American Filmmaker Lizzie Logan’s narrative feature “People People” follows anxiety-ridden Youtube star Kat (Natalie Walker) and her budding romance. A relatable comedy for the millennial generation, this film is an absolute gem.
“People People” will screen at New York Lift-Off on Wednesday 27th June at 7:45pm, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. We interviewed director Lizzie to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and her path as a filmmaker.
Interview by Sneh Rupra
What inspired the concept for People People?
Initially, I was playing with the idea of a movie about a girl who never left her apartment, just to see how simple I could make it. I’m kind of a homebody (aka very lazy) and I was trying to figure out how much story I could fit naturally into one location without it becoming, like, Cabin In The Woods or something. So that led me to other questions: what did this girl who was always at home do all day? Where did she get money? What did she do for fun? Who did she talk to? And why doesn’t she go out? And so it naturally evolved from there.
And Kat’s apartment in the film is my mother’s actual apartment in Chicago, and I lived there for a few months after college, and that setting inspired a lot of it. Originally I’d been thinking okay, she’s this broke girl who stays home all the time, that’s sorta sad. But then I thought, well, what if her place is really nice and it’s sort of, on a very shallow level, understandable? Like what if her place is in some ways better than the outside world? What if you lived in Grey Gardens but without all the cats and the water worked?
What were your initial ideas about how to portray Kat’s phobias on screen?
It’s tough, you don’t want to slip into some stereotype or after-school special that checks all the boxes of “this is what it looks like when someone has a panic attack,” because everyone is different, but you also want to be accurate. I think in early versions of the script I just wrote “she tries to calm herself down but she can’t” or something, and then what you see on screen is very much a product of my collaboration with Natalie – it’s so much her interpretation of how Kat would be in that moment, and we just filmed what she did.
How did you go about casting the roles?
Friends, and friends of friends! Once I started thinking that this was a script I might actually want to shoot myself, rather than use as a writing sample or something, I made sure that all of the roles were, basically, twenty-somethings, so I could easily find people. I went to NYU and I have a friend who recently graduated from the acting program at Juilliard, so when my core group of friends got on board to help out with auditions and started reaching out to people, we got a bunch of great submissions.
I think the easiest to cast was Rachel Pegram as Casey. Initially there were more scenes with just Casey and Colin that were later cut, and she’s still a pretty pivotal person in the final version, and I’ve known Rachel for years and think she’s just great and really natural so she had the kind of charm and laid-back confidence where I was like yes, she is exactly the kind of gorgeous, cool, intimidating person you DON’T want your boyfriend’s ex to be. The toughest was maybe the part of Colin, because we don’t know too much about him but we have to be on Kat’s side when she falls for him. So, do you just cast a super hot guy because he’s the love interest? Or a really funny guy? I was trying to figure out what would make my audience like him, but you can’t really ever know that for sure, so we just went with the guy we thought was cute and funny and great and that was David Rosenberg.
The whole thing is so relatable for millennial audiences – how did you go about getting that so perfect?
It helps that I, myself, am a perfect genius with no flaws! I’m kidding, I don’t know, I think I just looked at what people my age were doing and wrote a character who did that? There are some various obvious millennial touchstones with the phone and Instagram and the rise of YouTubers. In ten years this movie will be very dated, but also a classic they screen at the Smithsonian because again, I am very special and important!!
I think loneliness and isolation are relatable to every generation. I think being nervous around new people and feeling insecure and introverted and scared is a human thing, not a millennial thing. But what’s different now is the level at which you can fake it and project whatever version of yourself you wish you were. Although then again, maybe that’s always been the case, like didn’t Winston Churchill make his portrait painter burn that painting where he looked too sad? I got that from an episode of The Crown.
The relationship between humanity and technology is so important to this film — was that something you were keen to explore?
Explore, yes. Judge, no, and I hope that comes through. If I see another movie about how “cell phones make us less connected” I’m gonna get a nosebleed. It’s a tool! Technology is a tool, and it’s as helpful or harmful as we make it. And examples of it being helpful and/or harmful are pretty well known, so I won’t even get into that, except to say that in this movie, and for Kat, tech is allowing her to ignore her deeper issues. It’s not the root cause, but it’s the bandaid that’s, to push this metaphor farther than I need to, keeping her from really tending to the wound? It allows her to fake interaction, fake fun, fake friendship. It’s what she uses to distract and numb herself so she doesn’t realize how unfulfilled and scared she is. And I personally think that a little of that is fine, but then Kat takes it too far. Ultimately I think Kat has pretty normal impulses, but she just takes them too far, and all of her smart devices make it that much easier.
How much did the film change from script to screen?
Not much changed in terms of the actual story, but a lot got cut! As I mentioned (SPOILER), there were 2 or 3 scenes that sort of showed the dissolution of Colin and Casey’s second try at a relationship parallel to Kat’s journey after the party, and when we read them, I thought it was such a nice way to see Colin’s journey continue, and how his relationship with Kat had changed him. And the actors did a terrific job, we shot it all at my old apartment in Brooklyn in like a day and they really came through. And then when we were editing and getting feedback, pretty much everyone was like, “No, by this point I’m invested in Kat’s story and I don’t want to be pulled out of it to see what these other people are up to.” I fought for those scenes to stay in for a really long time, but ultimately they just didn’t serve the larger narrative.
Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?
Every challenge was sort of unexpected? I didn’t know what to expect, honestly I thought it might be a total disaster, but I had a dream crew and a dream cast and a purposefully manageable setting, so there were no huge, insurmountable issues. This was by far the largest-scale filming project I’ve ever even been a part of, so every day I was just learning new stuff and somehow it all came together. I had very few expectations going in. Maybe I’m the unexpected challenge! I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing for the first few days, I’m sure everyone else didn’t expect that?
Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?
I currently work at a television show (THE BREAK WITH MICHELLE WOLF ON NETFLIX GO WATCH IT RIGHT NOW), and that’s super exciting. I have a pilot I’ve been working on for over a year about modern day witches (it’s not as cheesy as it sounds, but it’s still pretty cheesy) and a screenplay about my parents, who got divorced twenty years ago and are now in a rock band together. But I don’t know that I want to jump into the next thing right away. That might be fear talking? I have a small perfectionist streak, but I granted myself a lot of leeway on People People, because I kept telling myself, “It’s my first movie, it’s a learning experience.” But now that I can’t play that card anymore, I’m like, THIS HAS TO BE THE BEST THING EVER MADE. So check in with me in ten years! (unless the person reading this is an agent or manager in which case I have SCRIPTS READY TO SELL, JUST CALL ME BABY).