Directors and writers Marcia Fields and Mike Spear recently discussed the creative processes behind their first short film, Moving On,which screens this week at the Whistler Film Festival. In this comedy, Ross (Mike Ivers) is awakened one morning by professional movers (Robin Lord Taylor and Ryan Farrell), who deliver the news of his breakup and are ready to move him out of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. In part two of their interview, Marcia and Mike talked about casting, gender inequality, and next steps for Moving On.
The dialogue genuinely captures all the stages of Ross’s breakup. How was the process for you on solidifying your script ideas?
Marcia: The idea came together when I was trying to ask Mike politely to do the dishes.
Mike: It got a little heated. We got to the point where [it was] ridiculous. If we break up because we don’t want to do dishes, we can’t tell our friends and our family that’s what happened.
Marcia: We’re writers. People will think this is the most uncreative way for a couple to break up. We need to come up with something better, so we started joking about hiring professionals to do it. That’s when—
Mike: The dialogue and jokes just started flowing. She got out her phone and we started dictating. From that moment, we knew the tone of the script.
Marcia: Taking something that can be depressing, sad, or heartbreaking for somebody and trying to find the humor in it … That’s definitely the style of writing that we really like. We respond to that mix of comedy and drama and reality really because no one is happy or sad all the time. Everybody gets a giggle every now and then, too. We wanted to bring that to this idea. It was such an organic process and the idea came together so naturally for us.
Mike: It’s the kind of thing where people can’t help but laugh at a funeral. It’s uncomfortable and if you’re with your family and your loved ones, it’s funny.
Marcia: For the audience, you’re in the frame of mind where you can think of a time where broke up with someone that you wished it had gone in this way: the sort of speed with which [Ross] was able to grieve for his relationship and go through the stages.
Mike: We also mined from our own romantic histories. The character Ross is in the bathroom talking about ex-girlfriends and how one of them wouldn’t take his phone calls when his grandfather died. She thought it would be too depressing. I actually dated a girl who wouldn’t even talk about my grandfather passing away because it depressed her. These things are real and I can sit and laugh about it now. That’s important.
Marcia: It helps it feel genuine.
Mike: I ended up doing the dishes when we had that argument.
Marcia: It’s worked out. Mike is very good at doing the dishes! I think he deserves some recognition there.
Mike: I appreciate that.
You both have quite a versatile cast here. Was there anything that you were able to pull from them after they came on board?
Marcia: We really did luck out because we had a very fast pre-production period. We went out to them specifically and we were very excited to get yeses. They were cast for the roles that we thought that their personalities were best for. I think when you have more time and a longer script—
Mike: You can work with the actor to make it feel more organic. We did not have the luxury of time. To their credit, they were amazing. They had never met until we were on set that morning getting ready. We let them start to get some rapport those couple of minutes before we said, “Action.”
Marcia: Doing rehearsals just once or twice through.
Mike: Robin Lord Taylor is an amazing talent.
Marcia: It’s so exciting to watch him having such a good year on Gotham. He deserves that recognition. I think he helped elevate everything else because of the attitude he brought to the role and in general.
Mike: We’re based in L.A., but we were on a job in New York, so we relied heavily on our producers to find local New York actors. We can’t thank them enough to recommending those people. We happened to get the best of the best.
Marcia: I want to take full credit for the script, but during the credits, that scene where Mason and Nick are knocking on the next guy’s door… The last line of the script where Robin goes “Boom,” he did that himself. That is one of the funniest lines. When he did that, we were like “Keep doing that! That was hysterical.”
Mike: That was the first scene that we shot. It was very early. We were scrambling to find the actor who was going to play the guy who opens the door. He showed up and he was great. Then Robin killed it with that line. At that point, we could breathe a little bit.
Marcia: It was a great starting note.
In assembling your team, you really strive for gender equality, an issue that’s starting to receive more attention. What can the industry-at-large learn from your production?
Marcia: We were lucky to come off a show that had incredible people working on it. It wasn’t like we were hiring from scratch. We knew everybody on our team except for one person from before. Having witnessed a lot of gender inequality in the business over the last decade, whenever I meet a powerful, capable woman, (which is, thankfully, often), it just stays in my head. I want to work with her again. I want other people to work with her and see what she can do because it hasn’t always been my experience. Mike was raised by a single mother and has been around powerful women, so he’s the guy who is intimidated by it. It doesn’t stop him from showing what he can do. He sees talent, period, and respects it.
