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Interview: Sam Boyd – In A Relationship

Interview: Sam Boyd – In A Relationship

An expansion of his 2015 short film starring Dakota Johnson that went viral due to some fortuitous timing, Sam Boyd‘s In A Relationship (which just had its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival) follows two couples as they navigate the ups and downs of love in their 20s. I sat down with Sam to discuss his balance of humor and melancholy and how he subverted rom-com tropes to capture a more authentic love story.

Sam Boyd

Sam Boyd - In A Relationship

Matt Delman: You seem to have a way with actors. For your short film, you lassoed Dakota Johnson right before she joined 50 Shades of Grey. And then you got Emma Roberts to not only star in your feature, but come on as an Executive Producer very early on. How did you do that as a 27 year-old filmmaker?
Sam Boyd: I went to NYU so I was very lucky to befriend a lot of actors. I tried to pay attention to people coming up who were interesting. Dakota really impressed me in that one scene in The Social Network with Justin Timberlake. I thought she was so sweet and compelling. When I was putting the short together, I had cast Nick Braun, and he had worked with Dakota before, so he took it to her, and we just got really lucky. We brought it to her a month or two before she got 50 Shades, and she said she wanted to do it. And then she got 50 Shades and we were like, “Oh that’s great for her, but obviously she’s not going to do our short anymore.”

Delman: You thought you’d lost her.
Boyd: But then she was amazing and said, “I’ll still do it, you just have to wait.” So of course we waited the 4 months for her to film 50 Shades in Vancouver, and then we shot the short 2 weeks after she got back. Then a year later we premiered the short online on Vogue, because Dakota was on the cover. I’m really proud of her performance in the short. Part of what I try to do with actors is make them feel as comfortable as possible, and make them feel like collaborators as much as possible. A lot of that was bringing her back to this environment where the costume designer and the producer were friends of hers from high school, and she had worked with Nick before. I can only speculate but, after being at the center of this huge studio movie, coming home and hanging out with friends must have been appealing to her. As for Emma, I knew her friend Karah Preiss, she was one of the first to read the script, and she loved it and wanted to show it to Emma. Emma was busy shooting other stuff, but it was on her radar. When I finally had the script ready for the feature it was a no-brainer going back to Emma. Emma and Karah came on as executive producers, to show people that this is a project she really cares about. She then helped us get Patrick Gibson, who plays Matt. She was helpful with the script. I always want the actors to help make the script better. I find that going through it line by line with actors helps vary the voices of the characters and makes it more multi-dimensional.

Delman: Are you more of an Owen or a Matt?
Boyd: I’m a bit of both. When I made the short, I had only been in fling relationships. I had never been in a long-term relationship. And so when I was writing the Matt/Willa stuff, I knew it like the back of my hand. I had fallen too fast and too stupidly for women I didn’t really know. Everything I was writing for Owen and Hallie for the short was guesswork. In the couple of years I was putting the feature together I started dating my girlfriend, who I live with now, and that started informing Owen and Hallie and empowered me to write them with more richness and empathy.

Delman: I enjoyed how you subvert some of the rom-com tropes, such as the Nuva ring being the object left behind that makes Owen sad and realize he misses her, and the final declaration of love being “I hate you.” Were you consciously trying to subvert the rom-com formula?
Boyd: Part of the idea for this movie was, how do I make a romantic comedy where we’re able to hit all the same notes that rom-coms hit, but in weirder, funnier, more specific ways. Like, weirdly sweet because it’s so mundane or strange. I love movies that treat small things as if they’re really big.

Delman: The film looked gorgeous, how do you work with your DP Martim Vian?
Boyd: We have a super collaborative relationship. We’re close friends. We wanted to let there be a little more shadow and texture, a little softness. A movie I really love the look of is Margot at the Wedding, the Noah Baumbauch movie. We were excited with the feature to take what we did with the short and push it further, finding ways to capture things intimately and beautifully. In some of these realistic, low-budget movies, the aesthetic falls to the wayside. It’s easy to let things go in and out of focus. It was important for me to make it still feel like a real movie within the limitations of our budget. We didn’t need a crane shot. We didn’t even have a zoom lens. But we tried to find ways to ratchet up the production value with the limitations we had.

Delman: There are many hilarious moments, but overall the tone is melancholic—which I think is more true to life in your 20s. Do you think these characters will find happiness later in life or are they doomed romantically?
Boyd: By telling a story about two couples, you avoid having to say just one thing about love. Opposite things can exist at once. You can love someone and hate someone, and want to be with them and not want to be with them, and be ready for something and not be ready for something. By that same token, you can be doomed, and also be one minute away from meeting someone who’s right for you. A lot of love stories are about finding the love of your life, but I wanted to tell a story about being with the people who teach you how to be with the person you’re going to be with the rest of your life. Even if these relationships don’t work out, they’re still worth it because we learn how to love people. There’s this idea of every wrong person getting you closer to the right one.

Delman: Beautiful final shot, what was the thinking behind that ending?
Boyd: It’s something I did in the short too. It was one of the first ideas I had when I was writing the short. From the very first 11 page draft, I had this idea to have a movie that was completely linear and forward moving, but then monkey with the timeline once at the end to show for the first time how it all started and how promising it all seemed. Rather than ending with them breaking up, I wanted to take us back to the sweetness with which it started.

New York City based, Matt Delman contributes coverage for and Hammer To Nail for Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, TIFF and many of the New York festivals and film series. He also runs social media ad campaigns for indie films under his 3rd Impression banner. His top 3 theatrical releases of 2018: Cold War, Eighth Grade, & Bisbee ‘17.

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