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Almost 5 years ago Mike Covino (producer/cowriter) sent me an instant message with a few lines of dialog. It was a scene between two friends talking about girls they used to know in middle school and where they were now. I thought it would make a great short film. The story is rooted in real experiences. Mike’s childhood crush had sadly passed away many years prior… one of my crushes had done a few dirty movies… we all have our stories. That was the beginning of Keep In Touch.
The story/process evolved over about two years. I was interested in telling a romantic story where one character knew a lot more about the other. In the early drafts of the short film, I really thought of it as a stalker movie. I wanted to make a Vertigo movie. That eventually changed. As we developed the story we realized other parts of our plot were more interesting. I thought we had a unique take on the Facebook generation’s compulsion to find people from the past and get back in touch. I thought we had a unique take on “childhood love” and loss. I also really liked how the script went right at a self-help theme without hiding it.
Eventually we shot a short film with Ryan (Ryan Patrick Bachand) and Mike and Gabbi (Gabbie McPhee), but by the time we got everyone together we knew it was going to be a feature and the short didn’t work. What we did shoot turned into a strong trailer which showed the kind of feature we wanted to make. We used this trailer to raise the money. Then we finished the script. Then we did principal photography.
A lot of that had to do with a compulsive urge to do “what would really happen”. That was a constant mantra in the writing process. Some of it might also have come from the fact that we wanted to distinguish our movie from a traditional romantic indie drama. I was always thinking about how different the world is today with social media and google and public projections of personalities on Instagram and Facebook, etc. It’s a different world where we can learn everything about someone before we meet them face-to-face… and our traditional boy-meets-girl-story should reflect that.
I’m glad you found him atypical! I think that character really developed from a few places. We wanted to tell a story of self improvement… so we wanted a character that would start in a place where he had a journey ahead of him. We also wanted to have a lot of that “this could happen to anyone” feeling about him, and we wanted to put start him in a very passive role where he could slowly gain control of the things happening around him.
As we were writing we worked over this idea of… “well… since Colin has this fatal flaw of not sharing all the information about himself up front (with his love interest)… why don’t we do a bit of the same thing with the audience… we’ll only give the audience a bit of surface information, and then we’ll reveal more deep layers of his character later in the movie. That’s more in line with how people really meet other people anyway… maybe it will be interesting.”
It also goes along with themes about social media. What’s the difference between the person you project online and the person you really are… should we judge everyone based on the first impression or the social media impression? Or should we give them a chance to show their true colors. Bachand was along for a lot of this development. We knew we wanted to use him almost from the first draft of the first short film… so we pulled a lot from his interpretation.
Ryan and Mike were roommates in Los Angeles for a few years. They went to acting classes together. The roll was always his… except for a really brief period where I had yet to realize it.
Mike and I definitely were conscious of the expectations of the MPDG. We talked at length about it and tried to use the awareness of the trope to our advantage. It ended up being very subtly referenced, but i’m happy to hear that you were on that wavelength. We just wanted this character to be real…. But I always knew she was the best opportunity to touch on one of the things I really wanted to talk about in this film:
So much of how we see others is based on the things we project onto them. Colin projects a lot onto Jessie. He builds her up as something that he needs… and as the audience we also project things onto her (hence the MPDG assumption). I always wanted to use those projections to show that often they are very wrong.
After writing and developing the story for a while… we sort of paused on making the short film because we needed to find the perfect musician to play the role of Jessie. I thought this would be easy…. There are so many good singer songwriters in Brooklyn… and we’ll have a blast searching for one. It turned out to not be easy… and a lot of time went by.
One day, I loaded up Facebook and there was a line in my newsfeed that said: “You should like Gabbi McPhee Music” – “10 of your friends have liked this video…” or something like that. I clicked, watched one video of her singing, and I knew she was perfect for the role. When I told Mike he was a little mad because he had already suggested her months earlier (he knew of her from years past)… but I guess I needed to discover her for myself.
The moment when Colin confronts the man whose life he greatly effected was really important to me. Once again there is the projected truth and the actual truth. Colin (and the audience) think they know how this moment goes… how it ends… who someone will be… but it’s important to show that reality and projected-reality are almost always very different. Of course it’s also important for his character development to be able to stand up in that situation and do what he must, but we also saw it as another opportunity for us as the filmmakers to be honest and real with our subject matter.
The moment with the father was always a planned emotional climax. A lot of his dialog is adapted from things my grandmother always says to me. In earlier drafts of the script there was a stronger presence of Colin’s father (or lack thereof), and this relationship between the two daughters with respect to his own happiness… it was kind of an unexpected crossroads of everything that naturally summed up a lot of the movie.
Well! The metaphors of growth/rebirth/spring/change were all built into our location… but honestly we chose the nursery because Mikey’s family owns it, and we knew we could shoot there. It’s also just a cool spot.
Mike and I are big fans of Reggie Watts. He was our first choice and who we wrote the character for. We listened to a lot of self help… but often Reggie’s paraphrasing was better than anything we wrote. It was a fun couple of days to shoot with him.
Mike and I and our company produced two other films in between Keep In Touch and now: Hunter Gatherer / Kicks. Both are actually released just now too. I’m working on some nature/wildlife documentary stuff (which is and has been my primary career path), Mike is writing another movie or two which I hope will get made asap.
Oh man… my favorite moments in movies are always the surprising ones. The moment that goes a bit further than you think… When you don’t know what will happen.
When I watched Vertigo for the first time, I loved the moment when he confronts her… when everything is finally on the table and we are anxiously waiting to see what will happen next. How will these characters who we thought we knew so well react to the new information… That’s fun.