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An Interview with Robert Gregson, Director of A Good Couple

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2021

Films directed by Robert Gregson on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie A Good Couple - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Staying in a house in the woods on an anniversary getaway, protagonists Julia (Julie Ann Earls) and Dan (Alex Mandell) have a blowout fight where Dan storms off and is gone all night. Suddenly alone, Julia finds herself questioning whether sheís really in love. Dan returns in the morning ready to make up, and Julia agrees to take him back. However now he seems eerily perfect, and Julia begins to notice strange things. Julia attempts to ignore these omens to continue to enjoy their newly rekindled happiness, but when they go for a walk in the woods Dan leads her into a cave where she encounters her boyfriendís doppelganger. From then on, we donít know who is who or what is real, and are forced to question everything.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing A Good Couple, and is any of the movie based on personal experience?

 

Initially, I had a few elements - I knew I wanted to work with Julie Ann Earls, the lead actress. I had directed her in a few ads for the UN, and we were both excited to collaborate on a short. Narratively, I knew I wanted to make a subjective, psychological thriller, and I had an idea about a missing person and a double. As soon as I started writing and found that the missing person was a boyfriend, and that the double was a perfect version of him, the rest of the script came relatively quickly.

 

The movie is personal but not based on personal experience. I think the relationship between perfect and good is something our culture deals with fairly constantly, and it was something that motivated me to explore it in this story. Whether itís controlling appearances through a perfect image on Instagram, perfectly tracking or anticipating traffic through an app, or judging oneís accomplishments against an imagined alternative perfect reality, the ideal is constantly nearby. I wanted to explore how this might apply to a relationship, and especially what would happen if the main character lost the ability/desire to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

 

A few words about your movie's approach to horror?

 

This particular movie approaches horror from a psychological perspective. Itís less about jump scares and demons and more about the unsettling existential experience of the main character. The horror comes from entering into a kind of Faustian bargain, and then being unable to decide whether or not it was a mistake that you sold your soul. It was important for me that the movie still functions as entertainment, so there is plenty of surreality, romance, and scares in the film as well.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

My approach to directing starts with the script and deciding what kind of story I want to do and what that means for the genre and point of view. With this story, itís about a woman who doesnít know whether or not her newly perfect boyfriend can be trusted based on surreal behavior she witnesses. Given the story and point of view, I approached directing by creating a subjective mis-en-scene. This basically means that the ďsetting of the sceneĒ is subjective to the main characterís perspective; from the camera placement and lens choice, to the wardrobe, production design, sound design, score, and color. If sheís feeling guarded in a scene, this might mean a layered wardrobe design, blocking that avoids eye contact, and camera placement that foregrounds her and puts the other actor at a distance. For the lens choice, it can mean specific things - for instance, I often used a 32mm or 40mm and put the camera physically closer to the main character, and then showed what they were seeing further away on a 50mm or 65mm lens to lock the audience into the sense of space the main character would be experiencing. I enjoy this approach. One thing that is unique to cinema is the ability to use point-of-view shots to put the audience inside the main characterís perspective. Itís what makes Rear Window one of the most cinematic movies ever - weíre essentially watching an audience member (Jimmy Stewart) watch a movie plot that he literally gets mixed up with.

 

With the actors, we rehearsed, and I answered any questions they had. We discussed tone and experimented with different approaches their characters had toward obstacles in the scenes. Itís fun to try dialogue with different intentions too.

 

Do talk about A Good Couple's cast, and why exactly these people?

 

I cast Julie Ann Earls because we had worked together on a few commercials for the UN and were excited to make a short. Julie Ann has incredible range and can take a handful of notes for a given take and do the next take spot on. Making an independent film can be challenging and I knew her work ethic, talent and drive would be unwavering through the process. 

I knew Alex Mandell for a while through mutual friends and always wanted to make something with him, and this story was finally right. Heís an incredible actor and also an extremely nice person, and heís got these jet black eyes that can look kind but also deceptive if you put them in the right scene. Since the film is about an eerily perfect boyfriend, casting him would be the perfect opportunity to play against this natural aspect of his personality. Julie Ann and Alex knew each other as well, and it helped to have that established chemistry between the characters.

 

You also have to talk about your location, and what was it like to film there? And how did you find it even?

 

The location was a rental home that belonged to the descendants of an old Dutch shipping magnate. It was a few hours north of NYC and there was another house next door that we used to house the crew, which was full of miniature ships, paintings of shipping captains, and several ornamental anchors. The other location was a cave, which was actually a defunct concrete mine in upstate New York. It has been used as a trout farm, supplier of whiskey water, a mushroom farm, and, now, a film set.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The shoot was three days in upstate New York with a crew of friends with whom I regularly work on corporate and commercial projects. Everyone was completely focused and brought so much to the shoot. Our DP, Adam Carboni, is from Alabama, and I have a secret theory that his accent puts Northerners at ease. His wife Tansy was our production designer, and their dog Fuji came to the shoot too. My friend Jackie produced and was our on-set AD. After the shoot each day we would all eat and hang out. It was a good time! The only challenge we encountered was that the generator we ordered for the cave scene didnít work, but the cave already had a generator there by chance when we arrived because they had an event the day before. By the time we got the backup working, we lost a lot of time and exterior daylight and had to shoot the scene backwards to shoot around the mouth of the cave, but no one would know from watching.

