Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman are a pair of filmmakers who combine Voltron-like into the directorial uberunit DPYX. Their first feature film, neo-noir thriller NOBODY CAN COOL, premiered in the UK in February at the female-centric horror festival Jennifer’s Bodies...
STARBURST: Given the limited resources at your disposal, Nobody Can Cool was a fantastic achievement. How complicated a process was it getting the film made?
Marcy Boyle: It’s our first film, so we were starting from scratch. People have said that the difference between having an idea for a film and making one is like the difference between noticing an attractive stranger across a room and seeing that same stranger, asking that person out, developing a relationship, getting married and having your first child together.
Rachel Holzman: There are so many obstacles to overcome from the idea to the completed film. Things can come together very quickly, but then suddenly, something unrelated can put the brakes on the entire project. For example, initially we tried to produce two bigger budget films. We had a big investor lined up, contracts ready, and then the financing fell through because the investor and his business partner decided to separate. It was a long process raising that money and we didn’t want to start over completely. But we had a good relationship with a smaller investor and we asked if he would be interested in investing in a micro budget project. Luckily, he was impressed with our other scripts and he decided to back us on Nobody Can Cool.
The film’s noir-tinged story is incredibly simple yet totally engaging. Where did you take inspiration from in plotting it?
RH: We looked back at old B-movies we loved from people like Edgar Ulmer, Sam Fuller and Ida Lupino who made effective and tense noir thrillers with similar time and money constraints. We were inspired by film noir themes like fate conspiring against characters, doomed relationships, and pitiless violence and sensational crime headlines like: “Botched Home Invasion Ends In Shootout” or “Shootout At Hideout After Burglary”. What usually follows the headline tends to reduce the crime to its aftermath: number of victims, their ages, the criminal’s previous crimes etc. We were interested in portraying (in a stylised way) how the hours might have unfolded. What were the conflicts and anxieties of those involved – both the criminal and victim? No criminal sets out with a plan for failure, so what spoiled a clean getaway?
The prototypical protagonist of many noir movies is a flawed and cynical hero who eventually overcomes the mounting odds against him. However, in Nobody Can Cool the analogous character of David is psychologically the weakest and least interesting person in the film. Was this an intentional spin on audience expectations?
RH: It’s interesting that you mention David, because we see Susan as the protagonist. Susan fits the role of the flawed and cynical hero who begins the film at a point of a critical decision in her life regarding her work, relationship etc, and her experiences during the storyline create a trajectory that solidifies her decisions. Susan is the hero and David is her love interest and a catalyst in the plot, but Susan’s character drives the action.
On that subject, the other characters also seem to deliberately defy archetypes. Gigi is heavily pregnant but utterly malevolent, Len is a bald, tattooed, 6’7” beast of a man and probably the smartest and most level-headed person in the film, and Susan, the closest thing the film has to “the chick,” ends up as the heroine. Do you think it’s important to make an effort to avoid well-worn but popular character arcs?
MB: Yes, like most people we talk to, we are tired of remakes and the standard tropes. In the low-budget arena there is an opportunity to take risks and shoot for something new. For us it’s important to create strong female characters who stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts and upend audience expectations. Crime thrillers like Psycho and Se7en took chances that the studios were uncomfortable with, but turned out to be historic successes (Hitchcock financed Psycho himself after Paramount rejected several budgets, and David Fincher and Brad Pitt insisted on the original screenplay’s ending of Se7en, the infamous head in the box. The studio wanted a safer, tidy detective procedural, ending, but the gamble paid off for everyone). So it is challenging even for established filmmakers to find support for edgy storylines. But don’t you get excited when you see something shocking and new?
What made you choose Nobody Can Cool as the film’s title and was it always called this?
RH: The words are taken from the middle of a sentence by William Burroughs in Naked Lunch: “The Mark Inside was coming up on him and that’s a rumble nobody can cool…” We liked the rhythm of the words together, and people can interpret it any way they want. We do think of Nobody Can Cool as a “rumble” and use a rumbling sound building up to the title card. Rumble as in a fight resulting from a tense situation. Our characters find themselves in conflicts that don’t have any easy solutions.
A shocking action during the film’s climax throws up a question of what acts are morally justifiable. Avoiding spoilers if possible, what prompted you to include something like that?
MB: When we decided to write a thriller, we knew there had to be a lot of conflict and that conflict had to drive towards a difficult decision. Taboos are fascinating, and when taboos meet situational morality (another interest of ours), how can you not have conflict? With the storyline, we challenged ourselves to come up with a scenario that justified a pretty universally taboo act.
Pregnant women in mainstream cinema tend to be represented as innocent, neutered and fragile, and this creates taboos against depicting pregnant women in a wide variety of roles. Being pregnant doesn’t give a woman a personality lobotomy. People have responded so positively to Gigi, our pregnant villain, as one of those “love to hate” characters.
How did you first meet and what made you decide to start making films together?
