When it comes to taking on a lot in a project, directors, writers, and actors Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek take the cake. When getting ready to make their movie The Breaker Upperers, they decided wearing all three hats was the best way to go about doing that. Sami and van Beek talked to Bleeding Cool at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2018 about how they came up with the idea of two women running a company where they help break up couples and how it’s ripe for comedy.
Van Beek: It was like, 2013, and I was just thinking about the level of dread that people have when they realize they have the break up with their partner and how many conversations with friends I’ve had about that. And I just thought it’d be funny to create a story about a couple of women who take that responsibility over for people. If you could outsource that responsibility, wouldn’t that just be a much easier and more cowardly life to lead? And then I rang up Madeleine and said, “do you want to co-write on this idea?” And so we wrote on and off for four years before we were in production.
Sami: I just thought it was a brilliant premise. I just got excited straight away. I personally love very naughty subjects like that to make a comedy out of. I love the chance to do something kind of naughty.
Van Beek: There’s a lot of silliness in this film. We both enjoy being very silly together on screen.
The chemistry between these two is very obvious — not only on screen but when you see the two of them in person. It turns out that they’ve known each other for years.
Van Beek: Yeah, like 20 years. We’ve been friends for 20 years. We were born on the same day. Four years apart, but we do share a birthday.
When it comes to the various challenges they faced during this production, it was insanity from day one. They started writing while there was an entire ocean between them and went on to take on the roles of directors, writers, and stars — which meant a lot of compromising and a lot of quick decision making.
Van Beek: Well, when we started writing we were living in different countries. Madeleine was in LA and I was in Auckland [New Zealand], so it was a bit tricky, but then Madeleine spent more and more time in New Zealand as we progressed the script.
Doing all three roles was a bit of a circus. In a good way, in a fun way, but it was a circus. Doing rewrites, as we were also acting and also directing, so [we were] jumping in front of the camera and then behind the camera. Especially when we were both on screen both in front of the camera. Then because we’re separate human beings, we have we combined our vision, but we’re still separate human beings with our own brain. So it was about very quickly making decisions together unifying our vision, comprising–
Sami: Having the quick chats about having the three things going on. I feel like the directing was the trickiest because we had to be in the scene, and you have to be in the moment as an actor and forget directing when you’re in that moment. You can’t be thinking “oh my god, is this the right shot or frame?” when you’re in a scene. I found it quite hard to switch that directing mind off sometimes. It was great in the scenes where we weren’t in it together because we could actually just direct each other, which was great.
But also in pre-production we… you know, we’re low budget. We could have done with another week shooting and another week’s pre-production — because we were in meetings about writing or directing, then we wouldn’t be able to get to a costume fitting. The acting part. Jackie was smart; she would sneak out of our directors’ meetings and I’d [be] like, “where’s Jackie?”
It turns out that ducking out was probably a good idea, because there were other sections of the movie that were having trouble — such as their costume designer being unable to get the stars in fittings.
Van Beek: It was only because the head of department costume designer was beside herself that she couldn’t get us in to actually put the clothes on us.
Sami: Flash forward to like three weeks up, and I’m on set going, “I haven’t worked I’ve don’t know what I’m wearing, and we actually haven’t decided on the costume for this yet.” I’m freaking out and putting a thing on, it’s like — I should have been sneaking out. But you just don’t know how stretched you are going to be until you’re kind of in it. And then the next time we need that extra week.
Despite the insanity of working three jobs, both women didn’t regret it. Despite the work and the insanity, it was a ton of fun for both of them.
Sami: That’s the thing is, you’re doing so many things and then other people are relying on you to do their thing, and you need to be able to make the time.
Van Beek: With an extra week, it would have made their jobs a little easier.
Sami: And ours — but it was a super fun. Crazy, super fun.
Van Beek: It was fun. I always looked forward going to work. You know, the alarm would go off at 4 a.m. sometimes and I still thought, “oh, good.”