NOBODY CAN COOL (2013): An Interview with DPYX writer/director duo Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman
During Rock and Shock (2013) I overheard two women promoting a film of theirs screening that afternoon. It should come as no surprise I was immediately all up in their faces- desperate to know the details.
NOBODY CAN COOL writer/director duo Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman (who bill themselves collectively as DPYX) are openly passionate about the art/history of film-making and bring something much needed to the table- true storytelling. Their debut feature is a shining example of great pacing, use of sound, and not compromising style or quality regardless of your budget.
I am truly excited for what DPYX have in store of us in the coming years. The level of skill they demonstrate leads me to the conclusion that we have a bright future ahead with these women in the game.
Hannah Neurotica: What brought you to the decision to credit your film as DPYX rather than using your names? I think its very cool and mysterious – especially during a time when people want to be the center of attention more the ever. Does any of it have to do with anonymity or was is it simply an artistic decision?
Rachel Holzman: We chose to work under the name Dpyx for the combination of our two names together being a mouthful and to reflect the inherent collaborative nature of film making. Using a collective pseudonym joined us in a united voice/vision. We also wear many hats (wrote, produced, directed, cast, costumes, etc.). We chose the spelling “pyx “from the Karen Black film The Pyx. Keeping with the theme of wearing many hats, Karen Black stars in the film but she also wrote and composed the songs. That movie is an under appreciated gritty take on prostitution, drug addiction and the occult with a great vibe, camera work and editing. The “D” is for digital and we joke that Dpyx is pronounced like, “da Bronx” which is where my family lives.
Marcy Boyle: We decided to use one name to represent our united vision and thorough collaboration. Quite a few joint directors can use the “…Brothers” or “…Sisters” but it wasnʼt really an option for us. We do joke that we are sisters, but I have a different mother and Rachel has a different father.
We chose the word Dpyx based on an imagined contraction of “digital pictures” kind of filtered through a joke about Karen Black and the Wu Tang Clan. Technology is our friend. Without digital tools we would never have been able to afford access to the means of production. So, like our company name, Nobody LLC, which is of course part of our movie title, but also a riff on that showbiz is all about “who you know” and we had no connections at all. Dpyx is a word that celebrates us being allowed to make a movie ourselves even though we had very little money (under $100,000 budget for Nobody Can Cool). Analog cinematography is beautiful and romantic and deserves to be preserved much like french couture, but digital photography has itʼs own properties and possibilities for expression.
One of my favorite places in Los Angeles is the Annenberg Space for Photography. Itʼs a wonderful place to get inspired by the intersection of art and technology and imagine what we might be able to make in the future. Weʼre also very interested in sound and how it stimulates different emotional and psychological responses. With Nobody Can Cool, we wanted the sound design to increase the tension, so we used ambient sounds, drones and tones rather than a musical score. We think it would be interesting if theaters gave out headphones so filmmakers could play with 3-D sound design to add another immersive element to the film experience.
Hannah: You ladies met at Barnard college I believe? At what point did you go from becoming friends to deciding to venture down the path of making your first feature film together? Did you both realize you had a love for genre film and it all went from there?
Rachel: Our friendship started with our mutual interest in ﬁlms. We both liked whacked out movies that span genres with a special spot for the sinister. NYC has a vibrant revival repertory theaters from museums to back alley cinemas, and some strange unconventional venues. We both liked the experience of going to the theater and watching ﬁlms with an audience, especially when people were shouting at the screen. We went to everything and would watch some terrible ﬁlms just to see that one gem of a scene.
We decided to do Nobody Can Cool after we setup a ﬁlm company to produce scripts we had each written individually (to be directed by the writer) with the other producing (one action comedy, and the other a tropical murder mystery). We had talent attached and ﬁnancing in place, but then the deals fell through. We still had one investor interested, but the money wasn’t enough to do a good job on either script. So, we decided that we’d come up with a third script that we could shoot on a much smaller budget, and do everything together because we both really wanted to direct.
Marcy: We met at Barnard College and our friendship was largely based on going to every movie we could all over NYC. I grew up watching mainstream movies with my friends, action movies with my mom (who also loves anything crime related, especially with serial killers), arty movies with my dad, and horror by myself. But Rachel was open to going to anything, so we went to movies together all the time -especially double features at Film Forum and Cinema Village. When we were in school they didnʼt have Friday classes so we would go to the Chinatown theater (now closed), get lo mein and stay there all day watching Hong Kong movies. As for the attraction to genre movies, I want to be an active spectator, and I want active spectators for our ﬁlms. When I watch a genre movie, I want to gasp, wince, have some kind of reaction and participate. Horror/thriller (however you want to subdivide genres) have the best fans because they want to feel something. They go in with the expectation of a reaction. Success or failure is visceral.
Hannah: Was this film based on a graphic novel project or rather created with the graphic novel/noir aesthetic? It definitely came through.
Rachel: The ﬁlm is an original idea inﬂuenced by a graphic novel aesthetic & ﬁlm noir plot. Inspired by the way graphic novels and ﬁlm noir movies create their own world and atmosphere, we also wanted to draw the viewer into another world within the cabin.
Marcy: Nobody Can Cool was inﬂuenced by the aesthetics of ﬁlm noir and graphic novels. It was not based on any other work/project/graphic novel. We were inspired by the Poverty Row sensationalists like Sam Fuller and Edward G. Ulmer who overcame skimpy budgets and formidable production constraints to write/produce direct a crime thriller. Like other horror movies,thrillers can be small and intense and don’t need to rely on expensive production elements to work with the audience. We were interested in themes common to ﬁlm noir (crime, fate conspiring against characters, doomed relationships, pitiless violence) but we did not want to make a retro imitation. For Nobody Can Cool we wanted a vivid, colorful world more like graphic novels, pulp novel covers, and pop art.
