Writer-director Jonah Feingold spoke with Solzy at the Movies last week about his new film, Dating & New York, releasing in theaters and VOD.
The film stars Jaboukie Young-White, Francesca Reale, Catherine Cohen, and Brian Muller. Following the romantic comedy’s premiere this past summer during the 2021 Tribeca Festival, IFC Films will release the film in theaters and on VOD.
After premiering Dating & New York during Tribeca this summer, how exciting is it to finally have the film in front of a wider audience?
Jonah Feingold: It is a dream come true. We’ve been getting these things called playdates, which are basically theaters that are attaching to show the film. People, should they feel comfortable going—it’s been really cool to just see different states that have signed up to show the movie. Strangely, Phoenix has a bunch of theaters that are showing the film, which makes me wonder what’s going on in Phoenix in terms of dating culture, but it’s a dream come true. I’m excited because on the same day, it’s available online and in theaters the same day that it drops. I’m ready for people to see this movie.
What was the genesis behind the script?
Jonah Feingold: The genesis behind the script was making a movie that spoke to the minutiae of modern dating, both in a way that felt timeless and very modern, which are two words that are probably not typically dropped next to each other like that so casually. The idea of having a text message sequence on screen in line with a movie like Searching but set with the backdrop of a classical jazz score or even just two characters that are speaking to each other in a very sort of Billy Wilder-blocking but they’re talking about each other while posting on each other’s Instagram grid, and subverting the expectations of a classical rom-com with very modern issues and terminology. That was the genesis for what we wanted this film to be and then it sort of developed into this comedy in New York with, again, the fairy tale tone that I at least love in the movies I came up loving, ultimately, to make, I think, a very unique rom-com that will make people smile, hopefully.
What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Jonah Feingold: The most challenging moment was time, I think. We shot the movie in 15 days in what was one of the coldest New York Novembers, I believe, according to date. When you’re shooting a movie in New York, you’re always gonna be battling people on the street, you’re going to be battling weather, and of course, just the general unpredictability of the city, which is also the reason that we love it. In this particular case, time is, I think, a director’s best and worst enemy. I just wish we could have had more time to explore things. But ultimately, I think that time also—the quick schedule lends to the very fun pace of the film and being able to just get in there and do it, do the work, and make something unique. A lot of great movies—I mean, I feel like I remember reading about Jaws and how little time they had and ultimately, half the reason that some of the shots look the way they look is simply because Steven Spielberg didn’t have time to cover scenes properly. You never know what you’re going to get the other side but that was definitely the biggest challenge.
What were some of the challenges that came with doing post-production during a pandemic?
Jonah Feingold: The biggest challenges of post during the pandemic is 1) communicating—we didn’t have post-production supervisor. Our movie has a lot of elements of post-production, a lot of VFX for a film that’s really just about two people talking to each other. Coordinating that with my amazing editor, Hanna Park, was a challenge but because Hanna is so passionate and because we have an amazing graphics effects person named Gustavo Rosa, we were able to—even though we had an indie budget makes me feel much larger. That was certainly a challenge but one that allowed us to really just be more specific. I had to write incredibly detailed emails, and sometimes even just go off screen, record my phone, text message myself different things, and then import that into Premiere and just see how that would work with music.
And then, of course, I wouldn’t even say it was a challenge. It was more of a silver lining—our wonderful composer, Grant Fonda, did our entire session remotely. It’s a director’s dream to be in the same room as your composer and listen to the live musicians. But given the state of the world, we did this over Zoom and I was in my kitchen—not in a soundstage—connected to Zoom and I was able to see all the amazing musicians on the other end. I think I definitely would have loved to have been there in real life for that experience. I think all the challenges that we’ve had, ultimately, still led us to a product that I wouldn’t change if given the opportunity. I’m thrilled with the way that everyone was able to work and get it done.
One of the things I like is Dating & New York and Shiva Baby share the same cinematographer, editor, and a pair of producers and yet tonally and visually, they are such different movies.
