The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Together Together.
Films like this are so clearly made with love and rely on character. What inspired you to tell this story in the form of a feature film?
Nikole Beckwith: In terms of what inspired the story, it was just curiosity. I was very curious about what would happen to two strangers if they were thrown into such an emotionally-charged and intimate circumstance, as well as something that was integral in moving them each forward into their own separate independent futures. I was a playwright before I worked in film and I have one play that had a child that was the product of an egg donation show up in the first act, and then another play that also had a surrogate through line. But my plays are absurdist and farcical, and I wanted to explore these issues in a very grounded real-world way. The absurdist stuff was in my head and I wanted to see what would happen if I moved these ideas down into my heart.
The absurdist stuff was in my head and I wanted to see what would happen if I moved these ideas down into my heart
Your first film was remarkably different in tone. How did you make such a dramatic shift for Together Together?
NB: It is a shift, for sure. I was approached after Stockholm, Pennsylvania was at Sundance by the San Francisco Film Society. They asked me to apply for this female genre fellowship they offer, and I think everyone was assuming that I’d apply for horror or thriller, but I applied for comedy! This film’s tone is a balancing act so I’m not sure I would describe it as pure comedy, but that’s what came out of it. So I submitted an application and a pitch for this story, which I had been kicking around for a while. And I got the fellowship and went to San Francisco and started thinking about it in a real way and put digital pen to digital paper. I think because this story is nine months—I wanted to tell it from the moment they met until the baby was born—that inherent closed loop made it obvious to me that this would be a feature.
There’s a great quote in the press notes: “it’s a movie that is funny without jokes, sweet without sap, romantic without sex, and timeless even as it springs from so many contemporary ideals.” That really captured what I felt watching the film; I never felt manipulated into feeling certain things. Do you tune that during the writing process or does it happen on set?
NB: I think it just comes out. I write a lot of internal prose in my screenplays; I’m putting a thread of what’s happening internally with those characters, but it’s a light touch. I think that helps set the tone for the actors. It’s a lot of what I would say on set. I’m a very actor-centric writer, so I think when I’m writing a script, I’m writing it as a poem or a letter to the people that are going to pick up the mantle. It’s about communicating as much as I can about the tone and about the tenor in the prose of the script. But of course it gets fine-tuned on set, and then again in a major way in the editing room. We could have made the movie any number of tones once I was in the editing room, but I wanted to stay really true to the intention of the script.
Do you shoot with that editing and fine tuning in mind? Are you asking for different energies from your actors in order to keep open the possibilities?
NB: There is an exploratory element—what if it’s like this, or imagine that—but I think largely that’s in service of finding the space. And also to have fun and loosen up. It depends scene to scene or moment to moment; if I feel like the best thing to do is come in hot, and then the deeper we go into the take, release, or if I think it’s best to come in with subtlety and let each next take get bigger. But I do think that’s mostly in service of the actors’ experience and finding your way through the character and the internal rhythm of it all.
Can you talk about assembling this incredible cast?
NB: I’ll immediately give a shout out to Richard Hicks, my amazing casting director. I sent him the script well before we were officially working on it, and we’d check in periodically. He’d ask me “what about this vibe?” and he’s just an incredible casting director to collaborate with. He was also a performer so he’s very actor-centric, he’s incredible when he’s reading with people, and I think that’s part of the reason so much of the cast is so magical. I was selfishly creating a list of who do I want to go to work with in the morning, who do I admire most, who do I have a crush on their talent. One of my first questions about casting, is “are they nice?” which I know is not necessarily the way to prioritize casting, but I do really like a warm set, a non-yelling set, a we’re-all-it-in-together set. You’re not making bank in movies of this size. In fact, not only are making less money, but you’re working harder and the days are longer and the pages you’re shooting per day are more! So it is important that the people that are coming on board are there for the right reasons—they’ve connected to the script, they’re excited about who is on screen with them, and we’re all sharing in that vibe. So Tig [Notaro] knows Ed [Helms], and Ed is friends with Patti [Harrison], and those dynamics make it fun. I’m such a huge fan of Sufe Bradshaw; I didn’t even realize that would be possible. It was a very cool process. I remember when we sent it to Ed, I was like, cool, who are we going to send it to next? Because I thought there was no way Ed would sign on. And then when Ed wanted to meet, it was like winning the lottery, and it was the same way with Patti. And then we had Anna Konkle coming in as the birth coach. PEN15 is I think one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen and her physicality in that part is mind-blowing and so accurate. I felt so flattered when she stepped out of the PEN15 writers’ room for a day to play Shayleen and she did not disappoint. She’s very in her process and I loved watching her work. Every single day was like that! Fred Malemed, what an icon. Tig is so funny and present and her humanity and worldview is so rooted to everything she does. Even just having her positive and honest energy on set was such a big deal. Everyone’s contributions on set were to their roles, but also helping to create an environment where everyone is doing their best work and taking care of each other.