At SXSW this year, indie comedy Pretty Problems took home the Audience Award and now the winning film is finally coming to your screen. Hitting select theaters and video-on-demand services on Oct. 7, Pretty Problems follows Jack and Lindsey, a couple who are in a rut in careers, romance and finance. Suddenly whisked away on a luxury weekend in Sonoma, Jack and Lindsey take on an unhinged weekend that puts their relationship to the test.
Ahead of Pretty Problems’ wide release, star, writer and product Britt Rentschler dove into making an indie film about the ultra rich, her balancing act and the power of comedy.
On Instagram, you said “we made this movie from the ground up.” What was that process like?
We really wanted to write something and make something ourselves. So Michael Tennant, My writing and producing partner, came to me. It was actually after his birthday dinner, and he was like, “You know what, I was just sitting around the table looking at everybody and thinking why can't we do this together?”
We have really remarkably talented friends that we wanted to see on screen and they were not getting the opportunities that we felt like they deserved. They're fighting for a couple lines on television. And so we thought, “Well, what if we write something and what if we just try to make it? Let's just do this as an experiment.” Our location was donated to us, which was an incredible indie film boon. We actually had several locations that were donated to us. People cut us camera deals because of connections. Our amazing wardrobe supervisor came in and she'd never done a narrative film; she didn't even take a paycheck. We just caught her something on the back end, which on an indie film is a real gamble. But everybody just came to task under the banner of “let's do it ourselves. Let's see if we can do it. And let's see what happens.” There seems to be a method to making an indie film and getting into festivals and it usually involves celebrity, and we thought we would try to do it a different way and really celebrate our grassroots resources all across the board.
It turned out that this family was going to be in Europe, and so they let us borrow their property while they were in Europe. So we started to think “OK, well what would it really be like ‘We don't belong on this property.’” That's how I felt. I would never belong on this property. So what is it like if you go to a place like this and you struggle with those internal feelings about worthiness?
Did playing Lindsey have a personal impact on you?
I did not want to play Lindsey and I will say that with full gratitude that I did and that I'm on the other side of it. But I tend to play more character-type roles, so something like Cat was more exciting to me. But at the same time, Michael and I creating this project together, at the end of the day, especially when it's indie, we knew that we would care the most about it. And we felt like we had to play the central characters because no one was going to show up with blood, sweat and tears in the same way. They couldn't possibly; it was our creation.
Michael and I spent the first two days shooting all of the bedroom scenes. So that's where most of the drama happens. It was like, “Oh my gosh, what are we doing? Why don't we do this to ourselves? This isn't the fun part.” And for me in particular, it really drew out the yuckiest parts of myself that I really didn't want to necessarily reckon with— those feelings of self doubt and self esteem and really where I want to be. And Lindsey is so clear in the movie about what she wants and being needy, but to me that neediness is not a good feeling and it's not necessarily something that is easy to confront. So to dive into that and to let it be really visible was definitely a challenge for me. But I was happy to do it because it was important. That's something I kept telling myself. Michael and I had this mantra we are like, “We don't have to be likable, we have to be relatable.”
What was it like balancing your roles as star, writer and producer?
The thing I would say that I was really proud of as a producer, in particular, was looking around at everyone working. COVID had shut us down. We were supposed to shoot in April of 2020. We did not get to start shooting until April of 2021. And this was, I think, everyone's first job back. And just seeing everybody working every day, back doing what they loved and feeling really fulfilled and excited made me really emotional because every time I thought the script isn't good enough or we're never going to be able to do this… it didn't matter because we did it and everybody is working right now. And it's because we got through those things. That's what I'm taking away from being the producer. I don't think I'll ever produce and play the lead again unless we have a much bigger production team because there were times where I felt like I wasn't being a good enough actor or I wasn't being a good enough producer because I was having to juggle both things. But on the other side of it, I wouldn't trade it because the experience was incredibly valuable to be able to see so many sides of what a production needs to run successfully.
Why was a comedic lens the right way to approach this story?
I think laughter is the best medicine. And I wanted to be able to approach these yucky issues with a spoonful of sugar. I think we tried very hard not to preach about anything, but we hope that the audience got to make up their own minds when they leave the film. They get to laugh really hard all the way through and then at the end, they can make their own decisions about how they want to maybe reassess or reapproach their gratitude for their partnerships or their life.
Comedy, to me, is the most accessible way to do that. Also, very naturally, we all love to laugh together and I knew the voices of the actors I was writing for, as did Michael. So it was really fun to envision them shining in their talents and I knew that they could all be really funny but also have depth. And I think that's what's great about comedy is you can be laughing one second and then all of a sudden get punched in the gut. And that's a really powerful dynamic.
What else do you want audiences to take away from watching Pretty Problems?
I hope they have a really good time. I think that we've been through a rough couple of years, and everybody deserves to grab a glass of wine and sit down with a partner or a bunch of friends. SXSW was the first in-person festival and to all of a sudden be in a room with 450 people who are laughing, I cried. I couldn't believe it. And I do think there's power in comedy. It's community building. So I hope that you just get to escape for a little while, enjoy it and then maybe leave a little closer to the people that you care about and a little more sure that the life that you have is probably pretty great. Even with all of its flaws, I think hope is a really important factor in comedy and drama. And I think if we're void of hope, we're in a tough situation. As heavy as that is to say about a comedy, I really do think that that was a needle we tried to thread all the way through.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Tiziano Lugli