Jonah Feingold: Yes, I love that as well. We had brought on—when we were hiring our line producer and AD, we were suggested by Maria Rusche, our cinematographer, Katie Schiller and Kieran Altmann. They’ve been amazing, too. They came on and said, “We just made a movie in August for a similar budget in New York, and granted it was all in a house, we still feel that as NYU grads, we know the city, we can make this with you.” I was like, Fantastic. My other producer, Joaquin Acrich, and I were very lucky to team up with Katie and Kieran and they brought on Maria Rusche, our cinematographer who is such a chameleon. The only consistent thing amongst Maria’s work is that it’s really good. She makes things look really good but she’s able to jump into a movie like Shiva Baby, which is 99% handheld and sort of anamorphic in your face, or a movie like Dating & New York, which the first references we talked about were commercial 90s movies. We had the same costume designer, who was actually our production designer; same key PA; same editor, Hanna Park—now she’s doing a studio movie for MGM and rightfully so. Between Shiva Baby and Dating & New York, she has proven herself as probably one of the top comedy editors in the game especially at her age. It’s been amazing to work with the same team of people and see everyone else elevate in their careers as a result.
Your Letterboxd profile lists Jurassic Park among the films that inspired Dating & New York. I don’t recall seeing any dinosaurs in your film!
Jonah Feingold: (Laughs) Yeah, I saw that note. I know how big of a Jurassic Park fan you are. I would say that it wasn’t so much the dinosaurs as much as it was the use of music and the use of score in a movie that—Jurassic Park, as it’s taken shape in this new franchise, I feel like it’s gotten very horror in its tone. If you look at the first one, it’s almost like a story about fatherhood and a story about what it means to be a parent in this family adventure movie. I think when I go back and rewatched—I obviously referenced Hook, another one of our favorite movies—I go back and watched Jurassic Park before making Dating, not only to figure out the ways that Steven used the camera in a room or just the blocking of characters because that’s the part that I really love about—deep down in his movies I love. But also, just the way they use music, whether it’s sentimental piano during the ice cream, the scene with him and then the ice cream is melting and it’s just this very bittersweet scene. It was a movie I just kept watching while we were doing prep and doing production. There was a cut scene in Dating & New York, where Wendy’s character is talking to Milo about how much she loves the movie, Jurassic Park. Ultimately, it was cut because it was the first and only time the character brought it up and audiences felt—in the test screenings—it wasn’t earned!
That better be on the Blu-ray or DVD!
Jonah Feingold: Yes, I promise it will be.
Hook was the film that set you on a path towards a career in filmmaking. The Hook music cue even comes up at one point during the film. It’s a film that’s grown a cult following even though Steven Spielberg himself has admitted to being less proud of the Neverland sequences. Can you imagine today’s technology had been around thirty years ago?
Jonah Feingold: It’s so funny because I think one think that we love about that movie is sort of the practical effect of it. It never bumps on perhaps our generation but absolutely. I mean, I can’t imagine if especially the sort of The Mandalorian style of VFX—the symposium or whatever they call it, that sort of 365 degree camera technique they use—that would be a really interesting and exciting way to deliver a new version of Neverland because you could still have the practical and you could still extend that world by creating that camera tracking system, whatever that VFX system is called. Maybe it’s called Stagecraft, I forget. But yeah, it’s so funny although I think Steven recently recognized that there is an nostalgic group of people for film Hook now that he’s kind of come around to it.
How much of an influence has Steven Spielberg’s work been on your career as a filmmaker?
Jonah Feingold: It’s the number one influence, I would say, closely followed by Nora Ephron. Obviously watching a movie like Hook when you’re younger and having that be the inciting moment for wanting to be a filmmaker will always route me back to that. And for me, the things about his movies that I really connect with are simply the childlike sense of wonder that all of his characters pretty commonly radiate as well as the way that he moves camera, uses light, uses music, and all these things that I think make him such a strong auteur.
I want to go make five more romantic comedies but the idea of approaching a larger sort of studio property and making movies like The Goonies or making a film like Jurassic Park or Hook is super appealing but I think we can take from his approach of the use of light, score, blocking, and characters who ultimately believe ordinary people having extraordinary things happening to them is something that I think we can put into rom-coms still and we can still use that in smaller indie movies. The Sugarland Express—one of his first films—I remember watching that and while obviously, I think it was relatively low budget, you can just see the way that that movie felt larger and had so many early signs of what his style crystallized to be. I love that you can just watch a frame and say, Holy shit, this is a Spielberg movie we’re watching.
