That’s Not Me – a film that needs you
What does it take to make a feature-length comedy about broken dreams, intense sibling rivalry and rethinking your place in the world? That’s Not Me’s Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher have the answers.
By Paul Dalgarno
Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher are adept at playing several roles concurrently. They’re married to each other. They make films together – most recently their debut feature That’s Not Me, showing in selected Australian cinemas from 7 September. They co-wrote the screenplay. With two other producers, they co-produced the film. Erdstein directed it. Foulcher, who plays identical twins Polly and Amy, stars in it … twice. They’ve self-distributed it, designed the posters, and – as release-date approaches – are promoting it with everything they have.
“When you make a film at this level, you almost have to tour it like a musician tours an album,” says Erdstein. He’s lean, in a beanie, entirely focused on the job at hand. “We have to get ourselves out there as the faces of the film, and Alice in particular – she’s actually the two faces of the film.”
“Or three faces now,” says Foulcher, as double-star and promoter. She’s sitting next to Erdstein, all eyes – they smile at each other briefly, get back on point.
“Stopping now would negate everything,” says Erdstein. “Not just all the hard work that’s been put in by us, but by everyone who’s put faith in the project at every stage of production.”
That’s Not Me follows the fortunes of Polly, an emerging Australian actor who wants to make it big in Los Angeles. She looks the part and, as she likes to remind her agent, her housemates and anyone else who will listen, can really, really act. But so can her identical twin, Amy, who lands a dream role in a new HBO show starring Jared Leto, with whom she falls into a tabloid-friendly celebrity romance.
Big-name directors duly begin falling over themselves to capitalise on Amy’s cachet and “unique look”, while Polly, with fading parental support and plummeting self-belief, has to choose between giving up entirely or imitating her sister for romantic and professional gain.
The film had its world premiere in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, its Australian premiere in June at the Sydney Film Festival, and recently played to sell-out audiences at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Foulcher, rightly, has been highly praised for her performance(s). She appears in every scene, walking a tightrope between laugh-out-loud comedy and relatable tragedy. It’s a role rich in hubris, pride, vulnerability and empathy. That Foulcher can communicate all of those while remaining believable – and funny – is testament to her range and talent.
The only downside so far has involved those three hardest words: Australian, indie and comedy.
“People have such a cringe over Australian films,” says Foulcher. “The fact that it’s indie, they think it’s going to be shit. The fact it’s a comedy, they think it’s going to be that big, broad style Australian comedy, when it’s really not. It’s a much gentler, quieter film.”
Erdstein nods. “A lot of the reviews have been really positive, but they’ve sometimes been couched in terms of, ‘It wasn’t as shit as I thought’.”
Both laugh but I get the sense that neither is joking. Gallows humour runs as freely through their real-life dialogue as it does through the script of That’s Not Me, which Foulcher describes as a “feelgood film about disappointment”.
“The message of the film is that realigning your goals and dreams might not be such a bad thing,” she says. “I was talking to an actor friend recently who’s going through a bit of a hard patch, and I realised I couldn’t just say, ‘Hang in there, you’ll make it someday’, because it might not happen. But there’s actually something really liberating about getting to that point of saying, ‘Well, if the industry is some kind of deaf machine and it owes you nothing, then there’s no kind of expectation on yourself’.”
It’s hard to believe the film, shot in Melbourne and LA, was made on a budget of $60,000. And not because it looks a million dollars – I’d put it closer to six or seven. I’m guessing nobody got paid.
“Really?” says Foulcher, laughing. “You guessed that?”
“Everyone worked on deferred contracts,” says Erdstein, “which means they’ll get paid if the film goes into profit. But obviously that doesn’t help people who had to work for weeks at a time, like the production designer and the costume designer, so we paid their rent, just trying to make sure they wouldn’t be out of pocket.”
Erdstein and Foulcher met while studying a Master of Film and TV (Narrative) in 2008 at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). Isabel Lucas, of Home and Away and Transformers fame, who brings understated comic talent to her supporting role in That’s Not Me, met Foulcher while studying in the VCA Drama short course program in 2007. Erdstein met the film’s cinematographer Shelley Farthing-Dawe during a VCA student shoot. The film’s co-producers Anna Kojevnikov and Sally Storey are VCA graduates, as is the film’s costume designer Sophie Hayward and executive producer Robert K. Potter.
“In some ways, it’s a VCA feature film,” says Erdstein. “A lot of us had come through the VCA at the same time, which was great. It meant we were all on the same level, we were all hungry.”
Both refer to That’s Not Me as a “favour film”, made with the understanding that favours go both ways. “One of the keys after finishing film school is to keep on making,” says Erdstein. “And if you’re not making your own work, you’ve got to help other people make theirs. I do a lot of work as an assistant director and give up my time to help other people, so when we call on those people for help they’re happy to do it.”
