After winning the Audience Award at SXSW, Pretty Problems is finally making its way to theaters and video-on-demand on Oct. 7. The comedy follows a wild weekend where a couple on the rocks, Jack and Lindsey, visit the Sonoma home of new, ultra-rich friends.
Ahead of the film’s wide release, director Kestrin Pantera, who recently won the Bay Area Filmmaker of the Year, spoke with LA Confidential all about Pretty Problems.
What was it like working with Britt Rentschler (Lindsey) and Michael Tennant (Jack) to bring this story to life— was it helpful to have your leads also be the screenwriters?
I've starred in a movie that I'm directing a couple times, so I feel like I had empathy for what it is that they're going through. We would compartmentalize, so when we were in a writing session, it was like we were treating Jack and Lindsay as objects as opposed to this is Michael and this is Britt who are the actors. And when we were editing, we would do the same thing and treat the actors as objects. And that was something that I always had to do when I was cutting myself. I would dissociate from the me of it all and turn it into like this actor is an object that happens to be me. And that was very helpful. So it was easy. It was easy because they're f****** cool.
There’s lots of fun going on in Pretty Problems— karaoke, dancing, a murder mystery party, a silent disco. What was the most fun scene to film?
The wine tasting scene because that was our very first group scene. And that was when I had visceral confirmation that the movie was going to be funny. I wasn't quite sure when we started because we started shooting with all of the relationship fighting scenes between Jack and Linds. With the production schedule, you compartmentalize by location.
The first two days of shooting, it was just Jack and Lindsey fighting and crying. And we were like, “Jesus, are we making Marriage Story? This is really dark.” And then the third day, Tom the sommelier showed up and then Kerry and Carrie unleashed their total insanity. And I was like, “Oh, OK, this is great. This is gonna work.”
You’ve said you love shooting party scenes. Do you approach those sorts of scenes differently than scenes that are more about the dialogue?
I try to make party scenes feel like a very fun and sober party. I'm not plying people with alcohol or anything during those scenes to create the vibe, but it is just getting in the party mindset, having great music playing, getting the room tuned and getting everyone in a celebratory state of mind.
These actors were really good at playing drunk, so it was super fun. It was almost hypnotizing watching them do it where you're surprised and they're probably surprised a little bit of what comes out of their mouths and how they deliver these lines that you've read so much. And you're like, “Wow, she is drunk.” It's just amazing watching actors who are great at playing drunk really do their best work. When I am shooting a movie usually, it's like I turn on the camera and then I'm like an audience member. And I have an editing background, so I'm always thinking of how is this gonna cut together? Let's do it again, but make these adjustments so that I have my butt covered when I'm alone six months from now sitting in a dungeon in front of a timeline and they're off in New Orleans shooting a series with Catherine Zeta Jones.
One of the funnest things that I hadn't done in such a small scale before with a party and drunk scene was we needed to feel people in the room partying and in the other areas. So our lead actors had to patter around and be in the background a lot to show that they were in the scene. They were doing background acting, but they weren't necessary for the scene to work. So there's this great part when we shot drunk Cat and Lindsey on the couch at the karaoke scene talking about Big Dick Dan. And we just had Charlotte Ubben, who plays girl Carrie, wiggling her butt in the foreground for an hour straight. And it was hilarious because we wanted to feel like this crazy party was going on, but we could hear the dialogue. It was just amazing to just make Charlotte Wiggle for an hour straight. You couldn't see your face, you just saw this disco ball of a butt crashing the frame constantly. She just showed up and delivered. It was so fun.
You said before that you need comedy to survive. Did making this movie help that need?
I don't watch thrillers or dramas or horror movies. All I watch is broad comedy. I've been offered opportunities to direct horror or thrillers, and I get nightmares so easily that when you make a movie, it takes over your entire consciousness and subconscious mind because you're really committing to it for two years minimum.
As far as choosing something to stick your head into, it was such a joy and a delight. And also, I think that people get really depressed when they're not working on something that they really care about or that's meaningful to them. I feel like Pretty Problems definitely saved my life in more ways than one where I got lucky that it was funny and that the actors were funny, so it was a joy to cut. But it was also just such a privilege to be able to make a comedy. The ability to make a comedy is the most life-saving elixir on the planet and I feel like I've won the lottery every single time I get to do it.
What do you want audiences to take away from watching Pretty Problems?
Well, first and foremost, I just want them to have fun. I feel like that's the point of comedy and entertainment for me. There's all types of media that can educate and inform, and I think this type of media is really just designed to entertain. And if people come away with a bit of empathy for themselves and that if you compare yourself to someone who has more success or more wealth than you, just remembering that those people have their own struggles that they're going through and they might be s***** struggles that you actually don't want and give yourself a f****** break, man. I would like people to be a little kinder and gentler to themselves.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Photo by Dominic DiSaia