Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ve never been heartbroken. Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’m an emotionless robot or maybe I was just a heartless dick when I was younger (those last two descriptions aren’t mine!). Either way, I’d like to think that if I was asked to explain heartbreak, instead of stumbling through a series of random descriptions, pointing them in the direction of Tamar Glezerman’s brilliant (un)romantic comedy Fill your Heart with French Fries would be much more fitting.

Inspired by the news of a woman who spent a week in a fast food joint after her boyfriend broke up with her Glezerman’s touching and relatable short has wowed audiences at festivals and online and now the director joins us to discuss creating a fast food brand and the highs and lows of YouTube comments.

Your narrative was inspired by the real life story of a Chinese woman who spent 7 days in a KFC after being dumped by her boyfriend, what was it in this story that really appealed to you and made you want to commit it to screen?

I thought what she did in earnest ended up poetically perfect. That woman just threw subtext to the wind and fully acted out what is usually an internal conflict. She turned herself into a living illustration of grief – which was touching and funny at the same time.

Although Fill your Heart with French Fries orbits around its heartbroken protagonist, for me it’s a film as much about the people around her (and how they react) as it is about her. That’s my take anyway – what do you hope an audience takes from the film?

I always just hope the audience is entertained, and takes away the feeling of being understood; a few moments of feeling like that “yes, that is exactly how this feels”. That’s possible because the humor inherent to this kind of lovesickness stems from empathy and identification, not from ridicule. The supporting characters are meant to reflect the most common approaches to heartbreak I’ve managed to observe, as well as frame her different stages of grief.

It’s very easy to dehumanize others when they mostly exist, literally, in the palm of your hand.

The choice to have her go viral, and include a social media aspect was made because I wanted the story to take place in the present and the present is inundated with non-stop digital communication, most of which resemble a public broadcast more than a conversation.

Not to say callousness or narcissism are modern day inventions, but it’s very easy to dehumanize others when they mostly exist, literally, in the palm of your hand. I fear technology is evolving faster than we do, emotionally or socially, and as a result we’re all just kind of flailing along, pretending like broadcasting our lives 24/7 is how it’s always been.

We now have the means to constantly project ourselves, including our shittiness, into the world at all times, and for the most part, we start believing that that is what’s expected of us. That creates what, to me, feels like a low key collective psychosis which is present constantly and everywhere, so it had to also be present in the film.

The film is really driven by the performance of Lindsay Burdge – how did you get her involved and what do you feel she added to the role?

I wrote this with Lindsay in mind, after seeing her do a reading of a friend’s script a few years back, and becoming an instant fan. I think her performances radiate intelligence, and are very emotional in the most natural and nuanced way. I never really imagined the role as anyone but her, so it was the top priority to get her on board and I didn’t want a b-plan. Thank God she liked the script.

You admitted (in our talk for Short of the Week) that creating the brand for fast food joint ‘FryBaby’s’ was one of the biggest challenges in production, why did you decide to go into this much detail when creating the world in which your story unfolds?

Creating ‘FryBaby’s’ stemmed from a combination of loving design and having no choice. People know exactly how fast food chains look and feel, so we had to really replicate the experience in order to be believable. To prove that point: there are hundreds and hundreds of comments on our youtube link, discussing exactly how many free soda refills she could’ve actually gotten throughout her stay.

I like that it’s all just fries, which really might be the most common denominator of humanity – everyone loves fries.

The whole thing had to be very detailed-oriented in order to create a very specific atmosphere – cheerful, depressing and believable. The slogan is “Deep fried Heaven”- which is just hell. We created uniforms, logos, cups, visors, posters, three audio commercials and a jingle. I especially enjoyed writing a one page history of this completely fictitious company, for the musician recording our jingles, with stuff like: “Armed only with the money he made as a cook at KFC, Fred opened his first FryBaby’s in the summer of 1964 – on the main street of his hometown – Survival, IL.” And I like that it’s all just fries, which really might be the most common denominator of humanity – everyone loves fries.

A selection of jingles and promos created for the FryBaby’s brand – Music + arrangement + production by Dan Mcloughlin

The film has clocked up over 260k on YouTube and almost 40k views on Vimeo – are you surprised by how well the internet has taken to the film?

It’s 20 minutes long, which is long for a short, so I had no idea what to expect in terms of viewership and am I’m very thankful. The Vimeo community was, and still is, extremely supportive, and really astoundingly active in terms of new collaborations and audience building.

Another really surprising part was YouTube; after we got Staff Picked at Vimeo, and selected for Short of the Week, the viral channel Omeleto got in touch and posted the film to YouTube, which opened it up to a whole new audience. And that has been a really moving experience, because now there are masses of of people discussing their own broken hearts, love and compassion in the comments. Which is bananas, and kind of all that I could’ve ask for.

A selection of comments from YouTube

But to be a Debby Downer, there’s also a very ugly side to being exposed to hundreds of thousands of views, because with great view count, comes great homophobia. It’s a small part of the comments but it’s always there. Like this disgusting tax you have to pay if you dare feature someone who isn’t straight without supplying a damn good reason. Or at all really at.

Turns out men all over the world feel entitled to having even fictional women potentially willing to have sex with them, and they will get angry in the comments. And of course you have your run of the mill horrific violence comments. This has happened to me with almost all of my work, and I think it bears mentioning as reason nine million and twelve for why representation matters.

I did find myself trying to assure an angry young woman…that Jesus loves her all the same even if she is gay.

I also think that there’s no reason for viewers, many of which are teens and LGBTQ themselves, to see that garbage go unanswered, so I do engage with those comments if no one else has. It’s mostly just reporting and shutting it down, but I also hope that, here and there, there’s something to gain from the dialogue itself. I mean I did find myself trying to assure an angry young woman who “Jesus hashtag freed from her homosexuality” that Jesus loves her all the same even if she is gay.

What are you working on next?

Coming up there’s short called Division Avenue, written by Michal Birnbaum, which I directed this past winter, and is now in post production. It’s a Brooklyn story about an unlikely bond between two mothers: a young Hassidic woman and an undocumented Mexican day laborer.

I’m finishing up a feature script temporarily, (but I hope forever), titled – Gayvengers – a dark musical comedy, set in the scary near future of Mike Pence’s America. I’m excited to get this made as soon as possible and also excited to be on my fifth collaboration with my co-pilot: Producer Chris Casey.

Aside from that, I just wrote a pilot called The Universe Doesn’t Lie, again, a sad comedy, but this time about the post-truth era on a personal level. It features a lovable pathological liar and her stoic twin, and is set in the commercialized new-age world of aggressive wellness. I have to say though, that I really hope the next thing I write is for somebody else’s show.

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