Like A.J. Edwards, I’m a big fan of the high school genre. As a recent college graduate myself, there was a lot that I related to with First Love. As Edwards reveals in this interview, the film is not merely about high school “puppy love,” it’s a look at two opposite ends of the love spectrum: the high school “first love,” and an adult relationship that is likely that couple’s “last love.” First Love is an honest look at both and is a surprisingly good film from this year.
In this interview, Edwards reveals some of the high school films that inspired his film, working with young up-and-comers Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Sydney Park and established stars such as Diane Kruger, and some of the challenges that the came during the production of First Love. Additionally, Edwards spoke about his desire to, as Bono once said, “dream it all up again” with his next film.
Coastal House Media: Since this film is your baby — you wrote and directed it — could you give me an elevator pitch for the film?
A.J. Edwards: I think what makes it different is that it’s a first love, sort of last love story in that it’s not “puppy love” solely in the high school narrative, but comparing that with a marriage 20 years in that was started in first love.
That title isn’t just to be cute, it’s really diving into the truth of it — or even questioning the truth of it — seeing how far it can go and how far it can be stretched; the elasticity of that idea, especially in today’s world where it becomes more and more uncommon and some of those notions are maybe considered sentimental or old-fashioned.
CHM: Where did this story come from? And was there a particular reason you chose to focus on a first and last love, as you put it?
Edwards: I love teen films, but specifically teen films that are more honest. When you say teen films, sometimes you think cutesy Disney stuff, but I was just talking with Jordan Raup at the Film Stage about how one of my favorite films is Running on Empty by Lumet. [I enjoy] teen films that are more honest about the experience and respectful of the feelings, instead of being ironic about them, crass, or mocking to take seriously, the feelings of these young characters as they’re experiencing them for the first time. And [then] when an older viewer does see them, there’s a lot of pathos in that because it brings you back to those kinds of initial experiences and emotions. I’m very appreciative of what you said at the beginning about — I don’t know when you graduated or how old you are — but that you said that you were a young person and that you found a certain relate-ability in the film and that it spoke to you.
And I haven’t shown it too much to people, but that pleases me the most when I hear that because I’m 36 years old and I graduated in 2003 and the film is set during the recession in 2008, so I’m always glad that the film has a timelessness to it in that way, no matter how old you are.
CHM: Could you name a couple more of the teen films that you really love and that influenced the film?
Rebel Without a Cause for sure. We [also] looked at the young performances of [Leonardo] DiCaprio. I wouldn’t say that he’s in exactly any “teen films” per se, but, in terms of actors, I was looking at River Phoenix and [Leonardo] DiCaprio. But what are your favorites? If you had to name one or two.
CHM: I don’t know if these could be classified as “honest,” but I’m actually wearing a Fast Times at Ridgemont High shirt. I was hesitant to say it, but I was also thinking of Dazed and Confused.
Edwards: You know, I was hesitant to say that because I thought it might confuse people entering into this film, but that would definitely be way up there on my favorites [Dazed and Confused].
I just watched Richard Linklater’s commentary of that film the other night, which is really great in terms of how he made that film. And there’s even like a book on the making of that you can read [Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused]. He’s [Richard Linklater] is just such a resource for filming and his commentary [is] just amazing in terms of how he made the film, despite such a difficult pushback in every way, and then the film’s a masterpiece.
CHM: Is it the commentary that’s on the Criterion Channel?
Edwards: I don’t know. I watched it on YouTube. That’s where I watch commentaries. I usually just think of a film, I hope [it] has a commentary, and I’ll just search for it and sure enough, that was on YouTube. So that’s how I saw it.
CHM: You mentioned some younger actors you looked at, and I was curious about the casting process for this film because you have a couple of established actors in Diane Kruger and Jeffrey Donovan, but then you also had some young up-and-comers like Hero Fiennes Tiffin and Sydney Park. I’m just curious as to how this cast came together.
