Sweet Parents is an interesting and provocative drama about a game of "what ifs" in a millennial generation. The director David Bly offers his insight into the film journey.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m David Bly and I’m a filmmaker. I was born in Montreal, Canada, and I now live in LA after 10 years in New York.
I noticed it's mostly a female crew. Was that intentional? Or did it just work out that way?
That was intentional! It was important to Leah and me to do our best to contribute to equal representation in the industry. That being said, everyone, we hired was also the best person for the job (to satisfy those snarky meritocracy bro-critics in your comments section). We interviewed many people of all genders for each position, but we were always hoping to hire as many women as possible. So it worked out perfectly. Selfishly, I think the film turned out better because of this hiring practice.
Where did this desire come from to tell this story?
When I first moved to New York years ago, I, like most people living there, was struggling to get by. It’s such an emotional drain to pay the bills, and so many people I knew, including myself, were working so many other side jobs that had nothing to do with the reason why they moved to New York that it felt like “what’s the point”. I met a few people who were living this “sweet” lifestyle -- like the Pierce character in the film -- that had sugar mamas and sugar daddies, and I became very curious.
I started working on the script in 2006, focusing on a couple that gets some help from older benefactors to get by, but the story really started to take shape when I met and started dating Leah in 2012. We began working on the script together, and the dynamic between the main couple suddenly carried so much more depth, as it mirrored the relationship that Leah and I had, the highs and lows we were experiencing. I didn’t want to make a film just about materialistic pursuits, as that has been done already.
Instead, I wanted to make a film about how heartbreaking it would be to care about someone so deeply, as Will and Gabby do for each other, to try to do everything possible to support and bring comfort to each other’s lives, but ultimately failing, and then to have someone more successful come in and accomplish all that in an instant. That’s the most awful thing I can imagine in a relationship. Sexual jealousy is one thing, but that emotional jealousy of self-worth is crippling. Because if you speak up, if you express doubt, it’s seen as an attempt to impede the other’s progress. I didn’t really understand that when I was 22, fresh to New York. That took a decade of struggle. The script evolved so much over that time.
What was the dynamic like working as both the writer/director and actor?
It was both incredibly rewarding and relentlessly challenging. It required a “25 hours a day, 8 days a week, 450 days a year” commitment to the project for years, whereas if I was just handling one of the roles, I could have let go long ago. But ultimately, it’s what I’ve always wanted. I’m a passionate workaholic at heart. It also meant I had to learn to be comfortable with asking for help when I needed it, which was something I’d always had a hard time doing, since it’s very hard to manage the expectations of all these roles even individually, and this being my first feature, I had to trust the many solid voices around me.
What did you learn about working with a writing partner like Leah who was also your costar in the film? Did it help with collaboration or inspire better scenes, or improv scenes while shooting?
Leah is such a brilliant writer and performer. She has a great eye. She can create beautiful images, and can also find the chaff in a scene to trim it down to what’s most needed. I tend to get a little verbose at times, so we make a great team.
She knows when to “pull the plug” on my computer battery so I have to stop writing! But also, as I mentioned, we’re a real life couple, and quite a few people hadn’t realized that when they first saw the film. I had been living with this idea for years, and when we started dating, we spent countless nights discussing the characters, different scenes, different arcs, etc. so it made working on the film together like our little love child that we doted on throughout the night, watching it grow.
Many people warn against making films with your significant other, but we ignored such advice. Why wouldn’t you want to share the most important thing you’ve ever made with the most important person in your life?
Do you have a funny or crazy story about shooting on set?
Just that we got it done in the first place. That’s still pretty crazy to me. But we had lots of laughs, but no pranks. We were a tight ship. If anything crazy DID occur, the producers did a great job of hiding it from me so I wouldn’t freak out. I’ll ask them. Time has passed, I can take it.
What was a challenging day in production or post or even prep?
Well, most days were challenging. We had a very short prep, only 3 weeks leading up to the production, and the shoot was planned or anticipated by anyone. Meaning, we suddenly procured our funding, and said: “we’re going, who’s still in”. Luckily, most people were still available.
