“It’s All Heartfelt and Shit”: Best Friends Forever Takes Slamdance
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.”
While Grant and Miao were able to fund the production of the movie itself, they needed some help to make it through post-production—so they turned to the crowd-funding magic of Kickstarter. They set a goal of $75,000, which Miao referred to as “a larger amount by Kickstarter averages,” and it made for a daunting task, considering the majority of their donations would come in $25 and $50 chunks. According to Miao, Kickstarter’s staff even “gently” encouraged them to lower the goal considerably, but they stuck with it. The campaign quickly turned into a full-time job for the producers of the film. “I tell people that some days, it was harder than working on production, which is crazy if you think about how hard working on production is … We had three people working on the Kickstarter campaign: Vera, me and our other producer, Stacey [Storey]. We would work around the clock … and we were always [making] videos,” says Grant. In fact, in the 36 days of their campaign, they posted 52 videos—including a fabulous tribute to Wayne’s World that features Grant, Miao, Storey and Grant’s dog, Hattie Jones, rocking out to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I feel like this is the way the creation of art in general has been going for a while … because [Kickstarter is] the only way people can get things off the ground if they want to have total control over it, or if they don’t have the kind of profile or access to resources and money on their own,” says Miao. Before and during the campaign, artists Fábio Moon and Ryan Kelly created some intensely remarkable poster art for the film. In the end, with 939 backers, they raised $81,797—109 percent of the original goal.
In their first Kickstarter video, Grant and Miao mention several statistics about women in filmmaking from 2011, and convey that increasing those numbers was an important reason why people should support them. The video showcased Grant and Miao’s feminist roots. Everything they do seems to empower women in one way or another, and they’re constantly striving for equality. In an article posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Miao even talks about the Bechdel Test—a set of three rules created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel that rate a movie’s gender bias based on whether or not the film (1) has at least two women, with names, in it (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides a man—a test that BFF passes with flying colors. “It’s incredible that at the Slamdance Festival, it’s equal between male and female directors, at least for the features, and that’s impressive. It’s … about decision makers. This project we made, it’s super small, but the route that we took—where Brea stepped in to direct, I produced, Stacey produced, we funded the post[-production] through Kickstarter—all of it was because it enabled us to make all of the decisions ourselves,” says Miao. About role models for young women, Grant says, “Things are changing quite a bit, and hopefully they’ll change even more in our lifetimes … I know for me, personally, … when I moved out to LA, directing wasn’t even on my radar as something that I could do… [but now] there are a lot of amazing role models out there for women, especially young women, because there are young women out there making movies.”
In the end, BFF appears to be a movie about friendship, which translates to people no matter which genre it’s presented from. Miao says, “It’s a reflection of the kind of friendship that we have.” But is friendship enough to help a person make it through a nuclear apocalypse? You’ll have to head up to Park City this month to find out.
Check out bestfriendsforeverfilm.com to learn more about the film and find the link to their Kickstarter page—even though the Kickstarter was funded back in April of 2012, the page still has all their awesome videos. Then, be sure to hit up this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, which runs Jan. 18-24, for the World Premiere of Best Friends Forever in the Main Screening room of the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City on Saturday, January 19 at 5:40 PM and on Monday, January 21 at 3:30 PM. Go to slamdance.com for all the details.