Movies

Up All Night: Talking with Director Max Nichols about His New Film ‘Two Night Stand’

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Two Night Stand, in theaters today, is a smart romantic comedy about a one-night stand that gets extended against its participants’ will when a blizzard traps them inside. The movie stars Analeigh Tipton as Megan, a recent NYU graduate adrift in New York City after her fiancé breaks their engagement, and Miles Teller as Alec, a cute guy with a cool Brooklyn apartment where the two are forced to wait out the storm. They pass the time by arguing, smoking weed, having frank discussions about sex and life, and falling for each other.

The movie is an honest and funny depiction of what it’s like to be a young adult in 2014. Megan and Alec look like hipsters, but they aren’t (Megan was a premed student, and Alec works at a bank), which is what most young adults in Brooklyn are actually like, and something that Two Night Stand gets right that most other depictions don’t. They struggle with online dating etiquette, working (or not working) at unfulfilling jobs, and figuring out what makes them happy. Tipton and Teller, who for long stretches are the only people onscreen, give charismatic, charming performances that highlight first-time screenwriter Mark Hammer’s witty script .

This is also the first film from director Max Nichols, son of legendary director Mike Nichols, whose 1967 classic The Graduate this film somewhat resembles. Nerve spoke to Max about authenticity, bronies, and how he is the only person who benefited from Hurricane Sandy.

I really enjoyed the movie. It struck me, as a guy in his twenties who lives in Brooklyn, as very authentic. 
Wow, that is high praise indeed. Thank you.

I’ve had very similar nights and conversations to the ones that the characters in the movie have. Was that kind of authenticity a concern when you were making the movie?
Yeah, absolutely. There are movies that are incidentally set in the present, and there are movies that are period pieces depicting the present day, and I was definitely interested in creating a period piece that depicted the present day. And capturing, you know, the rhythm of language and the music and the clothes and the décor and the textures of 2014, and more specifically the 2014 of people in their twenties in Brooklyn, was certainly something that I was interested in doing. It’s nice to hear that, at least in your opinion, it was a success.

A period piece set in the present day, interesting. I read the interview you did with the New Yorker, and you said that “Megan’s tattoos and nose ring in no way define her,” and I thought that was an interesting comment on how style has evolved.
We’ve arrived at an interesting time where certain signifiers that maybe once designated some kind of subcultural identity don’t really apply anymore. And it is sort of interesting, especially when as a director you start thinking about depicting fictional characters, that [with] some of the lazy shorthand of “oh, well you dress them like this, you do their hair like that,” you’re automatically giving your audience a ton of information in order to save you the work of having to establish a fully-formed three-dimensional character. I think it’s nice that a lot of that stuff doesn’t really apply anymore and you can’t necessarily make conclusions about who somebody is or what they stand for or what they’re all about just by how they look. That social evolution requires a higher standard of character, and I think that’s great.

And the actors do a very good job of conveying that, too. Was there anything that made the movie that was ad-libbed, or was it all pretty much as-written? 
Well, Mark Hammer wrote a fantastic script with a very distinct and authentic young voice, and he packed it full of a lot of great jokes and observations, sort of generational themes and truth; but at the same time, it’s exciting when you’re telling a story where your actors occupy a version of the same universe as your characters, in that they bring their own experiences, or their own language, their own rhythm, their own humor to it. Mark wrote a ton of amazing stuff, but absolutely Miles and Analeigh and Jessica [Szhor] and Scott [Mescudi] came up with a lot of really wonderful stuff that wound up in the movie as well. From a directing standpoint, to have such an amazing blueprint in Mark’s script, and then have these super-talented actors who are capable of bringing that to but also sprinkling some of their own flavor on it, you can’t really ask for more than that.

It’s an uncommonly talky movie, especially with such young actors.  
I would say a huge part of what was appealing to me [was] about how much the movie is just spent with the two of them talking to each other. That’s a very authentic depiction, in my opinion, of what it’s like when you’re first falling for someone or first getting to know someone, that maybe you’re planning to go out or do something, but then you just sit around talking, and being in each other’s company is so endlessly fascinating that you look at the clock and suddenly it’s two in the morning.