Edwards: Diane [Kruger] was a part of the project from the beginning, she was the first one that had the script, even before anybody producers. And she was a real creative partner all the way and Hero [Fiennes Tiffin] was next to commit. I had known him from some of his previous work and just in reading about him, he has such a large fan base. Then when I met him, well, I didn’t meet him first, but I had a Zoom with him and he came up and he had just gone for a run or something, and he just looked very athletic and sporty and it just immediately transported [me] back to a high school friend you might have. He was just very transparent, easy to talk to — no games, no politics — and so right from the first second he popped up and I heard his voice and saw him, I thought he was so, so excellent. Sydney Park was cast because my wife recommended her. She had seen her work with Amy Poehler [Moxie] and thought that she was hilarious and charismatic.
CHM: You’ve gone from being an editor to director, was that transition at all hard for you?
Edwards: I think it’s a helpful transition. And when other people have asked me, “How can I get on a film set? I’d like to write this and shoot it,” or “I want to be a director” or whatever, I always recommend working in post [production] first so that you can not only learn technically how to put a film together, but then you can learn from the mistakes that you see in [the] editorial [process] that require problem-solving.
And then you also learn from the politics of it, all the different personalities, not only between editor and director, [but] director and producer, director and distributor, a distributor and exhibitor festival relations, so you learn a lot in a way [as opposed to] if you’re just a gopher on a set or an assistant to a cameraman that you won’t learn.
Problems are even punted on set. Sometimes you just know that you didn’t get it or it’s not going to work and then you’ll go, “I wonder how they’re going to solve it in editing,” and then you have to move on. So it’s just about capturing rather than actually sealing the deal in terms of what you want to accomplish. I don’t mean to knock being on-set too much, it is important, but I’m just speaking from my own experience.
CHM: Has directing gotten easier over the course of your three directorial features?
Edwards: [I was talking to my] producing partner, Henry Kittredge, just the other day, I was whining about something and he said that it will never get easier. So I don’t think it gets easier, but you get more confident and start to enjoy it more, the little things and the big accomplishments because hopefully your anxiety goes down and the butterflies in your stomach and all that. It can remain a little bit, but it can go down a little bit as you get more used to things and start to remember to enjoy it.
So it’s not easier, but it becomes more fun, I guess.
CHM: Are you able to enjoy it then when the film is finally screened to other people or are there still butterflies?
Edwards: I’m not too nervous, no. But I do love hearing what others think of the film and the different ways that it’s interpreted, for better or for worse. I like hearing criticisms, I want to improve and I know that the film can be better, so I love hearing feedback in that way.
CHM: Is there anything that you learned during the production of First Love that you know, now you can apply to your future projects?
Edwards: I had to shoot this movie and edit this movie faster than anything else that I’ve done, [including] anything else that I’ve done in post [production], so the quick thinking that was required really told me how important your peers are and crewing up in the right way. And I was lucky to once again have the cinematographer, Jeff Bierman, [as] a partner I can rely on. I knew that before, but now know how truly important that is because I would have been sunk without it. [Jeff would] know that we’re only going to have two hours to shoot a specific scene or [that] the location fell through the night before and suddenly we’re being handed a location that we’ve never been to before and we’re arriving on it and shooting it in the same moment.
It’s the same thing working with producer Henry Kittredge, co-producer Tyler Glodt, or the editor Alex Styborski in post [production], he just is such a cool-headed guy. We had to work quickly and he was able to find the heart of a scene, protect it, build around it and before you know it, have a sequence that’s watchable as opposed to kind of hemming and hawing and not being sure like some people were in post [production]. He was able to commit and know what was strong and what was not. And that was helpful to me when I might be blind or less sure than him.
CHM: I imagine that you were presently there in post-production, but was it hard to give up the reins of editing to somebody else?
Edwards: No, I love working with editors and I love post [production]. And I cut alongside Alec [Styborski] — he [would] take a chunk of the film and I take a chunk — and then we [would] switch.
CHM: You mentioned some of the difficulties, you know, whether it was with the shooting location or whatnot, but were there any particular days you can remember it could be whether it was a day of shooting where that happened or a scene that was particularly hard to shoot?
