Crafting a Midnight Kiss - Behind-the-Scenes of a Lo-Fi Indie

The director and stars of In Search of a Midnight Kiss tell us about making the movie.

by | June 12, 2008 | Comments

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Crafting a Midnight Kiss

It brought audiences to tears at Tribeca, kept them coming back at Edinburgh and warmed stone-cold critics’ hearts at Raindance. When RT saw In Search of a Midnight Kiss we described it as the best American indie in years, and its hilarious but touching humour has drawn comparisons to Kevin Smith and Woody Allen. Now, as one of our favourite films of last year’s festival circuit gears for a cinema release in the UK and the US, RT brings together stars Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds and Brian McGuire and writer-director Alex Holdridge to share their behind-the-scenes journey…
Sara Simmonds
Sara Simmonds
Sara Simmonds
Sara Simmonds
Alex Holdridge: Everything was pushed into action because of Robert Murphy, our cinematographer. This had been following a decade-long of us on the streets of Austin, Texas making these indie films and struggling. Putting them on our credit cards and showing them through direct arrangements with theatres which was much more punk rock than moviemaking – you strike a deal with a theatre owner to take a bit of the door and if it does well it comes back and you do it again. Our first movie sold out in three weeks straight, which was a big to-do and that’s how Hollywood became interested in doing a remake of it.
We were able to raise money to make a second indie and after that one premiered we all moved to LA. We were in LA and struggling, you know, everyone’s working on various projects, but I had a year from hell working on the Hollywood adaptation of our first movie. I crashed my car on the way out there, Brian and I were roommates and after a year of writing a screenplay, going through a breakup and getting pushed to suicidal sections of my life, I got a job waiting tables, dated randomly on the internet and lived through a very lonely, pathetic time. Then I learned of a movie coming out that was so similar that it defeated the purpose of doing a remake of our first film and ruined the whole year.
And then after all that, Robert Murphy, this total redneck guy who loves films, who shot our first movies and taught me everything about making movies, a guy who freaks out over and gets excited about every shot, called us up and said he was coming to town…
Brian McGuire: The best thing about Robert Murphy is that his favourite movie, the movie that made him become a filmmaker, is Goodfellas, and in the early nineties he had printed out a dot-matrix Goodfellas banner that he had hanging up on his wall. That’s commitment.
AH: Robert said he’d just bought an HD camera and wanted to know if we were interested in shooting something. That was December 26th. He was getting into town on the 8th January so we had no time at all.
Scoot McNairy: You called me on the 29th.
AH: I said, “Hey Scoot, I’m writing this thing in LA, can you get a bunch of equipment?”
SM: I was in Colorado ice fishing. I told Alex I was going to be back on the 30th December. He’s like, “Alright, we shoot on the 31st.”
Sara Simmonds: I was in Texas with family. Alex and I had talked for the last year about doing something else, another feature, and we’d walked Downtown and looked at various locations but I had no idea when it would come about. I was laid back in Texas and I got the call saying, “Get on the next flight, we’re shooting tomorrow.” He emailed me the script that night and I remember taking a red eye, reading the script on the plane and realising I had to do a sex scene and show my nipples and I was like, “I don’t remember us discussing this!”

A still from In Search of a Midnight Kiss

SM: I picked you up from the airport we drove straight over to your house and started going through your wardrobe looking for clothes for you to wear in the movie. We got straight back in the car, picked up some coffee and cigarettes on the way over, and Alex looked at the wardrobe, said, “OK, cool, now get over there and say this line!”
AH: No, it was, “Get over there and start jacking off!”
SM: Yeah, my first scene was the shot of me jacking off… So we started shooting and did not stop from that moment on. Most of all we were excited to be working with Alex.
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Most of us have enough trust in him to know he’s going to put together a good movie. He’s proven himself twice. After the first day of shooting, which we piled through in about seventeen hours, we all watched the dailies and knew we were on to something special.

