It’s a pleasure to welcome back Director Chloe Sarbib, who’s coming-of-age short Girl Friend premiered on our pages not too long ago. We were fans of Sarbib’s cleverly constructed naturalistic dialogue which allowed her actors to fully flesh out her characters with ease, a sensibility most definitely present in her latest short Go Tell Your Fathers, co-written and directed with Amy Taylor Rosenblum. The film is a short drama about Logan, a young woman on a beach weekend with her family who struggles with the desire to confide in them the details of a recent disturbing encounter. Sarbib and Rosenblum carefully depict Logan’s inner doubt with subtly and honesty, centring the reverberating effects these experiences produce with a pertinent naturalism. DN is delighted to premiere Go Tell Your Fathers today alongside an in-depth discussion with Sarbib and Rosenblum about the precautions they took in telling this story, the lengthy production period, the challenges that arose, and the creative benefits of stepping away to fully grasp the narrative you’re telling.
How did the concept for Go Tell Your Fathers come about? Was it something you developed together or did one of you approach the other?
Amy Taylor Rosenblum: The original idea for this film actually came out of a heated debate with my father in 2011 surrounding a high profile Title IX case going on at our college at the time. He was in complete shock/denial at how prevalent sexual assault was on campuses at that time and said, “If this is true, then it’s you and your friends’ responsibility to tell your cousins, your brothers, your friends, etc. about your experiences so that they really understand what’s going on.” And I remember being so frustrated because I’d just spent the previous forty-five minutes listening to him pick apart the stories of the women who had done just that. There was no recognition or awareness of what telling these stories, and reliving them through every telling, had cost those women.
I also remember getting into fights in the dining hall around the Title IX case, it was such a powder keg at that point. There was such an intense focus on the punitive ramifications, debates over whether X action should incur Y punishment. While accountability is important, it often doesn’t centre women in their own stories and instead devolves into a debate about facts, what did or didn’t happen. In the short, we chose to depict the assault in flashes because we didn’t want people to walk away from the film litigating or trying to define Logan’s experience. We wanted to focus instead on how the aftermath of these events reverberated through the rest of this young woman’s life. The doubt that creeps in.
Chloe Sarbib: I think the culture has already changed since we were in college. We graduated a few years before Me Too, and it’s crazy to remember how minimised the experience this film portrays was, by virtually everyone, or at least that’s how it felt to me. Few women we knew wanted to call what had happened to them “assault” because it felt like too big a word. And it felt so common that it couldn’t be true that so many people we knew had actually been assaulted. People would instead use gestures or make faces to describe a “dicey” situation. They wouldn’t even say words, they would just say “it was kind of weird.”
We chose to depict the assault in flashes because we didn’t want people to walk away from the film litigating or trying to define Logan’s experience.
I mean, that’s what Logan says in the movie. She says, “The last time I saw [Justin] it got kind of weird.” The word rape just felt like a really big word. It felt supercharged. We knew intellectually that statistically, most assaults don’t come from sketchy villainous strangers in alleys, but instead are perpetrated by someone you know. But it was still hard for me at that time to understand that viscerally.
I think that’s what the film conveys so well, that these experiences aren’t clean, neat events that you can logically solve and detach yourself from. Is it fair to say that’s something you were looking to highlight?
CS: We specifically wanted to create a story that doesn’t present a clean neat narrative. Something in the communication process between these two people went awry. In cases like Logan’s, the perpetrator of the assault sometimes doesn’t even know that he has done something wrong at first. We talked a lot about the grey areas and the difficulty not only of telling other people what happened but of first claiming to yourself that what had happened to you was in the realm of assault.
ATR: Absolutely, and in this film, Logan refuses to put that title on it and is trying to parse through her understanding of what happened. She can’t necessarily claim it to herself, let alone to other people. That is the place where language fails her so it becomes this internal experience for the character. When someone is incapable of putting words to it themselves, it makes the gulf to another human being impossible to traverse.
CS: It’s hard to make a movie about someone being unable to do something and that’s essentially what this movie is. We knew at the time that it would be hard.
ATR: I remember us constantly trying to find ways to make Logan more active. To feel it more.
At what point did a script come into your conversations? How did you look to plot out these themes?
CS: I think the script started when you sent me a word document of images in your head of this movie? It started in an airport with the sound of a Zippo lighter flicking offscreen.
ATR: Right! Logan obsessively opening and closing a lighter.
CS: It was a lesson for us over and over again throughout this process to start the story later. Also, for production budget reasons, we really couldn’t shoot at an airport. But in those first scripts, we built out this whole world. There were two other characters that we never ended up using, a second brother and his wife, who created the feeling of family and populated Logan’s life with more male figures. And then as we moved on, we started to hone in on the central thread and what the story actually needed to move forward. Especially as a young writer, you can get really obsessed with capturing something accurately: that family, how they talked and how they were, little moments between people. We had a lot of fun with that but ultimately most of it was cut. And the writing process was super collaborative.
