While people often strive to find the one person who will truly make them happy romantically, the person they least expect to find contentment with make just be the one who positively influences their lives. That’s certainly the case with the main characters, Liv and Nate, as well as the director and co-scribe, Matthew Watts, and his wife, Amy Higgins, who’s one of the other co-writers of the new independent comedy, ‘Mutual Friends.’ Much like the helmer and his co-writer, who also produced the movie, Liv and Nate began to realize that their relationship was deeper than they initially thought, which helped infuse the comedy with an emotional genuineness.
‘Mutual Friends’ follows Liv (Caitlin Fitzgerald) as she plans a birthday party for her fiancé Christoph (Cheyenne Jackson). As she tries to finish the day’s harried preparations, including handling cake and catering crises, and accidentally inviting a friend-of-a-friend who turns out to be Christoph’s long-term ex-girlfriend, her siblings and friends are having their own troubles.
Beatrice (Christina Cole) has gotten pregnant and doesn’t realize how freaked out this makes her husband. Sammy (Ross Partridge), who senses that his wife is cheating on him, has his assistant, Chernus (Michael Chernus) go on a stakeout to prove her infidelity. Thomas (Devin Burnam), who was given a very specific party-prep chore to do, instead spends the day with a stripper buying party favors that won’t appeal to the party’s serious guest. Nate (Peter Scanavino), Liv’s best friend, wants to discuss their ill-advised night together last Labor Day.
Watts and Higgins generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Mutual Friends’ over the phone. Among other things, the co-writers discussed how the independent comedy’s story and connection between Liv and Nate was based in part on their own real-life relationship and marriage, after they met at Columbia University; how they’re excited to have the film be available on VOD, which was always their intended method of release, but how they also miss having the communal theatrical viewing experience that all films, including independent movies like ‘Mutual Friends,’ used to having when they were growing up; and how Watts, who made his feature film directorial debut with the comedy, after helming several shorts, thinks scene-by-scene directing is the same in any format, but he learned that for a feature, it’s important to consider how all the elements in a movie are going to work together.
ShockYa (SY): You both helped co-write the script for the new comedy, ‘Mutual Friends.’ How did you come together to pen the screenplay for the movie with the other scribes, including Frank Angones, Jessica Sue Burstein, Craig DiFolco, Ross Partridge and Olivia Silver? What was the overall process of working on the script together?
Matthew Watts (MW): Well, I had this idea to do this intertwining story as a movie. So I reached out to a bunch of my writer friends to write shorts. One of the friends I reached out to was my wife, Amy. She and Frank wrote one of the stories. Then Amy and I basically wrote one of the other stories, and then we worked together to intertwine them all together.
Amy Higgins (AH): Bringing together the work from all the writers was the big project. I think the original draft of the script was about 120 pages, and then we got it down to about 91. We had all the stories laid out to try to figure out the timeline, and that was a huge process. Putting them together was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be, and it was like writing a regular script.
We thought it would be fun to put it together quickly. But to make it a decent script, we had to spend time combining the characters. It was a fun, but heavy, process. Matt put up a huge board, and we had note cards on the walls. It took a long time to put together.
SY: You pulled details from your real life relationship together for the comedy’s story. Why did you decide to base some parts of the plot on your real relationship, and how did your bond affect the way the story was told?
AH: It was interesting, because before I met Matt, who would be the Nate character in the film, I dated someone in my real life. He was a very stable and lovely fellow, but he didn’t spark something important in me. It was a difficult break-up, because it was a difficult choice.
But when I met Matt, I realized I broke up with the other person because I wanted to meet my mate, and I did. I ended up marrying, and having a baby with, him. I’m glad I made that choice. It was the best choice, because he got me, and we have good, creative energy together.
SY: Matthew, besides working on the script, you also directed ‘Mutual Friends.’ What was the overall experience of both co-writing the screenplay and helming the film?
MW: It was a great experience, and directing this movie was fantastic. But any movie is challenging to make. When we have 14 main characters, it doesn’t make it easier. During the first week of filming, we shot this big party scene. We spent about six days shooting that sequence, as it was day and night sequences. Everyone was in our apartment, and we had to shut the air conditioner off for sound. Tensions were high, but everyone was great.