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Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy
AH: The acting was kickass and the way it was looking and unfolding was just special. There was such a fucking energy charge when we watched that footage and realised it was working. We kept going over eight days without even thinking of stopping, because it was borne out of such frustration and hunger to make a movie again after being told no and waiting for ages and being told by agents not to go off and make this sort of movie.
SS: We all fired our management and agents, every one of us. They thought it was a waste of time. They didn’t understand what was happening. It was fucking crazy!
AH: So we’d shoot all day and then we’d go home and work on what we wanted to do the next day. I’d rewrite it based on improvisations that we’d worked out and based on the way the script was playing when it was performed. We’d go into Brian’s room – Jacob’s room in the movie – and watch dailies every night. Most of the time we’d all crash at the apartment.
SS: In our wardrobe – I slept in that fur coat many, many times…
SM: We’d wake up at 6 in the morning, but Alex didn’t sleep for the whole nine days, when we weren’t working he was writing.
AH: We’d just get out of the house in the morning, hit the streets of LA and start over again. And we’re in LA so we’re terrified that at any moment we’re going to get stopped or told we can’t shoot. We were doing these really emotional scenes, saying, “Sara has to be crying on the subway in 45 seconds or the cops are going to come and kick us out.”
SS: As an actor it was pretty hard to be in those conditions where you’re scared of getting caught but you’ve got to do this really emotional scene and you’ve got to do it fast. With all these people staring at you thinking, What the hell is wrong with that girl? She keeps crying!
AH: So we shot about two thirds of the movie and Robert said he had to go back to Austin. When we began he didn’t even know we were going to make a feature, he thought we’d make a short. “I’ll go to the beach for a few days, I’ll hang out, it’ll be good.”
SM: Robert saw a bowling alley one day when we were driving past the beach and he said, “This’ll be great, I’ll go to the beach all day, bowl all night!”
AH: At the point he left we’d shot enough that I was able to assemble something and get him back. We were able to pull most of the crew back together to do another eight days and the movie was pretty much done after that. There were a couple of pickup days over the course of editing. There were a couple of set pieces that we couldn’t get in time. The theatre was the toughest.

A still from In Search of a Midnight Kiss

SS: There were all these beautiful theatres that we wanted to use but some of them were being used by Spider-Man and others just wanted so much money. I remember we made friends with the guy who owned the Burger shack outside this one theatre and I said we should give him some cash and see if he’ll let us in at 4AM to shoot. It was almost impossible to get into these theatres.
AH: It was the Tower Theatre, which was in the ending of Mulholland Drive, and I really wanted to shoot there because of that movie, but it was so hard. Seth Caplan, the producer, kept being persistent and finally got a favour from somebody that ran the Million Dollar Theatre which was made in the nineteen teens. It’s a glorious theatre that’s sitting there completely unused for the most part.
SS: Made of “fucking hard wood,” which was a line that got cut out of the movie!
BM: The guy we spoke to at the theatre was a friend of ours, Justin Huen, who was in the movie and also got cut out.
AH: That’s one of my favourite scenes that we cut. I can’t believe we had to cut it, but time just didn’t allow in the first act for us to put that in. There’s actually a scene where
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Min meets up with this guy that she’s been MySpace-ing with. We have more of the development of that, and the scene is fucking hysterical – I know people are going to love it on the DVD. He’s a bit like John Leguizamo; very charming and funny but in a really down-to-earth way.

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SS: We used this other theatre for the scene of us going in, though. The Orpheum was doing talent scouting for So You Think You Can Dance and they had someone running the door.
AH: We were Downtown shooting pickups and one of the things in the back of our heads was that we needed that shot of them walking into the theatre. I’d actually written a scene for a security guard that we were going to play out and Richard Linklater was going to play that part. But we were Downtown outside the Orpheum and it ended up sort of happening on us.
SS: The scene was basically going to involve Scoot talking to the security guard and trying to find out if he’d let us in.
SM: So I go up to this security guard and say, “Is it OK if my girlfriend and I come into the theatre?” And she says, “Yeah, are you here for this dance thing?” I said, “Erm, yeah, OK…”