Edwards: The scene where Hero [Fiennes Tiffin] and Sydney [Park] go on their first date, when they’re looking out over the water, that was a difficult location to find, and we didn’t [even] find it — that was what I was referencing. We didn’t find it until the day before; it was found by our producer Henry [Kittredge] out in Malibu, and it was not at all what I was even imagining. I was just thinking something very simple, dumb, and prosaic, and he found this just very glorious, poetic spot, which I was still grateful for because Jeff [Bierman], the cinematographer, kept saying, “We need to find a place that they’re going to remember the rest of their lives in a place that was going to live with them and encourage this kind of blossoming romance,” and that place certainly does. It almost looks like they’re floating above the ocean, so it’s very romantic in that way.
CHM: What’s coming up next?
Edwards: I’m always writing. I’m casting my next feature right now and hope to [begin production] later at the end of this year [or the] beginning of next. It will be something quite different than this.
I was talking with another fellow about these three films I’ve made now involve coming of age stories, so, we’ll have to either put a spin on that or do something different.
First Love will be released in theaters and on demand on June 17 by Vertical Entertainment.
Emmy Spotlight: Composers Jeff Cardoni and Nainita Desai
Composing a score is no easy task, just ask any composer. Both Nainita Desai and Jef Cardoni have had successful careers in Hollywood, but it wasn’t always easy. The two have both done a wide range of projects from TV, film, video games, and documentaries. Desai composed the epic score for 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, while Cardoni composed the score for the Tony Hawk documentary, Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off.
Both Desai and Cardoni share the fact that neither had formal music education, “[I’m] self-taught when it comes to music. I didn’t go to music college or university. In fact, I have a degree in mathematics,” said Desai, though she did take a post-grad course in music technology. Cardoni stated, “I didn’t go to music school. I mean, [the] piano is my thing, so I did all of the recitals growing up for about 10 years; that was my only formal training and then I picked up guitar and drums.”
Some kids grow up knowing exactly what they want to do in this little thing we call life. Desai always admired film scores, but unlike Cardoni, she always had the goal of becoming a composer in the back of her mind, “I always loved film and my dream was to be a film composer,” She cited John Williams and Ennio Morricone as some of her heroes. Cardoni actually did not originally set out to become a composer, “For a while, I wanted to be a guitar player in a band,” he said, though he was a fan of film scores and eventually connected the dots. Some of Cardoni’s inspirations include Thomas Newman, specifically his score for Less Than Zero.
But the hardest part of getting into the film industry is exactly that: Getting your foot in the door. Cardoni moved to Los Angeles at 28 and took some film music classes at UCLA. At this time, Cardoni would make his way to the back of The Hollywood Reporter magazine and send demos out to any company that would take them. “They used to have this thing before the internet became so prevalent on Tuesdays [where] The Hollywood Reporter would have a listing of all the films being made and all the things in productions and [I’d] comb through that and try to call people or fax them. I would ignore anthing with a big actor because I knew there was no chance,” said Cardoni. Despite those efforts, many wouldn’t ever call back and he would put flyers up at the American Film Institute stating that he was available to score short films.
But, as many know, simply getting to LA does not mean that you’ve automatically made it and have guaranteed success. Cardoni dealt with a lot of self doubt: “I mean, the doubt is always there. There were times where I was like, ‘Can I buy a latte?’ you know? It was tough to figure out where the money was coming from and figuring out if it was worth it.”
Desai got her start in the film industry as a sound designer, “I used to go record sound effects in the natural world around me. But I [also] had my hobby or writing music on the side and building up my own recording studio at home.”
Despite both getting starts in the film industry in one form or another, you may be wondering what their big breaks were, “I [worked as] Peter Gabriel’s assistant engineer,” said Desai. This experience with Genesis’ Peter Gabriel allowed her to work with some of the best engineers and record producers out there, and it eventually led her to be called to score her first project.
Perhaps getting your big break takes — as Paul McCartney says — “a little luck,” and Cardoni accredits his big break to that. His break came when he got a gig scoring CSI: Miami in 2003, “I look back and if all of those things didn’t happen exactly the way [that] they did, my life would be entirely different now because I didn’t come here [and] know anyone. I didn’t have any ‘in’s,’ you know?”
For someone not nearly as well-versed in music such as myself, I always thought that the process of scoring documentaries must be different than a narrative film. However, both Cardoni and Desai say that it’s not so different after all. “As a composer, I’m telling the story through the music just as much as the filmmaker is taking the audience on an emotional journey through the arc of the film,” said Desai.
