Finding Laughs With Phone Sex
Have you ever wondered what’s really going through the mind of the other person you’re paying happens in the phone sex line industry? Perhaps it might be better just to keep the illusion. Yet a former phone sex line operator has drawn from her experiences to collaborate on a sweetly funny look at phone sex entrepreneurs.
For A Good Time, Call..., the new comedy written by Katie Anne Naylon and actress Lauren Miller, directed by Jamie Travis, stars Miller as Lauren. A hard-working junior editor, after her boyfriend Charlie (James Wolk) dumps her, she can’t afford her apartment rent.
Enter her gay best friend Jesse (played by an impressively cheeky Justin Long), who fixes her up with his other best girlfriend Katie (Ari Graynor, "The Sitter," "Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist") who has a dream apartment overlooking Gramercy Park, the city’s only private park.
The only problem is that these two girls still bear grudges from a long-ago college incident. Circumstances, however, dictate that the two become reluctant roommates. As they slowly warm to each other, Lauren finds out that Katie works for a phone sex line and decides to start their own business.
Its success brings the girls into harmony, Laurens considers return to her first career, thus putting an obstacle in their friendship and business.
Nalon and Miller (wife of Seth Rogen) were, in fact, real-life college chums who decided to collaborate on a script based on Nalon’s experiences running a phone sex line. Miller wrote the part of Katie with Graynor in mind and sent her a letter asking her to be part of the project. Once she agreed, they secured Travis, an up-and-coming out Canadian known for commercials, videos and shorts to helm his first feature. With independent financing, the film was shot over 16 days at a budget of $1.3 million.
For Toronto-based Travis, the comedy marks a significant change from the earlier work, which includes two short trilogies that dealt with child abuse and suicide. The feature film created a buzz when at Sundance in January.
James Rocchi of MSN Movies called it "not just smart and sexy -- which, to be honest, is rare enough in filmmaking these days -- but it’s also got a great deal of humanity and humor."
Variety’s Dennis Harvey called the "dialogue and individual scenes are good, and the spark the performers bring to them better still."
The New York Times has given its seal. The critic at the Grey Lady found it "quite funny," with "the loudest laughs" coming from young women in the audience.
EDGE spoke to Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor, director Jamie Travis and writer Katie Anne Naylor about making phone sex funny (or funnier than it already is).
EDGE: How did you get on board this project?
Ari Graynor: The script was so smart, unique, funny, subversive. Lauren Miller and Katie Anne Naylon had written me this beautiful letter and I felt they got me, my work and my vibe (in the character of Lauren). There are just so many bad scripts out there.
When you get one that is really special, you want to jump at the chance to be part of it.
Jamie Travis: I have been reading Hollywood scripts for the last five years. I did not find anything that was interesting to me until I read this. It was such a breath of fresh air. I have been reading a lot of testosterone-driven scripts.
I love that this is so female-driven. These girls seem like the girls that I hang out with and the type of girls I want to be around. I felt like they have not been represented. It was so refreshing.
When my agent described it as a phone sex comedy, I was really skeptical. This wasn’t really the type of movie that I would go see, so I could hardly see myself directing it; but reading the script, I found it so much more than that. It is a really sweet, female friendship story and that is the kind of story that we don’t see anymore.
This genre was more prevalent in the ’80s with the Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Shelley Long movies. There was kind of a throwback quality to the script that attracted me.
EDGE: So this is a "Working Girl," "9-to-5" homage?
Jamie Travis: I don’t know if I was trying to pay homage to them, but I’m definitely inspired by them. I know that I wanted this film to be crisp and clean and colorful and beautiful. The last thing I want to do is to make it gritty or dark. When people think of phone sex, it could go either direction. I have always wanted to take a more fantastical approach and heighten this world, take the edge off the phone sex aspect of it all.
Katie Anne Naylon: That certainly worked in our favor. Jamie made this candy-colored world where the girls live. Their clothes were certainly fun. Their apartment was fun, so they could say really dirty things and it was okay. It was forgivable, because they are sweet girls, they dress in a certain way. It kind of offset what could be dark about phone sex for sure.
EDGE: If the movie is really about how a friendship blossoms, how did you transmit that chemistry onto the screen?
Ari Graynor: We just hit it off right off the bat; that you could only hope for. We spent a lot of time before shooting - Lauren, Katie, Jamie and me - and really got to know each other.
Lauren Miller: Ari came on board around seven or eight months before we shot the movie, which really gave us a fair amount of time to get to know each other, not just in a professional way but also as friends. It was really helpful for us.