Or a really common thing at the start of many courtships is to just stay up all night talking with each other. You point to what I think is a very common assumption, the belief that if something is too talky it won’t appeal to young audiences. I don’t know any group of people who spend more time sitting around with their friends devoting hours and hours to talking about their lives and the things that they’re learning and figuring out and discovering and are excited about than people in their teens and twenties. To me, it was just a question of, “will we be able to depict this in an honest and authentic enough way that it’ll ring true for those audiences,” and I think Mark’s words and Miles and Analeigh’s performances completely delivered that.

Yeah, you talk and then you have sex and then you talk and then you have sex and that’s a lot of what it is early in relationships. 
Fortunately, many people have had the experience of when you’re first falling for someone that you stay up all night, maybe you’re drinking or smoking, you fool around, you talk some more, you listen to music, and you feel like the whole rest of the world has melted away, and suddenly you realize “oh, the sun’s coming up, the city’s coming back to life,” and you feel like your own little perfect bubble has been burst by this encroaching reality, and these characters being snowed in together is a hyper-exaggerated version of that experience. My hope was to evoke those experiences we’ve all had in the viewer. I knew that if the viewer was thinking of times that they’ve been in one of those stay-up-all-night, bubble-popping situations, that we would have gotten them in the right place for taking this trip with Megan and Alec.

I read somewhere that you filmed this during Hurricane Sandy? 
Yeah, we did. It was a wild thing where we’re making this movie about New York City being crippled by a natural disaster, and while we’re making it, New York gets crippled by a natural disaster. Production went down for a couple of days. It caused all kind of challenges with public transportation being down and people not being able to get to work and then we were losing locations because part of the city was blacked out, and there was a huge gas shortage so we couldn’t get gas for our generators or trucks. It made the already challenging feat of shooting a low-budget movie in 19 days all the more exciting.

So you didn’t shoot during the actual storm, but, like, around it. So that probably informed it, too. 
Yeah, there was this wild situation where Miles and Analeigh were staying during the length of our shoot in this building in downtown Manhattan that didn’t have power, that was blacked out along with a lot of other Manhattan neighborhoods for a week or something. They were in a situation where suddenly they found themselves holed up a couple doors down from each other with no power, no TV, no internet. So in terms of being a director and having circumstances conspire to keep everyone in the zone, that aspect of it was certainly a lucky break. Perhaps the only one.

I noticed in the first shot of the movie, there’s a condom wrapper on the nightstand. Was there a conscious decision to include that, or were you hoping that people would notice that? It’s been observed that young people now are less invested in consistently using condoms than they were in the ‘90s when you were in your twenties.
Is that true? I wasn’t aware. I was not making any specific point about the characters, or sending any sort of public service message, but if what you’re telling me is true, by all means, young people of America, wrap it up! No, but the decision in that moment was more about “how do we set the stage to give the viewer all the information of what transpired here since we’re joining this moment after the fact.”

Music is very important to the movie, too.
Absolutely. The opportunity to feature a lot music was one of the things I was really excited about.

It’s got a great Charli XCX song at the beginning. The choice that I really thought was interesting, though, was the Dramarama song “Anything, Anything.” That seems like sort of an outlier, in that it’s an ‘80s song that isn’t a huge, lasting hit that people would recognize.
That moment where Megan is dancing is one of the most outwardly or boisterously joyous moments in the movie, and I wanted it to be really inclusive for all audiences. No matter how old you were watching the movie, I wanted you to start shimmying in your seat and start tapping your foot a little bit. One of the things that I absolutely adore about that Dramarama song is that at this point it’s more than 30 years old, which seems impossible to me, but to my ears sounds as fresh as the day it was released, and I think if you played that song for someone who had never heard it and said, “this song is from the ‘80s, or the ‘90s, or last week,” that people might believe you. The notion that no matter who was watching the movie, they could share in Megan’s moment of, “oh, wait, this song! I love this song!” was a big part of what informed that choice.

[At this point, Max’s publicist interrupted to tell us that we’re almost out of time.]

Okay, real quick, are you worried that you’ll alienate bronies? 
[Laughs] I kinda thought that they’re an underrepresented group in cinema, and I was hoping that Brian Petsos’ character felt like an acknowledgement of them within our larger social landscape.

Even if it’s not a positive depiction. 
Well, it wasn’t necessarily the right moment for him and Megan, but that’s not to say that there wasn’t love for that character right around the corner at that party. I like to think that he had a happy ending.