Catching up With Jess Weixler and Jennifer Prediger on Trouble Dolls

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The fact that indie sweethearts Jess Weixler (Teeth, Alexander the Last, Best Man Down) and Jennifer Prediger (Uncle Kent, Richard’s Wedding, A Teacher) are close buddies in real life is cool enough. The fact that they wrote, directed and starred in a film together is even cooler. And the fact that it was inspired by Dumb and Dumber and Laverne and Shirley is perhaps coolest of all. Their film, Trouble Dolls, opened to rave reviews at the Los Angeles Film Festival last week, and the pair spoke with us about their friendship, making a film together and lecturing strangers on the subway.

Paste: How has the festival been for you? The LA Film Festival is the debut of the film right?

Jess Weixler: Yeah. This festival is incredible. They’re been treating us like movie stars. They took us on a retreat to Palm Springs, all the directors. And then our premier—Jenny and I have been talking about how it’s one of the best days of our lives. It was like our wedding. A combination of our union.

Paste: (laughs) That’s awesome. You’re like the double brides. Let’s talk about the beginning of the project. I understand that the inspiration from the project came from a building in New York. That’s kind of an unusual start. Why don’t one of y’all start telling that story?

Weixler: Take it away Jenny!

Jennifer Prediger: Alright. I was, as creative people do sometimes, living in an illegal sublet in the East Village in this wonderful kind of Bohemian building. Like an immigrant building from the 1800s in an un-updated apartment. With all the old fixtures. All the old everything. And it just had a creative energy to it. Artists have lived there, and filmmakers. So I had to go away, and Jess came to live there for a couple of months while I was gone. She was working on The Good Wife, and then we overlapped there for a good month. And while we were living there, we were inspired by this place, by being around each other.

Weixler: And then we sat around and started watching buddy comedies—The Odd Couple and Withnail and I and Dumb and Dumber. And we were like, uh, we like the classic buddy movie mold.

Paste: (laughs)

Weixler: Let’s just make something.

Paste: Let’s make a chick buddy movie.

Weixler: Let’s make a chick buddy movie. The power of two.

Paste: I heard one of you mention Laverne and Shirley in another interview, and I was like, that’s exactly what that chemistry reminds me of. That kind of, you know, up against the world, everything’s wrong. We can’t quite get our shit together kind of feel.

Weixler: (laughs) Yes.

Paste: And, I never would’ve picked it out having just seen the movie. But when you said it, I was like “That’s it. That’s exactly the hit I was getting.”

Prediger: Aw. Thank you.

Paste: I’m a filmmaker too, and I’ve co-directed stuff. When it works, I think it’s a really, really good experience, but it’s kind of interesting that y’all co-directed a movie in which you both appeared together in most of the scenes. Tell me about how, just logistically how that would happen. The good news is that there are two directors. The bad news is that they’re both in front of the camera right now.

Weixler: I think in retrospect … I think we thought that when we were making it we would have enough time to look at playbacks, but we shot the movie in 14 days and one day with pickup shots. So we only had time to do a few takes and [had to] just keep moving and not look at playback. So, we just had to kind of trust each other. We did this thing where we’d do a take or two and whisper in each other’s ears to give directions. So it stayed really intimate, and we felt really bonded and intimate with each other. That we could trust to give each other direction and make changes. Sort of move the scene into a place where we felt “that feels good,” and then we’d just move on.

Prediger: There’s a certain amount of directing through acting that happened, you know, where we could sort of steer each other in ways that we wanted or needed as actors, as well, which was really kind of interesting. I felt like it was a kind of cool dance we were able to do and give each other something to play off of as actors. It was kind of a cool way of doing this.

Paste: That wordless kind of playing off each other. That’s really cool.

Weixler: And we wanted to push our characters into opposites so it would have more of that Odd Couple, or any of the dynamic duo feel, so we were able to always counter each other. We could of sort of see what the other one was doing and counter it as soon as possible.

