The last time Indiewire caught up with Daryl Wein, he was about to unspool a very tumultuous period in his relationship with actress Zoe Lister-Jones via his micobudget romantic dramedy “Breaking Upwards,” which they both wrote. Unlike the couple in “Breaking Upwards,” Wein and Lister-Jones are still very much an item (they just bought an apartment together in Brooklyn) and have continued to collaborate together, leading to their second film together, the romantic comedy “Lola Versus” starring Greta Gerwig.
Their second feature find the duo working with Fox Searchlight (they signed a three-film deal with the studio) to tell the tale of Lola (Gerwig), a woman nearing 30 who gets unceremoniously dumped by her fiance. Lister-Jones co-stars as Lola’s best friend Alice, but Wein stays behind the camera this time around.
Indiewire sat down with the couple in Manhattan to discuss their good fortune, the similarities between their two films and what they have in the works.
Did you make “Breaking Upwards” as a kind of calling card?
Lister-Jones: We were sort of coming up with all these other D.I.Y. filmmakers, and I think “Breaking Upwards,” in some ways, was a response to that movement because I think, for us, we wanted to represent our generation in a way that also had production value. And I think we wanted to challenge ourselves; even on a microbudget, work with SAG actors and lights and a D.P. and a script that was really, you know, honed.
Wein: Yeah, to have a structured screenplay; which we also worked really hard on for “Lola Versus.”
Compare the two experiences for me — making “Breaking Upwards” vs. your first studio picture.
Wein: [With “Breaking Upwards”] there was so much of Zoe and I wearing all these different hats and making decisions of our own in our living room. And, all of a sudden we had, you know, three producers and Fox Searchlight, so we were definitely developing and discussing the ideas more openly with a team. Which is great in that it challenges you to continue to make the best movie you can possibly make. Oftentimes when it’s just us, we get so tunnel-vision and so in our own worlds: like we’re in a vacuum and it’s really nice to sometimes have outside perspectives come in. And you can only ask your friends and parents to read your scripts so many times [laughs].
They’re not going to say anything too harsh.
Wein: Right. And it’s really nice to have veteran producers and distributors who’ve made tons of movies before and have real insight into how screenplays are structured, tell us what they think is interesting and smart as well.
Lister-Jones: A real asset was that they’re well versed in broadening the appeal while still protecting a singular vision. Especially Fox Searchlight, I think that’s sort of what makes them such a cool studio; is that they’re very filmmaker driven but their films have a pretty wide audience. So I think that was really cool for us because I think that’s also the sort of wheelhouse that we’re interested in — in making commercially minded films that are still really independent in spirit.You two have been working toward this, but, when you got the call from Fox Searchlight, did you have to pinch yourself?
Wein: It was definitely an out-of-body experience because Fox Searchlight has such an amazing pedigree and has distributed so many great films. And I think it’s, as an independent filmmaker, a dream come true to have a big support system and major player behind you. Not only supporting your vision but working so hard and with so many people to bring it to life and then to distribute it. So it was amazing to have this team behind us. And it was so surreal to go from micro-budget, you know, like carrying our crap equipment down the street with two crew members to giant trucks and trailers. And we shot on film, which was really exciting.
Lister-Jones: I was going to say though, and we haven’t talked about this, but I was just remembering — we were at Sundance a few years ago and we went to see “Cyrus,” the premiere. And the Duplass brothers got up on stage and introduced it and they were like: “We made this movie with Fox Searchlight and we’re so excited and now have a three-picture deal with them…” and they were like “and we bought a house.” I remember Daryl and I sitting there and being like, “What the fuck, how do we get that?” That was like the Holy Grail. And I remember sitting there and just being so envious of their position.
Have you two since bought a house?
Lister-Jones: We bought an apartment
Wein: In Brooklyn. Which is cool.
Not many folks in their twenties can say that. Good on that. In your two features and you both have navigated the pitfalls of a doomed partnership. Why do you two go down that route when you two are obviously a happy couple and have been for one for eight years?
Lister-Jones: Probably this has to do with us being in a relationship as a writing team; I think they are endlessly interesting and constantly forcing you to ask pretty difficult questions about yourself and about each other. And, I think, most movies are about the complexity of humanity. And so, for us it just takes the shape of a relationship. And I think when relationships are struggling, that’s when a lot of those interesting questions arise. So I guess that’s why we focus on that moment more than others. I don’t know though, when we wrote “Lola” I don’t think we thought that we were… I don’t think it was a conscious decision to write about a somewhat similar subject matter. It just felt like the story we wanted to tell. And I think now, in retrospect, people are like “Why are you always writing about break-ups?” and we were like “Oh shit, I guess we did.”
