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In the very first shot of Ass Backwards we meet our lead characters… well, actually, we meet their butts. True to the title, and the movie's spirit of weird women behaving very badly, Ass Backwards opens with its heroines Kate and Chloe squatting to pee outdoors, and it only gets wilder and sillier from there in this comedy, which premiered in the midnight section at Sundance two weeks ago.
An out-there comedy might seem like exactly the kind of Sundance movie that never sees the light of day, but this one has the advantage of two familiar faces both onscreen and behind the screenplay. Casey Wilson, of SNL and currently of the brilliant Happy Endings, co-wrote the screenplay and co-stars with June Diane Raphael, who you'll recognize from stints on New Girl (check out this brilliant scene), Whitney Party Down and NTSF:SD:SUV. The two also co-wrote Bride Wars, but seriously, don't blame them for it-- when I spoke to them at Sundance and hinted that they had more control over Ass Backwards than their previous screenplays, both looked at me with glances that screamed "Tell me about it."
Ass Backwards hasn't yet been picked up for distribution, but it's only a matter of time. While waiting to catch up with this comedy, about two mildly delusional best friends who travel to their hometown to participate in the beauty contest they lost as children, check out my conversation with the very funny and friendly Casey and June, in which they talk about being lifted up by Whitney Houston, sending slightly creepy messages to their beloved editor, why women on TV are getting funnier and funnier, and why Casey didn't really trust June to get their movie to Sundance in one piece.
I saw this at midnight the other night and the crowd went insane. Were you loving it or were you sitting there together nervous?
Casey: We were very nervous.
June: We were sitting next to each other in full body sweats. I mean, it was a very fun night. It was amazing. It was really cool to see the reaction. It's such a funny thing with comedy. Certain things killed that have never killed before, certain things didn't that always have. It's funny to see how every audience is different. We were hovering above reality.
Casey: Right before we went to the screening, Grey Goose threw a party for us, and they had a DJ named Spider. I gotta tell you, Spider's the man. I don't know where he came up to do this, or how he knew we needed this, but the last song he played before we went to the screening was Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance WIth Somebody." It really put me in such a great headspace.
Even though you guys weren't directing, I have to assume you were working really closely on the edit. I also assume you haven't had that kind of power over any film you've written before.
June: Unfortunately, no.
Casey: I wanted to walk every audience member home and tuck them into bed.
But when you write something and then go through the editing process, how do you figure out the comedy beats and what are you learning?
Casey: We had a long editing process. We did test screenings, because in comedy you can hear it. We can debate as many things as we want about what we think will play, but ultimately the audience will tell us.
June: To me we've never had the opportunity to work that closely on an edit. It was so educational but also great to see, oh, you can fix something that's not working, and things we thought worked great on set were not working in the edit. And then pulling full scenes out altogether, what that did to the pace. Killing jokes and killing babies that we loved, which was both heartbreaking, but also really having to keep in mind the big picture, and wanting to keep this movie at a tight 86 minutes.
Which is awesome, because there are so many comedies that are way too long.
Casey: And you get fatigued with comedy.
June: Also these are really big characters, and we really wanted them to be that way. We did not hold back from that. Like them or not, that's what we wanted to do.
Casey: if you do like them, you want more.
June: We're pretty much obsessed with [our editor, Josh Salzberg]. We write this guy e-mails like, "We love you, do you low that?"
Casey: "You look like a baby sea turtle to me."
June: He's so weirded out by us.
Casey: I barely show my boyfriend any love. I give everything to our editor.
June: He's important and he also worked on a really condensed time frame.
Casey: And budget.
When did you finish shooting?
Casey: Last August. We were really racing to get it in.
That's a pretty common story at Sundance.
June: There was actually a problem with our sound mix, and the movie was already here being quality checked. Our director and producer were already at Sundance when we realized there was a huge problem. I had to stay behind with our editor, and we fixed it, then I came to Sundance with the movie sitting on my lap.
What was it in?
June: It's a DCP file, so I'm not like carrying old reels. It was in a little baby suitcase. I said to Casey, I'll be flying out tomorrow, I will be holding the film on my lap, I'm not checking it…
Casey: I say this with love, but June has told me many stories about locking keys in trunks, things that have happened with her…
June: I did not inspire confidence in Casey.
Casey: I've seen her lose things that I know she loves.
June: The only time I left it, and I didn't tell you about this-- I didn't lose it! But I was on the plane, and O was like "I have to go to the bathroom, I can't leave this thing in here." So I left it on the seat, and I talked to the guy next to me, and it was fine. But I think Casey was more worried that the plane would go down and the movie would go down. As opposed to my precious life.
Casey: "June, put your seatbelt around the movie."
People see movies like this and immediately start talking about how wild it is to see women act this crazy. But these characters are just crazy people, period. How did you build them to be this out-there and then know when to stop?
June: I think we were really trying to ride a line. But at the end of the day we're doing characters, in the vein of AbFab or Dumb & Dumber. We felt those characters are rooted in truth, which is that women over-support each other sometimes in the wrong ways.
June: Adolescence can go on until you're 35. There was some truth to that and a lot of truth from our friendship.
Casey: The truth was there. And they're not mean-spirited girls. Their intentions are pure and they really think they're doing the right thing at all moments, which is fun. They're not bad girls, they're just doing everything so misguided.
June: I do think that's usually reserved for men in the comedy space. It's really exciting for us to do that and put that out there in the way that we wanted. I do think that especially working in the studio world and the network world, they're really intent on keeping the women likable and relatable. The truth is, every woman I know is super complicated. Some are insane, and some do insane things. I feel like we shortchange women a lot, and we want them to just be this vanilla version in movies.
It's really changing on TV though, and you guys are both part of that. In the last 2 or 3 years it's amazing how fast it's changed.
Casey: Even two years ago I feel like it was just "women are crazy and they're always falling down!" That said, I fall down all the time on Happy Endings. But that's my choice! But I think of Liz Lemon… women have always been funny and now it's just letting them shine.