In a world somewhere outside of reality, parents control whom their child loses their virginity to. The time has finally come for two awkward teens, Richard and Debbie, to come together and do the deed. But this night has different plans, as the two share an unexpected connection and come of age on their own terms.
5 questions with I Am Virgin director, Cody Mathieson Packer at the half-way mark.
Thursday, May 25th, 2017
1Hi Cody! Thanks for being a part of our film festival. First, Bathilde Odolant & Dakota Sillyman wrote the script based off a story by David Aaron Tripp. What was it about that script that made you want to direct it? The original story for I Am Virgin was actually more or less American Pie 2.0 and featured all the cliches and pitfalls of hollow, modern romantic comedies. But there was something in there that sparked a creative fire inside me; an opportunity. It was an opportunity to tackle the topic of virginity in a completely fresh and interesting way. I am a big fan of filmmakers such as Todd Solondz, Yorgos Lanthimos and Roy Andersson who completely take ideas and invert them on their heads to originally examine certain functions and quirks of human nature. So I thought an interesting starting point would be to flip the idea of being in control of when and who you lose your virginity with, so that it was out of your control and at the helm of your parents. This allowed me then to explore some fundamental questions surrounding sexuality and identity such as: is there a perfect age to lose your virginity? Is love something that can be cultured and forced upon individuals, or is true affection more pure when it's spontaneous? I threw all these ideas at the writers, along notes about what I disliked about the original story and they riffed off that and created this universe for the film.
2The production design on this film (by Michelle Lynn Fogle) is fantastic. How did you two come up with the look of this film? She is honestly, one of the most talented, hardworking and collaborative designers I've had the pleasure working with. Again, it started with me telling her this "world" I wanted to create and have the film take place in. We knew we were going to have to get very creative and visual with the design, since the whole film takes place in a living room and a bedroom in an attic. She started by literally spending a week straight in the library scanning the most abstract design elements from multiple decades of art she could fine. We started eliminating what we didn't like and settled on a hybrid of gothic Addams family, meets Wes Anderson and Richard Ayoade's Submarine. Then the next conversation was talking in depth about Richards hobbies and interests so we could really over stylize his room to reflect his awkwardness and personality. You wouldn't know it but Richards entire bedroom was built on the Columbia College stage and designed by Michelle herself. The living room scene with the parents was dressed on location (even down to the wallpaper). What can I say, she absolutely killed this film. A lot of the atmosphere and comedy in the film is thanks to her well executed design.
3What was the biggest challenge making this film? If I'm being honest, it was probably the fact it was my first time ever directing a comedy film. That in itself was so exciting, but equally nerve wracking. My shorts in the past are very much rooted in the dark side of humanity and are quite heavy. So, I knew my whole approach needed to be different; from how I casted the film, to how I rehearsed and incorporated a lot of improv into the takes, to how the actual ethos of the set was run. Going into the process, the best piece of advice I got from my professor at the time was this: "Remember that the great comedy directors of this world understand one thing more than anything else. They understand drama. Because at the heart of every good comedy, there is good drama." I remember how much this quote helped me get everything I wanted out of the film; from the awkwardness, the vulnerabilities, the laughs and the relatable human emotions. On top of that it also challenged me to find interesting and unique methods to get real moments and intimacy out of actors. It's so hard to convey authenticity in shorts when you spend so little time with the characters, so a challenge for me was to make every frame and moment on screen count.
4Jerry and I went to Columbia College Chicago as well! What was your experience like there and what are your thoughts on going to film school? I absolutely loved it. I'met so many creatively passionate and talented individuals there, who I not only got to make art with, but that have become lifelong friends with. I think film school is such a great climate to go absolutely nuts. Make stuff you hate, make stuff that makes you uncomfortable, just try as many different things as you can. It is what you make of it; the resources are all there. It's a place where I think you should make as many mistakes as you can, because they will make you a better and more honest artist moving forward. One of the best decisions I made was to never make the same film twice why I was there. I did everything from an awkward sex comedy short, to a film about death row, a Disney short film to a european art house style short. It has really shaped me into a better storyteller and given me invaluable experiences within my craft I am still applying to future projects to this day.
5What's next? 2 things. I'm developing an anthology television show that is about to be pitched to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu. Secondly, last year I wrote a feature film about a woman who becomes a friend for hire at rent-a-friend corporation- it's a weird hybrid of Spike Jonzes 'Her' and Lanthimos' 'The Lobster.' So i'm trying to get that made.
Also watch out on my Vimeo for a few absurdist comedy sketches/vignettes that I'll be releasing soon. They are a lot of fun and a little disturbing.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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