Paste: And then, what about, I’m sorry to keep asking inside baseball questions about the film side aspect of it, but that’s always fascinating to me. What about even placing the camera and moving the camera and lighting and that kind of stuff? Did you work with—I’m not familiar with the cinematographer who you worked with (who did a really good job)—did you find a cinematographer with a really strong sense who could sort of help take the reins? Or did you storyboard extensively? How did you prepare for the technical decisions that had to be made about the shots?

Prediger: We did a lot of storyboarding with Dan Sharnoff in the beginning as part of our preproduction process, and we’d come up with a shot list that we were really happy and excited with. And then on the actual day of shooting, everything happens to change. The lighting is different or the space is different than you thought it was going to be. We were really fortunate to have a cinematographer who was quick on his feet, and we just had a nimble crew. Lighting changes would be made, and we would all look at the monitor and get a general sense of how things were. And then, because of the limitations of our time, we would just have to jump right in and then hopefully, we would get what we wanted. Sometimes Jess and I wouldn’t get to see the footage until the end of the day or even three days later just because we were so pressed on time.

Weixler: He was really our third wheel in the best sense of the word, and we really relied on him heavily and trusted him so much. We would look at the shots and sort of see the way they were set up and look at other people in the frame. But at the end of the day, we just had to trust that he felt like it looked good, and knew what we had in the can. That was a beautiful thing, that he was that close to us.

Paste: Yeah.

Weixler: And honest with us, too. We could all be honest and quite frank with each other when things needed to change, so that we could keep moving fast.

Prediger: Yeah. We had great communication thankfully, and everyone sort of relied on each other and each other’s eyes, but especially our cinematographer. He was very much our eyes a lot of the time.

Weixler: We had a wonderful team of producers on monitors, too, that were just giving us feedback as we went along, so it was really—it took a village. Shout out to Kim Leadford.

Paste: Yeah, I was counting, and I think you had almost as many producers as you did days of production. (laughs)

Weixler: (laughs) Oh my god, I didn’t realize that. That’s ridiculous.

Prediger: That’s funny. Well you know, that goes around a little bit when you’re trying to help people on an indie film to feel appreciated.

Paste: Oh, of course.

Prediger: People need to get a little upgrade, a little producer bone.

Paste: To make up for the huge dollars that you’re not paying them.

Weixler: It’s a combination of that, and then you have to ask for so many favors. And people have to pull favors out. Here’s some credit for some favors.

Paste: Yeah. It’s like the old joke about what’s the definition of an associate producer. It’s the credit you give your assistant instead of a raise.

Prediger: Uh yeah! There you go.

Weixler: Well said.

Paste: I love the story about of sort of going to Sundance and opening up the film guide and seeing all the other women pairs that were there.

Weixler: I think we just realized in post that it was in the water, that a lot of women were working together as pairs. Which is awesome. I was actually looking at all of the movies; they all have a very different tone. They’re very differently toned movies from each other with different inventors, but it’s nothing but amazing that women are there directing and making their own things, but also working together. There are a lot of partnerships and support. Like, women loving and helping each other things.

Paste: Speaking of the whole women’s issue, one thing I thought was so fascinating was the whole way the gay thing was treated in the movie. It was treated with such a light, almost a nonexistent touch. To the point that after a scene I went, “Wait, did I miss something earlier that I was supposed to get with that?” Did y’all have discussions on how you were going to have discussions on how you were going to touch on that aspect of the relationship, or did it just sort of come up organically?

Weixler: We wanted it to be sort of ambiguous. The codependence thing, being obsessed with somebody. The feeling of having that one other person who feels like your other, and sometimes they’re your friend and sometimes as a boyfriend or girlfriend. They’re the ones when something funny happens, you need to call them, you need for them to know, you need for them to laugh. And, in that, we wanted it to skirt the line of whatever it feels like to be a bit too obsessed or codependent on somebody that makes you hold back from growing. Megan’s character is definitely gay. And it should seem like the girls are in love with each other and it’s hard to fully understand, or there’s not necessarily a need to clarify or quantify what that being in love exactly is between them.