Finding a DP (Director of Photography) was a difficult process, and it was coming down to the wire, but when we found out about Lara, we knew we had found our ideal cinematographer, who possessed a perfect blend of technical prowess, emotional depth, and good humor.
But we only had a couple days before production to get everyone up to speed, so it took some time to find our groove, but we had a great cast and crew that were poised to handle our fast paced style of shoot.Also, learning how to do certain exports to send reels to our sound mixer, our colorist, our compositor, the DCP creator, each of those days hosted plenty of agony and hair pulling.
I went deep into Internet research, and the trolls on the Adobe Premiere chat rooms and message boards are awful. I never posted any questions, I just relied on people have asked the same questions I had dozens of times before, and Jesus christ these moderators, or “experts” are the worst. Why so much snark?!
If you had to do it all over again would you change anything?
Nothing of the content, I love the movie, I’m beyond proud But I would try to have more prep time ahead of the shoot so as to feel more at ease once we started rolling. But I’m so grateful for everyone we brought on, especially our 3 producers, who banded together like mission control and handled every curveball that arose along the way.
How long did it take for you to create the film from start to finish?
If you count the first draft: 10 or 11 years. If you don’t, and count just from when Leah and I started working on the film together: 5 years. If you want to discount all that (how dare you! All those years, gone! Up in smoke!), then from the moment we had a final draft, Matthew Smaglik, one of our producers, developed a beautiful, colorful prospectus for us that helped woo our other two producers Stephanie Marin and Josh Itzkowitz. It might be the most beautiful prospectus in the history of indie film. So starting from then, all in, prospectus to financing, to pre-pro, to production, to post, to being knighted by Her Royal Highness the Queen (fingers crossed), that was about 2 years.
What inspired the color "mood" of the film?
Kelsey Brewer, our production designer, and I had some great chats about the color tone of the film. I had wanted the film to showcase the grime and grunginess of New York, as compared to the beauty and luxury that often gets portrayed in most New York based films. So we had a lot of brown shades filling up the couple’s main apartment. Anytime they are in a scene together, the emphasis was on the grime.
But whenever Gabby and Will were placed in the respective worlds of their sweet parents, the color palettes opened up to involve more brightness.
If you were stranded on an abandoned island what five items would you want with you? (there are no rules)
I’ll presume that it’s Leah and I both stranded here together, since we mostly travel together, so odds are, we got marooned simultaneously. Don’t make me play this without her. She may not appreciate me including her at first, but she’ll find the romance and chivalry in it soon enough.
I’m also going to exclude the core life-saving essentials like satellite phone, flares, raft, etc., because this is supposed to put me in the mindset of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, right?Great. So let’s start there.
First, I would want Tom Hanks with me. God, that’d be the best.
Second, I’ll leave open for whatever Tom wants. That seems only fair, if I’m pulling him from his great life of making billions of people happy to just being able to make me happy.
So whatever Tom wants, “it’s on me, put it on my 5 things tab.”Then, third, it’s back to me, because I’ve been stranded longer.
Fixin’s for martinis (unlimited supply). I’ve perfected the recipe. Leah and I make them regularly at home. I don’t often make them for 3, so Tom will have to be patient, but I’ll make that my top priority upon maroonment, ahead of shelter.
Fourth, a dog for Leah. She’s always wanted one. We go back and forth on it all the time. But how great would I look, if she’s sitting there, a few martinis deep, saddened that she’ll be marooned for the rest of her life, and I walk over with the cutest goddamn puppy you’ve ever seen in her life. Oh man, I’d be a hero! Tom might get jealous that there’s another being present that would get our love, compliments, and cuddles, but I’d let him hold the puppy second, ahead of me, like good hockey players do, the captains, when they win the Stanley Cup and let the role players, the toothless few, the gritty veterans, hold the cup first, because lord knows they’ve put in a lot of time. But anyway, yes, definitely a puppy. I think everyone is happy now.
Fifth, a good chair for all of us. Because let’s be real, no one’s gonna find us. They’ll look for, like, a coupla days tops, then just say some BS. So we better settle in. God, I hope that’s not what Tom asked for before. That would be a huge waste and a bad omen for our collective communication skills.