Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas spoke to Solzy at the Movies about Olympic Dreams one day after the romantic comedy premiered at SXSW.
Unfortunately, actor-producer-writer Nick Kroll had an earlier flight and wasn’t available.
How thrilling is it to premiere Olympic Dreams during SXSW?
Alexi Pappas: We’re honored and thrilled to premiere Olympic Dreams at SXSW because so many of our mentors and people we admire have told us about SXSW but we’ve never been. We’ve heard about not only the energy and the quality of the festival but most of all talk about the audiences and that was really something that we experienced last night—that it has the best audiences of any festival. That’s really all you can ask for when you’ve worked so hard to make something and show it to people who care
Jeremy Teicher: The film was just such a leap of faith. There were no guarantees that we would pull it off so just to be here is just like a victory lap.
Jeremy, you served as a one-person crew on the film. What was the most challenging part of making the film?
Jeremy Teicher: Honestly, the way I was carrying everything and just staying kind of healthy and not being in pain. Luckily, we made friends with the Team USA bobsled chiropractor who would tune me up every day. I knew it would be like a technologically intense situation especially running sync sound which was like jam syncs to my even one Panasonic. We had three logs going at once plus an on camera shotgun. I practiced as much as I could leading up to it. I rented the gear a day early and kind of ran through everything at the rental shop. I brought some people in to help me out. Luckily, it went smoothly. On the ground, it was just dealing with the weight.
Alexi Pappas: It’s like running an Olympic race or being an athlete where you prepare as much as you can before and then you have to be a little agile in the competition.
How did the process of making this film compare to that of Tracktown?
Jeremy Teicher: As an indie filmmaker, your goal when you try to create a sustainable career to grow your projects. Tracktown had a 40 person crew. It was like an indie version—a mini-studio film. This was Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas, and me—the three of us so that was a tremendous difference. At the same time, it did feel like a huge growth because we were working on such a huge stage. But to be able to shrink the number of people around also kind of feel like a return to the roots of middle school filmmaking with your friends just on the weekend. That feeling is now I know no matter how big the crew gets—that’s the feeling I want to have at the end of the day. For me, that was the biggest difference—the infrastructure.
Alexi Pappas: I think that after you become an Olympian, you’re able to grow up as a person. I don’t know how to describe it other than it’s like a life-changing experience. I’m a different person than I was when I made Tracktown. I think as an actor that Nick was a tremendous collaborator because he’s almost like a team captain on the field—he’s playing but he’s also leading in a lot of ways. He taught me a lot. He’s tremendous because he’s a talented actor incredible but he also is just as talented at producing and writing. Jeremy—on Tracktown—felt like we were the leaders and we were the drivers of the ship. With this, I felt like we actually had a third teammate in Nick who added something that we could never imagine now not having.
What was it like working with Nick Kroll?
Alexi Pappas: What’s so cool that Nick is, like I said, he is a producer and he is a writer. He can appreciate an opportunity. For us, he just always brought everything up. Making this movie—when you are an athlete, you are always on. Running is for me a lifestyle—my sleep, my food—everything plays into it. I feel like when we made this movie, we all kind of bought in that idea of while we’re there, we’re always on. We didn’t know when a bobsled was going to go by or when we were going to meet someone in the dining hall or when we were going to find an ice cave or something. For him to kind of be open to not turning off ever was why we captured everything we did. Jeremy and I also didn’t turn off ever but we needed everybody to be on board all the time so even if we were taking a bus home from the opening ceremonies we thought we were done shooting. We shot that bus scene impromptu and it became one of our favorite scenes in the movie.
Jeremy Teicher: He was just like our cool cousin. He just taught us a lot. He was really, really awesome. That’s all I have to say.
This film became the first scripted film to take place in an active Athlete Village during the Olympics.
Alexi Pappas: Probably the only one that will ever—
Jeremy Teicher: Scripted is a loose term because we did rely on—we used a lot of improvisation. It is absolutely the first narrative piece made there.
With all the amount of activity taking place, were you ever worried about continuity during takes?
Jeremy Teicher: We embraced the chaos. I did try to manage continuity as much as possible. I was also kind to myself because I think often you can get so caught up in continuity. Having had the experience of like being in the editing room and making two movies, I kind of had a sense of what was acceptable continuity and not. We just embrace the sets if you will as this living environment. There were there were interruptions that happened. There were many people walking through the shot and that’s part of the movie magic.
Alexi Pappas: Any interruption that you saw in the movie—for example, at the very end, someone asked Nick for directions during this emotional scene. All of those were real questions because he was working a volunteer jacket so people where like, “Where is this place?” He was like, “I don’t know.” Jeremy told us to follow his direction so we never broke character.
