Remember when tying your shoes was an impossible chore? When you could only get places at the discretion of your mom’s minivan? When you didn’t know how to cook yourself a meal so you relied on someone else’s feeding hand so that you wouldn’t starve? These, among others, are lessons that Fort Tilden‘s anti-heroines never seemed to learn. Read More
“Fort Tilden” Directed by Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers Starring Bridey Elliott, Clare McNulty, Neil Casey, Becky Yamamoto, Desireé Nash, Peter Vack, Jeffrey Scaperrotta Comedy 95 Mins United States
Remember when tying your shoes was an impossible chore? When you could only get places at the discretion of your mom’s minivan? When you didn’t know how to cook yourself a meal so you relied on someone else’s feeding hand so that you wouldn’t starve? These, among others, are lessons that Fort Tilden‘s anti-heroines never seemed to learn.
As helpless as they are hapless, twenty-sometihngs Allie and Harper are two Brooklyn tweethearts utterly incapable of caring for themselves or others. Something as simple as meeting new friends at the eponymous Fort Tilden, a hip hideaway on a nearby New York beach, becomes an endeavor the equivalent of trekking to Mordor. Fort Tilden is their weekend Everest. Their prize a pair of swinging dicks to add notches in their paramour belts. How hard can going to the beach be? In this case, damn near impossible. From bikes to cabs, walking to hitching, this five-ish mile trek might as well be uphill both ways through six vertical feet of snow in the middle of a moonless night.
Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, watching this odd couple mess their way through the “rough” spots of the city is co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ condemnation of an incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitude without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millenials.
In their wake, a trail of broken hearts, pissed off acquaintances, abandoned responsibilities and poorly made iced coffees. Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs to follow home, Allie and Harper could follow the bitter glances and stink of disapproval back to their hipster homestead. Completely unaware of how their selfish acts of careless bravado effect the world around them, they are all but reprehensible in their ever waking action. Smug, apathetic, careless, rude; throw all the negative descriptors you want at these two and it’ll probably stick but, through all of it, they’re honest. At least Harper (Bridey Elliott) is. She’s a heartless bitch but she knows herself. She fully commits to her many, many shortcomings even at the cost of others derision and scorn. At least being honest to oneself is an admirable trait, right?
In a bind, Harper phones up daddy in her whiniest, whittle baby girl voice, fishing for a direct deposit without ever mentioning the phrase “I need money”. She knows how to wrap people around her little finger and is downright uncomfortable in any relationship where that’s not the case. Even her best friend (though Harper’s too jaded to ever use that term) is measurably her puppet. Although Allie (Clare McNulty) at first seems the more sensitive and sensible of the two, upon getting to know her better, we learn she’s really no better than Harper. She just hasn’t quite committed to her sins in the same way.
Allie feigns sticking to her moral guns (refusing to abandon a borrowed bike, choosing to rescue discarded kittens, flirting around the point in conversations even where the only goal is clearly to benefit herself and Harper) but one ounce of Harper’s callous pressure is all her emotional fulcrum needs for Allie to throw up her hands in defeat. Though Harper is a devoted misanthrope, Allie’s resistance to such makes her the more interesting one.
As the devilish duo, McNulty and Elliot share outstanding chemistry. They’re two sides of one coin, two faces of the same clueless Janus. Their desperation is pathetic, their ineptide a welcome mat for easy laughs but the two performers never pass along an ounce of judgement for their down in the dumps characters, giving them humanity that they might otherwise lack. Their straight-faced comic dynamics look born from years of working with each other so it comes as a bit of a surprise that both these breakout actresses only met during auditions. The success of Fort Tilden rests squarely on their capable shoulders and even through the thick layer of their disagreeableness, they’re fascinating characters through and through.
Cinematographer Brian Lannin makes good use of the rustic settings and concrete jungles, sun blasting the scenes when needed, adding an extra layer of disorientation and distress to the affairs. The snappy, ruthless screenplay works best when Allie and Harper fail at the most benign tasks but never betrays Bliss and Rogers affinity for their love-to-hate-em characters. And this is part and parcel of what makes Tilden pop.
After winning the special jury award for Best Narrative Feature, Fort Tilden saw a little bit of backlash from the critical public, many of them unconvinced that it was necessarily a deserving winner. But this can be expected of a noncommittal culture, more suited to complaining after the fact than making a decision. But this is neither here nor there (although I personally rather enjoyed the film) and the decision can be chalked up to the fact that a committee of only three are responsible for selecting the winners for any given category.
Regardless of this odd rocking of the boat that Fort Tilden has ushered, it’s a wonderful picture of big city ineptitude. From our review,
“Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, watching this odd couple mess their way through the “rough” spots of the city is co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ condemnation of an incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitude without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millenials.”
Fort Tilden is at its core an absurdist, girls running amuck in NYC dramedy and is the product of directorial duo Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. Here to talk about millennials, discovering the actresses and getting naked at the beach, read on to see how Tilden came to be.
Can you talk a little bit about how you collaborate? How do you divide up all of the duties?
Sarah-Violet Bliss: There isn’t much division of our responsibilities. We sat at the computer next to each other writing all day. It wasn’t one of those, you write five pages and then show it to your partner. You have your every day, nine to five, writing jobs, and on the side, two people with the same thoughts, and also some different thoughts that would collaborate in a way that gave the film a voice of its own.
Charles Rogers: I don’t think it would have been possible to co-direct, without having co-written. I think the process was inseparable. In that way, we both knew what the vision for the film was, even though we might have had a different angle on it, they were angles that would inevitably come together. We both were always on the same page. Otherwise, I don’t know what it would have looked like.
Had you worked together before?
SVB: No. This was our first collaboration.