A still from In Search of a Midnight Kiss

SS: All I see is Scoot wave to me saying, “Come on in, come on in!” I don’t know what the conversation was with the security guard, but I headed in with Scoot. When I got to the door they were like, “OK, get a number and fill out this form,” and I thought, “What the fuck!!” They hurry us into the theatre and my heart was pumping.
AH: They were both mic’ed up so I was listening to this whole thing and Scoot just started totally fucking with her. She was like, “I don’t have the right shoes,” and Scoot would say, “Nah, she’s fine, she’s just nervous!”
SS: Scoot said, “Hey babe, I’m going back to the car to get your shoes, I’ll be right back.” He leaves me there! They have one of those white numbers they’re about to tape on my fucking chest and I was freaking out! I had to fill out release forms, they handed me this clipboard.
Scoot McNairy
Sara Simmonds
AH: That shot is in the movie. It’s jump cut and set to music, but it’s in the movie. I had to photoshop out the So You Think You Can Dance sign from the billboard…
SS: When you see it in the movie it’s so funny because you can see the reaction on my face. It’s a real security guard and I have no idea what she’s saying to me!
AH: That was one of the last shots we had to get and we got it while we were editing. I’d put together a 45 minute assembly and I sent it to Frank Reynolds and he was like, “Great, I’ll come.” He literally sat on my futon couch doing the first assembly cut of the film and then Jacob Vaughan, who’s a filmmaker I really admire, came in for a good few months while we fine-tuned and fine-tuned. We premiered the following April at Tribeca, less than eighteen months after we started.
SM: But you were cutting right up until Tribeca, right?
AH: Right up to the moment we had to deliver the film.
SM: But even after we premiered we went away and reshot two scenes.
SS: We had to reshoot the scene at the end where I cried in the bathroom. That was so difficult because it’s such an emotional scene. I remember Alex saying, “I have some bad news, we have to reshoot that scene…”
AH: It wasn’t in the original script. I wanted to watch her make the decision but we weren’t sure. We went and shot it on video to see if it would work and she acted it brilliantly. It worked out great and it was essential for the movie but I had to ask her to do it again.
But even after all of that we weren’t done. US distribution demanded a colour version of the film. We shot the movie, for the most part in colour, but we always drained it – we didn’t even watch it in colour once. I was going to colourised a few objects, which was an idea we dropped at some point, but as a result
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most of the movie is shot in colour, but some are in true black and white. The US distributors weren’t sure if they were going to distribute in colour or black and white but they at least wanted the opportunity to release in colour. So we had to reshoot the theatre scene, reshoot the mother on the phone, and reshoot a couple of insert shots.

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Sara Simmonds
AH: It was a chance to make the movie better because at that point we had the money to do those shots properly. There are loads more extras in the mother scene, and there’s also a big moment with Vivian that we ended up cutting from the original cut where she’s in the theatre and she takes the sunglasses off and has a good look around. I think it was the tipping point of her character’s transformation and I really wanted to go back and do that properly. I’m probably the only one who cares about it, if you’ve seen the other cut it doesn’t matter, but it makes a big difference to me.
In the end, we stuck to our guns and convinced the US distributor to release the black and white version of the movie and they gave it the full treatment on a colour correction system so it just looks beautiful now, but it was great to get the opportunity to go back.
SS: The festivals were really fun though. I remember getting to Tribeca and thinking, “Oh shit, if they hate it, we’re stuck here for nine days.” But it was incredible; we completely sold out the premiere and then sold out every single screening after that. We’d stand in the side aisle and watch the movie with everyone, and they just got it from the very first moment.
AH: When I read the first review I cried. My last two films have had attention but they never got a chance to survive outside of the festival world and so I knew how critical it was that it was well received. It is the type of film that needs to be championed by critics because otherwise it will never see the light of day. Distributors won’t take the time to take a chance on a black and white movie without name recognition in it. I was scared shitless that I was going to have to go back and wait tables again, which I’ve had to do after every movie. After the last one the paper even did a write-up on “Alex Holdridge will not have to take out the trash anymore,” but sure enough, two days later I’m back waiting tables, you know. The manager of the restaurant even put it up on the wall out back so I’d walk past it every time I was taking out the trash.
SM: That’s how they encourage you in LA, you know, by rubbing things in your face…

A still from In Search of a Midnight Kiss

SS: It brought tears to my eyes too when I saw the laughter off the bat when the words came up on screen. It was an overwhelming joy, it was insane. All of the hard work we’d put it had its chance to shine.
SM: It wasn’t until the next morning when we started getting all the phone calls that we realised people had loved it.
Alex Holdridge
Alex Holdridge
AH: After three films going nowhere with all this VISA debt on my back, if this film hadn’t done well it’d have been a disaster, so from the end of the screening until the next day I was just terrified.
BM: But as all the reviews came in I remember joking with you, like, “There’s got to be a bad review coming in eventually! Are they just hiding the bad ones?”
SM: They called us and said that the four interviews they’d scheduled for after the screening had changed into 24 interviews.
AH: It wasn’t until I read the first review from a serious critic, on the streets of New York reading it on my phone and just crying my eyes out. You live your whole life on how your movie is going to be received; your career, your life, your family, your friends, your finances, it’s all riding on this being a success and you’re working in such isolation that you just don’t know for months on end. It was such a rush, even finishing it. I didn’t sleep for three days on end getting the sound mix done. The fact that it was received and went over well was an enormous relief.
The fact that we brought it over here to Edinburgh and it went over, I think that was the best week of my life. But the movie’s coming out properly here for the first time anywhere so this week is really the moment.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is released in the UK on 13th June and the US on 1st August. Find out more here.

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