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Interview: ‘Ingrid Goes West’ Director Matt Spicer on Our Social Media-Obsessed Generation

Matt Spicer is having a moment.

After having created a few short films and then working primarily as a screenwriter, the 33-year-old made the leap behind the camera to direct his debut feature, the timely social media dark comedy Ingrid Goes West. With a stacked cast by his side, Spicer brought the film to Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and arrived with a splash, safely securing a distribution deal with Neon.

Leading up to Ingrid‘s release, Cut Print Film spoke to Spicer at the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, California, appropriately located just across the Pacific Ocean. Picturesque and totally Instagram-worthy, it would’ve made Ingrid herself quite proud. Words with the filmmaker below.

Cut Print Film: A year ago, you were still in the process of making this film.

Matt Spicer: Yeah, we were still shooting it, believe it or not.

I’m sure it’s been a crazy ride since. You had a successful run at Sundance.

Spicer: Yeah, it’s been pretty non-stop. I mean, we shot the movie in five weeks, and we wrapped in mid-August. Then I think we submitted it to Sundance [at the] end of September, beginning of October, then we found out we got in to Sundance after Thanksgiving. And then it was a mad rush to finish the movie in time for January, and then… Yeah, we sold it. I thought, “Oh, we sold the movie at Sundance, and they want to release it in the summer! That’s more than enough time.” But it’s still, just… Getting a movie into theaters is so much work. You have to do the trailer, and then the posters, and then build the press and all that stuff… I had no idea how much work it was [going to be] until you obviously go through it. It’s crazy.

CPF: What’s the most surprising way people have responded to this film?

Spicer: I think it’s so exciting to see that it’s connecting with people. You make something and you just hope people see it. I think that’s the most exciting part, is that people are seeing it. There’s people that either don’t like it or whatever… [But] it’s still just so exciting to me that people are seeing it and talking about it. That feels like a victory in and of itself.

CPF: This being your first time directing a feature, what were the most challenging parts?

Spicer: Just that you never have enough time or money. You never have enough. I remember when we got the cast, we made this movie – in the scheme of movies, it’s a very small budget film – but to me, it was the most money I’ve ever had to make anything. And so I was like, “Well, this is great! We’ll definitely be able to make anything we want.” And that’s obviously just not the case. You’re always racing against the clock and racing against how much money you have. But what’s cool about it is it forces you to be creative. I don’t know how people make or direct movies that they didn’t have some hand in writing, because having written it, or helped write it, I knew [the material] so well and so I could make those decisions on the fly because I was just like, “Well, this is what that character wants, and this is what we need to do. So let’s just do it like that.”

That was the challenge of it, is like, “Okay, you have ten minutes to do what you thought you were going to have five shots to do in one shot and now, GO!” You’re just hoping it works. [laughs]

CPF: Why do you think our generation is as obsessed with social media as we are?

Spicer: At least speaking from my generation, we grew up without any of this technology, and then all of a sudden, we have this computer that we have with us all the time that allows us to connect to anyone in the world and access any song or any movie we want whenever we want. When you really think about it, it’s so crazy that we have this ability. I remember when the iPhone came out and it just felt like things were never going to be the same after that. It really hasn’t. It really has changed everything. We’re in this middle generation where we remember what it was like to have to memorize people’s phone numbers, and if someone called you and you weren’t at home, you just didn’t talk to them. And now, you can reach anybody at any time anywhere, all over the world.

[As for] the younger generation, they grew up with it. So to them, it’s just part of life. It’s not as big of a deal as it is for our generation where we remember what it was like before. So now we’re like kids in a candy store, but we’re probably overly obsessed with it than we should be.

CPF: Yeah, I have a younger sister who’s 19 and she’s always had Twitter and Instagram, whereas for me, it’s something that came along later. To me, there’s a certain language that you have to learn to really get into all of that. I don’t know those waters in the same way she does.

Spicer: Yeah. I was at Bonnaroo promoting the film, and there was there was this girl – she must have been 15, 16 years old – she was Snapchatting during [a] concert. Her thumbs were moving so quickly through the app and it was like watching someone from Minority Report. [laughs] I couldn’t believe how fast she was. I use Snapchat and I’m like, “Wait, do you swipe up?” I’m literally like a grandpa and I can’t figure out how it works. [Meanwhile,] it was just second nature to her in a way that’s terrifying. But also I was like, “Oh, that is the future.” It’s just second nature.

CPF: I feel like this film couldn’t have been set anywhere but in Los Angeles.

Spicer: I agree.

CPF: Much like Instagram, self-branding is a part of L.A. culture. Like in your film, it’s quite sad, considering how to an extent, we’re merely projecting these idealized versions of ourselves.

Spicer: Right.

CPF: How we present ourselves as calling cards of sorts, in the same way we use Instagram now.

