Sundance 2021: Superior’s Director on Her ’80s-Set Twin Thriller

Sundance 2021: Superior’s Director on Her ’80s-Set Twin Thriller

Erin Vassilopoulos, director of Excellent, an formal variety of the U.S. Spectacular Levels of competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | image by Marie Constantinesco

It was in early 2013 when director and screenwriter Erin Vassilopoulos discovered herself brainstorming concepts for a brief film assignment in her next calendar year at New York University. Expanding up in suburban Minnesota, Vassilopoulos developed a special fascination with horror and thriller movies as a young adult, and she was keen on incorporating a great deal of the very same tones and themes in a placing 1980s period piece.

“Two of my most effective buddies growing up were fraternal twin sisters, and I was generally fascinated by their relationship and probably wished that I experienced a twin myself,” Vassilopoulos tells Observer over the phone with a chuckle. “I considered it was seriously exciting to have this person that you are closer to than any person. I observed the electrical power but also at times the friction that that marriage manufactured.

“I was in the elevator just one day and these two similar twin sisters bought in. I experience like the visual of the twins was so solid and striking that it kind of synced up with memories of my mates, and I believed, What an attention-grabbing partnership to take a look at in a limited film.

Ani Mesa is a single of two fraternal twins who star in the aspect-duration film Excellent. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | image by Mia Cioffi Henry

After crafting and establishing the script for a task named Top-quality in her screenwriting class, Vassilopoulos says that she was confronted with a incredibly tall buy: the research for identical twin sisters that also acted in the New York area. Luckily, her open up casting call released her to Alessandra and Ani Mesa, Cuban-American twin sisters who were also researching acting at NYU.

“We met for espresso and I just thought they had been great,” Vassilopoulos recalls. “We talked a ton about films and we acquired to do a pair of filmed directing exercises and observe checks before we shot the short in upstate New York, in a town known as Hornell.”

Right after the small film’s successful debut at the 2015 Sundance Movie Festival, Vassilopoulos and the Mesa sisters have returned to Park City (albeit almost) in a new collaboration that is a continuation of the quick with the identical title.

Co-composed by Vassilopoulos and Alessandra Mesa, the 99-minute sequel follows the contrasting journeys of Marian (Alessandra), a nomadic musician who is on the run from her abusive partner (Pico Alexander), and Vivian (Ani), a stay-at-house housewife who is battling to conceive. When Marian returns to her hometown to cover out with Vivian, the estranged similar twin sisters will have to find out to reconnect and reconcile. But when Marian’s mysterious previous catches up with her, their individual worlds commence to collide, putting each sisters in grave threat.

Next the planet premiere of Superior, which also marks her element-directing debut, Vassilopoulos spoke completely with Observer about the evolution of her most noteworthy challenge, the choice to shoot the function on 16mm movie, and the issues of recreating the 1980s in a way that also feels timeless.

Observer: What built you want to revisit this planet a handful of several years later? How and why did you determine to collaborate with Alessandra to publish this sequel?

Erin Vassilopoulos: It honestly arrived about pretty organically it unquestionably was not premeditated. None of us planned on a sequel or a continuation to the limited soon after we made it. But around time, we all held in touch and we have been all in New York. I was nevertheless shut with the DP who shot the small, Mia Cioffi Henry, and ultimately, I imagine it arrived down to wanting to do the job alongside one another yet again.

Superior film

Alessandra Mesa co-wrote and stars in Excellent. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | image by Mia Cioffi Henry

Alessandra and I just received jointly just one night time to discuss about composing some thing collectively and it thoroughly snowballed. Even that night time, we commenced outlining the feature. It turned very apparent really quickly that we have been definitely excited about the earth and the figures that we had created in the shorter. We just beloved the concept of revisiting that in a for a longer period type.

How would you say this movie truly developed from the brief? Were being there any plot lines that you required to examine or had been there any components that you genuinely wanted to continue to keep?

I consider the biggest as a result of-line among the quick and the aspect is the twinning sisters, Marian and Vivian. The feature carries on their tale and the themes [that] I was discovering in the quick. The limited by now experienced a blend of genres, but not as many of the thriller moments as the characteristic experienced. So, I would say a single of the big items that [was] extra to the attribute, in addition to the through line of the sisters reconnecting, was this extra thriller-esque by-line of Marian returning household to disguise out. It kind of allowed us to lean into the horror vibe from the small.

