Interview: Andrew Semans (Writer/Director – ‘Nancy, Please’)

Nancy, Please‘ tells the story of Paul, a young, gifted, and aimless Yale University student who has just moved in with his girlfriend and is struggling to complete his dissertation before embarking on a career in academia. There’s just one snag: as Paul is unpacking his belongings, he discovers that he has left something behind, and only his obstinate and casually sinister former roommate, Nancy, can give it back to him. Paul contacts Nancy, but she will not cooperate and proceeds to thwart Paul’s clumsy and increasingly frantic efforts to retrieve his property. What should be the simplest of errands becomes intolerably difficult. His annoyance turns to rage and then to obsession. As Paul becomes increasingly consumed with Nancy, he begins to unravel, and his life becomes much, much worse before it gets better.

Writer/director Andrew Semans‘ ‘NANCY, PLEASE‘ premiered in narrative competition at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival and has gone on to screen at festivals worldwide.  It was awarded the Rooftop Films Effects Equipment grant in 2011.  ‘NANCY, PLEASE‘ was picked as one the must see films at Tribeca Film Festival in The New York Times, The Village Voice and DailyCandy. Film Comment called the film: “A twisted, mordent gem.” and The New York Times said, “You can’t avert your eyes.” Variety said, “Pitiless… black humor abounds… offers a welcome variation on the conquering frat boy or Ferris Bueller-type adolescent.

We spoke to ‘Nancy, Please‘ Co-Writer and Director Andrew Semans in anticipation of the film’s New York City theatrical run at Brooklyn’s reRun Theater with screenings, events and filmmaker Q&A , Friday, May 24 – Thursday, June 1, 2013.

Buy Tickets for ‘NANCY, PLEASE’ at reRun TheaterHERE

Why did you decide to make ‘Nancy, Please’?
I wanted to make my first feature and was looking for subject matter.  I thought, why not take a simple concept and build from there?  Will Heinrich (Co-Writer) and I came up with a simple conflict (someone having something someone else wants and not giving it back).  We took this incredibly simple idea and fleshed it out, drawing characters and concepts from our own lives, gradually expanding from there.  What started as an intellectual exercise was infused with a lot of personal themes and ideas, becoming something near and dear to our hearts.  I also knew I wanted to do something with a genre element within horror and suspense, but beyond that the script grew organically from the original conflict.

The film is set in and around Yale University.  As a native of Connecticut I am certainly familiar with the omnipotent presence of Yale.  Why did you decide to set the film in this environment?  Did you attend Yale as a graduate student?
We set the film in New Haven, CT since the main character was in graduate school and we wanted it to be an established institution. When we were writing the film we assumed we would shoot in and around New York City, so Yale was that established school close to home.  I did not go to Yale or graduate school so I have no real first hand experience with it, though.

Also, we liked New Haven because it is a relatively quiet mid-sized city.  The movie is very overheated psychologically so we liked the concept of taking these mental fireworks and setting them against a calm backdrop.  We only shot a small portion of the film in New Haven, though.  Most of the film is actually shot around Brooklyn.  A keen eyed New Yorker surely will recognize some familiar locations.

Growing up in that area, I was familiar with the presence of Yale, as well as the idea of higher education achievement as “success” in general.  In my observations, many people were uptight at a young age as they strive to attend institutions like Yale, as well as graduate with a high academic standing.  Watching the conflict in ‘Nancy, Please’ I read the primary character has been so accustomed to the linearity of higher education, any deviation from it is psychologically detrimental.

Nancy, Please

When you are constructing the visual look and feel of the film, were you drawing from any specific influences? While watching the film, I saw elements of Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’, as well as Miike’s ‘Audition; suppressed, meditative mental horror…
That is some great company to be in!  The masters of restrained, minimal suspense like Haneke and (Roman) Polanski are always in the back of your mind, but we did not have any set references. Our philosophy behind the film was to shoot it in a very simple way.  Again, it goes back our idea of the main character becoming more and more unhinged, feeling as though he is in a suspense film.  He wants this to justify his actions regardless that his environment never corresponds to his psychological state.  The simplicity of the construction and photography conveys how the chaos in his mind is not spilling over into the film, formally.  He is always butting up against brute reality.

Speaking of minimalist filmmaking, what was the financial history behind the micro budget ‘Nancy, Please’?
Financing was a surprisingly straightforward process as we were primarily financed by individual contacts through our producers.  In most cases, the producers enjoyed the script and came on board with established investors.  We also had a successful Kickstarter campaign, which was great.  Everything happened quickly and cleanly.  There were no grants or anything out of the ordinary.

The source of the conflict in ‘Nancy, Please!’ centers around a copy of Charles Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit’.  Is there anything symbolic about this particular book to you?
Not at all!  That was the point.  The book had no explicit thematic connection to the movie.  It is something used by the main character and filmmakers to advance agenda.  With all the chaos in the mind of the main character, we found it humorous that it is caused by something so monotonous and bland as “Little Dorrit“.  Originally we were going to use Dicken’s ‘Our Mutual Friend’ but it just was not as catchy as ‘Little Dorrit‘, and maybe a little less known.

Nancy, Please

Going down the life span of the film and specific to distribution, what is your strategy and how has it changed over the film’s development, production and completion?
Right now we are getting theatrical distribution from Factory 25.  They are a great, heroic distributor of American Indie Films.  We will be on VOD, iTunes, Netflix starting in June as well.  When we premiered at Tribeca, we hoped for the best.  You always hope for the best that a distributor with reach, means and clout comes in, but it is beneficial to have back up strategies.

We formed the relationship with Factory 25 which is perfect for this movie.  Thankfully, we worked out something with Factory 25 that was a tune to what we had hoped for in the first place.  Had that not happened, we had ideas to go down a DIY route of distribution.  We went through IFP Narrative Lab as they provide filmmakers with tons of information and resources regarding self distribution options.  In the end we did not have to go down that route though.

When you are writing the script does the idea of distribution even cross your mind?
For me, I was focused on one task at a time.  While we were making the film, the idea of it being distributed in any way felt far off.  It is great we are now getting audiences and press, but for me the focus was always on getting the film done.  I did think about getting into the best festival we could, but outside of that I was just being an “artiste” and letting the chips fall as they may.  Everything that has happened since then is icing on the cake.

Nancy, Please

Similar to financing, the distribution aspect of independent film is changing so fast where filmmakers are forced to adjust strategies throughout the process.  Every so often the idea of traditionalism in regards to theatrical release vs. VOD (for example) becomes a hindrance in getting the film out to its widest audience…
That is a very retrograde attitude.  The fact that we are getting a small theatrical release is increasingly rare.  Theatrical releases make no money so it is a huge risk for distributors to put a film out there in a meaningful way.  There are too many films with too few screens.  If you want to reach an audience and make money you have to come up with alternative models.

– Interview Conducted & Transcribed by Steve Rickinson

Nancy, Please
Facebook: /nancyplease
Twitter: @nancyplease


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