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned from attending the USC Film School?
Jonah Feingold: The most valuable lesson is be super, super kind and open and meet as many people as possible. I look back at my time on USC and it’s not necessarily the things I remember about the craft of filmmaking that have stuck but it’s the relationships that you build early on that have been really meaningful. I’ll call out sort of two people in particular—Aneesh Chaganty, a really talented director who made a film called Searching and a movie called Run. He was my best friend since day one of film school. He actually has a cameo in the movie for anyone that wants to find him. He and I made our first film together there of which we won the Gold Award, which wasn’t really first place but that’s confusing because you think gold be first or whatever. I produced his thesis film called Microeconomics. It’s that kind of relationship that’s been the best thing to come out of school because I saw early cuts of Run and Searching and he got very, very early cuts of Dating. We’ve just been able to help each other with the craft itself—with the art of what the stories were trying to tell. The same goes for my friend, Taylor Segal, who was my other friend since day one and she’s now a really prominent executive at Broadway Video. It’s these sort of relationships where I remember like it was yesterday—we were at the orientation table. There’s like three of us there and these are still my two of my closest friends in the industry. I think USC does an amazing job of cultivating friendships and encouraging you to maintain them.
How has the pandemic been for you with regards to creativity?
Jonah Feingold: It’s been good. I’m very much of the style of I want to pick up a camera and go make something. For better or worse, a lot of the pandemic was finishing the movie at all costs and now it’s been prepping to make another romantic comedy, which is a rom-com that takes place in the culinary world of New York City and sort of a homage to You’ve Got Mail and Chef. It’s been very much working on the script, talking to actors, and storyboarding.
I’m very envious of the way that Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks make their animated movies because they can basically make the movie 1000 times until they ultimately can never touch it again. I’m trying to adapt whatever I can from that process, whether that’s storyboarding, shooting little scenes on my iPhone in my own kitchen, or doing whatever I can over Zoom to workshop stuff until the day that I know we’re officially on set and making it.
I think it’s been good for creativity here. It’s watching a lot of stuff, reading a lot and just trying to figure out—I saw David Lowery speaking about the way that he’s approaching his creative life, which is to create an everlasting impact. I think the pandemic has allowed a lot of artists to just reflect and really figure out what is the next couple of projects look like in terms of how time is spent and what the impact will be for years to come.
It’s funny that you mentioned You’ve Got Mail because I just saw where you had logged The Shop Around the Corner on Letterboxd the other day.
Jonah Feingold: Yes, I watched that for the first time a couple years ago but I wasn’t really well-versed in—I don’t remember it that well. And I was like, it’s time to go watch that movie again. I mean, what a great film! By the way, I also put up Bringing Up Baby because I saw you had written about that one and that’s on my to watch list. The Shop Around the Corner—it’s just I’m really obsessed with this sort of hidden identity sort of The Shop Around the Corner approach of that You’ve Got Mail pulls from. I really love that setup and I do feel as if there’s a way to make it very modern, even more modern than using AOL. Of course, it’s never going to be the same thing in our version. It’s a food critic versus a guy who opened the restaurant. It’s a different thing but there’s still this major secret that’s kept. What a wonderful movie—The Shop Around the Corner.
That’ll be a movie that I’d line up to see.
Jonah Feingold: Amazing!
What do you hope viewers take away from watching the film?
Jonah Feingold: I hope viewers are A) tempted to revisit rom-coms past after the movie. I hope that they smile, feel good, feel full from the meal that they were served, and they want to go back and watch the older movies that I know you and I love so much and that they’ll also perhaps look at rom-coms as a genre of movie that can be interpreted and told in different ways. I hope that they just sort of believe in the power of apps and love. I just want them to be in a good mood. I want the credits to roll and I want you to feel happier or satisfied more so than the way you entered the movie. I think that is the most important thing to me.