Being nice helps, says Foulcher. “I think you can’t overstate the importance of just not being an arsehole,” she says. “Some people behave like their graduating film is some kind of defining expression of them as an artist, and that it gives them a free pass to behave badly. But we’re not saving lives, we’re entertaining people. You shouldn’t have to step on your mother’s neck to get your film made.”
Beyond hard work, patience and, ideally, some luck, there are no silver bullets – a lesson Polly in That’s Not Me would do well to be mindful of.
“She talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk,” says Foulcher. “She’s blindly going through something that she’s said she wants to do, become an actor, but she hasn’t stopped to ask if she actually enjoys it. Instead of, say, putting on a show with friends and making something happen she’s waiting by the phone for work to come to her.”
Being plucked from obscurity and elevated to stardom, though an appealing idea, rarely happens.
“We wanted to provide a reality check on that whole dream,” says Erdstein. “At the beginning of the year, when we’d just finished That’s Not Me, we saw La La Land. When the lights went up I turned to Alice and said, ‘Oh, I think we’ve made the anti-La La Land’.” Maybe [La La Land screenwriter] Damien Chazelle, as an Oscar-nominated writer and director, was coming from the perspective of ‘Well of course, everyone makes it’. But for us, as bottom-feeders from Melbourne, we’re looking at it differently.”
One message they’re wary of communicating is that films like That’s Not Me can, or should, be made on the smell of an oily rag.
“It’s not a good model,“ says Foulcher.
“Not paying people isn’t great,” says Erdstein.
“No, we can’t keep doing that,” says Foulcher.
The pair work well as a double-act. They co-wrote That’s Not Me in Paris, during an eight-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts, though not sitting side by side, says Foulcher. “One of us would write something, we’d talk, we’d go for walks, we’d talk about it a bit more, then pass a scene back and forth.” Which might make it difficult to know who wrote what – especially the really good bits.
Erdstein agrees. “Yesterday I was talking about the great job I did writing a joke, and Alice had to remind me that she’d written it.”
“It was one of the newspaper headlines in the film,” says Foulcher. “Oliver’s Twist of Fate. We were talking about how funny it was and he goes, ‘I know, thank you,’ and I was like, ‘No, actually, I thought of that’.”
“We share the same brain,” says Erdstein. But, as with all brains, there are opposing hemispheres. “You can see the clash of both of our dispositions in real life and our sensibilities as filmmakers in every scene of That’s Not Me,” he says. “Alice is very bright and sunny and optimistic, and I’m … pragmatic. Alice would say ‘cynical’. There are lots of false starts for Polly in the film, where you see her optimism being cut off at the knees by cynicism and pragmatism and real life and …”
I wonder what the ideal end-game is for them both, whether, like Polly, a Hollywood career is the ultimate benchmark of success.
“I think we’d actually prefer to keep living in Melbourne,” says Erdstein. “Although, I have a US passport, so there’s a very real possibility we could go over there.”
“I want to see more Australian comedies with female leads,” says Foulcher. “If you think about it, after Muriel’s Wedding there’s not a huge amount of them.”
As a writer and actor, she acknowledges she has the skills to make a difference and says that the paucity of female stories was a driving force behind the script for That’s Not Me.
“In 2014, when we were writing it, I went to see the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel. I remember looking at the poster with all the characters – about 17 of them, I think, and like three chicks. That needs to change. As practitioners, we need to be able to put our money where our mouth is and help make it happen. I mean, our film passes the Bechdel Test three times in the first five minutes.”
The big fear is that people won’t get to see that philosophy in action. The marketing and distribution spend for even the lowliest of Hollywood arthouse films would outstrip the entire filming, production and marketing budget of That’s Not Me many times over. And getting people along to see it on its opening weekend, from 7 September, is critical to its cinematic fortunes.
“That’s what we’re up against,” says Erdstein.
“Basically, going to see it on the Monday or Tuesday is leaving it too late,” says Foulcher. “Because they look at the box office figures on the Monday morning after the opening weekend.”
What about hitting up Jared Leto? I suggest. I mean, Amy is actually dating him in the film, is she not, and he has about four million Twitter followers?
“We continue to like his posts on Instagram,” says Foulcher.
“We retweet him every now and again,” says Erdstein. “It’s a very flattering portrait of him in the film.”
“Maybe that’s it,” says Foulcher. “We need Jared Leto to help us.”
She taps the table, makes to stand. Erdstein follows suit. There’s a film to promote, more work to do.
For your chance to win a double pass to see That’s Not Me, and/or signed promotional posters, email Precinct with your preference (tickets/poster), and the subject line: That’s Not Me.
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Main Image: Alice Foulcher in a film still from That’s Not Me. Supplied.