Writer-director Quinn Shephard spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Not Okay and filming in New York during the summer.
The film is a brilliant social media influencer satire. Zoey Deutch stars as Danni Sanders, a photo editor who aspires to be an influencer on social media. When she pretends to be at a writer’s retreat in Paris, disaster strikes when a terrorist attack hits the city. She uses the opportunity to become a famous influencer and activist. The film also stars Mia Isaac, Embeth Davidtz, Nadia Alexander, Tia Dionne Hodge, Negin Farsad, and Dylan O’Brien.
Searchlight Pictures just released the film on Hulu.
Quinn, it’s so nice to see you again after all this time!
Quinn Shephard: I know. I feel like we’ve known each other for a gazillion years now.
It feels that way. Tribeca was only 2018.
Quinn Shephard: Oh my G-d. So crazy! But didn’t we meet at—we go way back.
What was the genesis behind the script of this brilliant social media satire?
Quinn Shephard: So nice. I actually came up with this idea in 2018, which is when I wrote the first draft of the film. The idea came to me. I was really immersed in internet research for a different project. I was watching all these like YouTube documentaries, spending a lot of time on my phone. I was just continually disturbed by the strangeness of our reality on the internet, of the rise of Trump America politics next to ads and people’s vacation photos. It was just such a bizarre cognitive dissonance. I really wanted to come up with an idea for film that could capture those huge tonal swings that our lives existed in the 10 seconds we would scroll on Twitter. That’s where the idea for this really came from.
Zoey Deutch is phenomenal in the film. When you wrote the script, did you have her in mind?
Quinn Shephard: I kind of did. She was my first choice of the film, always. I had her in mind really early on. I just think she’s made such a great career out of playing these very daring, sometimes scary roles where she’s not afraid to be an unlikable character. She’s not afraid to be provocative. She was somebody who immediately came to mind. I also think she has a really relatable quality that she’s able to bring to a character who does a lot of really despicable things so that the audience can see themselves in her and go along for the journey with her. In my mind, she was the most flawless casting and it was great working with her.
I love how the film features a warning at the beginning that it has an unlikable protagonist.
Quinn Shephard: (Laughs) It’s so funny—this is coming up in every interview. I genuinely did not know that this was going to have the impact on people that it did. It was honestly an idea we had in post because of the reactions to the film. I’ve been talking a lot about male-driven satire, something that almost everyone has grown up on and has seen quite a lot of but there is not as much female-driven satire. It was genuine feedback we would get where people would kind of not understand what the movie was purely because Danni was not likable. They were like, but why? Why would you make this? Why is she unlikable? It’s almost like they were missing the forest for the trees until we put the simplest warning on it and genuinely people were no longer upset and understood what the film was saying and whose side it was on. It was kind of surreal how much that one detail really changed the way that the film tested.
What was it like to work with this cast?
Quinn Shephard: It was so much fun on set. Honestly. Zoey and Dylan had just done a movie together so they came in having a blast doing so much comedy improv. We were crying with laughter on set. Mia Isaac, who plays Rowan, is just phenomenal. This was only her second film and she was 17. It was just an honor getting to see her blossoming at the beginning of her career. She was amazing and honestly carried a lot of the heaviest scenes in the film. Nadia Alexander, who is also my fiancé and was the lead of Blame, which is how we met—I wrote the role that she played in the film for her with her in mind. I think she’s great as Danni’s very skeptical coworker who does not take any shit from her. Around them we just had the most incredible supporting cast. There’s so many people I had been fans of before the movie. I think Karan Soni is someone who comes to mind who I just adored and dreamed of working with and so the fact that he wanted to do it, I was fangirling my first day on set with him. But yeah, it was a blast and it was just everyone was so kind and collaborative and we had a really good time shooting.
Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Quinn Shephard: Honestly, I think New York in the summer is its own challenge. New York in 100 degree weather, in cars, and also, exclusively not air-conditioned locations. For some reason, the locations that I picked on scouts, I just didn’t notice they didn’t have AC. Not a single place we shot had air conditioning. It became almost a running joke like I was sabotaging the cast by always (Laughs) picking these locations so we were very sweaty all the time. That and traffic in New York. When we were shooting the car scene, we were stuck in traffic. There was heat lightning all the time because of the heat. New York in the summer was the challenge.
I can imagine that the lighting on set does not help with the lack of AC.
Quinn Shephard: Oh my G-d. Yeah, no, it was warm. It was warm. I think I have a photo on my phone of Zoey hugging those tubes where they pipe in air conditioning, just like a spread eagle in front of it.
Compared to starring in, writing, and directing Blame, how do you feel that you have grown as a filmmaker through the process of making Not Okay?
Quinn Shephard: It’s funny, I think on Blame. I really felt like I had to prove to everyone how much I knew. I was like, I need to seem like I know everything and I have every answer or else no one will take me seriously going in. I think I was so scared of people looking at me and seeing a child directing and. I was very nervous and I felt like I needed to project so much strength.
On this, I really wanted to challenge myself to be more vulnerable, to ask more questions, and to just be honest about the fact that I don’t know everything. I went into this, I’d never done VFX work before. I’d never done blue screen work before. I had never done large amounts of extras, like background actors in big party sequences. There were things that I really didn’t know. I tried to really push myself to ask every question I had of my AD, of my DP, of my gaffer. Anyone I could talk to about advice because I think that there’s so much stigma around trying to be out front so strongly as a young woman in the industry that sometimes it’s easy to forget you actually have to be vulnerable to learn.
What do you hope people take away from watching the film?
Quinn Shephard: I definitely hope that it just raises some skepticisms and questions about what you’re consuming media-wise on a daily basis, and also, how your own privilege impacts the way that you use platforms. I think depending on who the viewer is and who they see themselves in the film, I definitely hope it encourages people to self-reflect so that we can all not be Danni.
Thank you so much. It was so great catching up after all this time.
Quinn Shephard: Thank you. I appreciate it. It was great to see you, Danielle.
Yeah, I’ll see you on Instagram.
Quinn Shephard: Sounds good.
Quinn Shephard: Bye.
Not Okay is now streaming on Hulu.
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