Seven Lovers- An Interview with Independent Filmmakers Keith Boynton and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders

Seven Lovers marquee poster

 

Seven Lovers is an independent film that chronicles seven of the central character's romantic relationships.  Laura is a young librarian/nightclub singer trying to navigate the endless complexities of love, lust, and dating in contemporary New York. In a fractured kaleidoscope of genre and emotion, we watch seven of Laura’s romances play out in a series of interwoven vignettes – with each of her lovers laying claim to a very specific cinematic style. From glamorous black-and-white musical to gritty documentary, from crude cutout animation to rapid-cutting montage, Laura's lovers take her on a journey of joy, pain, and self-discovery – and it all builds up to one defining choice.

I had a chance to chat with the film's Writer/Director Keith Boynton and Producer Mélisa Breiner-Sanders about Seven Lovers and the many complexities and challenges they faced while making this movie.

 

Writer/Director Keith Boynton and Producer Mélisa Breiner-Sanders

 

Q: How did you both meet and decide to team up to make this film?

Breiner-Sanders:  Keith and I were acquaintances through mutual friends for several years before we worked together. I don't think we had said more than a few sentences to each other for the most part. But then, as it's likely to happen in NYC, we "matched" on OKCupid, and since we already knew of each other a bit, we went on a lunch date. This was in 2011 I think? Needless to say, we were not a great dating match.  However, three years later, I heard through the grapevine that Keith was looking for a producer for his feature film, and as I knew him, I reached out and offered to jump on board and steer this crazy ship. We had our first meeting about the film on April 15, 2014 in a Carroll Gardens Diner. We started production in June 2014, and thus began the journey of Seven Lovers.

Boynton: Mélisa and I met through our mutual friend Mike Lavoie, who produced all my film projects from 2009 to 2013.  When the time came to make Seven Lovers, I put out a desperate cry for help on Facebook, and Mélisa swooped in to the rescue like some shimmering goddess of mercy.  She took the reins and made the movie happen; without her, I’d probably be living in a gutter somewhere, telling anyone who’d listen about my really cool idea for a seven-genre movie.

Q: Keith, as a male writer and director, what inspired the choice to center on a female central character?

Boynton: It was a pretty intuitive choice.  I think I felt instinctively that the question of how and whether to adapt to a romantic partner would tend to be more acute for a woman – especially a young woman, like Laura.  In a way, Laura's weakness is that she's too giving, too compassionate, too adaptable.  People like that are an enormous gift to the world, but they do have to learn to live for themselves at a certain point; otherwise, they never quite get to find out who they are.

Breiner-Sanders: Speaking of females in filmmaking, it was important to me when assembling the crew to make sure that we had women well represented, especially in leadership positions. And we were super successful in making that happen. Producer, UPM, Locations, Production Manager, Art Department/Set Dressing, 1st AC, 2nd AD, Wardrobe, Makeup.

Erin Darke as Laura

Q: How did the concept of the different cinematic formats come to the team? Did certain elements of each story determine who was assigned what style?

Boynton: The styles weren't really "assigned" to the characters; instead, the characters – and the story, too – grew out of the radically different styles.  All that took place at the screenplay stage; in production, the challenge wasn't determining what the styles would be for the various characters, but figuring out how to execute them skillfully on a tight schedule and a tight budget.

Melisa Breiner-Sanders: The use of the Old-Hollywood black & white emphasizes the themes of that storyline. It helps to set up the idealized version of romantic love, one we remember from the old day, one that was sold to us by Hollywood itself. And when the rug is ripped from under her, we see how false and unrealistic that version is.

Erin Darke

Q: From a production standpoint, how did you approach executing the more demanding styles, specifically the musical numbers and the animated sequences?

Boynton: The animation was always conceived as being somewhat crude and schematic; we knew we couldn't aim for Pixar-level finesse, and we knew we'd look silly if we tried.  I do think I underestimated how challenging it would be to tell a clear emotional story using such apparently "simple" tools.  The simplicity is all on the surface; in fact, it took a huge amount of trial and error to convey the story clearly and well.

The animation was done by a couple of young animators going by the name Apple Butter.  They were based in Chicago at the start of production, and had relocated to Austin by the end of it.  To this day, I still haven’t met them in person.  As far as I know, they’re just a couple of magical gremlins who live on the Internet and make cool things when I ask them to.

The musical sequences owe a lot to the magic of lighting.  I admit I was nervous about asking our DP, Steven Latta, to execute that ultra-stylized look, because he tends to gravitate towards a very unfettered and realistic image, but in the end he nailed the Old-Hollywood aesthetic – and I think he even had fun doing it.

Breiner-Sanders: The creation of the musical portion of the film required choreographers, dance rehearsals with Erin and Max, both Erin and Max recorded all the songs in studio before shooting so they could sing to the track on set and everything would match up with the final sound edit. There were a lot more things to juggle and that had to be in place. PLUS when we filmed the gazebo scene in Central Park we only had one day to film it. Of course, it poured that day. Which then required some last-minute adjustments to make sure the actors and equipment stayed dry, and all the choreography stayed under the gazebo.