Ari Graynor: It was working as a team. We were only as good as the other person. We had to be as in sync as possible. It was a really exciting dynamic to play with because it was a real partnership.
Drawn from life
EDGE: How much of what is in the movie is based on your own experiences?
Katie Anne Naylon: It is all pretty imagined. It is inspired by the kinds of calls that I had. Like the girls selling underwear at one point, that was something my business partner and I did. Little things like that are brought to life.
The same thing with the dynamic between Lauren and Katie. The characters are heightened versions of ourselves, but really imagined versions. By the time everyone became a part of it, it really became its own thing. I don’t feel like it’s me up there on the screen.
EDGE: Did you do a lot of ad-libbing and on-set improv?
Lauren Miller: We shot the movie in sixteen days, a really short amount of time. Most comedies are forty, forty-five-ish. So there was a lot of work ahead of time around this dining room table in my house in order to make sure we know exactly what we needed to get in order to tell our story. However, a movie about phone sex obviously has some callers. We decided that was a perfect spot for those talented comedians and improvisers to play those callers, that they have room to really run wild.
Ari Graynor: We would shoot our side first. We would stay pretty close to script but we would have a lot of phone sex filler like ’Oh yeah,’ ’That feels good,’ ’Uh-huh,’ ’I like that,’ ’What do you like?’ Then we have two hours of Seth Rogen in that little bathroom stall and Ken Marino at this desk in this enormous room. You would wonder what kind of movie we were making because they would go on and on, but we were able to cut it down and it became genius.
Filming phone sex
EDGE: How did you psyche yourselves up for the phone-sex scenes?
Lauren Miller: Our approach to every scene is to entertain, to make people laugh. It is not a phone sex documentary. It is not to turn people on in a titillating way, but in a fun way that would evoke laughter.
Ari Graynor: The whole time, we always thought, ’funny first.’ Sexy and true to phone sex is about the furthest thing from our mind. I think we were all so on the same page about it and had an understanding of where that line was, I don’t think any of us crossed it.
Lauren Miller: Ari’s scenes with Mark Webber, who plays her love interest, were more serious, more intense and real. Those scenes were the scenes that were more uncomfortable to shoot.
Ari Graynor: That was when people started blushing. That was when people felt it was going too far. It was interesting that the stuff that felt real and intimate was what made people feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what it says about us or our culture. [Laughs]
EDGE: The gal-gal friendship is refreshing: a female bromance!
Ari Graynor: What was so genius about the script was the subverting of the classic romantic comedy, in a way, but with two women. You know (the kind where characters) meet, fall in love, break up, get back together and live happily every after but doing it with friends. It is such a fresh take on that construct.
Do what you have to do
EDGE: This is also a story of what young people have to do these days to survive ...
Ari Graynor: It is very timely. It is really hard to get jobs right now. It is hard to survive in New York. A lot of it is looking at that realistically, setting up the stakes to make it clear why the two women had to live together, how hard that is to do in New York. Katie works a million jobs. she can’t get the job she wants, but has been working her whole life. These are things that young people go through right now. You have to do what you have to do, and a lot of people make do. Maybe some of them did phone sex.
EDGE: Have you had any feedback from actual phone-sex workers?
Lauren Miller: We have heard a number of people who do have phone sex lines have seen the film. A friend of mine who saw the movie in Boston said her boyfriend’s mother runs a phone sex line. A lot of people were saying that they know somebody who did this or they have done it once. I was about to out someone, but I won’t. Well, someone else in the movie did have a phone sex line. It is interesting how abundant it is.
Ari Graynor: You never know what happens behind close doors.
EDGE: It’s an odd business, that’s for sure.
Katie Anne Naylon: Everyone is really curious about the phone sex thing. Some people wish they have done it themselves. Some people want some tips. They want to hear about what kind of calls, what they were like. It was a really different experience because I had not had sex yet when I ran the line. I was really just doing it for the money. I did not know what I was saying. It was just a very funny time.
People are strange. It was just a strange thing. The girls are not really who you think they are. I was not the person they thought they were talking to. I had the confidence and the bravado on the phone sex line that I did not have as a college freshman. Looking back, I can see that very clearly but at that time, I just want to get paid by the minute.
From directing serious shorts to directing (phone) sex
EDGE: Why did you get Jamie Travis to direct?
Ari Graynor: His short films are unbelievable. It is the difference between someone who is really good at his job and someone who is truly a visionary. Damon Lindelof, who created ’Lost,’ just tweeted the other day after watching one of Jamie’s short films, that he is the love child between Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson. It’s true.