Jeremy Teicher: It was never break character unless I say cut.
Alexi Pappas: We would always go along with whatever chaos was happening because that’s what he told us to do.
Jeremy Teicher: I think at first we tried to. I tried to control it but someone walked through and I was like “Cut, Reset.” Then I was like—you know what? No, let’s switch tactics here—never break character unless I say cut and that led to some really magical unplanned moments.
Alexi Pappas: Likewise, I feel like when you’re directing athletes, Jeremy is really excellent at blending fiction and reality and working with non-actors. He’s done it a lot now on all of his movies essentially. I think you did a good job of being a director but also understanding that all of these athletes have probably never had this experience before. I just thought it took a special director to make an athlete feel comfortable acting with a movie star. Part of that was that he didn’t cut a ton because I think for an athlete—who isn’t used to hearing action and cut—that makes them feel like they’re in a scenario that’s different than just a conversation with Nick Kroll in the dentist’s chair or a conversation with me in the game room.
I noticed that Paul Thomas Anderson, Rachel Dratch, and Jason Schwartzman were thanked in the credits. Can you expand on this?
Jeremy Teicher: Rachel was in Tracktown. We also connected with Jason just through some contacts at WME. They were both helpful in putting in a good word for people to kind of help get this project going.
Alexi Pappas: They were basically fans of us and they did whatever they could.
Jeremy Teicher: They were mentors, really. That’s how I’d put it.
Alexi Pappas: Mentor is the better word.
Jeremy Teicher: Rachel—since Tracktown, we stay in touch with her. We keep her kind of just updated our career—just a lovely mentorship. With Jason, that relationship is a little newer.
Alexi Pappas: It’s a belief that they have in us that is something Jeremy and I didn’t grow up knowing anyone who could help us in this world. To have met people like that has been really helpful. With Paul Thomas Anderson, he was a big fan of Tracktown. He’s spoken about our film, Tracktown. It’s one of his favorite movies. Through mutual friends, we connected with him. He actually has become one of Jeremy’s biggest mentors. On this project, he sat down with Jeremy and helped him. You can share the story.
Jeremy Teicher: I sent Paul a rough cut of the film and he gave me some notes. I actually got to go to his house and sit with him and workshop a scene with him. I was working the computer and he was kind of giving me notes. It was really cool to—you never get to do that with another director.
Alexi Pappas: I feel like what Jeremy took away from it was his permission to allow certain moments to breathe. We talked about it afterwards about how it’s not our instinct to—how would you word it?
Jeremy Teicher: I feel like that’s a sacred pact between Paul and me. Paul was good in the edit—highlighting character decision points. Identifying moments when a character is making a decision to take an action and making that moment very clear in the edit. That will make sense to editors.
Alexi Pappas: Whatever you feel comfortable sharing is fine.
How collaborative were the Olympics with the film?
Alexi Pappas: The Olympics were super supportive of us. They invited us to come do this artist-in-residency. I think Jeremy and I are the perfect people. You give us the highlight sticks and we’re not just going to make a little gnome home, we’re gonna make like a cool tree house out of it. When we were asked to do this artist-in-residency, they initially thought we might make really tiny little videos on our cell phones. We envisioned something a little bit bigger like at least short films. So we agreed with them to make these short films. We had just shot enough for this feature and they were supportive of it. They didn’t think we would necessarily pull that kind of thing off but once we did—
Jeremy Teicher: Credit to them for seeing what we did and recognized it and went with it. I think it’s all possible because Alexi is an Olympic athlete so there was a trust there like she’s in the family.
Alexi Pappas: I really wanted to honor my peers first. For me, it matters that Gus Kenworthy and Morgan—the two athletes who were there last night—feel like they could show their kids one day and be like, “This is sort of what the Olympics was like.” That means a lot to me. The Olympics is supportive of us because I think they feel that I want to tell a truthful story—a fictional story that could have happened.
Any plans on going for the gold in 2020?
Alexi Pappas: I plan on going to Tokyo in 2020, certainly. I want to compete again. Tokyo, Japan loves running. I’m really excited about that because to be in a place where the fans are gonna love it. It kind of circles back to your first question about SXSW. To have a good audience for your film is such a big deal and to have a good environment to run fast is such a big deal. For me, I’ve been getting this acting itch more and more. Being here feels like—I don’t know. It kind of feels like when I went to the Olympics in 1996 for the first time when I six year old. I was like, “I want to be an Olympian.” I think being here because I live in the mountains and I’m not really around this environment ever because I’m just training all the time. It feels kind of like that experience all over again.