CR: We’ve been friends, but this was our first collaboration. Nine months ago, we didn’t even know necessarily that we were going to be making this film. We had the idea at the very beginning of the summer, and we wrote it in six weeks, and we produced in that amount of time.
I loved it. Obviously, you guys won, so it’s a great film. I laughed through the whole thing. You guys are older than millennials so how did you get in touch with your qualities of millenials? What do you think they are and how do you represent them?
SVB: I’m technically Generation-Y, but I think I’m friends with millenials. There’s a blend. I’m kind of on the cusp, so I feel like it wasn’t too hard to tap into that.
CR: A lot of it was stuff that we were thinking about in our own issues. Our own issues ended up working their way into the film and that’s sort of what’s hard in the writing process, if you know that going in to it or not. Also, just drawing from friends and people that we knew. We have a lot of friends who do absurd things and I guess there’s a particular kind of absurdity that comes with the millennial generation. That wasn’t hard to draw from, when it’s all around you.
Tell me a little about the production in New York. It looks great. Were you just stealing shots? What kind of channels did you go through and were there any challenges or tricks?
SVB: We tried to permit as much as possible. We had our things covered for a lot of it and then there were a lot of things that we had to steal. There’s always a lot of great stuff to put in front of the camera but that also comes with a lot of challenges.
CR: We met so many characters along the way. The type of people who would come up to me, they were always very specific to the kind of neighborhood that you were in. So the girls go on a journey from home and we sort of also went on a journey. There’s just a lot of different kinds of neighborhoods and every day was a different flavor because of that.
I was just wondering about the two actresses. Were they a comedy team?
SVB: They had never met before we cast them. Ally, the blonde, is one of my best friends from college and she’s been in a lot of my short films and we work together a lot. We discovered Bridy Eliot, who plays Harper, and we took them to dinner when she was in town and it was really good chemistry. We all really got along. They worked phenomenally together and hopefully they continue to. This was their first collab.
When you say you “discovered her,” how did you discover her?
CR: She was concussed on the side of the road and… Bridy Eliot is a comedian and performer in the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s a major comedy theater in New York. She has a presence in the comedy world but she hasn’t really been in a lot of films. This is both their sort of break out role. It was great to find out on the first day that we cast right. We knew it going into it, because we felt, but when you’re on set there’s that first day where you’re nervous. Getting to see them perform on the first day was like, “We don’t have to worry about this!”
Do you guys want to talk a little bit about your background before you came to this film?
SVB: We both went to NYU grad film school together. We’re still there. That’s where I’ve been making my shorts, through film school. Before that, I was a theater major at Oberlin, which is where I met Claire. I’ve been writing plays and stuff for a really long time. After I graduated, I was actually more interested in film. I became more of a filmmaker than a playwright.
CR: I went to college here and then I went to grad school at NYU. I’m not from New York necessarily. I do a lot of comedy and improv and standup in New York, which is cool because I want to do a lot of comedy and I get to know a lot of the talent pool in New York. I feel like it’s nice when you can see all of your worlds coming together. I feel like this film did that for me.
What were the themes that were most important to you about this idea of challenging friendship or friendships that indicate more about the challenges that you have yourself with your actual relationship that you have with the other person? Were there certain ideas that you hoped would carry throughout the film?
CR: We were drawing from different life experiences. I think one part of the millennial generation – the idea of this age – is that you get to this point in your life where you start to evaluate all of your friendships. Before this point, your friendships are out of convenience or commonalities that are more trivial. And the older you get, you begin to sort of focus in on what’s important to you and what actually matters to you. You begin to realize that the people you thought mattered to you, there’s issues there. Before this age, I don’t think that you necessarily evaluate those things. I was drawing from some difficult relationships that I had, but also there were people that I love, and don’t want out of my life. All relationships are really hard.
SVB: The themes are stuff that we really discovered while writing and developing what we were writing originally. We thought it would be a funny idea to have two characters who were trying to get to Fort Tilden, except their not really good at stuff. As we were writing, we really discovered more of what was actually very compelling to us and about what it means to be 25 right now… and how the older generations, the parents of these millenials, feel like, “Oh you can be whatever you want to be.” And not really thinking about their responsibilities and pursuing that in a really hardworking way, just expecting that it’s going to happen. You get taken by surprise, when you realize that you’ve got to take some control over that.
Sounds like you might know some of these people.
You keep bringing up the comedic elements of this, but there was also a lot of drama to this story. Did it start out as a comedy and then you kind of found these dramatic beats? Or did it start out as more of a drama but then developed into a comedy?
SVB: The original idea we had was: “This is a funny idea.” All the work that I’ve done in my past at least – Charles too – there’s always some more dramatic depth to it. That’s what I think makes the comedy better and the drama better. They are opposites that flatter each other. Really it was just about making something truthful and making the story richer. We never were like, “This is a COMEDY.” It develops into what it develops into. That’s my favorite kind of work to create.
CR: I think the fact that it started with characters, rather than an idea about the tone or the genre, I think it got both funnier and sadder. I don’t think it necessarily started out as one or the other. The more we understood the comedy, the more we understood how that related to drama. I think that the fact that it gets sadder makes it funnier and the fact that it gets funnier makes it sadder. These characters, ultimately, are very flawed. The comedy comes from that, but also the struggle has to come from that too. So I think it sort of started in a simple place, then everything layered outside of that.
I love that they all had their tops off at the beach. I wondered who’s idea that was, or if they actually do that out there.
CR: It’s an unmonitored beach, so a lot of people do end up taking their tops off.
SVB: Knowing that that’s a place where people go to be cool and free or whatever, and then the idea that someone would be put in that situation and feel uncomfortable by feeling like that’s the cool decision to do.
CR: Our actresses were very comfortable with the toplessness. Everything was consensual.