Paste: That definitely speaks to me as a viewer of the film. I mean, when there’s a scene between Megan’s character and Jenny’s character. For a second, I thought, “Wait, is that like they aren’t in a relationship but she somehow wants to be in a relationship and that’s the way she thinks about it?” Like it was in this really cool, undefined space that I really liked. You know? I really liked that scene especially.

Weixler: That’s really nice to hear. We really wanted it to feel undefined. I mean, some people really wanted it more defined, but I think we’re really okay with it, with it hovering.

Paste: Yeah. That’s a great word for it. Hovering. That’s exactly how that felt. I can see how that would make some people uncomfortable; they would want a little more clarity on it. I loved it how it was.

Weixler: Thank you.

Paste: I was going to ask Jenny about the scene on the subway. You were talking about how this is the kind of thing you often want to do on the subway and don’t actually. Tell me about that wish fulfillment aspect of it.

Prediger: Well, it’s pretty terrifying getting up on a subway and talking to strangers. I was shaking through it the whole way, the first time. But we did it maybe three times in total, and by the second time, it was like, really comfortable. It scared me a little; it was like, ‘Oh my god, I could actually see myself doing this.’ This is actually something I felt really good at.

Paste: That’s fantastic.

Prediger: I had been an environmental journalist for several years for a website called grist.org, and I was always learning about how the oceans are being overfished or just lots of lots of things I was dialed in to that I felt the need to speak to captive audiences about while I was on an airplane or a bus or subway. I would just have this urge to get up and be like, “Hey people. There’s something really crazy that you need to know about”. But I never, thankfully for those people on those trains, buses and planes, I never got up and did it. But I thought the way that Olivia did it was really from a kindhearted place, and she wasn’t being sanctimonious. But she was being really effusive and loving, and there was something really fun about getting to play that.

Paste: Well tell me about where the film goes from here. What’s the story from here, from LA Film Festival beyond?

Prediger: Well, we’re hoping to find a wonderful distributor. And we’re just kind of in that process of finding distribution, and hopefully it finds its way into people’s living room and iPads, and all that good stuff, and also into some theaters.

Paste:: Jess, speaking of what happens next, I’ve got to ask you about the The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby because I am so looking forward to that film. Jessica Chastain is my favorite actress alive, and I think she’s just amazing in everything she does.

Weixler: Oh cool.

Paste: The whole story of this guy being her good friend for years and years. Her taking some of that capital she’s earned with awards and blockbusters to go and make sure his movie got made. I think that’s kind of amazing.

Weixler: I am so proud of this movie. I’ve been very close to both of them; I’ve been best friends with Jessica for about fifteen years and Ned for about ten. And you watch someone work on something—I mean he wrote it like six years ago, or something like that. So there’s been so much time and thoughtfulness put into it, and it turned out better than I could’ve imagined. Jessica’s performance is out of this world, and because we have a sister-like relationship in real life, I think it really translated onto the screen, because we’re sisters in the movie. So I’m so excited for the world to see it. There are the two films, and then the version where they’re made into one. I happen to be a fan of the two for cinephiles. For people who tend to binge-watch TV, go for the two. And the single one is also beautiful.

Paste: And how are they going to do that? Are they going to bring each version out theatrically?

Weixler: Apparently they’re going to put the one out in a lot of the major theaters and put the two out in art house theaters.

Paste: That could make for some pretty interesting articles, comparing the two.

Weixler: Yeah, I hope there’s a little controversy about it. I wouldn’t mind a little controversy. Because with the two films, it’s about perspective; it’s about the male’s perspective of what happens and the female’s. And the one story is just more like storytelling.

Paste: Well, I actually didn’t know that you went back that far with both of them. That’s pretty cool that all three of y’all have been on this for a while.

Weixler: I highly recommend people make movies with their roommates!