Babysplitters follows two L.A. couples with mixed feelings about having kids as they hatch a plan to share one baby.
Writer and director Sam Friedlander stops by on Close-up Culture to talk about his comedy ahead of its screenings at the Raindance Film Festival in London (28 and 29 September). For more info
Q: This is your first time writing a feature as well as directing it. How did you find the writing process on ‘Babysplitters’?
A: I loved it. For me, doing independent film is really about exercising your voice and there’s no better way to do that than writing. Directing is about executing a vision, but writing is the blueprint.
Having written the script, it was easier to communicate with actors about their intentions, motivations, and key story points. All in all, I much prefer directing material that I’ve written.
Q: ‘Babysplitters’ is based on the fairly absurd premise of two couples sharing a child. What inspired this premise?
A: Well, there are certainly some elements of my real life in there. I never considered splitting a baby, but many of those conversations about the concerns of having a child are ones I’ve had in my current and previous relationships.
I’ve also seen a lot of friends have kids and have their lives turned upside down, which was the inspiration for the scene at Brad and Marie’s house, where the children have completely taken over. I decided to take all of those thoughts, ideas, and fragments of conversations and find a fun concept in which to explore them.
It just popped into my head one day: this whole proposition of children wouldn’t be quite as scary if I could still maintain some semblance of my previous life. So what if two couples decided to try to have the “best of both worlds”.
Q: Does the absurd premise set the tone for the rest of the film? Do things get more bizarre or is it more rooted in reality?
A: In executing the script, my overall goal was to balance out the absurd premise by always trying to make things grounded — in performances, production design, lighting, etc. I felt that the only way to keep people emotionally involved was to make this feel like the most real version of an unreal idea.
At every turn, when most people would cancel the plan, these characters keep doubling down and digging themselves into a deeper hole. I really consider this movie more of a comedy/drama hybrid than a pure comedy. I really wanted to explore the fears, trials, and tribulations of having a child through a comedic lens, but I wanted to make a film that was grounded and maintained a sense of heart.
Some of my favourite movies ever are comedies with drama. The comedy disarms the audience a bit, and if they are on-board with your story and characters, then you can try to infuse real emotion into the story.
One of the things you see with a lot of the studio comedies today is that the first act is a great setup, the second act is very funny, but then the third act falls apart trying to rush to a resolution. One thing I am very proud of with this film is that for a lot of the audiences that have seen it, they tell me the third act is the one they enjoy the most.
Q: I’ve heard statistics about people having less children and starting families later in life. Why do you feel a growing number of people are non-committal when it comes to having kids?
A: I think that trend is very prevalent in cities, and I think economics has a lot to do with it. It used to be that one person could support a family of 4 on one income. But now in most couples, both people work and this creates challenges and delays the starting of a family.
I also think that it is much more acceptable these days to pursue your passion or dream job — and in many ways that leads people to postpone having children for fear that it will prevent them from achieving that.
Q: I heard high praise of the cast. What were they like to work with? How did they engage with the film’s tone and concept?
A: The cast was amazing to work with — all of them. They committed 100% and kept things real and grounded. I think that all of them were able to relate to both sides of the concept — the desire to be a parent but also the fears of parenthood, and this gave them the ability to play things realistically and find motivation for their characters trying so hard to make this plan work.
Q: Your wife Julia found out she was pregnant as you started prep for film. Has fatherhood changed your perspective on ‘Babysplitters’ in any way?
A: Very much so. As a dad now, I know I could never write this script.
All the fears I had of being a parent are completely different than the fear I have now — I’m not worried about the things I thought I would be. I’m more worried about my son bumping his head than I am about my ability to go meet friends for a beer on a weeknight.
I was lucky that I was able to make this movie in three phases, essentially — writing it as a non-parent, directing it as an expecting-parent, and doing post-production an actual-parent. It wasn’t planned this way — just perfectly serendipitous. At each phase I had a new perspective and was able to induce that into the execution of the story.
Q: ‘Babysplitters’ will have its UK premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London. What can the audiences expect?
A: Wow, I don’t know. I hope the audience relates to it as much as U.S. audiences have been. So far it has been relatable to people of all ages and backgrounds.
I think one of the things I tried to do with the script was to give an “in” to people with all different types of viewpoints and experiences with children. Couples considering having a baby obviously relate, but so do current parents, past parents, and even those that have decided not to have kids. I try to never judge one path or the other, but rather to explore all the motivations that people have for and against parenthood.
I’m so curious if there is anything that is lost in cultural translation. I sort of assume that many of the fears and ideas the movie explores are universal across cultures… but I guess we’ll see as we roll the movie out all over the world!
You can see ‘Babysplitters’ at the Raindance Film Festival in London (28 and 29 September). For more info