Here are five tips for making a real film with your literal BFF and living to tell the tale.
[Editor's Note: In this series, Seed&Spark interviews creators of recent S&S releases about steps they took on their paths to distribution.]
Many of us come up with fun ideas for films when we're hanging out with friends, but when we're lucky, those films actually happen. Andrea Grano and Tara Karsian's feature-length comedy BFFs came out of a joke that they could use couple's counseling—as a pair of friends. At first they thought the idea had legs as a short, but the more they wrote, the clearer it became that this could be a more significant piece. In the film, best friends Katherine (Karsian) and Samantha (Grano) pretend to be a couple to take advantage of a free couple's retreat. While there, the friends discover that there may be more to their relationship that they thought. Part buddy film, part rom-com, BFFs features a strong supporting cast, including Jenny O'Hara (Mystic River, The Mindy Project), Sean Maher (Firefly, Arrow), and Richard Moll (Night Court.)
Although Grano and Karsian both have enviable industry experience, BFFs was the largest film project either had spearheaded, so they learned a lot, side by side, as the writers, producers, and stars of BFFs. Below, Karsian and Grano share tips for making a film with your best friend (and living to tell the tale.)
"Part of what makes our friendship work really served us as co-producers."
1. Rely on each other's strengths
Grano and Karsian said they didn't really suss out who would do what on set, but each of their strengths emerged as the project came together. "Andrea’s superpower is that she's a genius with numbers," says Karsian. "She was able to save us two days of shooting by rearranging the shoot schedule." And, according to Grano, Karsian was "definitely the person who made sure the actors were well taken care of on set." So betwixt the two of them, they made it happen.
2. Use what you have...then build on that
Just because you're making a film about friends with your friends doesn't mean you should simply cast your friends. To preserve relationships, avoid tension, and make sure the best actors were cast for the right roles, Grano and Karsian decided to bring on a professional casting agents. "Greg Orson, along with Joanna Davis of GO Casting, really made the casting experience so effortless and fun," says Karsian. How did they pick their actors? "At the end of the day, we went with the person best suited for the role, regardless of credits," said Grano. And Karsian adds, "And how they matched up as couples. That was a big thing for us."
"We established a no-asshole policy on our set."
3. Professionalism trumps all
When asked if having a female-written and produced project changed the tone on set, Grano said the most important aspect of their production wasn't the gender of the producers, but one very important rule: "We established a no-asshole policy on our set. We wanted good people, and we wanted everyone to enjoy their time on set." Another thing that saved them: having a line producer who was on their side. "Producers, especially when you are acting as well, need to know that someone has your back," said Grano.
4. Find the fans your film speaks to
Although BFFs is written by and stars women, it wasn't received by film festivals in the way Grano and Karsian predicted. "I think it’s funny that in the film festival world we are not considered a 'female film' because we had a male director (Andrew Putschoegl)," said Grano. "Even though we pass the Bechdel test!" The good thing is, they still found their audience, including fans from the LGBTQ community who appreciated the frankness, openness and fluidity of the friends depicted in the film. "We set out to make a film that would make people laugh, and maybe think, so to know we also could affect someone in the LGBTQ community was really powerful," said Grano.
5. Keep the love alive
At the end of the day, Grano and Karsian made a great film and survived with their friendship intact. Win-win. "No film is worth losing a good friendship over," said Karsian. "So make sure that your friendship is strong enough to withstand the stresses that will come up." Grano adds, "We know each well enough to let the other have her freakout without taking it too personally." Karsian and Grano are both guest starring on several television shows in the coming months, and you can also see Grano in the film People You May Know with BFFs co-star Sean Maher.