Fresh off the release of the horror/thriller The Stairs, Cinedigm is next dabbling in the quarantine comedy world with Chris Blake’s Distancing Socially. Starring comedy veterans Alan Tudyk (Resident Alien), Sarah Levy (Schitt’s Creek), Rory Scovel (I Feel Pretty), Andy Buckley (The Office), and Jim O’Heir (Parks and Recreation), the film takes a humorous look at love, friendship, and the idea that a world of increased connectivity naturally allows for greater miscommunication. Composed of a series of comical vignettes shared across a telecommunications app, the film focuses on the everyday problems of a group of loosely connected characters that play out virtually across a world in lockdown. Jessika Van (The Messengers), Melanie Chandra (Code Black), and Connor Paolo (Gossip Girl) round out the top-billed cast. The film also stars Emma Fitzpatrick, Blythe Howard, Ted Welch, Jay Larson, Graham Outerbridge, Dawan Owens, and up-and-comers Sierra Katow, Matthew Hancock, and Willie Macc. Making a movie, virtually, is not an easy task, so we spoke to Blake about what that was like and what audiences can expect with Distancing Socially. Distancing Socially will be released on digital and On Demand October 5, 2021.
2020 was a very difficult year for filmmakers. What made you decide to take on this project during the height of the pandemic?
True. 2020 was difficult for all of us, and for that reason we wanted to put something funny and hopeful out into the world. The goal was to release it in 2020, but things took longer than we anticipated (as things tend to do since COVID has been around). But we believe the message is still relevant—maybe even more so.
You shot Distancing Socially remotely during lockdown. Logistically, can you talk about how you actually did this?
It was wild. We were buying iPhones and shipping them directly from Apple to cast in New York, Canada, and Nashville. And for the cast that lived in Los Angeles, we were driving all around LA and dropping them off on doorsteps. Then we’d rush back across town to hop on Zoom to walk them through set up. We’d set the iPhone in front of a laptop so we could see the screen, and that’s how I directed. We also walked them through cinematography that way. A lot of the cast didn’t even get to act together. They either had a stand-in, or I’d do it, or if we were lucky enough to have already shot their counterpart, we’d be able to give them some type of playback. But they had to act directly into the lens. They couldn’t see themselves or anyone else. It was definitely a unique filmmaking experience.
Cinedigm is releasing the film, how did you get connected with them?
Ross Putman over at Verve was our sales rep on this. He connected us with Cinedigm.
You solely used an iPhone 11 to shoot Distancing Socially, which is quite impressive. Why did you decide to go down that route?
Thank you. It made the most sense. The iPhone offers so many valuable options for filming, and we figured everyone was probably familiar with how to work a smart phone. Also, shipping bulky cameras around would’ve been a nightmare.
Your last feature was All Light Will End in 2018. Distancing Socially is obviously completely different than that horror film. What made you want to explore the romantic comedy world?
I think people needed/need hope. I enjoy making genre films, but that’s not where my heart was in 2020. There were already other people doing that and doing it well. I’ve always loved romantic comedies and had been wanting to make one since before we shot All Light Will End. This was a great opportunity to do that. And there are several more in the works.
Distancing Socially has an amazing cast with people like Alan Tudyk (Resident Alien) and Sarah Levy (Schittt’s Creek) starring. Why do you think this script caught their eye?
We were all dealing with a lot in 2020. Emotions were high. I think this project gave them a small outlet to use their voices, in a positive way, at a time when there weren’t a lot of creative options available to us. And everyone was excited to be a part of a team creating something in a way that hadn’t really been done.
How long did it take you to write Distancing Socially?
10-12 days for the first draft. And then it went through a couple of rounds of rewrites.
There are some people out there that might think it’s too soon for a quarantine-based movie, since we are still very much in it. What would you say to those people?
It’s not a COVID movie. It simply takes place during the lockdown. Give it a chance.
Why should people go see Distancing Socially?
It’s funny. It’s hopeful. The cast is brilliant. And it’s a lot of fun.
Thanks to Chris Blake for taking the time for this interview.