We last featured Amber Schaefer on DN with her hilarious comedy It’s Been Too Long, a bombastic and raunchy sketch-like short which pegged Schaefer as a must-watch in the world of up-and-coming comedy directors. She returns to our pages today with her latest short NYC Tips and Tricks, another funny and this time zeitgeisty short film which pokes fun at the obscenity of influencer culture. It follows Cody, a middle-aged wannabe influencer, as he sets out to make a video offering his potential viewers an insight into Coney Island, a place he knows barely anything about. Schaefer’s comedy chops are on full display as we witness Cody haphazardly craft his videos in front of the public eye but there’s an added sadness this time around as his encroaching personal life lingers beneath the surface. DN spoke with Schaefer about her desire to examine influencer culture, how she cinematically subverted the tropes of the influencer, and the facets of human nature that you can only explore through comedy.
What initially inspired the character of Cody?
Cody was inspired by the chorus of voices on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, etc. who feel irrationally compelled to show the world through their eyes. And while Yoni Lotan (Writer) and I are not specifically travel vloggers, we are part of that choir. What compels Cody to make content about Coney Island, a place he knows nothing about? What compels me to make a film about a travel vlogger, something I am not? Both are objectively absurd ventures. But different manifestations of the same existential disease.
I wanted to flip that on its head with these dirty, voyeuristic, extreme wides highlighting the visual absurdity that can come with making content/film/art.
How much collaboration was there between you and Yoni in finding the character of Cody, did you have a complete idea of who he was or did you work with Yoni to create him?
Yoni and I developed the script and the character together, collaborating very closely in the writing process. Yoni brought a sort of levity to the character I hadn’t originally seen, but I think makes a much fuller, and funnier, film as a result.
We last spoke to you in 2019 for It’s Been Too Long, one of the funniest films I think I’ve covered for DN, how do you think your filmmaking has evolved or changed since you made that short?
Thank you! I think It’s Been Too Long is fundamentally more of a sketch And NYC Tips and Tricks is more of a film. I think the world needs both and I’d like to continue to make both.
I think you can see that through the visual elements of the film too. NYC Tips and Tricks looks really cinematic in that sense. How did you approach telling Cody’s story from a technical standpoint?
Minus the cold open, the first two acts of the film were all shot on a very, very big boy long lens: the Angenieux Optimo 28-340mm T3.2, on the Arri Alexa, with DP Jordan T. Parrot. A lot of influencer content is done in ‘selfie style’ close ups, where the subject takes up most of the frame. I wanted to flip that on its head with these dirty, voyeuristic, extreme wides highlighting the visual absurdity that can come with making content/film/art. There is a lot of content you ‘buy’ watching on your iPhone, but to see the content creator out in the wild feels embarrassing, like something you shouldn’t see. The last two acts were shot with Zeiss Super Speed primes, which I think helps shift the audience’s perspective on Cody, as we learn more about him, and he learns more about himself.
Ha! That fallibility is all over this film, and it brings a real poignancy to the final scene.
The secret of the film is that it is partly a documentary. The last scene on the beach was scripted in an entirely different way but wasn’t working at all during the shoot. So I started to ask the actress Andi Poland some questions about her own life and then Yoni would repeat those questions on camera. Andi really has a web series called Gossiping Grams, which they were thinking of changing the name to Boomers. And she really lost her two sons, whom we dedicated the film to.
Comedy has more room for human fallibility.
How did that scene initially read and what was it that wasn’t feeling right?
It always contained an existential break for Cody “I don’t know my values.” But it didn’t have as much of an emotional break. But when Andi started telling us about her life it really affected all of us on set… let’s just say Yoni wasn’t the only one crying. It was a transcendent moment.
How was it shooting in such crowded environments? Is there anything you can do to prepare for the random behaviour of strangers?
I’ve never once shot on the street without those interruptions: “What are you shooting on?” “I have a 5D at home.” I find that impulse really funny and I wanted to harness the chaotic energy as genuinely as possible in the film. One notable example of this is when Cody is on the phone with his mother and a guy comes up to him and is just like “It’s my birthday!” He did really shout that at us while we were doing a take, so instead of telling him to scram, we asked him to sign an appearance release and do a couple more takes. Big thanks to our Producer Sam Broscoe who did most of the wrangling.
What keeps you coming back to comedy, as a genre, to tell your stories?
In a drama a man shoots a guy in the head. In a comedy a man’s hands are so sweaty from nerves he drops the gun and accidentally shoots himself in the head. Comedy has more room for human fallibility.
What can we expect from you next?
A travel vlog!