Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe
Tell us a bit about your respective childhoods – do you come from creative backgrounds?
Let’s just say no one from back home is “surprised” that we turned out to be filmmakers that are, well, a little “weird” and “bossy”. From an early age, we were both those sticky kids orchestrating backyard productions of Romeo and Juliet (cousins only) and filming music videos with our grandmothers’ (surprisingly flexible) china doll collections.
You met while performing sketch and improv together – what made you decide to give it a go as a writer-director duo?
Well, first off, we noticed early on that the two of us share a similar bird-like physique, with Dawn quite tall and blonde and Jocelyn shorter and brunette. So in terms of comedy, we knew we’d easily work as a duo. It just so happened that we also had similar upbringings in large families in the middle of America and gravitated towards comedic premises that explored the drama of the mundane. We found that our minds’ eyes were also both drawn to building uber dynamic and specific visual worlds that served to heighten the emotional themes in our stories.
And how do you think your background in improv has shaped your approach as directors?
Improv is a fantastic foundation for directing in that it focuses on being in the moment, following the fun, and thinking on your feet. We’re also both people who tend to be planners and perfectionists and our years of improv helped us gain confidence in being able to execute a creative idea quickly and trust our gut instincts in the moment. We’ve found there’s so much fun and magic to be had on set when you can riff on what’s actually happening in real time and not be locked down to your perfect plan.
Your debut feature, Greener Grass, is a hysterical suburban satire, and although reviewers have drawn parallels to Desperate Housewives and David Lynch, among others, it has an original and fresh feel. What sparked the idea? And what were the biggest challenges involved in bringing it to the screen – first as a short film and then a feature?
The original seed of an idea for Greener Grass was doing a series of minute-or-so long videos where everything seems excruciatingly ordinary and mundane and then in each vignette, one very unusual thing would happen (one mom gifts another her infant daughter to be polite, a boy turns into a golden retriever etc.). And the important thing to us was that from segment to segment, whatever strange thing happened continued to have consequences and stakes.
The biggest challenges we had making the feature version of Greener Grass are our own faults as writers. The movie stars children, a baby, and a seven-month-old puppy. We couldn’t show any vehicles other than golf carts. We shot for 19 days in Georgia in August with 17 location moves, and every adult in the damn thing needed braces.
Greener Grass and your short film The Arrival both take an interesting satirical look at parenting: in Greener Grass, Jill gives her baby to Lisa on a whim, while in The Arrival an aggrieved little boy conjures up a replacement mother. Another recurring theme is the comedy of manners and the extreme lengths characters go to avoid causing social offence. What is it about these topics that interests you?
Around the time we started putting pen to paper on Greener Grass, the news, sadly, started getting, well, very Greener Grass. Adults acting like petulant children, people in power unable to see past what’s right in front of them, and a desire permeating our country both politically and culturally, to return to the “good old days”. We felt inspired to explore, not the people in power, but the polite society in this demented suburbia with its roots in those aforementioned eras of economic prosperity and social conservatism.
One observation we were interested in exploring from our own upbringings in one of these oh-so idyllic suburbs, is people’s tendency to make huge life decisions based on what they think other people want. Of course, it’s absurd in our film, when a woman gives away her baby to a friend to be polite. However, in real life, we can think of countless examples of women making decisions about what career they pursue, who they marry, even whether or not to have a child, based on what they think will make other people happy.
With The Arrival, we wanted to hold our funny mirror, if you will, up to something that can be a traumatic experience for a child that adults brush off as “normal” and even “wonderful” by putting an adult through that emotional ringer.
Hello Love, Jack O’Lantern
How do you tend to work together as a duo – do you have different skill sets?
We often tell people we’re working with to think of us as one person in that we truly do every part of the filmmaking process together. If we had to point to our different skills that compliment each other, Dawn has a background working in fine art photography and often takes the lead on frame composition and visuals, whereas Jocelyn tends to be more involved in working with the actors and exacting tone.
And how do you overcome any creative differences of opinion?
We welcome creative differences of opinion, because we both rely on each other and trust each other’s sensibilities immensely so if we’re ever not seeing something eye to eye, the exploration of our differences often helps us arrive at something even better than we started with. We do find that we are on the same page pretty much 99% of the time, which is why we’ve chosen to spend our lives connected at the hip.
Oregon PSA, Wrestler
Your Oregon PSAs on social distancing are a stark contrast to the UK’s messaging around coronavirus, which has been quite sombre in tone. What was the brief from the client and how did you approach it?
We were thrilled when we received the Oregon PSA brief because of the way in which the unique and brilliantly absurd scripts were not sombre at all in tone. We think it’s a tremendous way to confront the illogicality around life in the times of Covid-19. We like that by turning up the volume on the ridiculousness of our current reality, the Oregon PSA found a way to cut through the noise and deliver a message that strikes just the right balance of being funny, shocking, refreshing, and most importantly, informative.
Our approach was simple, we just made it our jobs to become protectors of the delicate tone that was already in the brief. There is a special art to delivering a serious message that needs to make a huge impact across the state, and potentially the entire country, with what we think is one of the most powerful tactics we have to get a wide audience to engage—first make them laugh, and then make them think.
What do you have coming up in 2021?
Like most directors at the moment, we are chomping at the bit to be on set. Currently, we spend a lot of time writing our next feature over Facetime and we have a couple of television projects in the works we’re attached to direct. It’s exciting to us that production has been opening up more and more and we are hoping to get the chance to work on more brilliant campaigns like the job we most recently did with W+K Portland.
Interview by Selena Schleh