Writer-directors Alex H. Fischer and Eleanor Wilson spoke with Solzy at the Movies over the phone about their new film, Save Yourselves!
Save Yourselves! stars Sunita Mani and John Reynolds. The supporting cast includes Ben Sinclair, John Early, Jo Firestone, Gary Richardson, Johanna Day, Zenobia Shroff, and Amy Sedaris. Bleecker Street Films releases Save Yourselves! in select theaters on October 2, 2020. The Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD release will follow on October 6, 2020.
Save Yourselves! opens this weekend after premiering during Sundance in January. How exciting is it to get the film out in front of a wider audience?
Alex H. Fischer: We are pretty pumped. We’ve had a few hiccups in the old road.
Eleanor Wilson: To say the least, I guess. Yeah, I mean, it’s so exciting that it’s going to a wider audience now because it’s playing in theaters in some cities and VOD is totally an option. We’re really happy that people can see it in whatever way they feel comfortable.
Can you talk about the writing process and what you wanted to explore in the script?
Eleanor Wilson: The idea was based on kind of a fear of not being connected. I was in upstate New York—where the film ended up being shot—on a writing retreat, writing a different movie. I had really bad reception and was like, what could happen here? What might actually happen if I was disconnected? That was the basis of the idea. Alex came home and we set off to write it together.
Alex H. Fischer: I was really into it. This movie is about two people who are totally unaware that the world is ending. That just felt very real and relevant to the moment even before the pandemic.
Save Yourselves! is the most on-brand films of the year.
Eleanor Wilson: (Laughs) That was an accident.
Alex H. Fischer: It’s a tough competition though this year because there’s like five other movies that came out that are all super relevant as well
Eleanor Wilson: She Dies Tomorrow was great.
I unplug every weekend for 25 hours and sometimes more depending on how the Jewish holidays fall and it becomes turn on my phone and what now?
Alex H. Fischer: Yes, exactly.
Eleanor Wilson: How do you do it?
It’s not easy. Save Yourselves! was also a feature directorial debut. Was it less overwhelming with having to direct a smaller cast?
Eleanor Wilson: Yeah, for sure. It was really nice, also, since we know Sunita. Alex and Sunita went to college together and the familiarity there was really nice.
Alex H. Fischer: We only had a couple of days with more than just the two of them. Mostly, it was just the two of them but it was very manageable. Even the days with more actors, there are two of us so we have an advantage.
Eleanor Wilson: Yeah, we’ve shot all of the cabin stuff first so it was really a couple of weeks before there was an extra person added in. By the time we got to the Brooklyn scenes, which is at the beginning of the movie and then we had this party scene, it was so fun. It was like, Cool, there were be so many people!
While you had Sunita Mani in mind from the start, did casting John Reynolds lead to any script changes?
Alex H. Fischer: Yeah, I guess—and this goes with Sunita, too, when she agreed to be in the movie and when we brought John on. We definitely wrote their dialogue more in their voice and that was really fun to do. Getting to know John a little bit more before the shoot and watching more of this stuff, we got a sense of what he liked and what he thought was funny so we sort of started writing towards that. Very subtle changes—just like words and dialogue. That’s the kind of stuff that made it. When we started going to rehearsals and started actually shooting, they put stuff in their own words even more and took on the comic characters themselves.
Was there room for improv on the set?
Eleanor Wilson: A little bit. It’s a pretty wordy script already so we sort of had to set a rule: You can change the dialogue a little bit just to make it feel natural but please don’t add too much because there was so much script already because of the dialogue. But yeah, there was definitely a few moments that are still in the movie that they improvised. Really, these like sweet little character details that enrich the whole piece.
Alex H. Fischer: There’s one scene where John shoots a gun out the window and the way he reacts to the window shattering is mostly him.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
Alex H. Fischer: I think the end sequence.
Eleanor Wilson: Oh yeah, for sure. I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about this because it’s a spoiler—
Alex H. Fischer: It was complicated.
Eleanor Wilson: But the end of the movie, we shot with projected backgrounds on green screen.
Alex H. Fischer: All in camera except for a couple shots.
Eleanor Wilson: That was huge challenge. I mean, just having so prep so much before the shoot just to make sure that was right, technically. One overall, as a whole, was the weather, actually, which I guess is a thing for everyone. The weather forecast was rain every single day of the week. Sometimes, it did and sometimes it didn’t but we basically had to prepare for rain every single day.
Alex H. Fischer: The forecast was for every day. Somebody told us, “Oh, you’re shooting in upstate New York in June. What are you—crazy?”
Eleanor Wilson: That was after the shoot.
Alex H. Fischer: They were like, “It rains every day. You never know what’s gonna—” We were like, Well, we didn’t know. We have to do the shoot.”
Eleanor Wilson: We did it any way. We got it.
Alex H. Fischer: We figured it out. We had the best AD in town.
Legion M joined Bleecker Street in releasing Save Yourselves! Have you been able to find space for the trophy? But more importantly, how collaborative have they been as a partner?
Eleanor Wilson: Oh (Laughs). No, we haven’t got it yet. We’re gonna drive up to San Francisco to get it.
Alex H. Fischer: Oh my gosh.
Eleanor Wilson: That was coolest thing ever!
