The most captivating and profound emotional connections people form are can be with people they barely know, or aren’t even subconsciously aware about. That unanticipated mental connection can drastically change and lead their lives in more encouraging and positive ways, even if they’re not fully aware of the other person’s subtle influence. That moving bond is the enticing lesson featured in the relationship between the characters of lead actors Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David in director Brin Hill’s new independent romance drama, ‘In Your Eyes,’ which had its world premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. The movie, which was written by Joss Whedon, draws viewers with its passionate exploration that people will naturally connect with their true love, who will undoubtedly transform their lives.
‘In Your Eyes’ follows a young teen girl, Rebecca, as she sleds haphazardly down a snowy mountain in New Hampshire. As she swerves into a tree, a young boy, Dylan, physically feels the accident while sitting in his classroom in New Mexico. While the two children don’t know each other, they’re instantly bonded together, and their connection remains strongly powerful throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.
The story then introduces Rebecca (Kazan) and Dylan (Stahl-David) in their late 20s, and both still seem to be emotionally damaged by their unexplainable bond. Rebecca is married to Phillip (Mark Feuerstein), and despite his charming personality in the early stages of their relationship, has inadvertently become less caring towards her. She has not become upset with the way their marriage has turned out, but also the fact she doesn’t have her own career. Dylan, meanwhile, gave up on his intellect after the accident, and turned to petty crime. After being released from serving a prison sentence, he attempts to rebuild his life.
Rebecca and Dylan eventually give into their connection with each other, and figure out the unshakeable but vague presence in their lives was their bodies’ reactions to each other. The two can speak to each other across the country when they talk out loud, leading to their first visual introduction to each other by looking in a mirror at the same time.
Kazan and Stahl-David generously took the time to sit down and talk about shooting ‘In Your Eyes’ at the Hilton New York Fashion District Hotel during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the two actors discussed how they enjoyed filming the romantic comedy-drama independently because they had more creative freedom in portraying their characters, and the film is a thought-provoking piece of entertainment; how they love being on movie sets, as their first impulses, which are the most creative, are often filmed and incorporated into the movie; and how they were excited to have ‘In Your Eyes’ premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Question (Q): ‘In Your Eyes’ was filmed independently. What is it about making independent films you both enjoy?
Michael Stahl-David (MSD): With independent films, the crews tend to be younger, and they feel more like your peers at this age. That was definitely true on this set. There’s also less of a sense of answering to a lot of people at a studio or network; it’s usually about one person’s vision.
Zoe Kazan (ZK): I like making micro-budget films because I don’t like sitting in a trailer. There’s also a lot of waste on a big movie set. I’ve been on them, and I was like, “Do we really need all this food and these trailers?” So it’s cool feeling like you’re just one of the crew who’s making the movie, except you’re in front of the camera and they’re behind the camera.
I also think independent cinema has changed because studios are making so few films now. Studios used to make films like ‘Witness’ and ‘Little Women’ that were thinking movies for thinking people that were also entertainment. I saw ‘American Hustle’ last year, and I thought, “Wow, there used to be a lot of movies like this, which were fun to watch and really good films.” Now I think those are so few and far between. So you have to go to the independent world to see films where things don’t explode, or aren’t based on a board game, unfortunately.
Q: Speaking of networks, you have also both appeared on television series; Zoe, you starred on such shows as ‘Bored to Death’ and ‘Medium,’ and Michael, you appeared on such series as ‘Person of Interest’ and ‘My Generation.’ Do you both have any interest in returning to television?
MSD: I actually did a comedy pilot this year.
ZK: You did?
MSD: I did. It’s really exciting.
ZK: What’s it called?
MSD: It’s called ‘Two to Go,’ and it’s about a group of friends which is full of couples who are having kids. There’s a guy and a girl who are the last two to settle down. They’ll be played by me and Christine Woods.
I’d also love to do a cable series, of course. I think serialized dramas are amazing.