Animation

 

Gazebo sequence with Erin Darke & Max von Essen

Q: Brian (Fran Kranz) seems to be the character played out in the most conventional style of storytelling, yet he’s clearly a strong contender for Laura’s affections. Was there a reason to assign him a realistic storyline over something more stylized?

Boynton: Again, the character emerged out of the stylistic choice more than the other way around.  The basic premise was to let those scenes play out in static wide shots – unfussy, unedited, raw.  Brian's shambling, warts-and-all approach to romance seemed like the most natural fit for that format.  More than any other character, he seemed to write himself.

 

Fran Kranz as Brian

Q: From an independent-production standpoint, how did you approach finding such a talented stable of up-and-coming actors like Kranz, Darke and Von Essen?

Boynton: We owe a lot to our casting director, Adrienne Stern.  She brought Erin in to read for us, and Erin absolutely blew us away in the audition room.  We saw a lot of talented young actresses, but Erin had that magical mix of charm, vulnerability, and consummate skill.  She's extraordinary.  In my opinion, she's got "movie star" written all over her.

Adrienne also introduced me to Max von Essen; we met up in a hotel lobby in the East Village and instantly bonded.  Max is an incredibly gifted musical-theater performer, and he has that old-world charisma that's so rare in contemporary actors.  It's like he stepped out of the 1930s this morning.  I couldn't imagine a more perfect Dan.

As for Fran, that was just a blind offer; I knew his work from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods, and he was basically our dream option for Brian.  When he said yes to the project, I knew the movie was going to be something special.  It's the first time I've gotten to direct someone after years of admiring their work from afar, and I was a bit nervous when we finally met.  Luckily, he's incredibly nice.

Max von Essen as Dan

Q: The sole major character that exists outside of the romantic relationships is Laura’s best friend, Tess (Crovatin). The two have an interesting dynamic and seem to offer two very different approaches to relationships. Was the inclusion of this character meant to spark a greater discussion about modern adult friendships and/or relationships?

Boynton: I thought of her more as comic relief.  Tess exists in the world of the classic Hollywood rom-com – the Hugh Grant world, the Julia Roberts world.  In a movie like that, the "best friend" character is practically a requirement – and she's almost always brassier and more confident than the leading lady, which allows for a lot of lively interplay and helps keep the overall tone light.

Tess certainly has a much more "modern" approach to dating than Laura does.  She seems to approach it as a kind of video game, played largely on her cell phone, in which she's constantly racking up points.  21st-century technology makes it easier than ever to operate that way, but I think most people are more like Laura; they're looking for a reason not to see their dates as interchangeable and disposable.  They may be using their phones to search, but what they're searching for is a genuine in-person connection – the kind of thing that never goes out of style.

Gia Crovatin as Tess with Erin Darke

Q: Did any production issues, whether budgetary, casting or logistical, impact the direction or story of the film?

Boynton: Not that I recall!  Melisa is a miracle worker; she made this movie happen on a ridiculously small budget, and what ended up on the screen was almost exactly what I'd imagined while writing the screenplay – only infinitely more detailed and compelling, of course.

Breiner-Sanders: I had my first meeting with Keith about working on the film in April. A few weeks later we had our first production meeting in Keith's one-bedroom in Brooklyn with 10 crew members. In about a month and a half we did all the actual pre-production work of hiring the crew, securing 20 different locations and parking permits, getting all the rentals in order, all the wardrobe arranged, and arranging all the set dressing. It was a crazy crazy whirlwind.

We had 20-21 locations that we shot in 16 shoot days. Since some locations required multiple days, it was a rare day that we didn't have a company move. Here were some of my favorites and favorite stories.

Rollercoaster. We left NYC at 5am in a caravan out to NJ to use an amusement park before it opened. It was so surreal and so much fun to have a run of the place. We had someone run the rollercoaster just for us. For one run, me and few of the crew jumped on the ride too (Keith were you there?). We did it during a take because it was our only chance and we running out of time there and it was the last run to go. But since we didn't want to ruin the take, we had to ride silently while the dialogue happen in the front of the car. It was hilarious and bizarre.

The very first day of filming we filmed in an apartment I got off Airbnb and the hosts were super nice. The problem is that the landlord found out and wasn't happy and almost kicked us out of the building. I panicked (silently and to myself of course) and was convinced I had ruined the entire shoot and that moment that every single human fears had happened: I was going to be found out a fraud. But I composed myself, the landlords came, I showed them we had insurance to cover them, and I convinced them to let us finish filming. The day was saved, and each time a new landlord tried to kick us out of each subsequent apartment building, it got easier.

Diner - We couldn't find an old school diner that would let us film within our budget, so we made our own! A realtor that was showing us empty apartment spaces recommended a restaurant owner friend, and they were so friendly! For a flat fee they let us shut down their restaurant, move around all their furniture, use their electricity, and even stayed available to hep us! Our Art department was fantastic and was able to transform the place, even found a booth and table on craigslist. It was amazing how it all came together.

Seven Lovers releases June 2nd on the following platforms- Amazon, iTunes, Google, Microsoft, VUDU, Vubiquity, Dish & Comcast

Photos courtesy of Breiner-Sanders Productions & Crazy Lake Pictures

To view the trailer, please visit Website

 

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