ATR: We wrote side by side on the couch, saying dialogue out loud, and then going back and forth about, God, the tenses of verbs? Obsessively.
CS: The most vivid memory I have of the writing process is improvising a scene waiting to go into Shakespeare in the Park. It was that conversation between Logan and Grant, it was so important to us that it sit at this precise place of not villainizing Grant while totally alienating Logan. We sat on the lawn and each played a character and recorded it in Voice Memos.
ATR: That conversation ended up being the shifting of gravity of the film in terms of what the central story actually was. In that moment, Grant entirely misses Logan’s meaning but what is so much more cutting and painful for Logan is her recognition that their understandings of the world are so divergent, and it feels like a real betrayal, a loss, to her. Within this sexual culture, this person who she so loved and respected was actually, wittingly or unwittingly, a participant.
CS: It’s a moment of: what if I encountered this person not as my brother, but as a potential romantic partner? How would he behave towards me?
ATR: I think it’s a recalibration in terms of what this person could be to so many other people.
CS: Yeah. I think it makes the ending. That Grant-Logan conversation is the real turning point of the film. It makes the moment with her father play very differently. Her father reaching out to her comes too late. He’s closing the barn door once all the horses have left. When I watch the film now, I want to yell at her, shake her and say, “this is the time, this is the person who could understand you!” But it’s too late. The film played in a program at Palm Springs called Communication Breakdown, which made us both really happy at the time because it indicated to us that the film had succeeded in doing what it meant to do; we had succeeded in portraying someone unable to connect. And it had resonated with a group of people who saw it for what it was.
It’s hard to make a movie about someone being unable to do something and that’s essentially what this movie is.
Once you had your ideas down, who did you approach first? How much of a challenge was it to get Go Tell Your Fathers off the ground?
ATR: So once we had that first script, we were on the hunt for a producer and Drigan Lee, who played Grant, introduced us to Julia Kennelly who we instantly connected with. She’s since gone on to become a director and award-winning producer and had such insightful script notes and observations about the piece. It felt like we’d known her for years.
CS: Julia came on board and connected us with the incomparable Daisy Zhou. We knew we wanted to work with a female DP on this, everyone above the line were women which was really important to us. Julia and Daisy have a production company together, Dream City, and they’ve been collaborating since they were at NYU together. So we had two pairs of long-time college collaborators who merged on this project and got to meet Daisy, who is just a wizard.
ATR: I remember on our first scouting trip we quickly became this three-headed dragon. Since you and I had been so immersed in the script and had such clear visual images of every single beat of the film, Daisy coming in as an outside eye with amazing specificity in terms of camera was invaluable. She was an amazing sounding board as we tried to articulate the emotional experience of these silent scenes and she reflected back what she felt was or wasn’t working in terms of specific camera pushes/angles/moves, and helped us to really shape the physical movement.
CS: Yeah, her grasp of light is also incredible. She’s able to take natural light and shape it. That’s why I say it’s wizardry, this was not a high budget film. We didn’t have a lot. But even the scenes outside look very deliberate. We’d always written the script with this beach house in Avalon in mind, and had crafted it for the space. We had a luxurious amount of access to our location, which meant we were able to go scout it ahead of time with Daisy and Julia. And then we had to find the cast.
The dynamics and tensions between the characters are the key to the entire film. How was the casting process? What were you looking for Simone Policano, Drigan and the rest of your actors to bring?
ATR: Our senior year of college, I met this magnetic visiting high school prospective student in the dining hall. She friended me on Facebook so I caught glimpses of her work throughout the years and knew she’d be an amazing fit.
CS: The key to Logan was having someone who had a lot of inherent personality and feeling so that even if she was sad a lot of the time on camera, you would still understand that there was a lot of life in her. And so that was really what we were looking for, and Simone had it.
ATR: Since Chloe and I improvised so much of the dialogue when writing the script, it was really helpful for us to have voices in mind to embody those characters. Drigan’s been a dear friend of mine since high school, and we shaped Grant’s character through his voice. Drigan is a live wire when acting, and he has this extemporaneous vibe that makes dialogue feel improvised, and sometimes is. We met Patricia Randell through Maria Mileaf who I had assisted the year before. Patricia is incredibly generous both as an actor and as a human and I feel so lucky to have come under her wing. Her performance adds so much in such specific and subtle ways. It pained me how little onscreen time she got in this film that necessarily was focused on Logan’s male relatives, so I wrote a role for her in my next short Fusion to really let her sing.