RH: We met at Barnard College, Columbia University in New York where we both went to school. We went to many films around New York together. We both love double features, don’t mind reading subtitles, and aren’t prejudiced against any genre (well, musicals have to be pretty spectacular like Umbrellas of Cherbourg or Little Shop of Horrors, or we’ll both bolt for the door).
MB: No one was going to hand us a script and say, “Go ahead. Have at it.” So we both wrote screenplays that got good feedback (Rachel’s was an action comedy with a female superhero, and mine was a detective mystery set in the music scene in Jamaica) and we tried to get them produced with the plan to each direct from her own script with the other person producing, but the financing fell through in both cases. We decided to work as a team on a script designed to be produced on a shoestring budget, and that’s how Nobody Can Cool came about.
Why choose to give yourselves a joint moniker rather than keep your own names on a film?
RH: The process is so collaborative for the two of us that a joint moniker best represents our united vision. We chose the word DPYX based on an imagined contraction of “digital pictures” and an ongoing joke we have about the Karen Black movie, The Pyx, which she stars in and also did the soundtrack. In the spirit of many hats we wear and as a salute to Karen Black because she’s fantastic.
Do you both have an equal hand in the creative process or do each of you have specific designated tasks, and how do you deal with creative differences on the way?
RH: Yes, we have an equal hand to the point that we don’t remember who came up with what because whatever idea we start with, we develop together. Filmmaking is so collaborative that the way we work makes it easy to work with other people. We try to focus on finding solutions and working together creates a valuable checks and balances system. I don’t remember creative differences because we don’t dwell on disagreements.
MB: We certainly lobby each other for specific ideas, but if we are polarized about a situation, both arguments go in the trash and we look for what we call “door number three” which is next idea/solution that we can find mutual agreement. It has always been better than either previously presented argument.
There is an unfortunately prevailing belief that women are somehow biologically incapable of directing genre films, or indeed much of anything outside of romantic comedies. What do you think can be done to remedy such attitudes?
MB: Part of the remedy is exactly what you are doing now. You came to our screening, watched the film for yourself and decided it merited coverage in Starburst. Female filmmakers have a difficult time getting their films seen by the media that covers indie genre films because programmers, journalists, bloggers etc often have the same prejudices.
There has to be a recognition of the fact that women do indeed make successful genre movies, and have since the dawn of cinema. Women like Kathryn Bigelow are known for taking the tack that they are part of the “boys club” and if genre movies are deemed “boys club” films, well then a few women have been infiltrating the boys club for a long time. Women’s contribution to genre films has a long history. We’ve cited Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker as a low budget noir influence on our production and it’s a happy coincidence that it also has a female director. Just as there are guys (“Bronies”) who love My Little Pony (and let’s note that most rom-com films are directed by men), there are girls who love guns and gore.
The systematic exclusion of female filmmakers, I believe, is also a contributing factor to the proliferation of remakes. If you keep hiring from the same pool, how do you expect to find something exciting and original? Why not hire people with the same interests but a different point of view?
Jennifer’s Bodies, where Nobody Can Cool had its UK premiere in February, is organised as a part of Women in Horror Month, which showcases female contributions to genre filmmaking. What was the experience like and how important do you think events like these are?
RH: It was our first time in Scotland and we would love to go back! The screening was at the Banshee Labyrinth in Edinburgh. It had the perfect underground atmosphere with an enviable screening room. We said to each other that it was the kind of room you’d build in your house if you hit the lottery. We were so relieved that the audience connected to our movie. It was our first screening outside the US, so you never know when people might throw beer at you, but luckily people were engaged with the characters, our sense of humour translated and the ending of the film surprised the audience in a good way. Whew!
Jennifer Cooper put together a very entertaining festival of films from around the world. The media has been giving attention to the lack of women film directors, but the news can publish all of the studies they want proving the disparity but that doesn’t address the real problems women directors face, which boil down to not getting enough attention for the films they have made, thereby not being on the radar of development executives and producers who could help them advance their careers to bigger budget opportunities.
There are many women making feature films. Too often these films don’t find an audience regardless of their merits. Champions like Jennifer are doing the real heavy lifting in terms of advocacy for female filmmakers by providing a venue for genre films directed by women to be discovered.
Nobody Can Cool became available on DVD in August in the US. Are there any plans for a release on this side of the Atlantic?
MB: We are starting to look at UK distributors now. I hope we will have something announced soon for the UK and the rest of Europe. It will be available for online screening in the US and Canada this summer.
Do you have any plans or ideas for your next feature?
RH: We are really excited to be developing two projects. One is a dark action fantasy based on a novel that is filled with vengeance and supernatural elements. It is a dream project of ours and we have so many ideas to make it an immersive experience for the audience through sound and the visuals.
MB: The other is an irreverent, black humoured thriller inspired by an addiction to stand up comedy around Los Angeles. There are so many ferociously talented comedians around Los Angeles, and they do shows in the craziest places. There’s a free show every Thursday upstairs in a Chinese restaurant, and these comedians are often writers on big television shows or recognizable stand up people who are testing things out. It’s just so inspiring to see them go off duty and off colour...
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