Hannah: I’d love to know about the film title. Without giving anything away can you talk a little bit about what the title means to you both?
Rachel: Nobody Can Cool is taken from part of a William Burroughs sentence in the Naked Lunch. We liked the rhythm of it. Also, If only the characters had been cool, well, then, perhaps the evening would have played out differently.
Marcy: The words are taken from the middle of a sentence by William Burroughs in Naked Lunch- “The Mark Inside was coming up on him and thatʼs a rumble nobody can cool…” We liked the rhythm of the words together, and people can interpret it any way they want (active spectatorship hopes, again). Iʼm open to that. We do think of the movie as a “rumble” and use a rumbling sound building up to the title card. Rumble as in a ﬁght from tense situation coming to a head, too. Our characters are in a situation that doesnʼt have a good solution for anyone.
Hannah: What was the creative process writing a script together? How did you handle any creative differences at that stage?
Rachel: We started out writing from a logistical perspective. Given our very limited resources and time (14 day shoot) we had to be very strict about our parameters of one location and only few characters. We were inspired by the Poverty Row noirs of the 30‘s, 40‘s and 50‘s that are entertaining without you thinking, “oh, this is a cheap movie.” We also wanted to capture the threatening energy present in many horror ﬁlms.
Once we settled on our story, we created a road map, and then the next job was for one of us to write the ﬁrst draft as fast as possible – with the understanding that the ﬁrst draft would be crap and serve as just a starting point of putting the outline into screenplay format. Marcy got that job. Then, we both read it, gave our notes, and then I inputted the new ideas in the next draft. We probably switched back and forth like that for several drafts until we had a workable script. At that point we wrote together. In terms of creative differences, if one of us doesn’t like something in the script, then it’s time to go to “door number 3”. We don’t take our creative differences personal. We have a motto: cope, adjust and move forward. Instead of ﬁghting about whether or not something is right or wrong, we just take it as a given that there must be another approach that is better that we both will like. It makes the process faster. We also table major stumbling blocks to be hashed out at another time when there are other elements ready to go. We have a similar working temperament and sense of humor. Also helpful: wine.
Marcy: We both had other scripts we had each written and tried to produce, but they were bigger budget concepts and the deals fell through. Since we had edited each otherʼs scripts we knew we could work together, and we decided to make a script that we could produce ourselves on a tiny budget.
We always think in terms of logistics. We set down parameters that the story would take place in one location with only a handful of characters. There had been a few break-in stories in the newspapers, stories about hostages, and we got to talking about how these episodes are reduced to a few sentences in media coverage, but the ordeal itself, letʼs say being held hostage overnight, has logistical implications for both the hostages and the captors. We asked ourselves: How did the hours unfold on both sides? Again, we tend to think about logistics.
We wanted a female lead, so we made Susanʼs journey the backbone of the ﬁlm. She begins the ﬁlm at a point of critical decision with what to do about a long term relationship and what to do with her life, and the choices she makes under the circumstances she ﬁnds herself propels the story to itʼs fatal (spoiler?) conclusion.
It was important to us to create female characters who stand toe-to-toe with their male counterparts and are allowed to participate in a range of behaviors: the good, the bad and the ugly. For the character Gigi, we thought it would be interesting to portray a pregnant woman as a villain and challenge the assumptions (of innocence, fragility, sanctity) associated with pregnancy. We imagined the captors Len and Gigi, as an outlaw George and Martha (Whoʼs Afraid of Virginia Woolf- one of our favorites and mostly one location) because they are a great couple in conﬂict, but also a great team.
In terms of how we collaborate, we create a road map or outline for the plot. We make it quite detailed, and we do this together. Then one of us will write a draft and we do re-writes together. It really doesnʼt matter who writes the ﬁrst draft because it has almost no resemblance to the ﬁnal draft. We have passed things back and forth so much that we donʼt usually remember who came up with what.
Getting notes from other people is something weʼre used to and donʼt take personally. We know that disagreements about those notes are part of the process. As a policy, we get angry at the problems, not each other. When one of us is unsatisﬁed with some aspect, we acknowledge that it must be a problem area and look for what we call “Door Number Three”. Door Number Three is the alternative solution we have to come up with that will satisfy both of us. Having each other to work with provides a checks and balances that makes me feel more free. Iʼm not ﬂying without a net, because if something is a terrible idea, Rachel will tell me and we can move on. Likewise if something is a good idea, you still have to keep going. Films are inherently collaborative, and we not only accept that, but work better because of it.
Rachel & Marcy: Jennifer’s Bodies was a wonderful experience — meeting open minded people who want to discover new films and judge them on their own merits. Jennifer Cooper has a great eye for programming movies. Her selections were exciting, fearless and of course, entertaining. Many film festivals are strangely unfriendly to genre movies unless they feature “name talent”. WiHM is so important to us, as filmmakers and as movie fans, in that it creates a presence for films (like ours) that other festivals have labeled “too controversial” due to violence. Women are discouraged by the mainstream from making edgy movies, which is something WiHM, and people like Jennifer and you, Hannah, have been courageously fighting in the best possible way: by providing an outlet for the films themselves to be seen, talked about and brought to the attention of a larger audience. In our experience, the movie buying public is overwhelmingly supportive of edgy women directors-women want to support other women and also resent the “goodie two shoes” box women have been relegated to for far too long, and men think women directors who bring some ultra-violence are super cool.
Thank you so much to Rachel and Marcy for taking the time to answer our questions. Keep up with DPYX and get your hands on their fantastic debut feature, Nobody Can Cool.
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