When asked to describe their scores for their projects in three or fewer words, Cardoni used the words “poignant,” “inspirational,” and “atmospheric.” He revealed that some reviews of the Tony Hawk documentary actually give a positive shoutout to his score, “I was just looking on Twitter the day the movie came out to see what the reaction to the movie was in general and I was just happily surprised that some of them mentioned the music. I feel like for them [critics] to mention it and in a good light, it must have had an impact and it wasn’t like wallpaper.”
Desai’s choices to describe her score were: “epic,” “authentic,” and “intimate,” all of which are fitting for her score of 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible. I listened to the score while using an exercise bike and boy, I have never peddled so fast. Even without having seen the documentary at that point, it’s not hard to picture Desai’s score attached to visuals of mountaineers scaling huge mountains. What attracted Desai to the project was the emotional roller coaster that the film is, “the story takes you on an emotional roller coastal from danger to drama and intimacy and heroism and tragedy. It’s got everything.”
With two different documentaries with very different subjects, it makes sense that Cardoni and Desai’s missions were different. Desai wanted to explore the psychology of the documentary’s subjects, for lack of a better term, “What makes this man tick?” “What makes a man like him?” are two of the questions that Desai set out to answer. With 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible featuring 14 different mountains, Desai also wanted to make each mountain feel unique, “I wanted to portray each mountain in a different way, musically, and we wanted to create a real musical character for the mountains themselves. So not only do you have the human in it and his journey, but you have the character of the mountains,” said Desai.
Cardoni faced his own set of unique challenges. While he didn’t have to make 14 different tracks for 14 different skateboards, Sam Jones, the director of Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off, is both a skater and musician, so the expectations are higher when the man leading the ship is a fan of the documentary’s subject.
In regards to what’s coming next for these two composers, Cardoni has quite a few to be on the lookout for. First is a show called Ghosts, which will premiere on CBS, which he describes as his tribute to Beetlejuice and the nineties. He’s also beginning to work on the second season of Heels, a Starz drama about professional wrestling which Cardoni is extremely proud of. Lastly, he has two Netflix films, the first is called Me Time, set to premiere on August 26, and stars Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, and Jimmy O. Yang. The second Netflix film is Players, a heist-comedy that is directed by his friend Trish Sie.
Desai’s future projects show her versatility. The first is a video gamed, slated for a July release, called Immortality and is a part of the Tribeca Games Showcase. Also at Tribeca is her film, Body Parts, a documentary about sex scenes in Hollywood that she is excited about. Beyond those two, Desai also has a miniseries called Crossfire starring Keeley Hawes (Bodyguard, Line of Duty). These projects are very different for her and she enjoys the challenge of being taken out of her music comfort zone.
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible and Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off are available to stream on Netflix and HBO Max, respectively.
Hero Fiennes Tiffin Talks First Love, Diane Kruger, Wanting to Branch Outside of the Romance Genre and Teases After Ever Happy
After a lovely conversation with First Love director, A.J. Edwards last week, it was great to speak to the lead actor, Hero Fiennes Tiffin. You may know him as the heartthrob lead in the After films (2019-2022), Hardin Scott, but his turn in another romance film, First Love is a great performance to watch for those who are unaware of his work. He’s a lovely gentleman and I cannot wait to see where his career goes.
I spoke with Hero about his experiences on First Love, specifically working with Sydney Park and playing Diane Kruger’s son, but he also spoke about his upcoming roles, wanting to diversify from the romance genre, and gives a little tease as to what’s to come in the fourth After movie, After Ever Happy.
Coastal House Media: Hi, Hero, it’s a pleasure to meet you. How’s your day going so far?
Hero Fiennes Tiffin: Good, pleasure to meet you too, Andrew. The sun’s out in London, which doesn’t happen often, so I’m happy.
CHM: Before we get too far into this interview, what led you to take on this role in First Love?