This film is definitely a drama-thriller hybrid. You have the fear and pressure of a female on the run and the drama of similar twin sisters reuniting for the initial time in many years. How have been you ready to navigate these subtle adjustments in tone to keep the dark, brooding suspense of the piece?

That was a problem, for guaranteed. I imagine we did it pretty nicely in the script. Just one of the most fun areas of this story was that we had these two seriously interesting but very different by way of-lines. We type of interwove them and they cross in the direction of the conclude of the film.

A whole lot of figuring out the appropriate harmony came in the edit. There had been also some comedic factors, I hope, like the ice cream store and the supervisor. (Laughs.) A whole lot of the edit had to do with balancing the tone, and I bear in mind that when I set down with our co-editor, Jenn [Ruff], that was some thing that she felt really powerful about. She was like, “The film is type of a spell, and at the time people today are in, we can not break that.”

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The use of 16mm movie seriously presents this generation a really delicate texture but also allows the shades to really pop. Did you generally know that you ended up heading to use that taking pictures style?

We realized that we wanted to shoot on movie, for confident, mainly because we had shot the shorter on 16mm. We’re actually hoping to go on that aesthetic and that earth. We did do some checks with the 35[mm] primary up to the shoot, but I assume due to the fact of the time period and some of the places that I experienced observed, I felt like 16 was the proper decision for this film. In some techniques, it is polished but I hope it also feels a very little gritty and a tiny lo-fi, which is the come to feel that I preferred the film to have. There is so considerably coloration in the film, and it was pretty significant to me to shoot on film for the reason that I just really feel like the way shade is captured on film is unparalleled.

Although this film is set in the 1980s, it still has a actually timeless come to feel. How did you go about finding those places?

Locale scouting, I understood, would be a massive portion of building this cohesive entire world in the film and also be capable to pull off the ’80s with no a enormous funds. I understood we wouldn’t be equipped to go in and absolutely makeover spaces, so even really early on in the composing approach, I began driving upstate to glance for locations. As we ended up setting up to glimpse for destinations, we form of wrote that into the script. The household, specifically, took a when to obtain. I remember when I walked in, it felt like it was very unique from the brief but it gave me the exact similar really feel. It was now really odd. (Laughs.) The colors ended up very distinct, but they by now experienced a large amount of character and it felt like a best location.

“The motion picture is sort of a spell, and once people today are in, we simply cannot break that.” -editor Jenn Ruff, to Vassilopoulos 

When did you shoot this feature?

In some methods, the shoot arrived alongside one another really swiftly. Alessandra and I finished the [script] in the spring of 2019, and I was super blessed to meet up with our guide producer, Benjamin [Cohen], soon soon after that. We ended up able to shoot later that yr, which was actually quick. But by the time anything was up and running, it was by now getting to be late Oct. There was a second when we ended up seeking at the calendar and, realizing that we have been likely to be shooting into the winter, we did speak about the likelihood of pushing to spring and adapting the script for a various time.

But I was really adamant and I preferred the film to be established all around Halloween. I felt like we experienced ample pieces that we just had to go for it. We decided to just embrace the cold and the snow. (Laughs.) It was unquestionably tough [with] the exterior scenes for the actors, primarily specified the costumes and that we were nonetheless making an attempt to make it come to feel like Oct. I grew up in Minnesota and there were being a number of moments when we experienced blizzards on Halloween, so some of it felt sort of normal to me [like] having ice product in the snow.

What was the approach of having this film to Sundance and what was your response when you discovered out that it had been picked for a key aggressive class?

I feel, like most filmmakers in the U.S., that was always our objective in advance of we even shot the characteristic. The purpose was to get it into Sundance, but realizing how competitive the pageant is, we ended up just so thrilled and stunned when we acquired the call. It’s a dream come accurate, and I was so fired up to share the information with our forged and crew. So a lot get the job done went into this and it is seriously the ideal feeling to share it at a pageant like Sundance.

The premise and ending of this film are surely unique, but what is the most important factor that you want folks to acquire away from this film?

I want persons to choose absent one thing distinct based on who they are and where they are coming from. I guess it is a quite visually pushed movie, and I really like films that take you to a diverse area and take a look at a genuinely one of a kind world. I hope persons come to feel that looking at the film and that it form of lingers on later on. The target was to develop a film that experienced a couple unique tones—some thriller, some drama, some comedy—so ideally, absolutely everyone connects with those things in a various way.


This job interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Top-quality premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on January 30.

How Erin Vassilopoulos Forged Her ’80s-Set Twin Thriller ‘Superior’