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2016 Sundance Trading Card Series: #7. Tahir Jetter (How To Tell You’re A Douchebag)

Tahir Jetter (How To Tell You're A Douchebag)Eric Lavallee: Name me three of your favorite “2015 discoveries”.
Tahir Jetter: The Internet (band). Dough Doughnuts (a work of art). Ernie Barnes (Painter).

Lavallee: By appearances, it looks like you’ve created a sort of parallel universe… with a full blueprint of your character and his creative writing output (faux Occasionally Dating Black Women blog). Could you discuss your writing process and how you perhaps re-tooled the rom com by delving deeper into your protag’s psyche.
Jetter: I started writing Ray’s blog entries several months before we began shooting. From a narrative perspective, I thought that it would be helpful for both my actor and I to have a way to further understand where Ray is coming from—to provide a kind of douchebag’s CliffNotes, if you will.

I catalogued about 20-30 ideas for blog topics based on other vaguely offensive dating articles that I had read from across the web (and topics discussed on Black Twitter over the years) and decided to release them weekly. At the time, I was feeling fairly cynical about relationships (as I think Ray is at the top of the story) so in considering what to write, I just delved into some of the worst, most dismal thoughts I’ve had about what it’s like to date and live in New York, combined those with ideas from less self-aware blogs that I’d read from other chauvinists and directed those to the Occasionally Dating Black Women blog.

Lavallee: What were some of your reference points in conceptualizing the character of Ray Livingston and the opposite gender dynamics? Did you reference current social norms, outdated film history models, or a mismatch of other ideas? And finally how did this decide the tone of your film?
Jetter: In addition to just filtering my own intermittent, silly thoughts after this failed situationship I’d had, I honestly based all of the film’s gender dynamics (and the corresponding acrimony portrayed) off of exchanges that I’d seen back and forth between people on Twitter, since 2009. Twitter is a unique platform in the sense that (at its most entertaining) it prompts people to engage in virtual debates on an ongoing basis. I’ve seen a plethora of really intelligent people embroil themselves in arguments about modern dating protocol, sexual mores, the lives of celebrities, etc., and so it was from there that I feel like I got a glimpse of what a lot of women hate about men and vice versa.

There are certainly other classic, romantic comedies that our movie pays homage to, but I think that the scope of our story (and the scale of the characters’ feelings for each other) feel more rooted in a Millennial milieu than some of those films.

The tone for this movie came from the fact that I’ve come to feel like dating in New York (and in a lot of big cities) tends to feel like this sad, absurdist comedy. Thinking back on a lot of the relationships I’d engaged in, these past 9 years—the way I’d treated people, and the way that I’d felt jilted when things hadn’t gone my way, I felt like I (and many of my peers) are often trapped in this aimless ballet in which hardly anyone gets together. It feels almost farcical.

Tahir Jetter (How To Tell You're A Douchebag)

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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