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Springboard: How ‘My Blind Brother’ Filmmaker Sophie Goodhart Found the Right Tone For Her Off-Beat Comedy

The off-beat comedy is a festival hit, and proof of the power of indie comedy, but you won't believe what inspired it.

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

Sophie Goodhart would like you to share her sense of humor (but she understands if you don’t). The newly minted feature director recently premiered her feature film debut, “My Blind Brother” (a spin on the short of the same name she made way back in 2003) at the SXSW Film Festival before bringing it to New York City for this month’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film gently plays with textures and tones, presenting what could be a pretty loaded story in a neat, funny and very special package.

The film follows Bill (Nick Kroll), a mostly shiftless copy store manager who has long played second fiddle to his overachieving blind brother Robbie (Adam Scott). Robbie has focused his frustrations into a series of increasingly out-there athletic feats, and while Bill is (often literally) running alongside him while he completes his tasks, it’s Robbie who gets all the glory. Things start to look up for Bill, however, when he meets the very charming Rose (Jenny Slate). Too bad for Bill that Rose has her own demons to fight, a battle that unexpectedly leads her into the arms of Robbie. Drama (and lots of laughs) ensue.

Last week, Goodhart shared some insights with IndieWire about why it took so long to make the jump from short to feature, why she never gave up and how her cast helped her off-beat tone shine through.

My sister was diagnosed with MS when I was in my early twenties, and my first reaction was like, “This is terrible, and I can’t believe it, and how unfair for her. This is a tragedy.” Then I realized that forever, for the rest of our lives, she was going to be this kind of amazingly brave, tragic figure, and I was just going to be kind of an indulgent ever-flake.

I did the short, and I did it with Tony Hale from “Arrested Development,” and it went really well. The short was probably dark. It was a bit darker than the feature, but it did well and it got me agents and I thought, “Hey, I’m a success! Look at me, I’m off.”

I haven’t spent thirteen years just trying to get this one made. I have twelve scripts that have either been optioned at one point or had enough interest at a certain time, but this one started with the short in 2008, and then since then we had almost people wanting to invest or almost producers connecting, but I just felt really confident that it would be good, and I felt sure that I was going to make this particular film.

READ MORE: Tribeca: 11 Female Filmmakers to Check Out at This Year’s Festival

I had a couple film of options that fell through, and then I had another couple of film options that fell through for other reasons. I would have lots of days where I would think, “What are you doing?” but there was just enough kind of interest, and just a sliver of hope that kept me in it, which was probably insane of me.

I had also written a character treatment about this girl who broke up with her boyfriend. [Then I thought], it would be so interesting if these two characters who share this kind of weird desire for attention but also desire to be good, and are riddled with resentment and shame [come together]. I thought this is the making of a nice relationship, so I put them together, and then trying to get it made was just really hard.

Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate in "My Blind Brother"

Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate in “My Blind Brother”

It is a leap of faith for someone to give someone who’s only done shorts [money for a feature]. They’ve done TV, documentaries, but they’ve never done anything over fourteen minutes and so, you know, people aren’t quick to say, “Oh, here you go! Have over a million!”

What’s really nice is that now I have an opportunity just to show this film and say, “This is the world I live in and this is how I want my characters to be like.” I’m hoping that now I don’t have to wait another thirteen years, because that would be really tragic.

If I hadn’t had Jenny and Nick playing those characters, it could have seemed really cruel. But I never wanted it to be cruel. I wanted them to expose these kind of dark, rather embarrassing qualities about themselves but have us still really like them. They made the tone work.

I didn’t meet any of the cast before we shot. I spoke to them on the phone. But I knew Jenny’s work and I knew she was such a good actress. When we spoke on the phone, she just connects emotionally. She’s sophisticated emotionally, as well as really knowing her craft. If there were any moments or beats where she was just like, “It just doesn’t ring true” or something, we’d talk about it or perhaps make it something that she could completely believe in, so that she could completely connect with it and not feel like she was above or separate to the character.

READ MORE: Jenny Slate in ‘My Blind Brother’: A Winning Comedy That Sees the Good in Everyone (Tribeca Review)

I didn’t feel like it was such a leap between the short. I felt like it was a lot to keep in my head, perhaps, like we did shoot a lot of stuff out of order because Ohio has the worst weather ever. Lots of places have terrible weather, but what’s bad about Ohio is it’s like oily and hot in the morning and then pissing rain in the afternoon. So, you’re constantly shifting. You’d go from one scene to the other scene, back to the third scene. And that’s not at all what actors would want or choose.That was something I had to sort of coach and concentrate on and they were very generous about it.

It’s amazing going to festivals. It’s so nice and the festival audience are completely supportive and excited and kind of nurturing about the filmmaker. It couldn’t be a nicer way to show your work. It’s properly heavenly.

It’s funny how, from state to state, people laugh at completely different bits. I’m like “What? What happened here?” Somebody’s laughing at a scene that I didn’t know or think was funny. It shifts all the time.

“My Blind Brother” screened at SXSW and the Tribeca Film Festival. Starz will release it in theaters and on VOD later this year.

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