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Wes Anderson, Whit Stillman, and More: Inspirations for Michelle Morgan’s Love Letter to Los Angeles, ‘It Happened in LA’

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Morgan's feature directorial debut premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles provided fertile inspiration for Michelle Morgan, director of the recent iTunes New Filmmaker Spotlight “It Happened in L.A.” (Click here to watch the film)

“I’m born and raised in LA, so it’s a world that I know pretty well,” she said. “I lived in the city when I was a child and then I spent most of my young-adult years in the suburbs, so the city was always this mythical thing to us in the suburbs.”

“It Happened in L.A.” follows thirtysomething Annette (Morgan), her boyfriend, Elliot (Jorma Taccone), and her BFF, Baker (Dree Hemingway), as they navigate the perils of the bleak dating scene in Los Angeles. Is there such a thing as a perfect couple, or is that an urban myth?

“It Happened in L.A.,” which was Morgan’s feature directorial debut, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival; her short film “K.I.T.” also screened at the festival in 2013. Both drew inspiration from the city.

“L.A. is an interesting town, not unlike New York City, where most of the people came here seeking goals from other parts of the country. In a lot of ways, L.A. is still the Wild West,” she says. “There’s a lot of intensity. It can be very competitive. It’s not unlike being in a giant high school cafeteria. It’s a strange place.”

After years as a working actress, Morgan had transitioned into screenwriting full time. After writing “Girl Most Likely” for Kristen Wiig, she decided to try directing next. Making “K.I.T.” gave her the confidence for “It Happened in L.A.”

“The short informed the world that I wanted to explore in this film,” she says. “I knew for my first feature that I wanted to try and make something — I don’t like using the word small, per se — but something that was easier to accomplish on a smaller budget. I knew I needed to make something that wasn’t super expensive and I wanted to do a comedy, so I tried to make a film with the things that I had access to, basically.”

Morgan drew inspiration from the city she’s called home her entire life, along with the five films below (all available on iTunes).

“Metropolitan,” Whit Stillman

I have been a rabid Wilt Stillman fan for many years. When I first saw “Metropolitan” it kind of blew my mind. I just fell in love with the world and the dialogue and the costumes. It really spoke to me, so that has always been a great influence, especially in terms of comedy. Chris Eigeman’s character, in particular, is a very polarizing person that I absolutely adore. He’s not afraid of inciting controversy and/or offending people. He says whatever he wants, he likes a big reaction, and that is definitely something that my character was modeled after—someone who has a lot of opinions that are also somewhat irritating.

“The Last Days of Disco,” Whit Stillman

To me, the relationship between Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny is so funny and relatable, and so true, I think, to how a lot of women feel about their friendships, especially during that time in their life where you really aren’t sure if your best friend is an enemy or a friend. Oftentimes they play both roles. I think that for good and bad, those relationships really help us grow, and the competitive nature of them can help inspire you to be better. I liked that relationship a lot, and that was definitely a big inspiration for my character’s relationship with Baker, who’s played by Dree Hemingway.

“The Royal Tenenbaums,” Wes Anderson

A lot of what Wes does visually, and also with music, is something that was a tremendous inspiration. If I’m ever feeling sad—which, living in L.A., happens quite frequently—I love to escape into his world. [His films are] so bright. They’re like being in a diorama, and I love that. This film in particular—the color palette, the shots, the music, even the manner of speaking—those are all things that I was a big fan of and were definitely in my head as I was making my film. I really like style. There are a lot of great films out there and there’s really interesting stories, but not everybody tells them with their own very distinctive style. To me, he’s somebody who does that in such a charming, sweet way.

“Husbands and Wives,” Woody Allen

The idea of comparing your relationship to someone else’s relationship is something that is very prevalent in my film and that’s the main premise of “Husbands and Wives.” In particular, the role that Judy Davis plays is very unapologetic. She’s very outspoken. She’s very irritating. She’s very opinionated. She’s very particular, and for a woman, it was an unusual turn, especially at that time. I think a lot of the female characters that we see are usually the ones that are putting out the fires; they’re not the ones that are starting them. They’re the ones to placate the males and whatnot and she didn’t give a s–t. She was going to say how she felt and demand things and scream and yell, and I think it’s amazing.

“Manhattan,” Woody Allen

First of all, Manhattan is also a love letter to the city, not unlike my film. It satirizes the inhabitants of the city and takes jabs at them and shows how ridiculous they are, but there’s also a real affection for the characters and also for the city itself. Dree Hemingway’s mom [Mariel Hemingway] is also in the film, which I love. The music, the cinematography, and the absurdity of it all is what makes “Manhattan” a big influence for me.

[Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with iTunes New Filmmaker Spotlight, which celebrates the latest independent filmmakers each month. Watch “It Happened in L.A.” here.]

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