The most genuine emotional connections people form are often with people they barely know, or aren’t even entirely about, as they don’t hold any lingering judgments about them, based on their past actions. That serendipitous mental connection can dramatically lead their lives in more constructive ways, even if they’re not fully aware of the other person’s subtle influence. That captivating bond is the enthralling lesson featured in director Brin Hill‘s new independent romance drama, ‘In Your Eyes,’ which had its world premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. The movie, which garnered attention after screenwriter Joss Whedon announced it would be released on Vimeo On Demand immediately following its premiere, draws viewers with its passionate exploration that people will naturally connect with their true love, who will undoubtedly transform their lives.
‘In Your Eyes’ follows a young teen girl, Rebecca, as she sleds haphazardly down a snowy mountain in New Hampshire. As she swerves into a tree, a young boy, Dylan, physically feels the accident while sitting in his classroom in New Mexico. While the two children don’t know each other, they’re instantly bonded together, and their connection remains strongly powerful throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.
The story then introduces Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) in their late 20s, and both still seem to be emotionally damaged by their unexplainable bond. Rebecca is married to Phillip (Mark Feuerstein), and despite his charming personality in the early stages of their relationship, has inadvertently become less caring towards her. She has not become upset with the way their marriage has turned out, but also the fact she doesn’t have her own career. Dylan, meanwhile, gave up on his intellect after the accident, and turned to petty crime. After being released from serving a prison sentence, he attempts to rebuild his life.
Rebecca and Dylan eventually give into their connection with each other, and figure out the unshakeable but vague presence in their lives was their bodies’ reactions to each other. The two can speak to each other across the country when they talk out loud, leading to their first visual introduction to each other by looking in a mirror at the same time.
Hill generously took the time to sit down and talk about shooting ‘In Your Eyes’ at the Flat Iron Hotel in New York City during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the director discussed how he has always wanted to work with Whedon as a scribe, as he has always admired his talent of blending genres, and focusing on loner heroes who are forced to band together and overcome adversity; how he liked casting Kazan against type in a romance, and Stahl-David perfected his audition, and played Dylan in a way no one else did; and how shooting the film independently on a shorter schedule was natural for him, as he attended film school at NYU, where he learned to make films quickly without much money.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the new romantic drama, ‘In Your Eyes,’ which was written by Joss Whedon. What was it about his script that convinced you to helm the movie?
Brin Hill (BH): Well, it was the opportunity to work with this up-and-coming writer, Joss Whedon. (laughs) What I think drew me in was two-fold; what I’ve always loved about Joss’ writing is that he mashes up genres. He did that with this film, by combining sci-fi with romance; it’s a supernatural love story, as I like to call it.
I have also always loved Joss’ themes of loner heroes who are forced to band together and overcome adversity and find their fate. In this film, it’s the two main characters who find each other. There’s also a theme of connection that I also think is timely that was exciting for me to explore.
SY: What was your experience of working with Joss on ‘In Your Eyes?’ Did you collaborate with him at all on developing the characters and the story?
BH: Josh was involved with some of the film’s producers, including Michael Roiff and Kai Cole, and me. He and I would meet, and I would present my vision, and then he would weigh in. We then did a table read with Zoe and Michael, and then we sat and did notes on that read. I then weighed in on all the casting. We all also weighed in on costumes and locations. We went through executive producer, producer and director relationships.
Then Joss was busy on a couple things; he was busy making a little movie called ‘The Avengers.’ But he would watch dailies on this film and send me notes. He would also occasionally write stuff before we shot it. I would also text, email and call him with questions. He was also in and out of the editing room, giving us notes and thoughts.
SY: ‘In Your Eyes’ features Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, who you mentioned earlier, in the lead roles. What was the casting process like for them?
BH: Zoe was someone we all immediately liked. Joss and a couple of our producers, Kai Cole and Michael Roiff, loved her in a bunch of her previous films. I also loved casting her, because I had also seen her in a bunch of things. I liked that she was against the type of a traditional lead in a “romance.” We sat down with her, and she was very nice. She wanted to get a sense of what I was thinking about for the film.
What was interesting for them was to take Joss’ voice and my aesthetic, and try to ground everything in reality. Zoe really liked that idea, and responded to it.