Mike: I think at the end of the day, we hired the best people for the job. They happen to be women.
Marcia: I think some people have a preconceived notion when it comes to women on set, especially behind the camera. It’s their loss, honesty.
Mike: Our director of photography, Bianca Butti – Basically Marcia and I share a brain and Bianca moved in there. She was a part of us for a little bit. That sounds a bit weird.
Marcia: But I understand what you’re saying— [laughs]
Mike: We were on the same wavelength. She’s so talented. You should check out her work online. It’s very artistic stuff.
Marcia: It’s unfortunate that women feel like they have to work twice as hard to be noticed. That is the great thing about making a short film when you’re asking for favors and for people to work for very little. You can give them the opportunity to take on a role that someone hasn’t yet given them a chance before. One of our producers had never been a producer before and she wanted the chance.
Mike: She could do it and she killed it.
Marcia: I’m not saying men don’t rise up to the opportunity, but women absolutely do. You’re going to give me that chance and I will take it and run with it. Whether you were questioning hiring me in the first place, I will show you that you did not make a mistake. And the fact that Mike puts up with it is an added bonus. Especially behind the camera, there are a number of women directors programs, like AFI. You’re starting to see more of those programs. It’s unfortunate that we need them.
Mike: If it brings more talented women, then that’s good.
Marcia: We were in a television festival not too long ago with the short. We submitted it through an independent pilot competition through the New York Television Festival and one of the panels was a showrunners panel. It was six very experienced showrunners with shows on the air right now. They just happened to all be women. One of the things they pointed out during the keynote speech was how proud they were that the NYTVF did not say, “Women Showrunner Panel.” They said only, “Showrunner Panel.”
We shouldn’t have to say that they’re women and showrunners. They’re all just talented showrunners. You don’t say the “Male Showrunner Panel.” I love that they did that because it was in a way just saying “Here’s six showrunners.” It doesn’t matter that they’re women. I think we’re getting closer to it but we still have a long way to go.
Mike: It’s huge. Why not invest in the best tools?
Marcia: When you limit the people you’re going to hire to “I know this guy has done it before.” You keep hiring the same people and then these doors don’t open to new voices. I think people are getting a little more comfortable with that notion. It’s sad that it has to be pointed out in the first place. I think we’re getting closer to not having to.
Mike: Also, strong female characters are important in front of the camera. Currently we’re working on something in its early stages, but there’s a very strong female protagonist.
Marcia: It’s important to see those characters on TV, because it’s coming into your living room. That makes it more normal to just expect to see strong female characters. It’s a good time for the industry right now, I think.
How are things progressing in terms of developing Moving On into a series? Is there another angle that pops out to you in taking it further?
Marcia: It’s still in its baby stages, but it’s going very well. Part of our plan for December is to finish putting polishing touches for a pitch to take it out into a series by early 2016. It was accepted by the NYTVF for an independent pilot competition. They were like, “This idea has legs.” We believe so, too.
Mike: We purposely made it like that. We made it as a standalone film but peppered in some things that prove that it has legs.
Marcia: And definitely going beyond just breakups. We see it as focusing on a moving company and the movers, how their lives influence the jobs that they’re taking.
Mike: Like Marcia said, not just focusing on romance and relationships but there’s office relationships and families.
Marcia: There are the grown children that have the parent living with them that they would like to transition out to assisted living.
Mike: There’s a lot to mine from.
Marcia: Not to mention, of course, breakups, breakups, and breakups.
The two stories focus on guys being dumped. What about the girls being dumped?
Marcia: You can just imagine one with all tears. There’s just so much comedy to mine from people in that moment when they feel like their lives are falling apart. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. Even whether they’re doing it on purpose or not, the movers are actually helping people get through a difficult moment. You don’t have to do it alone. The fact that it’s with total strangers just makes it more fun!
Mike: It’s kind of like in Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, they were embracing the bad things that people wanted to forget. They were doing this service – a sketchy service – but [our show] would be sort of like that.
Marcia: It would be so much fun to delve into all these different types of relationships and how they come and go in our lives. There are so many different ways Moving On can help people.
Thank you both again for your time today.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00T5D4I0Q][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00EPH8S58]