CS: And then Madeline Wise was a friend of ours from the young 20s theater world stuff we were all doing. What’s interesting about her character Chloe is that she shifts from threat to ally. Maddie’s specificity actually enabled us to get a huge amount out of Chloe’s character in very little time, very efficiently. And obviously, Maddie has since gone on to employ that specificity in all kinds of places. I cast her in another short Girl Friend which is also on Directors Notes. And while she’s only in the opening scene, she elevates that scene and makes the whole film much funnier, much better than it would otherwise be. Then she was in Crashing on HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm… we’re clearly not the only ones who feel this way about her. She was such a boon.
At night, we would hang out, we would chill. It created a feeling of camaraderie both among the cast and the crew. I think you really feel it in the film.
And so once we had the bulk of the cast, we still had to find Joel, who is obviously an important part of it — he’s the “father” of the title. We ended up finding Carl through auditions. He applied cold through Backstage. It’s not always easy to find talented actors in that age range who can step away from their lives for a student short, and he was that actor, he had this gentleness we were looking for.
ATR: And then there was sweet Marcelo Carrascosa who Chloe met through auditions at Columbia. We were so invested in making Justin someone who Logan had a real interest in, so Marcelo was a critical find. He couldn’t have been kinder or more caring. Marcelo is both tender and has these hooded glances that made us swoon in the seminar scene that we ultimately had to cut. In that cut scene, you can really see where Logan’s attraction was rooted and why accepting what ultimately happened is so confusing to her. When you watch Logan flip through Justin’s Facebook profile pictures trying to make sense of the different iterations she has of this man in her head, you empathize with her confusion because Marcelo has so much personality in those little snapshots.
What did your production window look like, in terms of length?
CS: We had a very specific scheduling window between my grad school, Amy working on Heisenberg on Broadway, and the availability of the Avalon house and the rest of the cast.
ATR: We had a five-day window.
CS: It was really tight. But it was my favorite kind of shoot because everyone lived either in the house where we were shooting or in a nearby house. Nobody had to go anywhere for early call times or worry about getting home when we wrapped.
ATR: It felt like camp. A lot of that was thanks to Nicole Bunis, our AD. She’d never AD’d before but she was such a delightful presence and a hilarious person, managing all the usual crises with such good humor.
CS: She kept us all friends throughout. We shot this movie in October, which we cheated for summer, and you really buy it because we had great weather.
ATR: Thank god, it was the one warm weekend that entire month.
CS: Maddie and Drigan were very cold in that water, though. Anyway, we had a team of between 20 and 25 of us all told, cast included. At night, we would hang out, we would chill. It created a feeling of camaraderie both among the cast and the crew. I think you really feel it in the film. It also meant we could snatch little rehearsals with the actors in a kind of informal way on location and put scenes on their feet.
ATR: Yeah, we had conversations on the beach about character, beating through scenes. I especially think a lot about one conversation with Simone. Because the assault scene was a pick-up shot in another location, we had to shoot the majority of the film before the actual assault. So it was a really tender and sensitive conversation on the beach in which Simone had read the script and come up with her own ideas about what transpired between Logan and Justin, and shared her thoughts with us. We mapped out a timeline together of the characters’ relationship before and subsequent to their hook-up because it informed every piece of the film, especially their Facebook interactions that we were filming the following day.
Did the working relationship between the both of you shift when it came to the shoot itself? Did your roles ever overlap like they did during the writing process?
CS: Amy and I were able to work together in this really beautiful way: I may sometimes have neglected performance because I was so obsessed with what I was learning about shots, and overlooked other things about the world of the story, the design of it. And you were really focused on performance and those aspects I wasn’t weighting. I feel like we really found a space in which we could meet in the middle. I mean, everyone had their hands in everything, but each of us was prioritising a different piece of the puzzle.
It changed more than any other project I’ve ever been a part of. At every stage, we learned to kill our darlings in a big way.
Were there any practical or technical challenges that cropped up during production?
CS: We got through a day of shooting and were shooting a night scene when we noticed these green and pink lines in the footage. There was something wrong with the sensor. We were not near a rental house, we were hours away from the city. Drigan ended up calling someone he knew who owned the same camera, by some miracle, because he was shooting for National Geographic.
ATR: My sister who was in medical school at the time dropped everything and was our guardian angel. She picked up the new camera and drove it from New York down to us on the Jersey Shore. We had to completely invert the shoot schedule and shoot all of our full day exteriors the first day and a half and cancel our night shots.
CS: You could just get away with the camera flaw on day exteriors or bright interiors, but the streaks were really visible at night in the blacks. We had to go back through and check all the footage and make sure that it didn’t have super-visible streaks that we hadn’t noticed.
ATR: There’s still some in the pool shot if you look closely.
It definitely seems like the kind of film where everyone working on it banded together. Did you have any other collaborators that shifted your perspective and aided the film in ways you hadn’t anticipated?