Michael actually auditioned. We knew him from ‘Cloverfield,’ but he still came in. There were several guys who auditioned, but Michael just nailed it. He got Dylan in a way no one else did, and understood the dynamics of Joss’ writing. Michael and Zoe actually knew each other socially beforehand, so that helped with their chemistry.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with the actors before you began shooting, to help build the authenticity between their characters?
BH: Yes, we did a table read. I also sat down with Zoe and Michael, and we went through the script, scene by scene. It wasn’t so much of a rehearsal, but more of talking about what the characters felt, and their motivations, in each scene. Since it was a quick schedule from the time we met to the time we were shooting, we didn’t have much rehearsal. I also spoke with Zoe and Mark Feuerstein individually, and we would walk through stuff on set.
SY: What was the experience of shooting the film independently on a shorter schedule?
BH: It was super aggressive. (laughs) For me, that was natural, and it’s something I always seem to be doing. It’s an extension of attending film school at NYU, and that’s how I learned to make movies. You have to make them quick with no money. So for me, that’s he norm.
We were also blessed to have great producers. including Michael Roiff and Kai Cole. They were both great at making things magically appear. There’s a train in the movie, and I don’t know how we afforded a train. I don’t know how we did it.
It’s amazing that it all happened, because we shot the movie on a micro budget, 3,000 miles apart, in two different states. We shot in New Hampshire for half the shoot, and in L.A., which stood in for New Mexico, for half the shoot. It’s insane to me that we were able to do what we did with the amount of money we had.
SY: The movie had its world premiere on Sunday, April 20 at the Tribeca Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out it would be playing at the festival, especially since you attended NYU?
BH: I was really excited. I always love coming back and showing my movies to New Yorkers. I feel like they’re the realest audience in the world. They’ll tell you if they love or hate stuff.
When I was a kid, I lived in Boston, and my dad worked in New York. I would come down here a lot. I remember going to movie theaters here, and wondering, why is everyone yelling at the screen? What’s going on? Is this normal? (laughs) But they were into the films, just like they’re into everything. So I love bringing stuff back to them. I also love being back in this city-I love its energy.
I also love what Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, had intended with this festival. I was actually at the very first Tribeca (in 2002) with one of my short films, ‘Morning Breath,’ which won at Sundance that year. It’s a love story set in Brooklyn. Since then, I’ve loved what this festival’s about.
SY: How does the experience of shooting in L.A., like with ‘In Your Eyes,’ compare and contrast to filming here in New York?
BH: The difference in New York is that you can get away with filming pretty much anywhere. I shot one of my short films on the A train without permits. (laughs) I don’t know how I did that-I was insane!
But in L.A., any time you put a tripod down, I feel like there’s a guy with his hand out, ready to turn on a leaf blower or cement truck or something. (laughs) But we were blessed on this film, because we were trying to make it seem like we were shooting in New Mexico. We were still in L.A., but on the outskirts of what they call the zone of where you can travel to with the crew and actors.
Since we were in such remote settings, we were blessed that we didn’t succumb to the normal L.A. shooting. The only thing about L.A. is that you have to travel; you can’t go on the subway to get to set. (laughs)
SY: Bellwether Pictures, which was founded by Joss and Kai, surprised audiences by releasing the film on Vimeo directly after its premiere. Are you a fan of watching films On Demand? Why do you think the VOD platform is so important for smaller, independent movies like ‘In Your Eyes?’
BH: Well, I think what was most exciting for me was that Bellwether Pictures, Michael Roiff, Kai Cole, Joss and myself were all looking at it individually in different ways of how to best get the film to audiences in a direct way. What I think has been cool about what Joss and Kai have been doing with Bellwether is that they’ve been putting stuff out in different ways, based on the movie.
I hope this is a crowd-pleasing movie, and I want to get it out to the widest audience possible. So when this idea was pitched to me, I totally got behind it. I thought it was exciting.
But I still think it’s a case-by-case thing, based on the movie. The fact that Joss had a direct pipeline to his audience, and he’s been building that for years, is really appealing to me. He has a meaningful connection with people, so he can explore different things, which is thrilling. But I think the movie plays great in the theater and on your computer. So as long as people are seeing and experiencing it, I’m excited.
Written by: Karen Benardello