Disheartened by his latest relationship catastrophe, Graham (Alexander Poe) attempts to rekindle the spark with his ex-girlfriend, Laura (Kristen Connolly). In the attempt to win her back Graham discovers he has a unique problem: Laura and another one of his ex-girlfriends (Jennifer Carpenter) are dating the same guy (Noah Bean). ‘Ex-Girlfriends‘ is a comedy about three New Yorkers struggling to uncover the truth behind their romantic entanglements.
Fresh off his success winning the ‘Best Feature Film‘ Prize at the 2012 Big Apple Film Festival, we talked with writer/director/star of ‘Ex Girlfriends‘ Alexander Poe about the films development, the Columbia University film program and the advancement of the Video on Demand platform. Alex is a New York based writer/actor/director from Denver, Colorado.
Buy or Rent ‘Ex-Girlfriends’ on iTunes – HERE
How long had you been developing the idea for ‘Ex-Girlfriends’?
I was getting out of film school at Columbia University and was starting to work on my first feature script. While I had been developing projects that had a wider scope, I really wanted to write something manageable and able to execute on my own with such a limited budget. I turned to something very personal and began examining the moment when you are moving on from your 20’s and developing a more mature sense of relationships. The film is really about the quixotic journey to figure out what the hell you are going to do with your life.
Was the project born in the Columbia film program?
It happened in little pieces. Something similar to what happened to the main character happened to me and I started writing about it. I took inspiration from that and took it to a fictionalized level. This was right at the end of my time at Columbia and from there it wasn’t long until we jumped into production. Understanding what the spec market was like and the climate of the indie film system at the moment, I thought the only way to get it made would be to jump out there and do it myself. I got together with a producer from Columbia and set out to make the film in October, which was 2 months away. It was an insane proposition, but nailing down the gate and having the train actually leave the station led to things coming on very quickly, where as if I had approached it a little more “rationally” it would have taken a much longer time.
So how did you find the film program at Columbia? Did you find that it prepared you well for the real world business of film?
When it comes down to actually just writing and directing, that’s really all you do at Columbia. There is very little theory in the program. From day 1 you are making short films and focusing on writing the scripts and collaborating with the figures in your program. My main adviser Eric Mendelsohn, who won an award at Sundance and is a brilliant directing professor, and my screenwriting professor really made the Columbia experience for me. Working with so many people who were coming up through the same system, like my producer Jennifer Gerber and my Director of Photography Gregory Kershaw were all Columbia students who understood the same grammar of shots and same notion of screenplay sequence really helped.
You can learn filmmaking in a lot of different ways so its not necessarily essential to go to film school, but one thing it does do is it puts you in a group of like minded people who are all going to rise up together.
How did you find the triple duty of acting, writing and directing? Is this something that you would like to pursue further in your career or do you feel you would like to stick to one aspect of filmmaking primarily?
I think that each film finds its own way of being made and this was a very small film which I made with friends. We had all been involved in a theater company together where there was a very collaborative atmosphere. This film is very much in that same collaborative mindset, where the producer had just as much creative input as I did or the DP. The Co-Producer Joe Varca, who I had formed a theater company with at Middlebury College, was able to give me another opinion and new set of eyes to make sure that I wasn’t over extending myself.
I love all three aspects. Each different film project brings out a different side of me and this one happened to combine them all. I love writing, I love Directing and I love acting. I would do them separately or together. If this was a larger scale production I’m sure the acting aspect would get trickier but for this film it worked fine.
How did the casting of the film come about?
I wanted to do this first feature very much in the style that I had done my short films in school and how I had produced plays in New York before. Pretty much everyone in the film is a friend from Middlebury College, the theater company or just actors I am friends with around New York.
A week before the production was scheduled to start our lead actress had to drop out in order to film a TV show so we were sunk. Kristen Connelly’s, who I had gone to Middlebury with and done shorts with, manager was a big champion of the film. He provided a list of potential actresses and it included Jennifer Carpenter. I thought that it would be amazing to work with her, but I was shocked a little that an actor doing such high caliber work would be interested in doing a small film like this. So we met and she was a very genuinely excited about the role. She is a big Woody Allen fan so we shared that interest. I think having her in the film really raises it up a level and I was really lucky to work with her.
There is a lot of exterior locations throughout the film. Can you talk a little about shooting in and around New York City? Did you go through the motions of permits and paperwork, or did you take a more run and gun approach?
It was a mixture of things. For the most part we played by the rules. Actually New York is a friendly city to shoot in. For most of the exteriors we actually didn’t even need permits. We didn’t have enough people and equipment to meet the requirements for a permit.
Shooting in Grand Central though was a little tricky. You can’t just go into the station and start shooting video so we stole that stuff guerilla style. We were shooting on a Canon 5D so it looked like a still camera. We would sneak around one area of the station until we would get kicked out, then we would go to the other. During the shot of me coming out of the tunnel, the producer was actually buying time talking to police so we could finish the shot.
New York is a great city to shoot in though because you don’t need to add a lot to make it look like a viable location. There is amazing production value everywhere. You can’t fake New York.
What are your thoughts on New York as a center for independent filmmaking? Outside of its aesthetic qualities do you think that the atmosphere harbors the kind of creativity so many claim or is it a case of it having been an already established center for media that people just go along with it?
I think that there is a really strong and vibrant indie film community. I have a a circle of indie filmmaker friends and all of them are shooting their projects in the city. It is a very different feel to LA, for example. The people I know making movies here seam to be much more passionate about the actual making of the film and less concerned with how its going to do in the marketplace. That isn’t to say that great indie filmmaking doesn’t happen in LA and certainly any kind of aspect of the business is based in LA but here you can combine the creative and the business sides a little better. Plus I prefer to be in a place where it feels that there are other things happening rather then the feeling that everyone is in the same business as you are. It provides more inspiration to me. I love going to the old movie houses like Film Forum or being able to go to MoMA to see old films instead of being so preoccupied with the now. A lot of interesting work comes out of New York. It has to be very small in order to be able to shoot here.
The film had success at The Big Apple Film Festival a few weeks ago. How did you find that experience?
I had been coming off the festival circuit for the film festival. We premiered at the Austin Film Festival then went on to the Denver Film Festival. I had also done a short film which played at TropFest in New York too. I was now at the beginning of our theatrical screening stage so I didn’t get to check out too much of the Big Apple Film Festival outside of my screening and getting the award. Its great to be recognized for your work for sure.
Finally, can you give your impressions on the distribution model you have employed via VOD platforms? Why is this distribution strategy good for your film and independent film in general?
The approach that I had was that I wanted to make it without waiting for a larger entity to come along and give me financing. I approached distribution in the same way, forgoing the extended festival run and hoping for a larger distributor to do a theatrical release. Doing at the way a lot of indie films are being released these days, with the day & date approach to theatrical, VOD and iTunes, it seemed to be a way to take a movie that didn’t have a budget for a large theatrical release and still be able to get it into the marketplace in a timely fashion and to the largest possible audience. When you sell your movie at a festival and when it comes out is usually a year or more and I didn’t want to have the movie waiting for a distribution date. I would rather have it out there getting seen by people.
‘Ex-Girlfriends is NOW PLAYING at Cinema Village, NYC.