“We’ve never been interested in anything that doesn’t include sex,” says Remy Bennett, granddaughter of crooner Tony Bennett. “I don’t understand who would be.”
She’s speaking for her collaborator, Émilie Richard-Froozan, who says she always wanted to make a movie touching on the things she “really liked [in movies] as a kid — which is a lot of sex.”
Richard-Froozan, a Williamsburger, and Bennett, a Lower East Sider, have been making short films together since they were in high school, about a decade ago; their first feature, a psychosexual experimental drama titled Buttercup Bill, premieres this week at the Marfa Film Festival in Texas.
The film’s protagonist Pernilla (played by Bennett) is their response to “that romantic comedy befuddlement” of concern over promiscuity, says Bennett. Cold, somewhat alienated, calculatedly playful, Pernilla is, in Richard-Froozan’s conception, “much more of a stereotypical male than a woman, emotionally, and uses sex as a way of release.” Somewhere in the South, Pernilla reunites with her estranged childhood friend (and soulmate) Patrick and proceeds to become entangled in a web of jealous mind games and subversive sexual misadventure.
Mind you, the filmmakers never intended Buttercup Bill to be transgressive. According to Richard-Froozan, “We just wrote what we thought a good story was and then as an afterthought realized that 75% of people find that shocking.”
Richard-Froozan and Bennett, both 28 and originally from New York, met at the age of 16 at an NYU Tisch Special Program for Acting and Directing in Dublin. “We started collaborating right away because I was acting, she was directing,” Bennett recalls. They both went their separate ways—Richard-Froozan to UCLA to major in Ethnographic film, Bennett to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London—but stayed firm friends.
Then, in 2010, Richard-Froozan fell in love and moved to New Orleans. The setting and the relationship inspired her. Home for Christmas, she learned she had had an imaginary childhood friend called Buttercup Bill. At the same time, she dreamed about a girl she had known of, but never met, named Pernilla. “I just came to Remy with that, and she was like, Let’s do this,” says Richard-Froozan.
“Which is so crazy!” Bennett says, laughing. “It was like: a title, the idea of an imaginary friend, ‘Pernilla’, and nothing else.”
Crazy or not, the pair started the slow process of brainstorming and writing the script. They shared the responsibilities of writer/director, which they believe made for a more well-rounded film. Both women have similar sensibilities and share a sophisticated mental library of (primarily European) films and literature, which—however subtly—influences their writing and aesthetic. Painstakingly, they mapped out the feature—a film centering on tormented love, and drawing heavily on autobiographical elements of both their lives. “It was like Freudian psychotherapy for four years,” is how Bennett puts it.
Like Freud, these young filmmakers are sex-centric. Richard-Froozan toyed with the idea of being a sexologist for a while, and both women express frustration with the Nancy Meyers or Nora Ephron school of female characters, for whom sex is messy and emotional. “So we made a very, very depraved sexual film, and it’s exactly what we want in our drama,” says Richard-Froozan, with satisfaction.
Luckily, Sadie Frost (of Dracula and Jude Law fame) was not one of those people: Buttercup Bill was the first feature picked up by Frost and Emma Comley’s just-launched production company Blonde to Black Pictures. And according to Richard-Froozan and Bennett the new producers were a dream to work with, spending each day of the 16-day shoot in New Orleans on set, during a heatwave.
Though they admit their lady producers were attracted to the idea of them being “two chicks,” both Richard-Froozan and Bennett strongly resist the idea of being branded as female filmmakers. “What I think would be so awesome is eventually if people started opening their minds about what we consider a movie that women make, or a movie that males make,” says Bennett, noting that Five Easy Pieces—arguably considered a quintessentially “male” film about “fucking and oil rigs and male isolation,” was in fact written by a woman.
Regardless, they admit that as women, and as newbies to the feature film process, their partnership was invaluable. “Going through the first feature film you’ve ever made, it’s like a million trials and tribulations, it’s fucking tough. And we just constantly are bouncing off each other,” says Bennett, “helping each other to survive through all this stuff.”
After the Marfa premiere this Thursday, they hope to take Buttercup Bill to other festivals, and to eventually get distribution. But in the meantime they’re working on other things. Richard-Froozan is headed back to LA for a change of scene and to work on new scripts, and Bennett is soon to appear in HBO’s The Leftovers. But it won’t be too long before these two inseperables will be working together again.