Two friends, a summer of weddings, and the indie rom-com that follows their story. This is Plus One, the breakout 2019 Tribeca Film Festival winner that was sold before it even premiered and is now streaming on Hulu.
Lunacy Productions recently caught up with five members of the Plus One team at a USC screening: producers Ross Putman and Jeremy Reitz, production supervisor Alex Hughes, production designer Francesca (Frankie) Palombo, and Andrew Rhymer who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Jeff Chan.
They were nice enough to answer some of our questions about the five year process of putting this hilarious indie together, and their responses should be informative and encouraging to our readers currently seeking funding for their own projects.
Lunacy Productions: This film has the distinction of being the first script that we, as a production company said “yes” to. And then the rest of your financing fell apart.
Andrew: Right. In 2015 the majority investor — his name was Anthony Scaramucci — pulled his money from all film financing and decided to get into politics. He worked for Trump briefly. So that was fun.
It became important to make decisions as clear eyed as possible and not beat yourself up when something doesn’t work out, because it’s going to kick your ass. Something always falls through, something doesn’t go how you wanted it to. And then it’s like “That’s really disappointing” or “That really sucks” or “I’m really depressed for a year and a half because I told all my friends that we were making a movie together and they all got really badly let down and don’t have jobs.” There’s a lot of really intense stuff emotionally and I found that it really became trying to constantly remind myself at every decision, what was the information that I had at the time and what was the best call we were making based on that?
Honestly, Jeff and I had all but given up on the movie, but we’d gotten this whole team together, so we made these short films. Then we got a couple of meetings from the short films, from assistants who saw them on Vimeo and would show them to their bosses.
One of them was with this company called Studio 71. They had been making movies that were like, “Hey, we’re going to get a bunch of YouTubers and put them in a movie together.” I think they tried that a couple of times, and it hadn’t worked out the way they’d wanted it to, and they wanted to make something a bit more traditional. They liked the script. They liked that Red Hour (Ben Stiller’s production company) was an auspice that was attached, and they wanted to take a big swing.
LP: And that all happened two years later than you originally planned. How did you keep it together over that time?
Ross: I’ve made almost a dozen movies, and every single one of them has “fallen apart” at some point, because what you’re attempting to do is put together a random mix of talented professionals, weird rich people, actors, the script… trying to get all these elements together at the same time is pretty crazy and you don’t think about it when you’re doing it, but you’re doing it. I’ve gotten immune to it if something falls apart. You’re like, all right we’ll just put it back together.
I think the movie that we wound up with on Plus One, with Maya and Jack and the supporting cast around them is the version that’s so close to what everyone wanted to make. And some of the other versions, we had an actor attached who we really wanted to work with, although he wanted to make changes to the script. But it didn’t happen with that person and it happened with these people. And I think that it’s a better movie because of it. So it’s easy to feel that when something bad happens the world is ending, because it feels fucking terrible.
Andrew: I would say from my perspective now that when we tried to make this movie in 2015, I wasn’t ready. I don’t know how ready any of us were to make it. If it happened, we would’ve made it. Maybe it would have been a perfect film. I doubt it, but yeah, we had more time to write more scenes, think about different ways to do it, find more locations and different crew and all kinds of stuff.
Jeremy: Honestly we got really lucky too. There were a lot of times where I remember we thought we might go out and make this movie and I was like, “I have this offer to do a season of a TV show,” and I was really scared to say yes to it and Rhymer said, “You just gotta do it if it’s in front of you.” So I did it and thank God because the movie pushed two years later.
That happens all the time to lots of our crew members and you just try to make it work. Our first AD who worked at the time as a producer ended up taking a full time job and wasn’t going to be able to join for the second round. But then he saw us all working together so he quit his full time job to come do a six week job and make a thousand dollars a week or something.
Andrew: I think the macro lesson is the sooner you stop living in a fantasy and start living in reality, and then try to maximize that reality, the better, right? So you can hope for something or wish for something or want something…
Think of everything we had to figure out: How do we combine locations? How do we move these people around? How do we make twelve weddings despite the fact that we can’t even remotely afford that? We could have insisted that we needed another half million dollars to do all this, but there is no guarantee we would have ever raised that half million.