Fiennes Tiffin: Do you know what? That’s a really good question. I’ve done a bunch of romance films called the After franchise, and I was keen to start exploring other genres and then I’ve got another romance come through and I was out to my agents, “Guys, I thought we were trying to move away for a bit,” and they said, “Just read it, it’s a great script, great director.” And I read it and it was a great script with a great director. So I thought I’d always give the time to talk to A.J. [Edwards], the director, and when I did it was his belief in the project and specifically belief in me that kind of persuaded me to do it.
I think I was quite ready on that call to say, “I’d love to keep doing romances every now and then, but I think I’m quite keen to diversify my portfolio by doing different genres,” and yeah, it was his belief in the project and belief in me, I guess, that led me to say yes. And yeah, I don’t regret any of it. I was so, so lucky and happy and learned so much working with all those actors and with A.J. [Edwards].
CHM: Do you recall your first zoom meeting with A.J. [Edwards] by any chance? I spoke to him last week and he vividly remembers that and I just was curious to hear your perspective.
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I do. I remember it very well. I was in the hotel room in Wales that I was staying in while I was shooting The Loneliest Boy in the World. And again, he might not know this, but my perspective was very much: “I’m going to hear him [out] and let him persuade me and stay open-minded,” but I kind of entered that call being aware that I might not want to do another romance so soon off during the back of [the] After [movies], but again, in the first minute and a half, his belief in me is kind of what persuaded me to do it, so I remember that call distinctly.
CHM: You just mentioned how many romance movies you’ve done, but what do you hope that audiences take away from First Love and find unique about it?
Fiennes Tiffin: Well, I think the difference between specifically First Love and the After franchise [is] that they’re completely different sides of the romance coin; the character specifically the character I play in First Love, Jim, is so different to the character Hardin in [the] After [movies]. And I think the dynamic of their relationships [are] different and just how they tell the story. I mean, you can have a genre movie [be] completely different from another movie in the same genre, and I felt like if I was going to do another romance [movie], it was important that it was the other side of that coin, which First Love definitely was.
CHM: Shifting gears back to A.J. [Edwards], I know you talked about his belief in the project, but what was unique about him as a director, as opposed to maybe some others you’ve worked with? And was there anything that you learned in particular from A.J. [Edwards]?
Fiennes Tiffin: All my experience as an actor has come firsthand on-set — I’ve never done any training. A.J. [Edwards] is a little bit old school in the best way and quite experimental and testing and I think he knows the project so well. [And with] his editing background, he knows how he’s going to piece it together. He would throw out some things here and there, like say we had a couple of hours free, he’d be like, “Let’s do post-breakup,” and instantly, just like that, [you’re] making [things] up as you go. So very improvisational and [he’d] just chuck you in the deep end, which I think you get some great stuff out of it.
Also, [having] the ability to just work without having to worry too much about continuity is so freeing. I think nowadays when you work with a bunch of cameras [it] is so important to make sure [that you] sip the water on the same line and do the actions at the same time, which can sometimes take away from the performance because you have to juggle so many different physical things in your head and beats to get. But A.J. [Edwards] allowed us to just live it and just say, “Do you want to do that scene completely differently?” [and then on] take two [say], “Do whatever you want,” and that allowed such a spontaneous, real, authentic kind of performance [that] made me feel so free, and I’m really proud of the work. I think his style was different and I can actually speak for a while about how kind of different he is to every other director I worked with, but I loved it.
To sum [it] up in a nutshell, [it] is just so freeing. There [are] no limitations on what you can do or when you should do it, he will make it work. If you can put the performance out there, he’ll make it work within the film.
CHM: I want to talk a little bit about Sydney [Park], who you share a lot of your screen time with. Could you describe her in three or fewer words as a screen partner?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m going to need more than [three words] — I can’t do it in three or less. She’s so fun to be around. It’s kind of nuts, I don’t know how she’s always so positive on-set. It feels like she’s done this a million times and she just enjoys it and has fun with it.
She [will be] joking around, doing accents, playing around, and then, “Action,” and she’s straight into character. I think all the actors on it were amazing to work with, but Sydney [Park] just kept me in a good mood, she’s so positive. And just like I said, she feels like she’s a veteran. I mean, she’s obviously so young and new to the game, but she’s clearly had enough experience to feel so comfortable and that kind of has a knock-on effect on you. I feel like everyone around someone who’s comfortable and happy on-set kind of feeds into that as well.
