be too weird for a wide ranging audience, but also isn’t cheesy at all. The Eversons just basically ticked a whole shitload of boxes. It was slightly tense getting in touch with them to get their permission, as they were one of the only bands that were signed to a label, but they were an absolute pleasure to deal with.

Tell me how you employed Stanislavsky method acting?

Ha! There wasn’t a great deal of time for such things, obviously. But when we were writing it, I was at the bus stop after work, about to go to Dean’s place for a writing sesh, and saw this girl that was wearing exactly the sun dress that I imagined Phoebe wearing in the scene where Toby first sees her. She had the right hair and everything, she was pretty much perfect for it. I thought about asking her if I could get a photo, and then though “Wait… Okay, I could actually try this. Wait, that’s weird. Wait, that’s research…Wait, that’s weird…” I found myself having a total Toby moment! So I couldn’t resist. I took the photo! I actually went through the whole process Toby went through when he first sees Phoebe, just to get a fairly average reference picture for costume. But I think Stanislavsky would probably be proud of me for that! Dodgy eh!

More seriously, how did cast and crew autobiography shape the picture?

Ah, not really at all!

Toby’s relationship with his Mum is key. What did your Mum think?

She was totally stoked! One of the most rewarding things about the whole process has been getting a tangible product in front of my folks to show them that all my arty crap might one day have a place in the financially viable world.

What would you ask Larry David if you met him?

Can I be in your next project?

Any further influences that are germane to mention?

It’s interesting, when we work we don’t really talk in terms of references that much. We all really enjoy surprising the audience, so anything that has good twists and turns is kind of a reference. Strangely we often used Breaking Bad as a reference point, in terms of changing the audiences’ perception of the protagonist. Also Breaking Bad is very good at quietly setting up surprises and then unleashing them on an unsuspecting audience.

It’s good to see our fair city, particularly Mt Vic, on the big screen. (The Wellington Tourism Board should pay for the absence of wind).

[Laughs] Yeah were really lucky with the weather. Of the 17 day shoot, we only had one day that rained when we didn’t want it to, and we ended up moving that shoot inside. It’s the scene at Breaker Bay Hall with Hot Swiss Mistress playing, when Toby first sees Phoebe. That was originally meant to be an outdoor gig, with a kind of dream weaver moment. It was blowing a chilly gale, and at the last minute Ruth and Vanessa made the call that with about 20 extras, it was just going to be a nightmare shooting outside. It was totally the right decision. Art department were prepared for it really well, so they had a busy hour rushing to the new location and making it look like a craft market, and it was back on track. I think the scene is actually better for it. It’s a great example of how well oiled the production machine became that they were able to make such a considerable change at such short notice and it didn’t entirely screw everything up!

It’s important to feed your people well on a shoestring budget production, isn’t it?

It certainly is! If you can’t pay well, you must feed very well. We were lucky to have a guy called Grisham Langston doing catering for us, who is actually a history doctorate, who had just completed his studies. He also makes a bang-up nosh on bugger all! He had fed us wonderfully on a bunch of 48 hours shoots, so he was out go-to guy. And he will be in future too.

Tell me about a comic moment during production?

I remember a fair amount of stress. There was a constant good vibe on set though, but it was always bubbling away under the constant need to get shit done right, first time. The only time there was outright laughter on set was the filming of the climax sequence, which I don’t want to give away, but for some reason the DOP and consequently the entire camera and lighting department, and me as well, started corpsing, or uncontrollably giggling, every take. Ironically this is actually not a particularly desirable moment, as you know the director and 1st AD are watching the monitors swiftly becoming irate with the whole affair, so you try to stomp it out pretty quick. So not really that hilarious, just sleep-deprived.

What overseas film festival would you most like to take the movie to?

I’d love to take it to all sorts of places, but I guess it kind of depends on the reasons behind why. For beer/music/BBQ reasons I’d love to take it to SXSW, which would also be a great festival for it to screen in, but I’d love to see it go to Sundance also. Both fairly lofty goals given our means, so I’ll take what I can get! I’d love to take it anywhere people will enjoy it.

Why general release in Te Awamutu?

People from Te Awamutu have very discerning tastes. That was a bit of a surprise, but a very pleasant one! Distribution is obviously not in our court anymore, but presumably Madman sent screeners around and the local Te Awamutu cinema enjoyed it. It’s fantastic to know that a little kiwi indie film can get support from our smaller centres. For these little indies to do well, it’s vital that New Zealanders get behind them, so I was totally stoked when I saw that Te Awamutu have got behind us. I just hope their local community get behind it too and support their local cinema by going to see it!

‘How to Meet Girls From a Distance’ premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in August. It opens in cinemas nationwide from November 1st. For additional commentary, follow Alexander Bisley on Twitter @alexanderbisley.
Filed under: Features, FILM, Interviews

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.