Boundaries had its world premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival and Electric Bento had the opportunity to sit down with writer – director Shana Feste and actors Lewis MacDougall and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. We discussed the writing process, elegant bookends in an antique bookstore, being wise beyond your years and the intimacy of shooting in a Jaguar.
It was a bright, sunny day in Austin, TX. The smell of fresh paint greeted me as I walked in to the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to meet Shana Feste, director of her latest dramedy, Boundaries which opens in theaters today. Lewis MacDougall, who plays Henry, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who plays Serge joined us. Vera Farmiga who plays the lead, Laura was unable to join us, but she gave an eloquent speech the night prior during the film’s Q&A.
Since Boundaries hit me square in the chest, I felt it incumbent to say that I really enjoyed the film. Shana was quite pleased to hear that. As the film’s writer, I complimented her on the rich characters and the stunning performances she got out of such a diverse cast.
She had mentioned in the Q&A that she set out to make a personal drama and I found that it developed into a comedy with the cast she was able to assemble. She laughed saying, “I’m not a comedy writer. My body of work is very heavy on romance and melodrama.” Continuing with a little bravura, “This definitely is not what I want to do. Initially it felt like a challenge to me.” She turns to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Lewis MacDougal as she says, “I don’t know if you guys feel like this in your careers, once you do one thing, ‘you stay in that lane’ especially as a female filmmaker.”
They both agreed. I even nodded in agreement (because it’s true.)
She brightened up as she continues, “I could live in the YA (Young Adult) love story space for the rest of my career and people would be very happy with that. So, if I want to do something different, I need to write it myself.” She chuckled when she mentioned, “I don’t think anybody gets a comedy [script] and says, ‘what about Shana Feste for this? She’d be perfect.’ I’d like to write my own comedy.”
She reminisced about comedy in her prior films, “I just remember, even in my dramas, I’d play them at festivals and I’d get that first laugh, it always felt so good. ‘I’m glad I wrote that joke there.’ It’s such a nice release for the audience.”
Ms. Feste mentioned in her Q&A that the source of Boundaries was her father (played in the film by the eminent Oscar-winner, Christopher Plummer). “My father is incredibly funny and he always made me laugh, so I knew there was going to be a lot of humor in this. I don’t want people to walk away [thinking] ‘oh, that was a cute little comedy. What’s next?’”
Comedy is rooted in trauma, drama or pain and Ms. Feste is no exception. “The source of the comedy was pain from some childhood trauma that I wanted to explore. I knew it needed to have more than just to be a sweet little comedy even though the ‘sweet little comedy’ was the easiest part to write. I knew I had to take it a step further and investigate my own anger.”
I complimented Ms. Feste on the nuances of Boundaries, especially in the interactions between characters. I discussed the fact most of the film is a road trip and that when you get into an intimate space like a car, you can use a wide angle lens to create the intimacy of a road trip, building the dramatic subtext on top of the comedic material.
I turned to Lewis MacDougall for my follow-up question because his character frequently has the most hilarious interactions with Mr. Plummer and I asked him what it was like to act with him.
“Yeah, he was great. He was just nominated for an Oscar (for All the Money in the World). I had a lot of scenes with him because we were sneaking around everyone else.” Mr. MacDougall was complimentary saying, “he always made me feel at ease, even though I was star struck at first and intimidated. I mean, its CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER. I learned a lot from him.”
I tapped into Mr. MacDougall’s at ease comment about Mr. Plummer as I note that he has a very old soul, adding that he came across the screen as being very experienced (for a fourteen year old). I noted that it was a nice counterbalance to Mr. Plummer’s child-like performance. I included Ms. Feste in the remainder of my comments as I mentioned that I thought Mr. MacDougall’s performance enriched the story far beyond its intended years and that I appreciated it.
Mr. MacDougall’s reaction was priceless. I don’t think he expected to hear that, but he regained his composure very quickly, thanking me for the compliment. Mr. Mateen added that he thought it was a great observation.
As Serge, Mr. Mateen had the fewest scenes in Boundaries, but his presence is felt throughout the entire film as a friend at first and a potential romance. I likened his role to being in an antique bookshop with an elegant bookend on either side of the road trip. His character, and by extension his performance, delineates Laura’s struggles at the beginning of the film and the aforementioned relationship that will happen after the story ends.
Mr. Mateen took my commentary in stride, a smile on his face. “As a character, I think Serge has an extremely big heart. He was thinking about [Laura] along the way. I’d like to think that he picked up the phone a few times and they had a conversation [off camera] or he wanted to pick up the phone and thought, ‘nah, I don’t think I can do that.’ He saw something in her that made him want to be a little closer. It’s a great compliment and a testament to Shana’s writing and vision on the character and the story also.”
I completely agreed saying that one of the best moments in the film is when Serge acknowledges the future relationship when he fell in love with the dogs, that he related to Laura (Vera Farmiga). It was at that moment that I acknowledged how excited I was about that scene because Mr. Mateen’s performance was exceptionally strong. “Thank you. Really good directors, writers and acting partners make the job fun to do.”
Ms. Feste adds on to this point. “I think it was a bit of wish fulfillment. I am an animal rescuer. I am in control of what’s on the page and I get to write my own dream guy. That one shot of Yahya, when you’re holding all the animals and the car is driving away, that’s my dream guy. He’s talking on all my broken animals and still smiling.”
Laughter all around ensued.
I shared in the thought by suggesting that that relationship is like any one of us walking down the street and I make eye contact with someone and we walk past each other, we then turn around look at them and there’s a connection. The rear view mirror in the scene Ms. Feste described is that connection.
My final comment surrounded a series of scenes that mirrored each other. One of the scenes was in a motel where the long shot is centered on two arcadia (sliding patio) doors, one is open the other is closed, but you can see both Ms. Farmiga and Mr. Plummer. Towards the end of the film, there is a similarly staged shot with Ms. Farmiga and Mr. MacDougall from behind the actors. I mentioned to Ms. Feste that what I had observed was that Jack (Plummer) was genuinely willing to be open, to rekindle his relationship with Laura, but she was not willing to do so, hence the closed door. The same shot later on with Laura and Henry (MacDougall) embracing one another, shows signs of their rekindled relationship between mother and son. I concluded my commentary by saying that I thought it brought the characters full circle.
Ms. Feste appreciated the compliment saying, “The motel was not initially my idea. But when I saw it with the anamorphic lens and I saw that we could still see Vera and Chris, I stopped everything and lit both rooms so that we could see their lives going on. I’m glad you caught that.”
I shared with her that I thought it was a brilliant choice and that I was glad she stuck with the shot.
I am 1400 words into this written article for an interview that lasted 10 minutes and I don’t think I’ve ever had a director embrace me following our conversation. It was an absolute joy speaking with Shana Feste, Lewis MacDougall and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. I’d like to thank Sony Pictures Classics for the opportunity. Boundaries is in theaters now.