CHM: Did the chemistry come naturally for you guys? Did you guys have to hang out a little bit before the production?
Fiennes Tiffin: We hung out a little bit. We didn’t get too much time, but we went to grab some food and we played a bit of golf with a bunch of other people through[out] filming, but we didn’t get too much time. I think we just naturally got on quite well, which was good [and] I hope that shows. We’re both Scorpios as well, so that might have something to do with it [laughs].
CHM: One of the established actors in First Love is Diane Kruger. Not many people can say she played their mother, what were some memories you had working with her? And did you learn anything working closely with her?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a scene in the film where she starts to get a little bit emotional and I genuinely forgot I was acting. I felt like I was [in the] front row at the most amazing theater performance and I suddenly realized, “Oh my God, it’s my line!” and I’ve just been so absorbed in having this front row view of such an incredible performance. Everyone on it was so great in that own way [and] I’ve only got great things to say about everyone, but I think Diane [Kruger] was really aware of her talent going in and that was a big part of taking [on] the project like, “I’m playing Diane Kruger’s son.”
I feel like at this stage, I’m always so keen to work with great actors like her [Diane Kruger] because I know I’ll learn so much and I really did. I was lost for words at some points; the way she can just turn it on and off. It was a pleasure to play her son.
CHM: What’s your favorite memory attached to the film? It sounds like you guys had some fun off-set, but what was your favorite memory?
Fiennes Tiffin: I don’t know if I have a specific thing, but I just enjoyed the whole process because we shot in L.A. [and] I stayed 20 minutes from where we were. And I’m sorry, I’m not specifically answering your question as to a specific thing I loved, but the general thing I love so much was just how it felt like we were making — in the best way — a fun movie with a bunch of friends who had come together. Every location we’re shooting is 10, 15 minutes from somewhere else, and I’m sure we did everything by the book, but we definitely made the most of having a small crew and the ability to just be like, “Let’s shoot over there,” and “Let’s shoot over there in natural light,” and everyone was so collaborative; it just felt like we were doing it for fun, not work. I think the general vibe [and] feeling on-set was what I remember distinctly as the most fun.
CHM: Do you remember the scene where your character takes Sydney Park’s character on their first date by the water? A.J. [Edwards] had described that day and I don’t know what your perspective as an actor [is] compared to his, but I think if I’m not mistaken, you guys had to shift to that location. I don’t know if you were aware of that. Do you remember that day at all?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yeah, I think [that] for the actors, [it] felt really freeing and liberating and we’re [just] doing this [and] that. I’m sure for [the] producers, it was a nightmare because you’re constantly having to adapt, improvise and overcome. But that location is so beautiful and it just felt, again, like we drove an hour down that way, we saw a beautiful spot [and said], “Let’s go shoot there,” and that authentic nature of coming to the location the same way the character would had a domino effect all the way down to [the] performance. I think all of the locations were so beautiful, I remember that day so well, and as I said, [it was] so fun for us, but I’m sure [that] for the producers, it was probably a bit challenging, logistically. But I’m so proud of all the locations and spots we filmed in.
CHM: Your character in the movie makes a mixtape for Sydney [Park]’s. Have you ever done that in real life?
Fiennes Tiffin: I’m so bad with playlists. I’ve got so many songs [but I] just think of it, search it, and then years later I’m like, “Oh, I haven’t thought of or heard that song in ages,” because I was too lazy to make a playlist. So no, that’s something that I should learn from Jim, the importance of making mixtapes and playlists. But A.J. [Edwards] actually sent us a Spotify playlist of the kind of music around the time  that Jim would maybe listen to and that was really helpful to get into character. I think I can take a leaf out of A.J. [Edwards] and Jim’s book in that way.
CHM: If you were to make a mixtape for somebody, could you name one song that you would put on it?
Fiennes Tiffin: There’s a song by Sam Sparro called Black & Gold that I always forget to add to playlists and I always come back to; it feels kind of timeless, so maybe that one.
CHM: I don’t know anything about the After movies, quite frankly I get them confused with Linklaters’ Before trilogy, so could you give me a little bit of an elevator pitch for these films?
