Back in the beginning of December, Slamdance announced the narrative and documentary feature competition programs for their 19th annual film festival. At the top of the list for the narrative feature competition was Best Friends Forever. Now, if you found yourself fully disappointed in the lackluster affair that was last month’s Mayan apocalypse, then Best Friends Forever is the movie for you. BFF is an indie film that blends together dark comedy, sci-fi and horror into a road trip—in a ’76 AMC Pacer—which takes place during a nuclear apocalypse. Co-written by Brea Grant (Heroes, Dexter, Halloween II) and Vera Miao (NCIS, No Ordinary Family, Important Things with Demetri Martin), BFF is an examination of what’s truly important in life. In a video from the film’s website, Miao describes BFF by saying, “It’s all heartfelt and shit,” and anyone who has had a “BFF” before knows that’s a perfect description of a good friendship.
After meeting in an acting class in Los Angeles, Grant and Miao became fast friends. “[We] quickly realized that we shared a lot of the same likes: movies, comic books, feminism … It was a quick connection,” says Miao. As the friendship developed, they started doing more and more together, and, being in the film industry, it wasn’t long before they started thinking about screenplays. Grant says, “We were interested in writing a similar kind of [story], so we started writing together. When there are two of you, it’s so much easier. You can just get going and work on it.” They initially started writing a movie that was strictly horror, but scrapped that script after writing nearly 80 pages of it to switch to a hybrid story that would eventually became Best Friends Forever. Getting into Slamdance was a huge achievement for the film, but, Grant says, “We’re just excited that people are gonna see it.”
Apocalypse scenarios provide everything needed for a good horror film: loss of societal rules, mass panic, personal suffering and, most importantly, a constant fear of death. The genre of horror comes with plenty of stereotypes, which Grant and Miao readily embrace. “We love movies, but like movies that a 13-year-old boy would love,” Miao says. These types of movies usually contain a plethora of misogynistic material and negative stereotypes around women, which Grant and Miao, as feminists, had to address while writing their own story. “The film was our opportunity to tell a story that reflects the fact that you could have … a meaningful friendship story evolve while still paying homage to the things that we love in this genre, and you could do something that doesn’t fit so cleanly into all of the boxes … and on top of it, have a lot of fun,” says Miao.
In addition to co-writing, Grant and Miao also produced and starred in BFF. Grant plays Harriet, a young comic-book artist who is leaving Los Angeles to start over in Texas, and Miao plays Reba, Harriet’s “BFF” who joins her on the road trip. Sharing similarities with her character, Grant is a native Texan currently living in LA, she co-wrote a 1920s comic book series about zombies titled “We Will Bury You,” and is currently working on a second series called “Suicide Girls.” Miao, on the other hand, was born and raised in Guam and has quite a unique background. “[Before getting into acting,] I was the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization,” she says. Though, Miao did live briefly in Texas while growing up, and, according to her website, veramiao.com, she “is most widely known for her sensitive portrayals of Asian-woman-in-a-blazer.” Also starring in BFF is Sean Maher, whom some might remember from Party of Five, but everyone who worships the name of Whedon will recognize from his portrayal of Dr. Simon Tam in Firefly and Serenity.
Filming almost entirely on location in Marfa, Texas, the film crew ran into plenty of difficulties. Because Marfa is in the middle of nowhere, they would sometimes end up driving for days looking for locations to shoot. BFF was also filmed on Super 16mm film, which provides a better quality and resolution in the final product, but is limiting at the same time. “There were days when I could only shoot 1,200 feet of film, and anybody who’s ever worked with film knows that’s really, really limited,” says Grant. After each day of shooting, they would have to send the film off to be processed, and then they would wait at least three days before getting to see whether or not the shot worked the way they wanted it to. Then there was the car. There’s a reason Shannon Deane, the movie’s Sound Recordist, is also credited as “BFF ’76 AMC Pacer Mechanic” at the end of the film. Miao says, “We lost a lot of time [because the car wasn’t working], and without [Deane] … we wouldn’t have had our picture car operating.”