When Katie Anne Naylon and Lauren Miller first met at college a decade ago, they couldn’t have known the basics of their experience (their completely different personalities and styles, Katie’s past work as a phone-sex operator) would inspire their co-authored For a Good Time Call… screenplay.
The R-rated but charming raunch-com For a Good Time Call... moves the action from the screenwriters’ Florida State University to New York City and the age of its two mis-matched roommates from college to post-college with all the employment and housing challenges it brings.
Career-oriented Lauren (Lauren Miller) is forced by financial circumstances to move in with the much more free-spirited Katie (Ari Graynor of Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Sitter) who makes ends meet by taking phone-sex calls. Though Lauren and Katie were staunch frenemies in college, as happens in these situations, the much more uptight (but business-minded) Lauren is soon drawn into the business.
The film, which is directed by first-timer Jamie Travis, entertained festival goers at Sundance this year thanks in large part to the hilarious on-screen comic chemistry of Miller and Graynor. It also stars Justin Long (playing a somewhat stylized version of Travis himself) and features cameos from Kevin Smith, Ken Marino, and Miller’s real-life husband Seth Rogen.
I and another writer sat down a few weeks ago in Chicago for a rollicking, good-spirited six-way chat with Naylon, Miller, Graynor, and director Travis.
For a Good Time Call… opens tomorrow in select theaters across the country.
Your film is coming out right in the middle of this year’s wave of indie-minded, female-centric rom-coms and romances.
Katie Anne Naylon: It’s great for us because we can make a movie during a time when people are really open to it an excited about those types of projects. Certainly we didn’t know that was happening when we sat down to make it–we wrote the movie long before there was a Bridesmaids or Girls on HBO, but all these things have really paved the way.
Lauren Miller: It’s such a Zeitgeist-y moment, it’s amazing. You never know how the timing will work out. All the films riding this wave are all different from one another, and I think that’s exciting–people are telling stories in such different ways with different vibes and different kinds of humor. But it’s nice to be in a moment where people want to have that conversation.
How important was it to set the film in New York City?
Miller: It was really important. Katie and I both lived there at some point in our lives, so New York has this special place in our hearts. And living there is not easy. Apartments are small, rents are high, and roommates are crazy. And bedbugs are rampant. It’s hard to find a nice place to live, so it was important to create a universe where you would understand why two enemies would live together.
At one point during pre-production, when it was becoming pricey to shoot Los Angeles for New York, we certainly went down the creative road in our minds of “What if this takes place in LA?”
Naylon: And we were like, “No, she’d get a studio in Studio City or live in the Valley, or whatever.” She wouldn’t need to live in West Hollywood with this girl she doesn’t like.
Ari Graynor: And it also helps with the job–there is a real economic issue that has to be overcome that I just think is unparalleled in New York. Living in New York, if you’re making rent, you’re doing okay. If you’re only making rent in LA, it’s like, “Wow, you really should try to do more with yourself.”
Jamie Travis: Even the New York-ness of it all has a sort of ’80s throw-back quality–you think of Working Girl and struggling to live in the city, the female empowerment,
Naylon: Well, when a man and a woman love each other very much…
Miller: When two girls sit down to write a script a special thing happens…
When we started we asked, “So, what should we write about?” We started with ourselves and female friendship, because we know a lot about that, and we were two different people who fell in friend love with each other.
Naylon: When I met Lauren she was very much Lauren, and I was very much Katie, but it’s heightened in the film. We’re very different girls who would do very different things on the weekend.
And I actually did run a phone sex line out of my apartment the year before I met Lauren, and Lauren would never do that in a million, trillion years. It was sort of about exploring that difference. As you know, women judge each other without even meeting–you’re like, “Oh, I don’t like that sweater, I don’t like her,” or “She used to date Brian…”
Miller: “Oh, do you know Sally? God, hate her, she is such a bitch,” and you even hardly know each other. So we wanted to explore this about girls; that you can like hate someone for no reason, but then next day you’re best friends.