Fiennes Tiffin: Listen, I think the fanbase of the books specifically, and then the films secondarily kind of speaks for itself in a way that I think the story is so brave in showing a relationship that is so far from perfect [yet] both parties worked so hard to make it perfect. I think the fanbase speaks so loudly in terms of how much people resonate with that and how much criticism you can get for portraying a toxic relationship. But no one wants to watch a film where everything goes right, do they? So I think that kind of teeter in the balance between documenting a relationship that’s challenging where both parties try so hard in that poignant, important part of your life when you’re coming of age; similarly to First Love.
I think [the] After [movies are] definitely high-stakes, dramatic [movies], you know? Everything is turned up to 10 out of 10. If you’re looking for a steamy romance, I don’t think you’d have to look much further than [the] After
CHM: If I’m not mistaken, there’s a fourth one coming out this year, correct?
Fiennes Tiffin: Yes. I honestly lost count at this point, but there is; I’m really happy.
CHM: You mentioned there’s like a rabid fanbase so could you give me any sort of tease for what’s to come in this?
Fiennes Tiffin: I think naturally, as you know, people who have read the book know we’re coming to an end. If there’s anything that’s in the books that you think should be in [here], that probably [will] be in this one.
Without saying too much, we are coming to an end, so I think if you’ve seen the first few, you definitely need to see this one. And if you haven’t, then you need to go to watch them.
CHM: You mentioned wanting to kind of get out of the romance genre a little bit, do you have any other projects coming up that maybe aren’t in the romance genre?
Fiennes Tiffin: I definitely do. I shot something in South Africa called The Woman King, which I’m so excited for. And again, I learned so much working with some amazing actors on that [film such as] Viola Davis, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Jordan Bolger, John Boyega, yeah, I can’t wait for that. That’s very far from a romance, especially [with] my character, so [I’m] happy to diversify the portfolio. I think that one comes out around mid-September.
First Love will be released in theaters and on demand on June 17 by Vertical Entertainment.
Tribeca: Signe Baumane & Dagmara Domincyzk Discuss Their Collaboration on My Love Affair with Marriage￼
Animation is a beautiful medium to explore various subject matters. Just look at what Signe Baumane has done with her feature films. Baumane is living proof that animation is not merely for kids, and it’s possible to fully tackle adult topics with the medium. My Love Affair with Marriage covers the life of Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) as she discovers what love truly is. If you’re anything like me, the film will make you rethink your own love life.
Coastal House Media: Could share the story of how the two of you guys started this collaborative relationship?
Signe Baumane: I wrote the script in 2015 and I knew that the actor who would be the main character would be like Atlas, holding the whole film on her shoulders because she had to cover all the ages, from age seven till age 29, and she had to be [the] voiceover [narrator] and she had to do dialogues and she had to be very versatile and very great actor and we were like. “Where are we going to find such an actor?”
And so, my partner Sturgis Warner, [who] was also [the] co-producer of the film and casting director, he set out to look through a lot of actors and I looked on the internet. He [Warner] also knows a lot of New York theater actors and he happened to see Dagmara [Dominczyk] in several shows years before and he wrote notes. He was like, “Oh, there’s like a model, Dagmara, and she’s amazing.” He looked high up and there she was. She had a video of herself, reading her book. The book, [is] a lullaby for Polish girls, and she had the reading in a Montclair Public Library. And when we started watching this video, I was just instantly captivated by her storytelling ability. Of course, the story she told us was very interesting, but [so were] her skills to tell the story. It transported me and that’s how we got our main actor.
Now the trouble was to [get in] contact [with] her, you know, because she’s not easy to be contacted but we managed. And so, we sent her the script, and then she said yes, and we were just beside ourselves, very happy. And I don’t know how it’s from Dagmara’s point of view, but when we started working on the making [of] the character, bringing [her] to life, that was a process. I think it was three days of rehearsal and talking and discussing the character, but what also helped was that Dagmara is Polish. [There were] a lot of things she knew without me having to tell her. So, Dagmara, what is your take on that?
Dagmara Dominczyk: First of all, [it’s] quite easy to find me easy and thank God for my broad, Polish, you know, Slavic shoulders, I guess. Yeah. Your up suit, your broad shoulders. They’ve been brought into my life.
