The most interesting and genuine instant emotional connections people form can fascinatingly be with people they barely know, or aren’t even entirely aware about. That unexpected mental connection can drastically change and lead their lives in more positive and constructive ways, even if they’re not fully aware of the other person’s subtle influence. That moving bond is the enticing 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 was written by Joss Whedon, features that candid and honest relationship between lead stars Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, draws audiences in with its passionate examination of true love.
‘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 (Kazan) and Dylan (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.
Kazan and Stahl-David generously took the time to sit down and talk about shooting ‘In Your Eyes’ at the Hilton New York Fashion District Hotel during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the two actors discussed how they were drawn to the romance comedy-drama because the story focused on their characters truly getting to know each other as they developed their relationship against a sci-fi background; how they enjoyed working with Hill as a director on the set, in part because he’s also a screenwriter and has a smart way of looking at dialogue and including the cast in the movie-making process; and how releasing the movie On Demand immediately after the world premiere at the festival allows all viewers across the country and world to be able to watch it whenever they want in the comfort of their own homes.
ShockYa (SY): Zoe, you play Rebecca Porter, and Michael, you portrayed Dylan Kershaw, in the romance comedy-drama, ‘In Your Eyes.’ What was it about your characters, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on your roles?
Michael Stahl-David (MSD): I was really into the fact that it’s a movie whose main characters are really talking to each other, and develop a relationship that way. That was something I wasn’t seeing in a lot of films. This movie also had a nice amount of action, as well as comedy and a sense of connection between the two. So I was really engaged in the story when I read it, and became excited about it.
Zoe Kazan (ZK): I think I similarly felt that. I don’t want to give away too much for everyone who wants to download the movie on their computers. But I do think there’s a real challenge in the story, as the characters were talking to a person who wasn’t there for a big portion of it. I had never read that in a script before, and it seemed like it would be something that would be difficult and fun to figure out how to do. Everyone involved was also really fun and exciting.
SY: The film was written by Joss Whedon, who’s known for penning such diverse projects as ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What was your experience of working with him on ‘In Your Eyes?’
MSD: I have a couple friends who are huge fans of his, so I had positive regards for him. But I hadn’t seen a lot of his work, to be honest. We did go to his house and read the script with him, and talked about everything. We asked a bunch of questions, and that really set us up.
ZK: I thought so, too. Brin had worked with him for awhile to prepare. So I think Brin was a good surrogate for Joss when we were rehearsing.
My sister was an enormous ‘Buffy’ fan. We grew up without TV, and when I went away to college, they said, “She can watch TV.” I think they thought, what else are we going to do with her? (laughs) So then she started watching ‘Buffy’ and became completely obsessed, and rented all the DVDs. So I had gotten my Joss Whedon education via my sister, and her being like, “You have to watch this episode with me.”
He’s an unbelievable writer. Through his obvious force of talent, he hit a huge mark on popular culture. So I was hyper aware of him, and had a good idea of what a good writer he is. But I didn’t realize how crazy his fanbase is until I signed onto this. I was like, people are obsessed! I didn’t know about the Whedonverse.
SY: Brin, who you mentioned, served as the director of ‘In Your Eyes.’ What was your experience of working with him on the film?
MSD: He has a very calm vibe. That was impressive, because it was a tricky shoot. We were trying to do a lot without a lot of money. There were a lot of challenges with the shooting. He was a good coach, and was someone you could depend on.
ZK: Also, Brin’s a writer, so he has a smart way of looking at dialogue and talking about stories. I felt like he really included us in the movie-making process. He would discuss how he was going to cut our shots with the other side. There was a lot that we didn’t know as we were filming. We would shoot half of the scenes on one side of the country, and then film the other half two weeks later on the other side of the country.
SY: Speaking of the fact that you shot half of many scenes in New Hamphire weeks before filming the second half in California, was it difficult to stay in your characters’ mindsets?
ZK: Yes, I found that to be very difficult! I found it very difficult to have done my side of it, and then recreate that same energy for you, Michael.
MSD: Right-we couldn’t do something new (during the second half of shooting), because you had already filmed your side of the scene.
ZK: It was also difficult not to know which take Brin was going to choose from my shoot (in New Hampshire). It was hard to know how emotional I was supposed to get while you were filming your side, and what I should give you. It was also hard because sometimes I didn’t remember exactly what I did.
MSD: Yeah, it was strange. One of the challenges actors complain about is the turnaround. We do a scene, and we’re in the zone. Then we have to wait for them to turn the lights and cameras around, and that can take an hour sometimes.
This is like that, on a massive scale. It was like, we’ll do everything in this direction on the East Coast. Then we’ll do everything in the other direction on the West Coast. But I was lucky because I went second. I was on the set and got to know you and see your world.
ZK: Yes, you were lucky, but you also did everything the first time. So your original impulse was never captured on film. I thought you did a good job of recreating a sense of spoteniety.
SY: Speaking of that spoteniety, did you do any improv, or offer any suggestions on the direction you thought your characters were heading, when you were on the set?
MSD: We stuck to the script, mainly.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with each other, and with the rest of the cast, before you began filming?
ZK: We had met before we began filming. We had known each other on and off for years, so I think we had an ease from the start. As Michael was saying, we had dinner at Joss’ house. Then we spent a couple days rehearsing with Brin.
MSD: It was cool, because the film was about our characters getting to know each other. So that was sort of happening as the story was happening.
SY: The film had its world premiere on Sunday, April 20 here at the Tribeca Film Festival. What were your reactions when you found out it would be playing at the festival?
MSD: I was psyched. The weird thing with this movie was that we shot this two years ago, and then I wasn’t really hearing anything about it. I was like, this is a big part for me. When am I going to get to see it?
I heard (in March) that we were going to be at Tribeca, and I was excited. I’m here in New York on and off, so it’s great to be here with the film.
ZK: I think the most exciting thing was when they spoke to me about doing this On Demand release. I think it’s a really cool way to get the movie directly to the fans. I think it’s definitely an unconventional, risky way to put a movie out. But we’ve seen the model work for Louis C.K. when he put out his comedy specials.
SY: Speaking of On Demand, Joss made an unexpected move after the premiere, and gave audiences around the world instant access to ‘In Your Eyes’ with a digital release on the film’s website. Are you both fans of watching films On Demand?
MSD: I love to go to the theater, but there’s also so much I want to see. So I end up watching stuff at home, too. I was also thinking about how the middle class is having a hard time in America, and if you go with a date to the movies, you’re going to spend $40. If you make popcorn at home and watch the movie On Demand, it costs about $7. I also think people’s ways of watching movies at home are getting better.
ZK: I am a fan of the communal experience in the theater, and I’m also mourning the demise of the video store. But there is something really great about being at home and flipping through Netflix. You’re like, oh, I never got to see that movie. You’re also able to explore all the new films you haven’t seen recently, so there’s a sense of discovery when you come across something you weren’t necessarily looking for. It’s also great to be able to access films immediately.
I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries at home that I hadn’t previously heard about, or may have missed. So I think that availability is exciting.
When we were growing up, if you wanted to watch a great art film, you had to have a great video store or art cinema nearby. Now, you can be in the middle of nowhere, and as long as you have a good Internet connection, you can watch anything. It’s cool.
Written by: Karen Benardello