 

The $64-question of course, where can A Good Couple be seen?

 

It is premiering at Dances With Films Festival September 1st and then will be playing Rhode Island International Film Festival in October. Follow us on Instagram @a_good_couple_short for festival updates!

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of A Good Couple?

 

The reviews so far have been very positive. People are enjoying it on a pure entertainment level but also talking about the ideas and how it leaves them feeling. The audience has been responding to this strange and messy desire for perfection in the main character, and how they relate to that.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I have a few features that are in development now. The main one is called Influencers, developed with screenwriter Benjamin Reeves, and is a neo-noir thriller about a conspiracy theorist who murders a hated white-collar criminal and sex abuser, and then goes viral as he goes on this insane three-day journey deeper into the conspiracy. The script is being shared with name actors to attach to the lead role. The script was a quarterfinalist in the 2020 FinalDraft Big Break competition, second round in the Launch Pad Features competition and was an official selection for the 2020 Northeast Filmmakers Lab. The other feature Iím developing is called Scarsdale, and is written by Reeves and is about a hedge fund manager whose Russian nanny slowly inserts herself into and takes over his familyís life. There are some other smaller projects, but those are the main ones Iím pursuing at the moment.

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

My parents are both passionate about the arts and my father is an abstract painter. Looking at it retrospectively, a big part of how we communicated was through art and music. I fell in love with film and found I had an intuitive understanding of it, and for previsualization. I did go to college for filmmaking.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to A Good Couple?

 


Prior to making A Good Couple, I made a lot of shorts and a feature. After college, in 2011 I made a short film called Advice and a micro-short on Super 8mm called Skyglow, then directed 28 sketch comedy shorts for a comedy collective called Local Empire during 2013-2014. We would screen these monthly at a club in the West Village. After that I wanted to make a more produced film that took place in its own universe, and made a short comedy called The Refrigerator, which won the Best New Director at Brooklyn Film Festival. I made a super talky low-key drama called An Inverted Affair, and then directed my first feature in 2015 called Trivia Night, which played festivals and won Best Feature Film at Omaha FF and is now available on Amazon Prime. After that I wanted to experiment with psychological thrillers, so I made a short about sleep paralysis called Shut Eye, which played a lot of festivals and won some awards. I really enjoyed working in that style, so I wrote A Good Couple. I also just directed a mini-doc called Color to Color on my dadís painting process as an abstract painter. Parallel to this film work, Iíve directed and DPíd commercials and am part of the team at a production company called All of Us Films.

 

Besides narrative movies, you have also shot a handful of documentary - so how does filming fact compare to shooting fiction, how does your directorial approach differ (if at all)? And what do you actually prefer?

 

I really enjoy documentary filmmaking. I had a chance to go to Kuwait to film a doc on entrepreneurship there, and got to make a film on the renovation of Stephen Colbertís late show theater. Documentary filmmaking often requires you to make a scene out of reality, both through what youíre focusing on with the camera, but also how you manipulate it all in editing later, and knowing what elements you need to capture in the moment in order to make that possible later. It has impacted how I direct narrative work because at the end of the day, you need to create something on set which is worth documenting, and you need to be ready to be able to cover a scene in very little time if necessary. I remember the first time I learned that Kubrick would work with the actors to find and create an interesting scene, and then figure out how to film it in meaningful way. Thereís a bit of a documentary approach to setting the scene that way.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

An outside perspective would probably be more valuable, but I try to prepare and be as clear as possible with what the intentions are behind creative decisions, and then be as collaborative as possible with the crew and actors to make that happen.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Vincent Minnelli, Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, Robert Eggers, Francois Ozon, Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Jordan Peele, Francois Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman, Orson Welles, F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Douglas Sirk, Eric Rohmer, Richard Linklater, Hal Ashby, Powell & Pressburger, Harmony Korine, Quentin Tarantino, Billy Wilder.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Rosemaryís Baby, Barry Lyndon, The 400 Blows, Us, Taxi Driver, Chinatown, The Red Shoes, The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Lighthouse, Night of the Hunter, Double Indemnity, Persona, The King of Comedy, The Swimming Pool, Dog Day Afternoon, Badlands.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I donít really deplore anything. I tend to become bored and irritable when watching films that were developed by committee. You can feel there is no perspective or heart. I also find it eerie when people refer to films or stories as ďcontentĒ. Just one of the many specters of late-capitalism.

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

Instagram: @a_good_couple_short

https://www.robertgregsonfilm.com/projects/a-good-couple

 

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Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

We recorded the score remotely. I was concerned it would be impossible because music is such an experimental thing sometimes. I worked with an amazing composer, Jerome Leroy, during quarantine. He would sometimes be in LA at home (I'm in NYC), and then sometimes he would be in the south of France visiting relatives, but we did it all remotely. And then he directed the recording with an orchestra and conductor in Budapest. And it worked!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
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the new anthology by
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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out now on DVD