SB: We should have sent you pigeon mail [laughs].
DD: I remember just getting the script from my agents and reading it and just being blown away. I knew it. I knew the characters, you know? There’s something about growing up behind the Iron Curtain, it does something to a person, a woman. And even though I had left early, I spent many years, every summer, with my grandmother, I had a very strong connection to my Polish heritage for good and bad.
I spoke the language in which Signa was telling this story and I thought it was like you said, very bold and very gritty and very “un-American.” And that appealed to me on many levels, culturally as a woman, as a writer, as a supporter of female artists, like every box was quickly checked and the idea of going to work and not having to wear makeup and just fucking showing up in my glasses, that was really nice, too.
SB: Yeah, I really liked working with Dagmara because it was like the discovery of the character, you know? You [Dogmara] knew her [Zelma], like, I could feel it. And then of course, when you had to do the other parts, like the voiceover parts that are kind of tricky, you know? And then also, one other thing that I forgot to mention, our actor had to have a sense of comedy and I thought you were spectacular. Like, [you had] the lightness, but you also got the drama and romance. You did amazingly well, and I heard your voice for seven years, you know? Because you don’t even remember what you did, but every day I would hear your voice. And every, every day I would be like, “I can’t believe how good you are.”
DD: After I said yes, I watched all the links to Signa’s work like Rocks in My Pocket and her series of short films about female sexuality and all that, and just was blown away. Even the art itself, [and] the animation brought back memories. I don’t know, it felt so familiar. And I did get that dark, morbid humor that we Eastern Europeans are famous for.
CHM: How does the recording process work on an animated feature? Are you (Signe), there with the actors?
DD: We were together with Sturgis [Warner]. I didn’t work with the other actors, but Signa and Sturgis were in the studio with me every day. I couldn’t do it without her.
SB: Something happened in 2017 before the pandemic so we could be friends all together at the same studio and be happy together and share lunches.
CHM: You’ve [likely] done animated projects before, but are there any challenges that come with voice acting for you, Dagmara?
DD: Well, I had recorded some audiobooks, a few novels; I think I did like four of them, so I like that. I enjoy it when your voice is your only instrument, you know? That’s challenging but exciting. And it was a very interesting process, to act almost in a void because you’re not reacting to the other actor in the studio.
So you really have to trust your director and the people with you there. I had more of an [easy time] when it came to the dialogues Zelma has than the narration. When I watched Rocks in My Pocket, Signa had narrated that, and she had this very lyrical, lilting, lovely accent; almost like she was telling a fairy tale. I maybe subconsciously decided to go with that to bring a little of her into my work. When I watched the movie, I said, “Oh yeah,” because I thought this is going to work this juxtaposition of a rolling, soft voice and all this fucking fucked up shit that happens to her. I think it works, but it wasn’t without its challenges. It was really exciting. And like, you felt alive because the challenge was to create a world when I didn’t have the animation [in front of me] and I didn’t have the other actors. All I had was the creator and she was there to answer every question and we would go back and forth about ideas.
SB: But Andrew also, Dagmara was the first kind of event of creating the character because when we edited her voice and then quoted other actors, higher voice acting was [the] basis for my animation. Like I animate the character and the voice informed me [of] the gesture, the expression, it was intuitive. Dagmara, it’s funny because it was my text, it was your voice, and then it became me animating like I was acting your voice, you know? It was a very collaborative, co-creation of the character [Zelma].
CHM: Could you guys name one strength that each of you brought to this project?
DD: I think we trusted each other, right, Signa?
DD: We didn’t know each other, but there was a trust.
SB: Trust is probably [a] very good word to describe it because we felt that we served the project; we served the higher purpose outside [of] me or you, you were there to build the character [and] to make her happen.
And there [were] like, no egos; nobody was trying to dominate anything. Like, any idea was welcome so we created it together. So I think the trust [is] probably the strength. But I’m also very grateful for Dagmara’s sense of humor, and likeness because the film is at times dark and I think that Dagmara is a special, super talent of lightness and humor, [and she] really served the project well.
My Love Affair with Marriage premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11. For more information, click here.
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