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Springboard: ‘Fort Tilden’ Writer and Director Sarah-Violet Bliss Knows Why You Hate Her Characters and Is Totally Okay With It

Springboard: 'Fort Tilden' Writer and Director Sarah-Violet Bliss Knows Why You Hate Her Characters and Is Totally Okay With It

READ MORE: SXSW Review: Why ‘Fort Tilden,’ A Satire of Privileged Young Brooklynites, Won the Grand Jury Prize

Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.

You’re going to have an opinion about Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ “Fort Tilden” or, at least, that’s how the SXSW winner is being marketed to movie-goers. The purposely uncomfortable comedy won the Narrative Grand Jury Prize at SXSW in 2014 and is finally getting a theatrical and VOD release later this summer. Written and directed by former NYU classmates Bliss and Rogers, the feature follows best pals Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott) as they attempt to venture across Brooklyn to Fort Tilden beach to hang out with some hot dudes they’re interested in getting to know better (yes, in a Biblical sense).

Their quest is complicated by a number of problems, from their almost pathological inability to make good decisions to multiple transportation mishaps, all of which seem to be conspiring to keep Allie and Harper from literally (and figuratively) moving forward. The film’s razor-sharp upbraiding of various millennial stereotypes is wickedly funny, and Bliss and Rogers’ direction is snappy and fast-paced. 

Bliss has now turned her attentions to the small screen and recently completed a stint — alongside Rogers, naturally — as a staff writer on Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.” It’s a good summer for the multi-hyphenate (Bliss also edits and script supervises), and it’s only about get better with the upcoming release of “Fort Tilden.”

Check out the trailer for “Fort Tilden” below, and read on to learn about Bliss’ experience with the film, the festival circuit and her love affair with television, in her own words.

I didn’t go into this thinking “this will be polarizing.” I never thought that I would want that kind of response, it didn’t occur to me, but I’m learning that it’s really good if people have strong opinions about it, whether they fucking hate it or they obsessively love it. We really have gotten totally opposing views. I would love to somehow be a fly on the wall in a room of someone who loves it, talking to someone who hates it. No one will ever do that in front of me, but I’d love to see that. When the first scathing review came out, it was like, oh, this hurts my feelings a lot, but now it feels more part of the experience of it. I think it’s pretty cool now.

The reason the film is controversial is because it’s kind of true. We are trying to tap into something that is very, unfortunately, true — I’ve seen this behavior in real life, and that’s unfortunate — and I am friends with people like this, and I can, myself, be this person. In the moment, it doesn’t seem irrational at all, but when you show it from a perception, then you can see it’s blaring. I think that a lot of people have a hard time admitting that that’s within them. I think that’s why it strikes a chord. I don’t think that Allie and Harper are bad people, but they are a little oblivious — I mean, they’re very oblivious! — and it’s just something that I’ve observed and I think it’s funny and super-upsetting and dark and important to talk about and I don’t want to shy away from that. 

I don’t think that the people who it was inspired by have any clue that it was inspired by them. Because that’s part of their problem, they can’t see it in themselves.

We came up with the idea for the film the summer we ended up making it. Charles and I were just friends from NYU and we had never talked about working together or anything like that, but we were just being funny while we were hanging out and talking about some ideas, and then we were like, “oh, maybe we should do this.” We had thought about this idea for a web series, and one of the episodes was about two girls who try to go to Fort Tilden, and then we were like, this could just be a feature, and that’s actually what we want to do, so let’s do that. We committed to it that day.

Writing together came very naturally for us. We work very well together, we both have a history in acting, so it would be very kind of improvisational as we were writing. For whatever reason, I was always the Allie part and he was the Harper part. When we write, we act out the lines. We sit together at the computer. I don’t write 10 pages and then he writes 10 pages, it’s always together in the same room, and that really helps when we get to the set, we know exactly what we’re going for. I didn’t know that I would like having a partner, but I love it because whenever something good or bad happens with the project, you’re in it with someone else who truly, deeply cares about the film exactly as much as you do.

Most of the actors are people we knew or people we knew we wanted to work with. Both Charles and I know a lot of actors and love actors. When we see someone young and new we think is awesome, it’s very exciting for us. We had a casting director for a few roles that, if we didn’t know anyone that fit them perfectly, or if we wanted to get in touch with someone that we didn’t have contact with [they could assist]. There aren’t like huge names in the film, but Neil Casey, who now is a huge name, we didn’t have a direct contact with him, so our casting director helped us with that.

I have lived in New York my whole life and I love New York, but when you live in New York, you live in New York. It’s hard to live in New York. Your apartments sucks– well, I mean, mine sucked. Everything cost a billion dollars, it’s hard to get places, it’s exhausting. But it also has all the best stuff. People truly put their heart and soul into whatever it is they’re working on, which is great. So I had lived in New York my whole life, and when I graduated and “Fort Tilden” was doing well and we got agents and managers, it just seemed like the right time, that if we were ever to make a move to do it, it was now. And then we got the job on “Wet Hot American Summer,” so it was good to be in Los Angeles for that. We had done a round of meetings in April, and I was like, “I think we should move here, it makes more sense, it’s all here.” Where I am right now, in my career, it’s good to be here now. I would really like to be bi-coastal, because the pros and cons are so– all the pros are such pros and all the cons are such cons about both coasts. I just want both of those things. I want some utopia that doesn’t exist.

Michael Showalter was a teacher of ours at NYU, and I had always stayed in touch with him. I had shown him a cut of “Fort Tilden” before it was close to being done, and he loved it and that was awesome. So he loved “Fort Tilden,” and when we came to LA, we started working together. When I heard that “Wet Hot American Summer” was coming out, I was like, “you know, Michael, we’d love to write on that, I know it’s probably really competitive and what have you,” and then he said okay, and we interviewed and had a great interview. I know how incredibly lucky that is. I’m not just like, “oh, we got this job,” it was a very exciting moment, surreal and beautiful.

I have always wanted to work in TV. I love TV. My friend was over at my mom’s house yesterday with me, and my friend was like, “Did you always know that Sarah-Violet would be a filmmaker?” and I was like, “No, she did not think that!” I mean, I was shy. I think that, at the time, my mom was like, “Uh, I let her watch a lot of TV, I dunno,” but now she’s like, “Well, you know, she watched a lot of TV…It was okay that I let her do that.” 

“Fort Tilden” will be available in limited release and on VOD on August 14. “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” is now available on Netflix.

READ MORE: Why You Need a Passionate Middle Man (or Woman)

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