I got to work with great actors, who brought more to their roles than I could have hoped for and imagined. We had a great crew, and I was ready for it. It was a great experience all around.
SY: ‘Mutual Friends’ is the first feature film you directed, after helming the short films, ‘Christopher Dispossessed’ and ‘It’s About Ugliness.’ What was the transition process going from the shorts to the feature, and were there any lessons you learned while making the shorts that you brought to the feature?
MW: Yes, because in a way, this movie was like making a bunch of shorts that were intertwined into one. So it wasn’t that different. I think scene-by-scene directing is the same in any format. I think the overall thing I learned was that for a longer form piece, it’s important to consider the transitional elements, as well as the overall look and music, and how everything’s going to work together. I look forward to examining that more in my next movie.
SY: What was the experience of filming a New York-driven film like ‘Mutual Friends,’ since you both attended Columbia University and lived in the city?
MW: We actually met at Columbia, and Amy’s a New Yorker as much as anybody.
AH: There were a few things that happened while we were filming. I was about to move to Los Angeles to work on a television show.
MW: We were moving together, but she was going to go before me.
AH: I was going before him, because the movie was already taking place. As we were finishing the script, it became this love letter to New York. We were very heartbroken about moving. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a permanent move. I think that informed the film a lot, because it was a goodbye to this time we had in New York. We met in New York and got married there, and also developed a life there. I think that was fortunate in a way, as it helped with the emotional aspects of the film.
New York, by virtue, really lends itself to beautiful shots. I love the scene where Liv and Nate are walking down the street, and are going to her yoga studio. It shows that every New York City street has so much character to it. The street gives the scene a lot of energy. I think New York gives a whole dimension to the story. This story couldn’t happen in this way in New York.
SY: Amy, besides co-writing the script for ‘Mutual Friends,’ you also served as one of the producers of the film. Why did you to produce the film, as well as pen the script?
AH: Matthew and I were watching ‘Pulp Fiction’ when he had the idea for ‘Mutual Friends,’ and it was a great idea. Any project that he and I work on, even if we’re doing it separately, we talk a lot about it. There are no one else’s notes I’d rather have than Matt’s notes.
I work at Disney now, and people there give good notes and feedback on scenes, but Matt’s still the best. He understands drama and emotional beats, so I wanted to help him on the film, and make it the best as possible. No one’s going to work on our films as hard as we are, and give it as much attention as we do.
SY: The film was released today on VOD, including iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Xbox Video, Sony Playstation, Vudu and Cable Movies On Demand. Are you both personally fans of watching movies On Demand, and why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent movies like ‘Mutual Friends?’
MW: I have mixed feelings about it. I’m very excited about our release, and this was our plan the entire time. I think the movie came out much better than anyone expected, and I think people are really going to like it.
The reason I say I have mixed feelings is because I love sitting in the theater and watching movies. I feel like the choices we’re left with now are either watching blockbusters in theaters, or watching other films at home on TV. I love watching movies and shows on television, and all the series on cable networks like Showtime and Netflix, and I would love to be involved with that type of thing.
But when you make a movie, you yearn for people to have that shared experience. So I do wish people will watch this film with their families and friends, because it plays well with groups. We’ve screened it at the Seattle Film Festival and other festivals, and we loved those communal screenings. I weep for our children, who may never know the movie going experience we knew when we were growing up.
SY: Speaking of the fact that the comedy has played at several film festivals, including the Seattle Film Festival, the Rhode Island International Film Festival and London’s Raindance Film Festival. What was your reaction to having the movie play at the festivals, and how have audiences responded to the film?
AH: I love going to film festivals. I feel like we’ve made some of our best friends in Los Angeles at film festivals. There’s such a feeling of love for films at the festivals, and it’s fun to have that shared experience. Both of our screenings at Seattle were sold out.
MW: Not only were they both sold out, it also played well both times. We had about five or six cast members come and experience it with us, as well. We also have another producer on the film we didn’t mention, Jen Westin, who was also at Seattle. She was great to work with on the film, as well.
Festivals are great, and some of the ones we went to are tiny. People in towns like Sonoma support the festivals, and go every year to watch and support independent films, which I love.
Written by: Karen Benardello