And we would be sitting here with an imaginary movie in our heads that we never made. You can blame the fact that you didn’t have that extra half million dollars all you want. But if you don’t have the movie, nobody cares, right? And granted, you can’t necessarily make a movie for whatever amount of money you have. But I think this team did an incredible job saying, “Okay, what do we feel like we can get? And how can we make that work?” How can we live in that reality and maximize that as opposed to wishing something was different, because that’s just nothing. That doesn’t result in anything.
LP: What’s that quote that says, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations?”
Francesca: A hundred percent, I get high off that kind of quote because I get really excited doing indies and getting the tricks down to like, how do you make the money last? And where do we find funky furniture? When the wall art in the hotel doesn’t come down because it’s bolted in, what do you do on the fly? It’s really scary at the time, but it’s exciting to get to make budgets work.
LP: So how did you make the money last? Can you share any tricks with us?
Jeremy: The budget for this movie was just a hair over one million dollars, and the goal really was to put every bit of that on screen. It’s so easy on a film set to spend money on stuff that you’re never going to see. From the quality of your catering and your crafty to what kind of trailer you provide for your talent, if any. Or should you say, “Hey, here’s an empty room in this house where we can put you for the day.”
Andrew: And early on it was also about shaping the concept of the movie we wanted it to be. We’ve seen movies about weddings before, but with this one we wanted it to kind of be a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern thing where we focus on two people who are just on the edges of it. Any time I think about a wedding that I’ve been to, I think about the rental car and the weird hotel I got stuck at.
So when we started meeting with Jeremy and Frankie, Jeff and I worked with Frankie to develop a plan for the twelve weddings. Frankie built this amazing plan that all twelve of the weddings would’ve had: what their table settings looked like, what the room looked like, all this stuff, so that we could figure out how to dress the room.
Francesca: You started punching numbers in and I was just sitting there like, “Hmm, wow. This is going to be so hard. This is going to be really, really, really hard.” I had $40,000 of set decorations and 8% of that we spent on flowers, so it was a lot of gambling and strategizing how to make it work, but I was definitive in how it was going to look.
So showing the directors and producers the goal, it was then game-planning where’s the shot going to be, and oh, it’s just going to be a mantle piece? Okay we’re just going to throw some floral arrangements up here, we’re going to put some candles. It’s going to look like this, she’s going to stand there in front of a mic and that’s it. Boom, you’ve got a cabin wedding just from one angle.
Andrew: And so much of this type of filmmaking depends on that kind of preparation and commitment from directors to not change things on the day. Because for every single one of those wedding speeches, if you pan the camera a foot to the right then it’s completely undressed and looks like their bathroom.
It’s the DP committing to what the angle is going to be, understanding what that specific lens is going to do, where the camera is going to go in the small location, what the frame is going to be, so we’re not wasting our money “arting” something bigger than we need to, or lighting something bigger than we need to.
LP: Any advice for other filmmakers who are struggling to put a project together?
Ross: Make work. That’s it. If you have a project you want to get made, and you have no idea how to raise financing, join the club. None of us have any idea how, and I’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve all been doing it. It’s literally my job, and I don’t fucking know. You’re like, “Well I guess this person makes sense to send it to.”
If you’re making work, people will look at you and think, “Oh that person stays busy. That person creates, that person has ideas. If I don’t get on board now, or if I don’t listen to them, I might miss out on something really cool.” Whereas if you’re just a person going around with a script saying, “Someone should give me a million dollars,” it’s simply a lot less likely to ever happen unless you happen to have a rich uncle who has a million dollars, right?
All I can say is, it’s not that it will necessarily always come to you, but as long as you’re getting up in the morning and saying, “Well, I don’t have a million dollars now, but I do have a thousand dollars now. Why don’t I try to do something on my weekend?” You know, there’s no downside to that, only upside. You should just assume you’re going to lose that thousand dollars (Laughs) But as long as you’re willing to pay that price, just keep going. Someone will glom on at some point and say, “I want to help work on this.”