An interview with Writer/Director & Tisch Alum Desiree Akhavan
Check out Akhavan’s new film Appropriate Behavior at Fusion’s Launch Event Thursday November 13th @ 7pm!
What were the challenges and benefits of shooting in New
York, specifically Brooklyn?
The biggest challenge is how much people in New York hate anything
that interferes with their personal space. Nobody’s impressed that you’re
making a movie and that the dude from 30 ROCK agreed to be in it, they
just want you to get the fuck out of their way. One man literally booed at
me during a take.
Brooklyn is almost a character unto itself in the film – how did
the many idiosyncrasies of the borough affect the narrative?
We follow Shirin as she moves from Park Slope to Bushwick, the shift
marking her transition from half of a stable couple to an impulsive wreck.
Within Brooklyn, I’ve lived in Park Slope, Crown Heights & Bed-Stuy and I
found that each neighborhood subtly pushed me into adopting a
completely different lifestyle. The current state of gentrification in Brooklyn
seems to afford twenty-somethings the luxury of jumping from one
neighborhood to another as they try on different personalities for size.
Within these different zip codes I found that Bushwick is the most
conducive to those in transition and a bit reckless.
How did you go about casting your actors?
I worked with casting director Allison Twardziak who understood both the
world and the tone of the film perfectly. In fact, on our first day of working
together she showed me the Facebook profiles of the friends she thought
might be right for the film and, after weeks of auditions, many of them
ended up being cast.
What were your influences in making the film?
While writing I looked at films by Woody Allen, Julie Delpy, Sarah Polley & Noah Baumbach. To me, these filmmakers do a fantastic job of shifting tone. In my experience, life is always slipping back and forth between comedic farce and tragic melodrama, so I appreciate it when films get the balance right and make it feel truthful. I emulate work that lives in the messy grey area, where there are no clear villains or heroes.
What was the writing process like and how much improv was involved?
For me, writing is re-writing. I wrote the first draft in a month and then
worked with my producer, Cecilia Frugiuele, for a year to get it right.
Cecilia is a very chic & professional Italian woman who just happens to
understand my crude, borderline-disgusting humor perfectly. We spent
many hours reading the script out-loud and gleaning our memories for
juicy anecdotes that would service the story. I like to act out the different
characters as we go. There were very little improvisation involved.
How did your web series “The Slope” inspire or grow into the
It was the process of making the show that changed my perspective on
directing a feature from something I needed to be given permission to do
to something I could make happen for myself. We started out with
absolutely no budget and nobody to please and ended up creating
something people loved. The experience allowed me to let go of the selfdoubt
I had been holding onto since the beginning of film school (and the
mental check-list I had devised of what makes for a successful film: 35mm,
name talent, genocide featured in the subject matter) and follow my
instincts. I used the same approach when creating this film.
Can you discuss how filmmaking has become somewhat of a
therapeutic outlet for you or a means of expression?
When I was 14, I was voted The Ugliest Girl at my high school. There was
an actual contest and I actually won it. Two years later I wrote a play
about it and performed it for the school. It was an incredibly powerful
experience because from that point on the ugliest girl contest wasn’t just
this crappy thing that happened to me, but something I had used to
express myself and illustrate to an audience of people what it felt like to
be me at age sixteen. That was when I learnt that the best way to react
any kind of shaming was to re-appropriate it.
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR is a very universal film on love,
acknowledging a level of adulthood, and the challenges in life
faced with humor. Did you face any concerns with it getting
pigeonholed as a “gay film”, if not, why the film supersedes
I don’t. Perhaps I’m naive. I just think that funny is funny and the film is
about so much more than sexuality.
As a female Iranian-American filmmaker, do you feel pressure
to become a role model to those who cannot see a type of
road that you have successfully paved for yourself?
No. Every person establishes their own personal standard of integrity and
tries to stick to it, beyond that there’s nothing I can do. If I were to get
caught up in what people thought of me or what kind of influence I may
have (positive or negative) I fear I’d either become too scared to
continue making films or transform into a pretentious prick.
What are you most excited about at Sundance this year?
I’m dying to know how people will react to the film. I have very little perspective at this point,
but I know for sure it’s unlike anything I’ve ever
seen and I can’t wait to see how an audience will respond to it.