ZK: Me, too. The landscape has changed drastically. I think that’s where a lot of the great writing is right now.
But you’re also going to lock yourself into a huge amount of time if you’re strongly associated with a character. If you do that, you want to feel passionately about it. We shot ‘In Your Eyes’ in 20 days, so it wasn’t that big of a commitment. But to commitment many months each year for several years is a lot.
Q: How does preparing for a film like ‘In Your Eyes’ compare and contrast to a television series?
MSD: Well, the preparation process isn’t much different. The roles are the roles; the biggest difference is what the role is and what it entails.
ZK: Time is also important. With a lot of these lower budget films, you end up getting the role a few weeks before you begin shooting. That can be frustrating.
But I (just started) rehearsals on a play, and I’ve had the role for about nine months. So I’ve had a lot of time (to prepare), not that I’ve done a lot of work (laughs), but I’ve had a lot of time to do that work.
MSD: (laughs) But’s it’s been sitting with you.
ZK: Exactly. It’s crazy that I was cast so far in advance.
Q: Zoe, you previously starred on Broadway in ‘A Behanding in Spokane’ with Christopher Walken. How does performing in plays compare and contrast to making films?
ZK: We both do theater-I’ve done theater here in New York, and Michael’s done theater in Chicago. How do you answer that question, Michael?
MSD: I talk about being in it for the whole ride, and relating to the audience. But I’m curious to hear you talk about it. It’s such a difference experience. Once I get to the theater, I’m working. I visit with my co-stars, but we’re not hanging out. On film sets, there’s so much time.
ZK: I love rehearsal. It’s the greatest to play and actually make choices that are informed, because you’ve tried other things. I love the process of putting the play together, and that feeling of stepping out in front of an audience and risking everything in front of them.
But I hate the length of a run, and doing the same thing every night. I find it to be unbelievably difficult to keep my interest up once we open. It feels great to be the person in charge. Since there’s no editor, you’re making the choices every night. On the nights you feel creative, that’s wonderful. But in some ways, I feel like my creativity dies once I figure things out.
The converse is that I love being on set. Your first impulse is your impulse, and you have to do all the work beforehand. I did an HBO mini-series this past year (‘Olive Kitteridge’), and I had to have an accent. I had to look totally different. But there was no time to rehearse-we had one day. So I did all this work beforehand, and it’s cool you made this person. But runs are hard for me. I get bored easily.
MSD: You have done a lot of theater. There are Wednesday s where you’re like, I can’t believe I have to do two (performances)! (laughs)
ZK: It’s true! But obviously I love it, because otherwise, I wouldn’t keep doing it.
Q: ‘In Your Eyes’ had its world premiere on Sunday, April 20 here at the Tribeca Film Festival. What were your reactions when you found out it would be playing at the festival?
MSD: I was psyched. The weird thing with this movie was that we shot this two years ago, and then I wasn’t really hearing anything about it. I was like, this is a big part for me. When am I going to get to see it?
I heard (in March) that we were going to be at Tribeca, and I was excited. I’m here in New York on and off, so it’s great to be here with the film.
ZK: I think the most exciting thing was when they spoke to me about doing this On Demand release. I think it’s a really cool way to get the movie directly to the fans. I think it’s definitely an unconventional, risky way to put a movie out. But we’ve seen the model work for Louis C.K. when he put out his comedy specials.
Q: Would you both be interested in trying directing sometime in your careers?
ZK: I want to try it.
MSD: Me, too. I’ve directed a short film last year that’s going out to festivals. It was really exciting. It’s such a rush when you wake up in the morning, and you’re immediately problem-solving, and you keep doing that until you go to sleep.
You also take care of the actors, because you’re trying to set a tone and vibe. You have to know when to step in, and when to let them make choices. That’s a fun thing to manage.
ZK: I think of that quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That’s how I feel about wanting to direct. I want more movies that I want to see out there. At a certain point you think, I should just do that. I should stop complaining about how few movies are being made that I like. (laughs)