The worst thing to happen to young love? Getting old.
To follow her debut film, A Teacher, about an illicit romance between student and teacher, writer/director Hannah Fidell again turns her lens to love. But Fidell's new film, 6 Years, offers a more common scene: Two college-aged high school sweethearts are madly in love but unsure how to adapt their relationship to adulthood.
Mel (American Horror Story's Taissa Farmiga) is a junior, while Dan (Boardwalk Empire's Ben Rosenfield) will soon graduate college and is contemplating a move to Brooklyn. Naturally, it's straining their Austin-based relationship. Plus, he interns at a record label with Amanda (Lindsay Burdge), an attractive woman who shares his interest in music. It's a tough, but familiar situation. "Everyone on set had experiences like this and could really relate to it," says Fidell. "For a lot of people, it was very cathartic on set."
To help capture the feeling of late college, early adulthood, Fidell relied heavily on her own experiences. "I wanted it to feel very much like where I went to college in Bloomington," says Fidell. "I pulled out some of my old photos for the production designers to essentially copy the way that we had decorated our rooms in college, even my boyfriend's room." Much of the rest of the film grew organically. "I gave the actors and everyone a 40-page outline. It had some key dialogue. A lot of it was images, which is part of my writing process," says Fidell. "I spent quite a bit of time with the actors, getting to know their characters, getting to know their backstory. And we came up with all of that together and just hung out. I thought that was the best kind of rehearsal we could have done."
For the script, Fidell took a cue from executive producers Jay and Mark Duplass, co-creators of HBO's Togetherness (and the producers, together or individually, of four SXSW 2015 films). "I very much wanted to do something in the style of the Duplass brothers. Just as a way for me to expand and test my limits as a filmmaker," says Fidell. "This film was mostly improv, and that's something that I hadn't done before, and something they do quite often. So it was a whole new way of filmmaking for me." This style change left its mark on the filming process as well. With the actors more or less having "free rein," Fidell says she shot the film "much more like a documentary."
When Mark Duplass first approached Fidell to make what would be 6 Years, he offered the idea of a young-adult domestic abuse narrative. While that theme may not take center stage, it remains a haunting undercurrent that bubbles over several times in startling ways. "I didn't want to make something so obvious as, they're drinking and they beat each other up. I just can't think that way," says Fidell. "I wanted to do something where you're unsure if it's abuse." This is one of the reasons 6 Years never feels too nostalgic or too saccharine sweet. There's something truly off about Dan and Mel's relationship. "I wanted to make it unsettling in that you see yourself in these people," says Fidell. "And yet they're doing things and fighting in a way that is so unhealthy and so wrong."
Narrative Competition, World Premiere
6 Years Saturday, March 14, 1:30pm, Alamo Ritz Sunday, March 15, 9:45pm, Rollins Friday, March 20, 11am, Topfer