Interview with “The Best People” writer Selina Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman by Jeff Mitchell
The 2018 Phoenix Film Festival proudly screened “The Best People”, a comedy/drama about a couple’s engagement that frustrates the bride-to-be’s sister and the groom-to-be’s friend. The minds behind this intriguing festival competition film are writer Selina Ringel and director Dan Levy Dagerman, who founded a production company, Two Hands Productions, and are also happily married!
Selina and Dan are keeping a busy schedule these days. "The Best People" is stopping at WorldFest-Houston on the festival circuit. Shoreline Entertainment (a sales agent) picked up "The Best People" for worldwide sales, and Selina and Dan graciously found time to speak with the Phoenix Film Festival!
We discussed the film’s tone, insight into the characters, Selina’s and Dan’s wedding song, and much more!
PFF: “The Best People” is a comedy, but it definitely weaves darker themes too. How did you settle on the film’s tones?
SR: Comedy comes from real pain, so we really wanted to be honest with everybody’s pain place. I think the funnier comedies that we enjoy come from honest pain places, and the characters (need) to figure out how to (overcome them).
PFF: The cast did a great job, especially Anna Evelyn who plays the older sister Anna. She has terrific comedic gifts but also handles the dramatic moments in a very believable way.
SR: Our cast was phenomenal, and the actors were named after their own names, because I wrote the parts with them in mind, not (the actors’) personalities, (but) their voices. So, I wrote (the screenplay) with how I think they speak, because I knew I wanted those actors to play those roles.
PFF: Claire (Claire Donald) and Johnny (Johnny Cannizzaro) probably had one of the most miserable engagement announcements in recent movie-memory, no thanks to Anna and Johnny’s friend, Art (Arthur Napiontek). Claire and Johnny are nice people, and they treat each other with respect. They are not too young to get married, but Anna and Art definitely have a problem with this future union. What makes their relationship such a threat to Anna and Art?
SR: Anna and Art are both very lonely people who are having a really hard time figuring out their own lives. Claire and Johnny are the last thread of what is working (for them). For Anna, Claire is the one relationship that she can count on. In Anna’s and Art’s minds, (these two) getting married is the loss of one thing too many. They just can’t handle one more thing to not be working for them.
PFF: Instead of present day, if the film took place in the 1950s, would Anna and Art be more outwardly supportive of Claire and Johnny?
DLD: They would have to be supportive on the surface (to) fall into the norms (of society). Here in this world, they were sort of rushing into a (marriage), so Anna and Art were able to pick at (Claire’s and Johnny’s) relationship more. (In the 1950’s), they couldn’t take such an issue, at least externally.
PFF: Claire and Johnny seem like a healthy couple, with the possible exception of their pet names for each other (in which other characters in the film find them difficult to listen to). Although, I’ve thought up pet names as well. Most of us have.
Conversely, Anna is running through men a bit, starting – in the opening scene - with a guy at the bar who was labeled Prison Break Guy. Is there truth to positive energy attracts positive energy and negative energy attracts negative energy?
SR: First, all the pet names are real. So, every single pet name between Claire and Johnny is a real one that we (Selina and Dan) have for each other. The names are pretty crazy, there’s “Goosemonster”, there’s “Egg Nog Latte”. There’s really, really weird stuff in there, (and it’s) definitely all real.
As far as energy goes, I definitely think that where you are in life energetically attracts (likeminded) people. Always. Anna is attracting a certain kind of person. She (doesn’t wish) to sit with herself, because she is having such a hard time with her feelings. She also (takes) a lot of different types of drugs, sleeps with different men, drinks when she can, so she is (practicing) escapism (whenever) possible. (These behaviors take) different forms throughout the movie, until she can come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t want to live like that any (longer).
PFF: If friends or family aren’t supportive of a marriage, should they just go along with it, or should they step up and make their opinions known? What’s the right approach?
SR: Oh, that’s really tough. It depends on the situation. If one person is cheating on the other, and you know that, it might be a situation (where) it is your (place) to say something. On the other hand, a lot of couples fight all the time, and that’s how they live, in a dramatic up-and-down (way). It’s tough to watch your friends get married in that situation, but at the same time, that might be (their) lifestyle choice.
It depends on how close you are to the people getting married and if your actions are selfless or selfish. If you are stepping in to help, then I think it’s sometimes okay to (speak up) without saying that you shouldn’t marry this person.
It’s (better) to say, “Look, this is what’s happening. You should just really think about it, but I’m here to accept whatever decision (that) you make.”
PFF: Is an older sister’s jealousy over a younger sister’s impending marriage a real thing with sisters in general?
SR: I think that it’s really, really hard when the younger sister gets married before the older sister in most situations, but it depends upon the degree of the older sister’s journey in what she wants her life to be. For example, if Anna had a great job, a great boyfriend and was probably going to get engaged soon, Claire’s engagement would be a little weird, but it wouldn’t be the same. In this film, Anna is really lost in all aspects of her life, so Claire’s engagement makes it a lot harder for her to (cope).
PFF: Did you play with lighting to track Anna’s mood during the film?
DLD: For sure. We played with lighting and Anna’s wardrobe. In the beginning, she was more disheveled, and then as the story evolves, she got herself more put together.
PFF: Anna has a conversation with her father. Was this a moment when she begins to see clarity?
DLD: Yea, that is definitely the turning point with Anna, and she starts to understand others’ perspectives and (begins) to mature a little bit.
PFF: Do you think that Anna will straighten out her life in the future and could she look to Claire for help?
DLD: I think she will and will use Claire. The story brings them together. Anna feels that she can count on and trust Claire, and they will get closer. Will Anna change? She learns a lot and changes a little bit, but it’s a question of how long that will last.
PFF: “99 Luftballoons” is a notable song in the film. Is that one of your favorites, and did you have a favorite song at your wedding?
DLD: We had a couple different wedding songs. “Home” (by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros) and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley.
For “99 Luftballoons”, we wanted a really recognizable song, and we thought it really fit, however we only have festival rights for (it). We had to replace it, when we got into the distribution-mode. Now, we have a great song called “Romanticise” by Chela.
SR: The festivals will still have “99 Luftballoons”.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.