The directorial debut of Jeremy Phillips (co-writer of “Dig Two Graves”), “1/1,” is a gripping and visually daring drama designed to instantly plunge the viewer into a realm all its own. The story centers on Lissa (Lindsey Shaw), a 20-year-old girl on the verge of escaping her dull life in rural Pennsylvania. Her world is shattered when a possible pregnancy forces her to take a hard look at her life, she realizes her excessive lifestyle must come to an end. Forced to deal with her pain without the benefit of numbing, she returns to the source of her suffering, and in the process discovers the truth about a tragedy in her life. Produced by Cassidy Lunnen (“Baby, Baby, Baby”; “The Go-Getter”), “1/1” boasts an amazing soundtrack, written and produced by the Australian-American rock band, LIARS. The sharp and unique take on the typical coming-of-age story, the film allows the audience to experience Lissa’s personal growth through a dynamic soundtrack and beautifully choreographed sequences of mixed-media montages. Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently sat down with director Jeremy Phillips and Lindsey Shaw to discuss the making of “1/1,” the challenges they faced during the creative process and the impact the project had on them as artists.
Tell us where the story in “1/1” originated?
Jeremy Phillips: I’m originally from the area where it was set and shot. I came out to California to go to film school here at USC. I would go back to the town over the holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and would see people I grew up with. That led me to become very fascinated by this place where I grew around, now that I had 3,000 miles of distance. That started me down a path of research of reading school documents, government documents and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” That was really the origin of this story. John Hughes had also just passed away and I had regrettably never seen any of his films, which was a shame. I watched them all and said, “This guy is a fantastic filmmaker!” I was really inspired by that! Filming in Pennsylvania was fascinating because it is the most time I had spent there since moving away. There were a lot of good people and support from people who were excited we were doing it there. The only aspect I didn’t love was that it was really, really cold when we were there!
Lindsey Shaw: Yeah, the cold was challenging but it also played a part in the story.
As an actress, what attracted you to this project and made you want to be a part of telling it?
Lindsey Shaw: I have to say, the way the script was written and presented was hugely intriguing. It was like a poem. Actually, I still have that script today! It resonated with me on a deeply emotional level. There’s a lot of darkness explored in this film and I think I had some experiences ready to share where that’s concerned! [laughs] For real! The way that the emotion was written, the sadness and anger, was so beautiful and purposeful. That really came through in the script and it became an obsession of mine to make sure that I will be able to do this film. It surely would have broken my heart had I not been able to do it.
Jeremy Phillips: We looked at hundreds of people for this role, but Lindsey was so Lissa. My favorite part of this process was seeing Lissa come to life in a way more fully, richly and emotionally than I thought she would ever be as she was written on the page through Lindsey. That and working with LIARS on the soundtrack were the best two things that happened to me on this project.
The score to the film is a work of art. How did the collaboration with LIARS come about?
Jeremy Phillips: I was just a fan for a long, long time. When I was writing the film, we did eight months of storyboards. There were hundreds and hundreds of storyboards and every shot was boarded out. While doing that, we would listen to “WIXIW,” which was out at the time. The sound of it, the primitive electronic sounds with the emotion of the songs, really connected with me. In a way, it became entangled. In fact, I had storyboards that were named after their songs or references to their lyrics. Cassidy Lunnen, our producer, reached out to them. They read the script and they were interested! They saw some footage, went out to Denmark and made this beautiful score.
There are many moving parts in this film. What were the biggest challenges with your respective roles?
Lindsey Shaw: Filming the scenes toward the end of the movie, between my character and her mother, was exhausting. I don’t think that I’ve ever hit a wall like that while filming. I remember at one point looking at Jeremy once like, “Again?” [laughs] I was just at the point where I was incredulous that we could do this again. I think the biggest challenge was existing in this place for a long time and reaching the surface again as we finished.
Jeremy Phillips: I think the biggest challenge for me was the time that this has taken. From the early days of the research to writing the script to the storyboarding to the editing the film took a very long time. It was eight months with two editors and me in a room. We actually remixed the film about three times. It was a very slow and thoughtful process where every cut had an intention. That is what we were going through and there would be discussions when we felt it was over-cut or undercut. The two editors and I were all old school film fans, so we looked at things like “Raging Bull,” “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” ”E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Lawrence of Arabia” for inspiration. The visual effects were time-consuming as well. We had Blur Studio do them, which is owned by Tim Miller who directed “Deadpool.” It just took time and being patient was something I learned a lot about! [laughs]
The film’s mixed media approach is unique and draws the viewer in immediately. What inspired that approach and is it something you will explore in the future?
Jeremy Phillips: That’s great to hear. How it was developed, and it was written into the script, something like this … “She paces in front of the doctor’s office.” It’s shown as a jagged series of cuts that are on Super 8 and 35mm film. The general sweep of it, as a coming of age film, is that the aesthetics of the film mature along with her character. By the end, the film features more composed and edited shots. The idea for that came from my love of big movies. I love “Blade Runner.” Ridley Scott creates a whole world for you. Even in some of the lesser ones, you still feel as if it’s a complete world he has built. I also love “Inception” and “Black Panther” is my favorite movie of the year because I feel like Wakanda is a real place. I wanted to make those types of movies but I knew no one would ever give me money to make a movie! [laughs] I thought by putting the audience behind the character’s eyes, you could create a world. I started thinking about that, how memory works and she experiences life and that’s where the mixed media approach developed from. Like I said, I really love movies in general. I would say the people who inspired me the most for this film were David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle. There are a lot of similar shots that if you watch their movies might turn up in this movie, if you know what I mean.
Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. What did you bring out in each other creatively?
Lindsey Shaw: That’s a great question!
Jeremy Phillips: Yeah! I’m going to get really real here. Working with Lindsey made me an adult! [laughs] It’s one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’m glad to have had it!
Lindsey Shaw: Oh, wow! That’s another way of saying he had to babysit me and keep me out of trouble on set!
Jeremy Phillips: That’s absolutely not what that meant! [laughs]
Lindsey Shaw: Honestly, what I think Jeremy brought out of me were these intense feelings that I had. I had never done any work like this; it’s definitely the weightiest thing I’ve ever done. He helped me go into these really personal spaces to bring this character’s life. This film is also, by far, the most personal thing I’ve ever done. I think he made that possible.
Jeremy Phillips: Conversely, Lindsey made that possible for me to go there and direct those scenes.
Lindsey Shaw: Yeah, we were just so, so in it.
Jeremy Phillips: Then we would go off and smoke cigarettes behind the houses. [laughs] It was chemistry!
Lindsey Shaw: [laughs] We became really close. It was really awesome and it felt safe to explore those things. When you do that, you learn more about yourself and the world, so it was wonderful.
Jeremy, you assembled one hell of a cast for this film. What went into finding the right mix of actors to bring these characters to life?
Jeremy Phillips: Thank you! There were several different ways. We did auditions for all the parts. Specially, with Judd [Nelson], what is interesting is that he somehow found the script. We didn’t reach out to him or go to anyone on his team but somehow he read it, really liked it and got in contact with our casting director. He said he was very interested in playing the role and we all said, “That’s perfect!” It kind of brought this perfect “Breakfast Club,” father/son rebellion stuff or whatever, all together. He’s an amazing person who is full of surprises. Like that green bean scene, the scene was written as quiet and tense but he did in the scene really threw everybody off and made it all come together in a unique way. He did that with every scene.
Lindsey Shaw: Judd was an absolutely wonderful artist and it was great to be around his energy. Like Jeremy said, he brought some wonderful moments to the film in a way that only he could, just like he did in “The Breakfast Club.”
Jeremy Phillips: Then there is Dendrie [Taylor], who knew our casting director, Monika Mikkelsen, and I loved her in “The Fighter” and several other things. Working with her was a true learning experience. I learned so much about acting and life through working with Dendrie.
When you look back at the process of making this film, what lessons did you take away?
Jeremy Phillips: Never do anything for free! [laughs] The Joker said that! He said, “If you’re good at something, never do anything for free.” The Joker is right!
Lindsey Shaw: I don’t know … Listen to your mother?! [laughs]
As you mentioned, this story is taken from real-life and the dysfunctional nature of families and drug addiction in young people is not uncommon. What can we learn about people experiencing the same circumstances as Lissa?
Lindsey Shaw: It’s important to know that you’re not alone. That’s really the biggest thing to take away from this. There are pretty heavy scenes in the film, but I think in the end it comes down to just community, support, love and people being able to see you when you can’t see yourself. I mean, yes, it’s about these big themes, but I don’t think we should get carried away with these stereotypes or broad themes about pregnancy, or domestic violence or drug abuse. I think that those are just circumstances, and there’s no message there. Obviously, you have to do whatever works for you. I mean, we’re not condoning anything each way. No matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.
Moving forward, what are you looking for in the projects you take on?
Lindsey Shaw: Honestly, I would like to do some funny stuff for a minute! [laughs] I feel like I need to find my funny bone again because I have done so many intense things in the past, be it “Pretty Little Liars” or this film. If I could marry those two worlds with a black comedy, that would be great! Are you listening, Jeremy? Write that up! [laughs]
Jeremy Phillips: For me, my wife wrote a thriller script that I’m dying to direct. I really hope I get to make another movie and, if so, I really want to work more in genre. I love crime movies and horror movies. If I get to make a lot of movies, maybe I will get to make something personal like this again but for the time being I am looking for something different. I really love the Marvel movies, so that is kind of where my head is at right now.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as artists?
Jeremy Phillips: I’ll actually not give a flippant answer to that! First, I would encourage anybody who wants to make a film to get up off their ass and start doing it. Things will come together as you will it to be; good people will find you. Second, just be prepared for the emotional brutality of disappointments that will continuously come over the course of time you will devote to it, which could be over many years. You have to be devoted to it. If you want to do it, you have to be all in and it will take over your life.
Lindsey Shaw: You know, each project is a challenge and I learned a lot with this role. More than something I took away, I feel like I left something there in a good way. There was a lot to unpack and go through there emotionally and I feel but I was able to let some stuff go as a result of that.
Jeremy Phillips: I wasn’t going to say this but I am — Film school doesn’t quite prepare you for making an independent movie. Heads up to anybody who is in film school! Send me an email and I’ll be more than happy to tell you that film school doesn’t really let you know how hard this is. I want to start a class called “The Shit They Don’t Tell You At USC.” [laughs]
Lindsey Shaw: Oh! USC would eat that up! [laughs] Copyright that idea!
Thanks for your time today guys. I enjoyed what you created with this film. I can’t wait to see what you bring our way in the years to come!
Lindsey Shaw: Thanks, Jason!
Jeremy Phillips: Thank you!
Jeremy Phillips’ ‘1/1’ will be released July 17th, 2018 on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray (with special features and unreleased Liars track available). For more information about the film, visit www.oneoveronemovie.com.