Jeff Baena sat down earlier this week with Solzy at the Movies to discuss Spin Me Round, the new comedy that he directed.
Baena co-wrote the script with Alison Brie, who also stars in the film as Amber, a manager of a Bakersfield, Cal. Italian restaurant. She’s invited to attend a special training program in Italy but the trip is nothing like what she dreamed it would be. There’s no European glamour at all. It soon becomes the special training program from hell. Baena discusses the writing process and how the outline evolved into a traditional screenplay. Unlike prior films, there isn’t really room for improv given the short shooting schedule and the need to make their days.
Alison Brie leads an all-star cast that also includes Alessandro Nivola, Molly Shannon, Tim Heidecker, Ayden Mayeri, Zach Woods, Ben Sinclair, Fred Armisen, Debby Ryan, Lauren Weedman, with Lil Rey Howery and Aubrey Plaza.
IFC Films will release Spin Me Round in theaters, Digital/VOD, and AMC+ on August 19, 2022.
Jeff Baena: Hey Danielle, how’s it going?
It’s going well. How are you?
Jeff Baena: Good. It’s been a little while.
Jeff Baena: Back at it.
What was the genesis for the script?
Jeff Baena: After shooting The Little Hours, I came back to America and I read this article about a manager from an unnamed Italian franchise restaurant that had gone on this immersion program that they had at their Institute in Italy. They were sort of thinking it was going to be this incredible life-changing experience and they’d be staying at this villa. It turns out they were staying at a nasty dorm and there really wasn’t a structure to the program and they kind of felt like they were trapped in this sort of shitshow of a situation. I just thought that was a pretty funny setup so I just started creating an outline based on that, and then obviously, taking liberties.
Yeah, that whole situation just sounds ripe for comedy.
Jeff Baena: Yeah.
Although I bet they did not have bores.
Jeff Baena: I mean, you never know. I mean, if you go to Italy, there’s boars everywhere.
How did the process compare to writing Horse Girl with Alison Brie?
Jeff Baena: It started off relatively similar in the sense that we were working off an outline and then the intention was to shoot it in the summer of 2020. Obviously, Covid hit and hit Italy really hard and so we put a pin in it. In the interim, while we were waiting for things to open up again, we decided to just write it out as a screenplay, like a traditional screenplay. That was different because off of my previous three movies, we were working off of outlines. So we had an actual script. Due to a variety of situations, we just didn’t really have a lot of time to be able to kind of explore improvisationally and so it was a benefit to have an original screenplay in order to make our days.
Did that feel different compared to your previous films?
Jeff Baena: It felt different from my last three films but my first one was scripted. I came up as a writer so it was only different in regards to the way I had been working just prior, but it wasn’t out of my wheelhouse. It’s something I’ve done before.
What was it like with getting to work with this cast, especially several of which you’ve worked with before?
Jeff Baena: The cast was incredible and was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. The cast that I’ve worked with before, it’s always a pleasure to get back on the saddle with them and try different things. For instance, with Molly, I think she’s generally had more reserved roles in my previous movies and the intention was to kind of let her open it up a little bit and go full boar, no pun intended. Some of the newer people, Tim Heidecker, I’ve known for over 20 years and we’ve been friends and he’s someone I’ve always wanted to work with so that was really fun. Ben Sinclair’s a friend of mine and it was great to get a chance to collaborate with him. Alessandro Nivola, I’m a fan of, never really knew him and met him because of this project. Ayden Mayeri is someone that I was unfamiliar with, but saw her reel and was blown away. I’m so glad. Sort of like my other movies, it’s always a benefit to have familiar faces to kind of help, having been there before, but I always welcome new faces. Just like all my other movies, anyone that just comes in as a brand new performer that I’ve never worked with before, I tend to just fall in love with them and want to work with them, also, forever. I just have an ever increasing circle of performers that I love to pull from.
Of the new cast members, who is the biggest surprise?
Jeff Baena: Biggest surprise? I guess the biggest surprise—I mean, I guess Ayden Mayeri. Zach Woods, too. I mean, Zach, I’ve known a little bit through Aubrey through UCB stuff. He’s obviously a genius and I’m familiar with his work and I’m such a fan. But yeah, Ayden was great. There was like some sort of kismet stuff happening. The intention was always to have a Body Double style score for this movie. I’m such a fan of Pino Donoggio and I got really lucky to actually get Pino Donoggio to do the score. But when I got Aiden’s reel, the first part of it was a scene from that show, I think it’s Homecoming with Julia Roberts. You know what I’m talking about? In her scene, they’re playing the song “Telescope” from Body Double. I was like, What are the chances? This is crazy. It just felt like it was meant to be and now she’s a big part of all of our lives, and she’s great.
Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Jeff Baena: The biggest challenge of the production probably was not having a producer on set. We’re probably one of the first movies ever to actually shoot a film and not have a producer on set so that was very challenging. We were able to make it work but it definitely was something we had to navigate the whole time we were shooting.
What was the biggest impact that the pandemic had other than delaying the planned shoot for 2020?
Jeff Baena: Other than making our movie wait a year, I would say just the flow of production is sort of at the mercy of Covid protocols. Between masking, distancing, testing, and just sort of paranoia, I think all of that stuff was never a factor and became a legitimate sort of function of contemporary filmmaking. That was definitely something to adjust to and was not much appreciated.
It’s been interesting talking to filmmakers over the past year, year and a half where they’re so used to sitting right next to the editor in the edit, and then you go from that to just talking over Zoom, looking at all the cuts.
Jeff Baena: Yeah, I edited this in person. My editor and I, he was I guess, because this was still early days of the pandemic, was part of my pod and we set up the editing room in our guest house so that was cool. I did this TV show for Showtime at the beginning of the pandemic called Cinema Toast. We had edited with Zoom and so that was definitely—and we recorded it on Zoom so that was more of a pure Zoom experience. Interestingly enough, I do feel like editing with Zoom isn’t that bad. It’s kind of fine since the majority of the time you’re looking at the back of your editor said. This was the first time you can actually see your editor’s face while you’re editing so that was kind of fun to see Ryan Brown, who’s my editor—to see his eyes instead of the nape of his neck. But yeah, I mean, it’s a challenge. I think things are slightly coming back to normal. I’m more on the paranoid side with stuff so to me, it’s not normal, but seems like people are pretending like everything’s okay.
I mean, I’m still masking up when I go into stores.
Jeff Baena: Hell, yeah. I’m masking it up anywhere indoors.
What is it about Italy that you find appealing as a location for your films?
Jeff Baena: Well, Italy, I think is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to go there a bunch of times over the last few years. After having shot The Little Hours there, I was discovering so many new areas and so many amazing cultural things. Obviously, there’s food but I think there’s so much beauty, natural beauty, art, music, the people are amazing, the architecture. I think having gone there, it feels like you’re just scratching the surface, like it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every time I go back, I feel like I’m discovering new things even in places I’ve been before. There’s something about that that I just feel like you can’t get enough of. It lends itself to films because it’s just—the intention of this movie was obviously to play down the beauty a little bit, to almost be disappointed that you’re not getting these amazing shots of food and landscapes because you’re basically forced to stay in this horrible place. You’re so close to Paradise but you can’t touch it. Even then, I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s insanely beautiful in the movie that sneaked in. But yeah, it’s just truly a magical place.
How did it feel to get back to a major film festival premiere during SXSW in March?
Jeff Baena: Going into a film festival was extremely trippy. Like I said, I’m more on the paranoid side of the spectrum and it was the first time I’ve been in a movie theater since Covid started. So to go from not being in a movie theater to being in a room of 600 people, I mean, obviously, everyone was masked but it was definitely trippy. I think, especially for comedies, it’s super important to have a communal experience because there is sort of a contagious enthusiasm. Hearing groups of people laughing versus a couple of people chuckling in your living room really lends itself to comedies. I think more than anything, comedies benefit big time from being in theaters so that was great and hot. Getting into go to a couple of festivals and being able to see it with an actual live audience was incredible.
Did it feel different to watch at SXSW as opposed to Sundance like your previous films?
Jeff Baena: It’s hard to say mainly because it’s such a specific situation with Covid. I know that this year, Sundance wasn’t able to do anything in person. Between watching your movies over the computer and watching it with an audience, I’d say—like I was just saying, it’s incredible to have an audience to watch it with. Previous years, I’ve never really had an experience of being in a room full of people with masks. When you’re looking at the audience, it definitely looks post-apocalyptic but everyone’s doing the best that they can.
What do you hope people take away from watching the film?
Jeff Baena: I just hope people have a good time. I mean, it’s a silly, fun movie. There’s obviously is some amount of social message there but I don’t think you need to focus on that to enjoy it. I hope that some of the, I guess, subtler—and I guess some of its not subtle—messaging does come across, but at the same time, you can just enjoy it and it’s just fun comedy.
Alright. Thank you so much. It was so great catching up, and I look forward to seeing what you do next.
Jeff Baena: Thanks, Danielle. Take it easy.
IFC Films will release Spin Me Round in theaters, Digital/VOD, and AMC+ on August 19, 2022.
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