Considering how few people seem to get relationships right in the real world, it’s not surprising we turn to movies for inspirations (and instruction). The romantic-comedy genre feeds off our dreams and disappointments, and writer-director Liz Manashil would like to give us a little of that back – consider it an upchuck of sentiment. Making a triumphant traverse around the festival circuit, her anti-romantic-comedy BREAD AND BUTTER toys with audience’s expectations and delves into the spinster weirdness, turning it into something beautiful and fierce.
Amelia (Christine Weatherup) is a thirty-year-old virgin. Although Judd Apatow and Steve Carell might suggest she has another ten years to give it up (running through the streets underscored by an Asia hit single), Amelia is of course waiting for love, or at least romance, or at least a boyfriend. When her boss, a questionably-certified ‘Life Coach’ encourages her to start dating, the quirky wallflower swiftly finds herself between two suitors. Daniel (Bobby Moynihan), a client of her boss, talks at length about his gecko. Leonard (Micah Hauptman) leaves a trail of scribblings in the margins of used books. The soulmate-obsessed Amelia takes notes and tracks down the unpredictable author, and finds him the perfect foil to the organized and forward thinking Daniel. Amelia struggles with ‘the choice’ or the nagging feeling that maybe it’s time to choose herself.
“People in relationships constantly compare what they have to what other people have, or what they see in the movies, or what they read about in the books,” says writer/director Liz Manashil, “and what I’d like people to realize is you just need to find your best friend who is supportive and not the soulmate or other half that people seem to really desperately try to find.” I had a chance to sit down with Manashil at the Phoenix Film Festival, where the film’s ‘failed’ rom-com finish went over extremely well with audiences. The director said her original pitch for the film changed based on her audience. “I would say feminist romantic comedy, anti-romantic comedy, I would say ‘based on real-life experiences,’ I would say ‘personal story,’ and these are all true but they are just the fun summations that you have to use in pitching short hand.”
In the end, the life of the film, what makes it unique, is Manashil’s own voice, a bizarre window into the world of unattached ennui, willing to soar into flights of fancy like a sex scene with man in a full-body black lycra body suit, or a piece of cherry pie crushed sensually over the face in a make-out session. “That scene with the pie is like a direct rip off from Secretary,” she admits, “all of these fantasies, they reinforce the fact that Amelia has a very healthy, vivid inner life, because she doesn’t navigate the real world as well as she would like to.” Actually the film was going to be even more ‘out there,’ with a musical number or other eccentricities. “we had a Greek chorus that would pop up from time to time, which I loved and I hated cutting,” Manashil says, “these are things that’ll be on the DVD or extra features, when they are in the film the film gets even more bizarre and weird and I think less relatable.”
It takes a confident director to cut what became nearly an hour out of the first cut of the film. This is a good lesson for every filmmaker out there, Manashil says the script was around 92 pages. Our screenwriting professors that taught us one page equals one minute on screen lied to us. “The physics don’t make sense,” Manashil agrees. Despite the cuts, Manashil’s voice rings out through the film. And her team, and the producers behind them, allowed her to follow her instincts, a leeway rarely given a first time director.
“The fact that I wrote it, and I directed it, and I cast it, I think people could tell it was a passion project,” she says, “I think that was a draw. That someone can tell I really cared about it.” Of course, in this industry, timing is everything. “Maybe it’s cynical,” she says, “but I think Lena Dunham helped a lot,” Manashil credits the GIRLS star/creator. Women like Lake Bell and Mindy Kaling who are creating opportunities for women just by their success. “I think people started to bank on women writer/directors,” she says, “ and I think they were like ‘Oh this girl, she’s wordy, she’s neurotic, she might be the next so and so, I think that helped convince people a bit.”
High profile talent like Bobby Moynihan can make or break an indie film, usually giving them a chance for real distribution, but it starts with a solid script. “It was a script with meat on it,” Manishil says, “and people were like ‘well it’s an opportunity to play character I haven’t played before.’” For example, in the cast, Lauren Lapkus (Orange Is The New Black) gets the opportunity to be the well-adjusted one, the one who has her love life figured out. Eric Lange (who is in wide release right now in DANNY COLLINS) gets to whip out line after line of questionable advice and pseudo science as a life coach. And Bobby Moynihan gets to be… well, normal. “Everyone loves Bobby. Everyone comes up after the film and says ‘I’m on team Daniel,’ but that’s not the point,” the director says, “I was very nervous about meeting him, …but he went out to dinner with us the night before shooting, … the first day on set I think he was just happy to not be in a dress, and not playing a giant baby. So I think it was an opportunity for him too.”
Distribution is already in the works (but can’t be announced yet) but in the meantime, the film is enjoying a healthy run on the fest circuit. After world premiering at Woodstock, the film has played New Filmmakers New York, Big Muddy, Big Apple, SENE, Cleveland and Phoenix. About a week before the actual festival, Bread and Butter had an extra VIP screening. “They scheduled my car service to pick me up at eleven and the screening was over at nine,” Manashil says, “[PhxFF Executive Director] Jason Carney and his wife stayed with me in the filmmaker office for two hours keeping me company. No one would ever do that, it’s just so kind.” So Manashil flew out to Phoenix, then to Cleveland, and then back to Phoenix, and this week is in Minneapolis, for the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Even if festivals begin to run together at this point, some experiences stay with audiences. “In Cleveland I got food poisoning during our Q&A,” she says. They asked the first question and I go up to the mic, turned to my actress and said ‘you take this one.’ I ran out of the room, and I threw up in the bathroom. When I came back five minutes later and, of course – because I’m the most awkward person alive – I told the entire audience where I was and why I was late.”
BREAD AND BUTTER is out now digitally on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, etc. and on Cable and Satellite VOD. More information about the film can be found at breadandbuttermovie.com where you can also sign up for the mailing list. Manashil even says “They can also just openly contact me, Liz, at firstname.lastname@example.org for future news, how to see the film, tee shirts etc!”
So there you have it. Maybe you can ask her if she actually believes in the bread-and-butter superstition, in which you are both supposed to say ‘bread and butter’ if a passing person or object causes two people to have to split apart. “I have to own up to the fact that a lot of people don’t know what the expression means,” she admits, “because I grew up with the expression.”
Find Bread And Butter on:
iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Xbox, Sony Playstation, Vudu
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox, RCN, Independent Systems (ie. Midcontinent, Metrocast, Clearleap), Verizon, Charter, Suddenlink, Mediacom, WOW!, Bell Canada