What were your impressions of each other when you first roomed together in college?
Naylon: I was dismissive of her, but she wasn’t dismissive of me, because Lauren is not judgmental in that regard. I saw her, and she had her long, dark, curly hair, she had a Dave Matthews T-shirt on, and she said her boyfriend’s going to be staying with us and he walked in with a guitar, and I thought, “Oh god, ‘Kumbaya.’”
Naylon: She wanted to start this recycling program.
Miller: What an asshole, right?
Naylon: She was a cliché person to me, but she did have much cooler clothes than I thought she would.
And yours, Lauren?
Miller: I didn’t’ really judge her—I thought, “This is my new roommate, so we might as well be friends.” I don’t draw those quick judgments–I much prefer long, drawn-out processes over years. If you ask me now, I could give you my judgment of her all day. [Laughs]
Ari, you came in after these two had written the screenplay. How was it getting dropped into the middle of all this?
Graynor: It was so amazing to see their dynamic in person–we didn’t know each other before, but they said they had written the part with me sort of in mind, which I think was the nicest thing I’d ever heard. I got to see the script about eight months before we made it, and was so crazy about it. And then I met them, and it’s so fascinating because they are so different. This is hardly the Lauren and Katie bio-pic, but it was really fun to see their dynamic, and how they would play off of each other.
I came on board, and then all of us met Jamie, and the four of us together had this incredible alchemy. We sat at Lauren’s dining-room table for a month and worked on things so closely, and had this amazing time.
Travis: We really all wanted to make the same movie, which is so important. Yes, there’s comedy, yes there’s raunchy stuff, but at the heart of it was the story of this female friendship.
Naylon: I miss the dining room table. We shot the film in 16 days, so once we got on the set, Lauren and I barely had time to talk to each other.
Travis: We need to have a dining-room-table reunion when we get back to LA!
Graynor: Jamie has such an incredible visual sense, and we had an amazing production designer. The look of this film was such an important piece of this movie–there’s a sense of fairytale about it that I think is so important.
Travis: When you think about phone sex, you think of a dark context–I always pictured Jennifer Jason Leigh in Short Cuts, where she’s got a kid in each arm. The stylization with the wardrobe and with sets and with the hair makes this a beautiful film, which elevates it into fantasy and really helps the comedy.
Graynor: I kept my character’s white jumpsuit. We had an incredible costume designer–we were on the same page from the get go.
Naylon: Katie can be saying really raunchy sex things on the phone, but her room is so cute and her eye make-up is cute, it’s like, “This isn’t dirty, this isn’t wrong. My parents can see this, I think.”
So what did your parents think of the story?
Naylon: We have over-involved Jewish parents who couldn’t be more excited.
Miller: We sent the script to my dad, who told us we need to be more creative with the penis names.
You do a really great job of balancing the phone sex angle so it didn’t become a gimmick. It’s still sexy and funny and outrageous, but it didn’t overwhelm the characters.
Naylon: It was really important to us, both in the writing and once we go onto set, that the calls were not overly sexual–our goal was to always entertain and be funny and be smart about it. This is not a documentary about the true story of phone sex. This is a fun story about female friendship that happens to be set in this world.
Miller: That was one of the special byproducts of having so little time and so little money–everything we shot we had to have a real clear reason why we were doing it, and I think ultimately that helped avoid gimmicky overkill.
Travis: Though we’re all very much desensitized to sexual language after this process.
Jamie, this is your first feature film. How did it go?
Travis: I feel really great about it. It’s so different from my previous short films which were so dark. I was so excited to do something where character and story were completely up front and to work with such amazing actors who could bring characters to life, because I’ve never really done that—my short films were very much told in the director’s voice. It was also great to let my style recede into the background. When you’re shooting something so quickly, it’s way more gut than brain. You just power through it, and it’s certainly helped that I was surrounded by these amazing collaborators here.