Interview with Andrew Semans, director/co-writer of Nancy, Please

Cult Projections: So tell me, how did the screenplay to Nancy, Please come about? It feels as if it could be autobiographical.

Andrew: Well, actually, it is and it isn’t. The way we came about with the story is I like to come up with an incredibly simple conflict, or an incredibly simple situation, something really rudimentary, and then think about it very intensely, put pressure on it and see what happens, as I elaborate on this very simple concept, and try and flesh it out with characters. I was writing a different script at the time, and it really wasn’t coming together. So I got together with my co-writer, Will Heinrich, and we said let’s come up with a new story, and let’s base it around the simplest conflict we can think of, and then we can go from there. So we said, ok, what about this conflict: one person has this one thing that another person wants and they won’t give it back. Okay, that’s a really simple conflict. So who are the people, where does it take place? So we just started plugging in characters. What is this thing that the other person wants back? Who are these people? Where are they? Over time personal things and personal experiences began to find their way in. And it gradually did become a very personal movie, even though we started off in this very dry and very academic way. Nothing like this has actually happened to me, but it is thematically autobiographical.  I lot of the things the main character confronts I have confronted.

CP: How would you describe the collaboration process with Will, in terms of the screenplay? Is the dialogue written together?

A: We would get together and come up with a rudimentary outline of the script and describe each scene; what might happen in each scene, and who was there, and what it was about. Then one would go and write the scene, and then pass it to the other who would do a re-write, and then we would talk about it. It was a lot of passing back and forth. It was written in bots and pieces over a long period of time. We were both working on other things, so we would do it when we could, and gradually over time it got finished.

CP: The movie is essentially a four-hander, Paul, Jen, Charlie, and Nancy. Each character is in juxtaposition against the other. But Nancy is the real enigma. Why did you have her character shrouded in such mystery?

A: We liked the idea of the character of Nancy being larger a projection of what the main character thinks she is, or of whom he wants people to think she is. He’s largely writing this story in his mind, though not literally, it’s not a fantasy. This is a situation the main character consciously or unconsciously is perpetuating, and it’s very, very important to him to have an enemy, a villain. Someone who is persecuting him, in order for him to feel victimized, and feel self-righteous, because that’s what he wants to be, and he stays that way most of the movie. So we thought, let’s illustrate this character almost entirely second-hand, through another character, almost like a mythological monster. But then as the movie goes on the idea that this man’s accounts of Nancy and her doings are maybe somewhat unreliable, and that only at the end of the movie do you get to hear from Nancy herself.

CP: The narrative raises far more questions than answers, how important was it to provide the viewer with images, such as the dead cockroach and the bloodied drill bit, and even character decisions, and imbue them with a dream-like logic and rationale?

A: I like the idea of taking this movie, which is set in the real world, a very, very mundane environment, and give it overtones of a thriller, a horror movie, but it never becomes a thriller or a horror movie. I imagined in the main character’s mind that he thinks he’s in a thriller or horror movie, or he wants to be in thriller or horror movie because he wants to see himself as a victim of a great injustice, or a great evil, but of course he really isn’t, but he has fantasies that lean in that direction, but the banal reality remains, and it never becomes the movie that the main character wants it to become. But we wanted to include these elements and nods to the horror movie.

CP: Yes, well, that’s what makes the movie so interesting is your blend of genre elements; there is a relationship drama at the heart of the story, that’s fused with a black comedy, nods to a thriller, hints of existential horror, and even, dare I use it, mumblecore, it tries that jacket on for size too. What makes Nancy, Please so interesting is the subtle blend of genre elements; there is a relationship drama at the heart of the story, fused with black comedy, thriller nods, even a hint of existential horror. And there’s the mumblecore jacket it tries on for size too.

[both chuckle]

CP: The performances are uniformly excellent, was casting difficult?

A: Not particularly. We had an extremely short production period due to a variety of factors so we cast the movie very, very quickly. We cast it very conventionally through auditions with a casting director. Because it happened fast we couldn’t see that many people, or have callbacks. Luckily people came through the door that we really liked, and we cast them. The only exception was Eleonore Hendricks who played Nancy. I had seen her in a few other movies, and we reached out to her specifically for the role, and thankfully she was interested, and came onboard.

CP: Eleonore, she was excellent. You want more screen time from her.

A: Yeah, we liked the idea of withholding her character, a bit like Jaws. You’re not going to see the shark! But it was a hard thing to do, because Eleonore has real on-screen presence, and she’s such an interesting person to watch.

CP: Do you think the indie scene has become mainstream? Is there a glut, because it’s so easy to make a feature, budget-wise, but harder to get your movie seen and talked about?

A: Shit, this is a very complicated topic and I don’t know if I can speak intelligently on this. From a filmmaker’s point of view, the fact that the technology has reached a point where you can make a movie that looks and sounds good for very little money is a wonderful thing. It’s fantastic. Nancy, Please was made on a very low budget, and ten years ago we never would have got it made. It was because of the advances in the technology that allowed this movie to be made on this very low budget. So that’s terrific. Are there too many indie movies? I don’t know the economics of the situation well enough. There can only be too many movies if good movies are being crowded out because there are so many mediocre movies, and that would be terrible. I don’t know if that’s happened. I do see brilliant movies being neglected, but it’s not because so many other little mediocrities are getting a lot of attention. I don’t know, man …

CP: I know, it’s a day’s worth of discussion, at least.

A: It is. And what are you going to do about it? People wanna make movies, and they’re gonna keep on making them.

CP: Of course.

A: I think, by and large, that kind of democratisation of the art form is terrific. It allows a lot of people to make movies that otherwise couldn’t. Are there drawbacks to that? Probably, but ultimately I think it will be good for the form.

CP: Thank you Andrew, I look forward to your next feature!

A: Alright. So do I.