Wein: But I don’t feel tortured by it though. “Breaking Upwards” is probably theraputic. It was loosely based on our open relationship. It was interesting to explore those themes and issues and boundaries, because we were processing them ourselves in our own relationship. We personally connected to it so much.
Also, we felt like there was this need to portray relationships in an authentic way that we weren’t seeing. Same with “Lola.” We’ve drawn from personal experiences even though it’s fictionalized. With “Lola,” we were seeing this trend among women, happening with Zoe when she was single, and Zoe’s friends. So we related it to it on a personal level because of our proximity to those stories.
This film has a lead female protagonist. The last film had a male and female heading the tale. Daryl, did you find yourself struggling to delve into Lola’s mind?
Lister-Jones: Daryl has a pretty strong inner female [laughs].
Wein: I access my inner female a lot. I have been dating Zoe for eight years, so I’m definitely tapped in to the female experience. Whereas if I was a single man, I would not have as well versed knowledge about the intracies of what it’s like to be a woman. But yeah, obviously everyone’s been single so I can relate to what it’s like to be out there.
Lister-Jones: It was cool because I think I as a woman could bring up certain things that felt very specific to me and to the women I knew — this theme of noise in a woman’s head, and that it’s neverending. Constant self questioning and self loathing. In those discussions we could both come up with ways that could manifest itself into the story. I think even though Daryl might not have first hand female experience, I could bring something to the table and we could both riff on it.Is there a specific reason you don’t pop up for a cameo appearance in “Lola,” Daryl?
Wein: I auditioned for Lola. Fox just said no [laughs]. No, I just wanted to focus more on directing. It’s my true passion. I get so insecure in front of the camera. I’m just too aware of everything that’s going on. It makes it hard to be in the moment.
Was it weird not sharing any screen time with him Zoe, and having him just tell you how to do better?
Lister-Jones: We were sort of acting out our relationship which was a really meta, strange experience. But I was also aware that when we were acting, he was probably directing me in his head. So I think it’s more comforting as an actor to just know that the actors around me are solely acting.
Is he nicer to you than to the other actors?
Lister-Jones: I don’t think so [laughs]. I think he’s probably harder on me, because he knows my tricks. He don’t take no bullshit. I think because we know each other so well we have a shorthand for him to tell me how to shift something.
Now Zoe, your character Alice has the best lines in the film. Coincidence?
Lister-Jones: I know! I feel bad that people think this is just so nepotistic. A lot of people say that. The character is awesome. We didn’t write it for me. Initially we thought this was going to be a micro-budget, “Breaking Upwards”-esque endeavor. We thought that in writing this movie we would make it as a passion project and that we’d write our idea of another studio movie and that would be our ‘in’ in Hollywood. Our agents were like, no it’s the relationship movie that is the studio movie. So when it was in the micro-budget idea in our minds, I was going to play Lola and a friend of mine was going to play Alice. She’s a really brilliant comedienne and zany person, so a lot of those lines were written for her. Once Fox Searchlight came on board, obviously Greta was an amazing fit and I was really excited to play Alice. She has some pretty great lines [laughs].
Was it weird playing the supporting role in something that you had conceived for yourself as a lead vehicle?
Lister-Jones: Not really. I never felt that attached. The process of making this film was actually really fast. But even just getting it on its feet. We wrote it when “Breaking Upwards” was coming out. We wrote it in two months, then Fox signed on really quickly after. So I didn’t have a lot of time enviosrning myself in the role. I think we were both just so thrilled that we were getting this opportunity that everything was just so exciting, rather than a bummer.
What do you two have planned next?
Wein: Well we’re developing another script with Searchlight which is tentatively titled “Motherfucker.” It’s about a guy who falls in love with his girlfriend’s mother. It’s a May-December romance.
You hinted at a thriller in the works last time we spoke. Will that ever see the light of day?
Wein: That’s like my dream passion project that no one wants to make. I think as filmmakers, writers, we’re always just looking for whatever seems relevant now to us and what seems interesting. “Breaking Upwards” and now this, a lot of people are pushing for us to make movie like that but in a bigger way. But i think we’d love to also spread our wings a little and dabble in other genres as well.
Are you planning to return to acting anytime soon, Daryl?
Wein: Maybe in the sequel to “Lola.”
Lister-Jones: It’s going to be called “Lola Vs. Daryl.”