Spicer: Yeah, it’s hard. I mean, it was even hard for me as a filmmaker because I always saw myself as a director, but I hadn’t directed anything [yet]. So I would be around people who would go, “What do you do?” And I’d go, “Umm… a director…”. I always felt weird saying [that], because I’m not. I hadn’t directed anything. I was a screenwriter, so I would just say that, but there was that internal thing. Some people don’t have that issue and they walk around [owning it]. I always admire the Taylors of the world in a weird way, because to be able to project this confidence, it’s like, “Okay. Sure!”

But I do think there is a downside to that as well, to not being authentic. That is what I wrestle with a lot, with social media. How do I be authentic on this? How do I represent how I really am? Just to be accurate with who I really am and not try to project this inflated version of myself, but also not be this little wallflower that’s shy about putting myself out there, which I don’t think is accurate either.

CPF: Can you tell me about how you developed these characters?

Spicer: Dave [Branson Smith] and I, we wanted to pour ourselves into each character and have each [one] represent a different point of view. [Wyat Russell’s] Ezra, for example, he’s very anti-technology and anti-social media, but we put that point of view into this pretentious, kind of artist character. I relate to him also [because] there’s times that I’m like, Screw social media. This is bullshit, and you just want to unplug from it all. But you realize that that perspective is lame, too.

If there’s any character that I think is an aspirational character in the film, I think it’s [O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s] Dan Pinto. He’s a character who’s genuine. He likes what he likes and doesn’t apologize for it. He projects an authenticity that I think is admirable. I think a lot of people come away [from the film] loving this character and O’Shea’s performance because he does such a good job of like, [while being] in the midst of all these people who are posturing in different ways, he’s just going with the flow and being who he is, and being okay with that.

CPF: I wanted to talk to you about the Batman jokes with O’Shea’s character.

Spicer: [laughs] With O’Shea, he just happens to be obsessed with Batman too, which we had no idea when we approached him about it. And so, there are all these weird little coincidences with the film. I don’t know why. I mean, a lot of people like Batman, to be fair.

CPF: You just kept running with it. Every time he’s on screen, there’s always a Batman joke and it’s always the right reference at the right time.

Spicer: [laughs] I mean, a lot of it we just put in to make ourselves laugh. I’m glad other people find it funny too, because it was definitely cracking us up while we were writing it.

CPF: Another thing I love about this film is that it’s relatively inclusive, and how the people of color involved aren’t written as parodies of themselves. As a person of color and a woman, that’s always on my radar subconsciously. Not to mention, it’s female-led. As a filmmaker, what do all of these elements mean to you?

Spicer: My favorite film this year so far is Get Out. There’s something that’s so exciting about that film because of all the reasons that you just listed. It just feels fresh and exciting.

I just think there’s a version of [Ingrid Goes West] that’s all white people and is boring and doesn’t accurately reflect Los Angeles. I think that was part of it. [But] it’s hard because when you go out and send out your list of casting people to agencies, [because] the names that you get back initially are always going to be white people. You actually have to push and say, “Can you guys send me a more diverse group of people?”

O’Shea, for instance, he was actually Aubrey’s idea. But as soon as she said that, my brain was just on fire. It was such a great idea, and it was so cool. I feel like I haven’t seen that sort of character before, the way he portrayed it and what he brought to it. The same thing with Pom. It just felt right.

As for [being female-led], we’ve seen so many male anti-heroes out there. There’s Travis Bickle, Walter White, Tony Soprano, and [so on], but there’s not as many female versions of those characters, [nor are there] complicated, dark roles for females. And then someone like Aubrey is just sitting on the bench, just waiting for a role like this to come along that she can really sink her teeth into.

I think it’s honestly dumb for studios and filmmakers to not consider being more diverse with their casting because there’s so much talent out there that’s just not being exploited. It’s their loss.

CPF: What’s next for you? I know you were developing a project called Stockholm with Maika Monroe and Emory Cohen starring.

Spicer: Yeah, we’re still talking about that. There’s a couple other things: my other writing partner Max [Winkler] and I are working on the new Rocketeer movie for Disney. So we just handed in another draft of that.

CPF: Congratulations!

Spicer: Thanks! Yeah, it’s a total dream come true for a different reason because I love that movie. And then Dave and I, who I wrote Ingrid with, we’re adapting something [else] too. And then there’s another thing for Netflix. There are a few things, [but] hopefully one of them will come to fruition soon and get going.

CPF: Are there any particular Instagram accounts that you’re fascinated by?

Spicer: [laughs] I would say my favorite accounts are the meme accounts, and my friend Caroline has one called @officialseanpenn. To me, she is just the funniest and everything she posts makes me laugh. I would check that out. Give it a little plug.

Ingrid Goes West heads to theaters in Los Angeles and New York this Friday, August 11, and everywhere else on August 25.

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Nix Santos is a writer based in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter @nxsnts.

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