Alex H. Fischer: The real deal. It was so beautiful. It kept going like Mary Poppins—
Eleanor Wilson: Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah, Legion M is really cool. I love the whole concept of the company and they’ve made some really fun stuff. I don’t know if you have seen on their website but they have this massive list of theatres that it’s playing in. They’re all little—
Alex H. Fischer: Each theater is represented by a little dot so it looks like the United States is covered.
Eleanor Wilson: It’s very funny.
How collaborative have they been as a partner?
Eleanor Wilson: Very.
Alex H. Fischer: They’re the best. They come up with all these creative ideas for getting people to kind of connect with the movie and the fun bit about the movie is the sci-fi bit of the movie.
Eleanor Wilson: The merch. The fun merch.
Alex H. Fischer: They’re making little Pouffes.
Eleanor Wilson: They made masks that say Save Yourselves! and others. They’re very funny. It’s been very clever and really nice as a filmmaker to be involved in that because I think often it just kind of gets handed off and you don’t have any say.
Alex H. Fischer: They’re movie people. We’re really excited to be in it.
How has the pandemic been from a creative perspective?
Eleanor Wilson: Good days, bad days.
Alex H. Fischer: If you’re not overwhelmed with dread, it’s kind of good to be locked in your house where you can’t do anything fun. You get work done.
Eleanor Wilson: I’ve been pretty productive writing and things like that. There’s certainly days where you listen to the radio too long and the day is over.
Alex H. Fischer: Yeah.
When it comes to writing, what is the focus been like on a given day?
Alex H. Fischer: We have a couple projects, couple balls in the air, I guess. We’ve mostly been sketching out ideas and then recently started adapting a book. We’re really excited about that. It’s very different from Save Yourselves! It’s mostly a drama, but it’s still a comedy. We’re excited about all the different stuff so it’s a nice to kind of get pulled in different directions.
When it comes to filmmaking, who are some of your influences?
Alex H. Fischer: We can talk about this movie because just in general, it’s all over the map. We steal from this best
Eleanor Wilson: For this movie, we always thought of a classic rom-com that gets hijacked by a classic creature movie. The influences for this definitely—we really do a lot of things during the early scenes.
Alex H. Fischer: Setting up these real nice characters and shooting it in more of a classic cinematic way.
Eleanor Wilson: When Harry Met Sally… for sure.
Alex H. Fischer: Yeah, we’ve talked about how the movie is kind of like if When Harry Met Sally… were attacked by Gremlins.
Eleanor Wilson: For the kind of creature side of things, obviously, Critters, Gremlins, all that is a big influence.
Alex H. Fischer: Mostly Aliens.
Eleanor Wilson: Aliens is the one we looked at the most to execute the practical effects.
Alex H. Fischer: Because it doesn’t look like the face hugger from Aliens but that’s how we use the same methodology to get it move around.
Going back to March earlier this year, what was going on in your mindset heading into that Friday afternoon press conference before SXSW?
Eleanor Wilson: Oh, my G-d. Yeah, that was crazy. We were about to go to SXSW and it got shut down. I guess we all sort of thought that it was like, Okay, well, it will be like a month or something. We have to stay at home and then the plan was to release the film in July. We were all kind of like, By the summer, they’ll figure it out and then obviously, that didn’t happen. I can’t believe that it’s almost been a year.
Alex H. Fischer: The year really went by.
Eleanor Wilson: The year has gone badly.
Alex H. Fischer: Badly. The year has gone badly.
I had Critics Choice Awards and Sundance in January and then C2E2at the end of February. After that, it’s been mostly just hanging out in my apartment trying to watch movies and write about them.
Eleanor Wilson: Yeah.
Alex H. Fischer: We’ve been watching movies, too, but we don’t usually write about them. That sounds like fun, actually.
And then I just started my 20th quarantine book on Sunday night.
Eleanor Wilson: Wow!
Alex H. Fischer: What is it?
This one is a biography of William Wyler.
Eleanor Wilson: Twenty books?
Alex H. Fischer: That’s great.
Eleanor Wilson: That’s nineteen more books than I’ve read in quarantine!
I have no problem reading a book but it’s been watching movies and writing about them that some days it’s like, I really don’t want to watch a new film. I just want to put on a classic movie that I’ve already seen a gazillion times.
Eleanor Wilson: We’ve been watching a lot of classic movies.
Alex H. Fischer: That’s what we’ve been doing. We just rewatched Young Einstein, a movie that Yahoo Serious made. They’re great.
Eleanor Wilson: They’re very funny.
Alex H. Fischer: I also read a David Gerrold novel called The Man Who Folded Himself. He was the writer of the Star Trek episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles.” It’s a sci-fi/time travel book. I loved it. It’s great and so trippy.
What do you hope people to take away from viewing Save Yourselves!?
Eleanor Wilson: I mean, honestly, at this point with the world, if they could just have a good time for 90 minutes, that would make us so happy. Beyond that, there’s obviously some deeper things in the movie that people that would think about their place in the world and how we’re all asking you this moment.
Alex H. Fischer: It changed a little bit before the pandemic and then it was like, we wanted people to laugh and maybe rethink their lives a little bit if they that called them. But now it’s more like, well, maybe this will just feel cathartic and they’ll laugh.
Eleanor Wilson: It seems like there’s a lot of action happening right now. Three years ago when we wrote it, it was more like, there’s a lot of problems happening to me than that now. Everybody’s seeing them.
Alex H. Fischer: Hopefully, we’ll see some progress.
Eleanor Wilson: Actual change.