Lily, a film by first-time director, Matt Creed, is loosely based on the real- life experiences of co-writer and lead actress Amy Grantham. Intensely beautiful, Lily wanders the atmospheric New York City streets as she reevaluates her relationship with her older boyfriend and her feelings about her long-absent father. Lily is an immersion into a rarely seen side of a cancer survivor’s story, what life is like after treatment.
David Teich talked with Matt Creed about the emotional experiences making ‘Lily‘, as well as his approaches to indie filmmaking, alongside much more. ‘Lily‘ is NOW AVAILABLE on Video on Demand
You Can Rent or Buy ‘Lily’ on iTunes Now – Here
When did you meet star and co-writer Amy Grantham?
I met Amy right when she got diagnosed. We had mutual friends, and her boyfriend knew good friends of mine. They would go into my friend’s coffee shop sometimes, and that’s where I met her. I said hi, and asked her how she was doing, and she said, “Well, honestly, not too great, I have cancer.” And she told me about this blog she had, called “Boooo Cancer. You Suck!” So I went and checked it, and was just sucked into it immediately…Her blog kind of gave me an idea for a film, which I ran across her, but I was kind of naïve to actually think that she’d be up for it at this point, when she was deep into treatment pretty sick. So we didn’t really get to it. But at the end of her treatment, we met up and started talking, and that’s when she started talking about all of the emotional issues that Lily ends up dealing with in the film…We actually wrote the film during this exact moment in Amy’s life where we see Lily in the movie. For example, I was one of the first people Amy took her wig off in front of.
To what extent is the character Lily based on Amy?
There’s a lot of her Amy’s life in the movie, but there’s a lot more that’s not. All of the cancer-related stuff she goes through is based on her real life, but everything else is kind of a constructed narrative. Amy was playing the part, but Lily isn’t her.
Was it ever difficult to direct Amy? Was it tough for her to revisit this time in her life?
No, not at all. Amy is an incredible actress, and has such intuition. You don’t even have to direct her, really. I mean, there were a few moments that were rough. When we got into the hospital, she broke down, because we were shooting where she got treatment. But no, I never had any problems with Amy. She’s incredibly easy to work with…And since she wrote the film with me, she knew what I was aiming for, and she was a great ally. For example, when we were doing a lot of improv within a scene, I could tell her what to do, and she would help guide the scene with me.
How much improv was there in the movie?
There’s a good amount of improv, but it’s very controlled improv. It had to have a purpose. I normally like to write a script as kind of a bare-bones outline, so a lot of times I would tell an actor to just tell a story at the beginning of a scene, and then, at the end of the story, to lead into a certain line. And then there are certain scenes, like the scene where she takes her wig off in front of her friends and then one of them puts the wig on, which were completely improvised. The actor who puts her wig on, Gordon Hull, is a good friend of mine. He definitely has the gift of gab, and can talk forever, and it’s never boring. So I just of gave him specific cues: “You’ve gotta talk about this, you’ve gotta talk about that, and you’ve gotta get her to take her wig off. However you do that is up to you.”
Most of the people in the cast aren’t full-time professional actors. How did you go about casting?
The truth is, when you’re making movies for this low a budget, you don’t really have much of a choice but to work with non-actors. So primarily I just cast friends or friends of friends. But I like working with non-actors…I find that I usually get an earnest and raw performance from them.
It seems especially appropriate for a movie like this. For example, in a scene where Lily talks to her doctor—he just doesn’t seem like he’s acting. He seems like a real doctor explaining things to a patient.
Actually, that person is an actor—but he used to be an actual oncologist. A lot of times when you’re casting for a movie like this, the people who come out kind of just want to be doing acting as something on the side. For the most part, they’re all just regular people. Most actors do have other jobs. They’re coming from the real world. Only like one percent of them make a living from acting.
In what ways is “Lily” different from other films that deal with cancer patients?
I didn’t want to tap into a tone or storyline that had been done a million times. But with Amy’s story, there was something new to explore. Some people don’t really get it at first: They say, “Oh, it’s a cancer movie.” But actually, it’s not a cancer film. There are moments that deal with cancer, with the circumstances and emotional state that Lily finds herself in because of cancer, but in Lily’s mind, it’s not actually cancer she’s actually grappling with. I think that a lot of movies don’t really tap into the psyche of people who have cancer. You’ll see someone who’s sick with cancer, they’re getting chemo, and they’re gonna throwing up. It’s horrible, and audiences have a reaction to it. But I think there’s more to it than that. In fact, there’s so much more that we could have explored with Amy’s story. One thing you don’t see very often in films that deal with cancer is the fact that you’re going to a hospital and getting treatment every single day, you’re seeing the same people, and then all of a sudden, your treatment is done and you’re not seeing them anymore. Amy was always talking about how hard it was for her, that she might never see these people again.
Do you yourself have any direct experience, either through friends or family, with cancer or cancer survivors?
I know people who have been sick with cancer, though I wasn’t extremely close with them. But oddly enough, after I made the movie, I found out that aunts and uncles of mine had had cancer. They’d concealed it, until they saw this movie. But what really drew me to this project was this idea, which I learned about from Amy, of exploring everything that comes after cancer. I caught her at this moment where her treatment was ending, and she was entering back into her life, and she wasn’t excited about it. I could see that it was having a really very profound and humbling effect on her. I’d just never thought about this before: You don’t realize that people who have recovered from cancer go through a transitional period that weighs really heavily upon them. When Amy and I were writing, that’s what we wanted to try and tap into—that headspace, and that moment.
I’ve had illnesses too—nothing as serious as cancer, but things that have taken me out of commission for a while. And you’re right, it’s strange: It’s not just a wonderful thing when you recover—it’s weird to try and get back into the world, and it’s not actually that easy.
No, it’s not. And at the time [I was making this], I was actually going through something myself. It wasn’t an illness—it was a breakup. And because of that, I kind of related to the vulnerability Amy was feeling at that moment. And I realized that if I was relating to it, a lot of people would be able to relate to it. You’re with someone for a very long time, and then you’re not with that person. Or, maybe you’re in school for a long time, and then you graduate, and you’re like, what do I do with my life? All kinds of people can relate to this headspace, this kind of period of transition.
Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed by David Teich