by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Stories that deal with psychological conditions can be difficult to craft and even more challenging to execute. Creating a protagonist who doesn’t become a victim and who the audience enjoys spending time with are only a few of the difficulties filmmakers can run into.
Director Monty Whitebloom’s latest project, Love is Blind — which he co-directed with Andy Delaney — manages to navigate these treacherous possibilities while maintaining the emotional heart at the core of the story.
The film centers on a woman with selective perception who cannot see her mother and is then prescribed by her psychiatrist to spend time with a suicidal man that has fallen in love with her — but who she cannot see either.
LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher talked with Whitebloom about how he managed to bring the story to the screen.
John Bucher: How were you introduced to this story? Where did the idea come from?
Monty Whitebloom: I knew the screenwriter, Jennifer Schuur, who was an old friend and colleague. I read her script and thought it was really interesting. So I met her for breakfast and asked, “Where did this idea come from?” Exactly what you’ve asked me.
She said, “Well, you know, I’ve got the worst relationship ever with my mother.” When she was really young, her mother just disappeared and they didn’t know where she’d gone. She had two younger siblings, and her mother just disappeared for a couple of years. Little did she know that her mom had ended up going on tour with Bruce Springsteen for two years.
She reappeared two years later and said, “I’m back now.” [Her mother’s] answer was, I never had a youth, because I had the two kids. So, it was my chance to have a great experience.
On the basis of that, Jennifer came up with this idea of a young woman not being able to see or hear her mother. Which obviously is a metaphor for not being able to see what’s right in front of you.
Is seeing really believing? Obviously at the root of it, it is a fantasy love story. But is it even real? Are any of these people real? Are their experiences real? Is Caroline Craft even there?
I think we were very playful, and the film is very much about identity — which I suppose is the single most interesting subject matter in art at the moment. Identity to me is, that’s the stuff of dreams, that is the human condition.
John Bucher: I’m so glad you brought up identity because that was actually the next thing I wanted to ask you about. We not only see this theme play out with Bess’s character, but I think with Murray’s character and even Russell, the farmer. Can you talk about how you approached identity in these different characters, because it seems as though you’ve taken a multilayered approach to identity with them?
Monty Whitebloom: Definitely. When I first met all the actors and spoke about the film, I said to them, I wanted their identities to become fully rounded, but at the same time they’re kind of in the stream of consciousness, you know?
It’s like their identity isn’t just who they are, or what they’ve done. It’s about what they think or what they think they’d like to have done or what they wish they’d done, and all of those things kind of merge.
So when I first met them, I gave all of the actors a series of songs, that I felt inhabited their character. These were pieces of music that they loved. I gave them pieces of art, sometimes photographs and sometimes paintings that not necessarily captured their personality but really reflected who they were inside.
There’s a whole series of characters who are struggling to overlap, struggling to connect, not having the language to connect, sometimes. Not being able to have the right moments and also a lot of them are quite selfish, living in their own heads. Everything is kind of gray. Nothing is very clear and what seems to be true is not really true and everything is real, but I think fake, all at the same time.
John Bucher: It’s interesting that one of the themes is this relationship between who we are and what we do, or who we are in our actions. As the director of the film, certainly this is something you’re working with the actors on, translating who they are, into actions on screen. Can you talk about the process of how you accomplish that?
Monty Whitebloom: I think one of the things we were really fortunate to be able to do was taking the actors to where we’re going to shoot for rehearsals, which was upstate New York in the Hudson Valley. I thought we were just going to take them there prior to the shoot happening spend a few days up there and go through the scenes, on location, because the film was on location.
The producers made it clear, that’s not how you do it. We all meet in a studio in New York and we just read through it, and you just talk about it. I was like, “I think we’re going to get so much more being in the environment, being able to actually be where the film is going to take place, where their story takes place, where we’re in the craft house, where we’re in the hospital.” So, we went up to Hudson and around the Hudson Valley and spent a couple of weeks up there going through each scene with the actors where they actually were.
We drove around to real coffee shops. We walked through the actual streets we ended up shooting on. In doing that, everyone already had so many questions answered about identity, about the character, about the role and I think that nothing beats inhabiting the world. It’s not inhabiting the world for a few minutes before you’d have to shoot a scene. But you’ve been up there, you spent time there.
John Bucher: What’s the key thing you’d hope the audience could take away from the story in these characters?
Monty Whitebloom: Seeing is not believing, you know? The idea that, what you think you can see is not really what it appears to be. I think that is best. I think that maybe that’s part of what I want the audience to feel, coming out of the film, is that there is this kind of childlike beauty in it. You go with your date to this movie and if the date doesn’t understand the movie, then you should dump them.
John Bucher: It’s a good Litmus test?
Monty Whitebloom: If you don’t get this, then you don’t get movies.
John Bucher: As I was watching the film, it felt like a story that is very appropriate for this moment we’re in, in a world where within culture and politics and so many different areas, we’re seeing a real redefining of truth and reality. There’s debate about some of these things we’ve held as ideals for so long. Do you feel like this film was meant for this time?
Monty Whitebloom: It’s very kind of you to say that and I think that’s kind of a happenstance thing sometimes. But I think they’re the kind of ideas I was always interested in when these issues came up.
I always loved the idea of what is real and what is not real. I think the idea is, what is truth and what is true? People talk about that all the time. Even talk about, I want to just fall in love. You’re like, “What’s love? What’s honesty? What is grief? What are all these alternatives?”
They’re impossible to really capture. They’re impossible to really underline. The truth is that everything is in flux. Everything is moving. I think you need to see the world through your own eyes, and then realize you have. But at the same time, you’ve got to see the other person’s experience. Only when the character’s start to see the world through the eyes of other people, do they really see any truth. If we continually just can only see our own point of view about anything political, music, films, things, then there’ll be no connection, there’ll be no connectivity. There’ll be no love. There’ll be no truth.
John Bucher: So many in our audience are creatives themselves. You’re someone who’s managed to get your film to the screen. Any advice for people who are trying to accomplish what you have?
Monty Whitebloom: I would say, do as much prep as you can. I don’t mean over prepping it and being so controlling. Not in that respect, but really prep it because when you’re there on the shoot, it goes so quickly.
And other than that, don’t listen to anyone if they say, “This is how a movie should be made,” or, “No one wants to see this movie.” It’s your vision and your idea.
Love is Blind will be in theaters, on VOD and Digital on November 8.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.