“People often say, we should get dinner, when they haven’t seen someone they know in a long time and more often than not they just don’t mean it. It’s a throw away line, an exit strategy, a way to keep things light, but seem sincere. But what happens if you get trapped in this dinner you actually didn’t want to have in the first place? You both fake it so hard you’re forced to have this awful meal! Well that’s what happens to Abby and Sean, two estranged ex-step-siblings that haven’t seen each other in years; and if you can believe it, have some shit to get off their chests.” Director Lexi Tannenholtz on WE SHOULD GET DINNER! screening at SxSW 2022.
Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?
This is my first SxSW and I can’t wait. I am so excited to be apart of the film festival and be programmed along with so many amazing short films. I am attending with my co-director Eliza Jiménez Cossio and one of our lead cast members Anthony Oberbeck. It’s all of our first times at SxSW and besides for not knowing what to wear in Austin, we’re ready!
How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t aware of SxSW. I have three older sisters and they were always very aware of the music coming out of the festival whether it was Phantom Planet, Lily Allen, Bloc Party and so forth. I guess for me, my focus switched to solely think about SxSW as a place for film, and maybe even for me when Tiny Furniture premiered there.
Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!
The main idea behind the film was to get to work with Eliza again. The first short I ever produced, and the first short she ever wrote, was La Bruja, a film we made in 2018 together. I was working at Comedy Central at the time and she was at Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas and a mutual friend introduced us to one another, because Eliza was looking for a producer for her short. And that little short changed our lives, I’d say, and made us think we could be filmmakers! Still to be seen!
I had never even thought about making a short before then, but I was so excited because someone asked me, which meant they thought I could do it, even if I didn’t! Making that film, made us super close and dare I say kick ass friends and we knew we wanted to work together again, but we didn’t know how and on what. We decided making another short was a genius idea, which was still unclear by the way, to see how we could continue to work together as partners and what that would look like and mean.
So we started talking for hours and hours each day sharing intimate and vulnerable moments from our lives together and seeing what rang true for both of us. We knew it was going to be a comedy, we’re both very drawn to situations that take place around a meal and we knew we wanted it to be personal. We both kept sharing stories of lost relationships that often all had the similar common theme of, is this over? This person isn’t my friend anymore, but maybe they still are? This person was so beyond important to me at one time, and now I have no clue what they’re up to. Am I done with them? Are they done with me? Do we both feel the same? How will we ever know!? It seemed so simple yet confusing and so we created this heightened reality of two ex-step siblings, which Eliza has, who just so happened to bump into each other after years of no communication. And what do you say when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time, “We Should Get Dinner!” And so this film follows are two characters as they guy stuck in this trap that they’re unsure if they wanted to be in in the first place.
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?
We really wanted to go big with the gags in this film. We had a lot of fun elements to play with, water spilling, pants peeing, glasses breaking, people fainting and blood everywhere. So the look book we made was full of over the top visual references; like the BILLY MADISON peeing your pants is cool scene, KILL BILL VOLUME ONE blood squirting scene when Sophie gets her arm cut off, AIRPLANE! when Ted is profusely dripping sweat, FLASHDANCE when Alex pulls that damn string and the water just explodes and SIDEWAYS when Miles dumps the spit bucket.
How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?
We used an Alexa Mini that we were very lucky to borrow from my friend Greg and Zeiss super speeds primes from Abel in NYC. We also had the smallest circle dolly track in the history of the world, 10ft round or if we’re getting into it nine-foot, three-inches outside diameter. We needed a track this small, because our hero dinner table had to be placed between these very prominent columns in the small restaurant we were filming in. And we needed the circle track to get the main one-shot that heightens the emotional dizzying chaos that is Sean and Abby’s relationship. And although this track was the cutest thing you ever did see, it squeaked under our dolly wheels like crazy! It took everyone on our team a full hour to figure out how to get this track to stop squeaking and after all that the secret was baby powder!
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
With the festival having a virtual component, short films now more then ever have access to an even bigger audience, but with people’s primary focus often being features or panels, it might be nice to allow short films to be viewed virtually a week or two after the festival as well, so they don’t have to compete with everything else.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
It’s truly the worst advice ever, and I always hated when people would said this to me, but if you want to be a writer you have to write, if you want to be a director you have to direct and if you want to be a producer you have to produce. Easier said than done of course, but sometimes you have to just put yourself out there and just try to do the thing even if it’s embarrassingly debilitating.
And, I guess maybe this is two things now, but to me, it’s not always about getting to work with that person who is so famous, or that person who has written 10 features, or that person who knows it all; for me it’s about working with the people around you and coming up together with the crazy film community you build out of nobodies. Because more often than not you’ll look around at your team of nobodies and be like holyshit look at them now.
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
The short film I can never get out of my head is THE DO IT UP DATE directed by Andrew Barchilon and Emily Ting with Bridey Elliott and Josh Fadem.
This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 11-20. For more information point your browser to www.sxsw.com!