ATR: We had the good fortune to work with people on this short who were already generously working on a project that was below their literal pay grade, and they all have gone on to excel even more since this shoot. Caitlin Doukas, our costume designer, who just designed The Last O.G. Season 4 and the new Blue’s Clues movie, understood exactly the world of the show and really elevated each character. She would read our minds and pull out things that were better versions of what we had in our heads.
CS: I think about Chloe’s necklace, I think about everything Logan wears: the perfect mix of fashionable but low-key, not focused on it. Because Caitlin had been working professionally and cared so much about the story, the way that she approached costuming made us step up our game in lots of other ways. We saw how much attention and care could be put into every element of the film.
As we started the post-production process, we were very fortunate, again, to encounter Joanna Naugle, who has, again, gone on to cut Ramy and many other things we love and watch. At the time, she was already working at a really high level. Drigan described her to us as “the quietly smartest person in every room,” and that was very much our experience of her.
ATR: Drigan was really the great connector of this film.
How long were you working on this film for?
CS: Writing the script took a year and a half, and post took two years. It changed more than any other project I’ve ever been a part of. At every stage, we learned to kill our darlings in a big way. As in the script, in the edit we fundamentally reconsidered the pacing of the movie and how much of the story would be in there. We cut so much gorgeous footage.
As annoying as it is to spend so much time on a short, this film is a huge argument for stepping away and returning because you can see things in a really different way.
That longer version of the cut had value. And there are, of course, things that were lost. But we cut literally five minutes out of the short between the first cut that we tentatively sent out into the world and this final cut that was ultimately shown to audiences. A lot of that was Joanna and her willingness to both really dig into it, find the movie that was in the footage and not in the script, and also to take time away and come back. As annoying as it is to spend so much time on a short, this film is a huge argument for stepping away and returning because you can see things in a really different way.
ATR: Absolutely. Joanna also had such an incisive perspective that allowed us to trust what was actually captured in the micro-moments. We could be efficient about things because they were playing. In the first cut we had so much that was sensory, especially when so much of Logan’s experience can’t be put into words, it was about how to create the emotional and visceral feelings of her experience through these dream sequences. The actual film is so much subtler, it became both more direct and faster and had this, as you say, propulsive movement, but also was so much more nuanced and quieter. But it was truly killing your darlings. All of the most beautiful sequences and our favourite shots of the film got assassinated.
How did you approach the other main aspects of post? The colour, for one, is so soft and subtle, and the score also rides the mood of the film perfectly.
CS: Mary Perrino did our colour, she also coloured Girl Friend. She’s just so good. She’s so fast and what she does is so dreamy and intuitive. She has this very light touch that I appreciate. Another wizard; this movie is full of them.
At some point in the edit, we started craving a little bit of score. My partner Jorn Swart, who’s a musician, was playing around with the accordion a lot at that time, he’s mostly a pianist, but the accordion was his first instrument. He had started making these sounds with the accordion that almost sounded like synth, but were actually analog.
We were really looking for a non-cliched way to sonically isolate a character.
ATR: His orchestrations were completely symbiotic with the sound design, which was a very involved and intentional process. It was so important to us to estrange Logan from the world and plunge her in and out of reality. We talked a lot about water and being plunged into it, about the second when your ear is halfway submerged in water and the distortion that happens there. Our Sound Designer Alex Hawthorn is a theater and film sound designer and also a beautiful musician and composer. Especially in terms of that quality of waterlogging within your ear, and how disorienting it is, as the heartbeat of Logan’s experience which he captured so well.
CS: We were really looking for a non-cliched way to sonically isolate a character, we didn’t want that tinnitus ringing that’s in everything, that’s kind of the trope of when you can’t pay attention, you’re overwhelmed or something’s just happened. But the underwater feeling and the way in which the distortion comes in almost without you noticing it until she’s no longer able to process the world, makes you feel she’s very alone in company. It’s so effective. Alex found the solution.
ATR: That waterlogged, underwater sensation permeates the entire film, the feeling of being plunged underwater by something.
I noticed that you Kickstarted the film. How did you find the process of crowdfunding?
ATR: We partnered with Know Your IX, a wonderful organisation that empowers students to stop sexual violence. That campaign helped us build an audience, the fundraiser became a Project We Love and helped us recoup some of what we had spent as well as take the film through post. It also helped us crystallize the ideas behind the film. We felt so lucky to have such a groundswell of support behind the film – it really galvanized us in our long editing process. The messages we received from supporters who had similar experiences or who felt seen or heard by the film before we had even finished it made us remember why we felt it was important to tell this story in the first place.
What can expect next from the both of you?
ATR: I’m wrapping up a season as casting director on Couples Therapy on Showtime and am in post on my short Fusion which is an exploration of chronic illness and isolation, perhaps a little too familiar after Covid.
CS: I’m working on a feature script called Trou Normand about family and loss and the holes we dig ourselves into/into ourselves. I’m also gearing up to direct my first episode of network TV next month, very excited about that.