by Hiko Mitsuzuka
“…she’s nasty on set, and she’s a whore.”
Actress-writer Tara Karsian is jokingly attempting to get a reaction out of her costar (and real-life BFF) Andrea Grano as she pulls up a chair to join our conversation on a Monday night in the middle of the lobby of the Directors Guild of America on Sunset Boulevard. It's one of many instances in which the two actresses display their charismatic banter and knack for playfully prodding each other.
Outfest, LA's long-running LBGT film festival, has just begun, yet the stars/writers of BFFs are already experiencing film festival fatigue. Having finished a whirlwind press tour with the film, the women are doing their best to find some peace and quiet amidst the chaos. "We're so tired" seems to be a common phrase they've been uttering to themselves all week.
BFFs takes a hilarious and heartwarming snaphot of what happens when two straight best friends, the just-broken-up Kat (Karsian) and serial dater Samantha (Grano), pretend to be lesbians in order to take advantage of a free couples weekend workshop. If it sounds a tad similar to a certain MTV hit series (Faking It), think again. Instead of focusing on the fickle (and fluid) preferences of youth, BFFs carefully blurs the lines of friendship and addresses the basic, human desires between women of a certain age.
“We talked a lot about this," Karsian recalls, "that if this were made with two 25-year-olds, with the exact same script, it’d be a totally different film…But I do think when women our age – if there was a questioning – probably the most likely character to question would be your best friend. Someone you’re, for lack of a better term, intimate with – because friendships are intimate. Sometimes you’re more intimate with your friends than you are with the person you’re with because you talk about things like that, and you don’t have to walk on eggshells.”
Just like any independent production, it was a long and arduous uphill climb to get the film made. "We had a lot of line producers say, 'Don't even bother,'" remembers Grano, referring to the budgets they had to formulate to fit the story. There were also the requisite setbacks...like that time they lost their Malibu location for a day due to a mix-up with the vacation rental office they used to find their dream house for the couples workshop sessions. "Andrea had a total 12-year old meltdown," Karsian recalls.
Another setback: uncooperative eyelashes.
Karsian recalls the very first scene on the very first day of shooting: “There was so much glue on my false eyelashes, that literally it [blinking] was like slo-mo,” Tara says. “I had drag queen lashes on.”
“We pissed ourselves laughing,” Grano chuckles.
“It was horrible…these motherfuckers were so long, and they put so much glue…”
“But the one that kept sticking…"
“The costume assistant didn’t know that she needed to cut the drag queen lashes, so this mother, which weighed five pounds – when I would blink, her hair would blow. That’s how big they were.”
“It’s true,” Andrea says, stifling another laugh.
With over two decades of film and TV experience between them, Grano and Karsian, as producers, prided themselves on making sure things ran smoothly for their cast and crew. "We never went over 12 hours. We really wanted our crew to be treated well," Grano says.
And when things wouldn't go according to plan, the women avoided playing the roles of Good Producer/Bad Producer by creating "Alice," an imaginary, tough-as-nails co-producer who could take all the flack. Got a problem with craft services? Take it up with Alice. Don't like the shooting schedule? Complain to Alice. I soon volunteer to help on their next project and pose as Alice's assistant, and we immediately come up with a grand scheme.
Karsian looks at Grano and says, “We’d have to give him a really fabulous name though.”
“He already has one.”
The conversation continues to go off on tangents like this, and since there are no publicists hovering over us with time limits -- rarely the case during interviews -- the three of us go with the proverbial flow, shifting the talk to Gone Girl (my paperback peeks out of my bag, and I urge them to read it before the movie comes out) and their experience with raising funds on Indiegogo. "It was horrible," Grano says, "but at the end of the day, we raised exactly that number and did it for exactly that number. It was voodoo witch stuff…Maybe I’m a powerful witch woman too-"
“You’re not,” Karsian cuts in.
When Andrea Met Tara: The two actresses crossed paths when Tara needed an actor for a play she was directing. A mutual friend recommended Andrea. Cut to: 11 years later, and they’re filmmaking partners and actual BFFs.
Soon director Andrew Putschoegl drops by, and the conversation switches back to movies, particularly of the horror genre. Grano, a fan, admits to never seeing Sleepaway Camp, and I avoid spoiling the surprise ending for her.
But back to the film...Would BFFs work with two straight guys? Or would it be something completely different?
Grano: “I have a lot of straight friends from a small town who believe that if you kissed a guy, you’re gay. Whereas a woman can kiss a woman, and it can be experimental, it can be questioning. I think there’s a mentality in society that…I think you can be bisexual if you’re a man, and people accept that, but secretly, a lot of guys who don’t know a lot of gay or bisexual people believe you’re really not bisexual. So it’d be harder to believe that a man, especially one who’s not 18 and in college, could be questioning like that. I think that’s societal.”
Karsian: “Men’s friendships are different. I’m not saying they’re any less important, but I do think it’s a very different thing. I think women’s friendships, especially when you get older, leans away from superficiality. You cut out the bullshit."
Putschoegl remembers a conversation he had with a well-known film distributor: “The guy who took a look at the trailer watched the movie and said, ‘Oh, it’s a great concept. But there are no big stars. We can’t sell it…but, if you recast it with men and cast it up – like, get a Hugh Jackman in there or someone – try that, do a sequel.”
“It’s a totally different movie with men," Grano reacts. "And you know what he’s saying basically -- and this is another problem with our industry -- that men are more bankable. Because why didn’t he say ‘Do it with Sandra Bullock and Drew Barrymore?’ Then I can say, ‘Okay, I get it. They’re an easier sell than us.’”
But if the basic concept were to remain intact with two female household names, I ask, would the movie be altered for a more general audience?
“They would try to do another I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," assumes Putschoegl, referring to the Adam Sandler-Kevin James comedy from 2007. "And that’s not what this movie and this story could ever be.”
“It would have to be like they were bamboozled into thinking they had an attraction," Grano chimes in.
When the two women initially showed their script around, they were told to sell it. But they were wary of placing the material in the hands of those who could compromise the film's inherent message, its essence. Hence why they took on the enormous responsiblity of bringing it to life themselves.
“The friendship Andrea and I have, I think two actresses could definitely act in these roles," Karsian muses, "but they’re not going to have the built-in history…I mean, I just watched a film about two best friends, and it was very obvious to me that they were two actresses.”
“No matter how good the acting was, you could just tell," Grano adds.
“I don’t know if you noticed this, but we bicker a lot. We banter."
We noticed. And we love it.
- Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)