His visual sensibility is stunning, his sense of story telling. I watch thirty seconds of his short film and I emailed everyone, this has to be our guy. He’s got what we were trying to do.
Lauren Miller: Katie and I wrote the script and have a very strong vision of the characters and the story, but we had no idea how the movie would look. We had one phone call with Jamie, but were impressed enough to bring him down for everyone to meet. He had such strong passion for the characters and the story as well.
Ari Graynor: And his reverence with women and adoration for them. In someone else’s hands, this movie can be over-sexualized, in another, it can be over-sentimentalized. He got that sweet spot, the balance.
EDGE: Did Jamie also say that a straight man should not direct the movie?
Lauren Miller: He did. He said that he is worried that a straight man would over-sexualize it and have us in our underpants. Who knows if that is actually the case, but either way, I think we made the best choice we could have made in hiring him.
EDGE: Do you see your approach as a gay director is different from a straight man’s perspective?
Jamie Travis: When I first read the script, I felt confident that I was the right person to direct it. I thought that being a gay man, the sort of reverence that I give to my girlfriends, and to women in general, and I know that that does not apply to gay men across the board. I do not want to make a generalization, but for me so many of my most important relationships are with women. So for me, I wanted to celebrate this very sweet female friendship that the movie is about, and to not dwell on the more lewd aspects of the story. Potentially, someone else might have objectified the girls or sexualized the girls. For me, the phone sex is not about the sex. Each scene that features phone sex, there is a real character and story beat about the development of friendship between the two girls. I would never say that had a straight man directed this that nipples would have been out in full view, but the reverence that I feel toward women was important in the approach.
Finding his voice
EDGE: Did you help inspire Jamie, the gay character?
Jamie Travis: When I had my first conversation with Justin about the character, he seemed all of a sudden interested in my voice. There was a turn around in the conversation. He had asked to have dinner with me and for me to read lines from the script. Of course, I was a little bit nervous about this. I would hate for him to do a caricature of me. What he did in the end was not a caricature.
I think he used me as a kind of spring board, a character study, more like a physical study. He was sort of following me around on set the first day mimicking my behavior, and of course, we dress him like me, style him like me, but he created a character that was all his own.
EDGE: This is a story with two girls making a living operating a phone sex line. But it is also about their enterprising spirit and making it in New York City. Was that your intention?
Katie Anne Naylon: I have always been someone who sort of grabbed my own life by the reigns. When pushed against the wall, I pushed back and I come up with a new way to solve a problem. I ran a lemonade stand when I was eight and that has sort of been (the way I lived) my whole life. I think people do have to be the champion of their own success. I really love how the girls strum up that phone line. Honestly, just to make rent in New York, you are making it. The real Lauren and I live in New York City and it is a hard city to get by in. I walk by a homeless person and I would be like, ’I get it, dude.’ Security, brokerage fee, you could be out pretty quickly.
A subversive character
EDGE: You also include a subversive character named Krissy, played by Sugar Lyn Beard. How did she come about?
Katie Anne Naylon:As far as the character of Krissy the Christian, she comes from the left field. Her story represents an issue that is going to come up anyways, which is the phone sex business is not for everyone. To be that irreverent, even for humor’s sake, to make a quick dollar, it is not for everyone. Story wise, the girls need an obstacle they can face together that would turn things around for them, and that seems like a natural way to do it.
What could put a phone sex line in danger? What if the neighbors are upset? But what are they going to do? If they are mad, they can turn up the music, they cannot do anything about it. We thought, what if we sort of damage the success of their line, those could be some stakes. Sugar Lyn Beard is a friend of ours, and that is a role she is born to play. She is so fantastic. She has this little voice and brought her own thing to the table. Everything she did was off the book.
She knew her role was to come in and be the Bible-thumper. She came in and thumped it and did her own thing.
Jamie Travis: She did research! She went to church months in advance.
What to expect?
EDGE: How do you expect audiences to react to such an off-beat topic?
Jamie Travis: For me, surprise. Walk in, thinking they are going to see one thing, they leave having seen something altogether different and surprising. We kind of play with the romantic comedy structure. We have seen with many audiences so far, by the end, people are on board. They want these girls to be together as friends. I want people to have fun.
Katie Anne Naylon: There is an open-mindedness that you walk out with. You probably heard things that you haven’t never heard before or things that are brought out into the light that are normally not in the light, and seeing these two very different girls, an odd couple if you will, come together. You walk in thinking it was one movie but you walk out thinking it was not what you thought.
There is so much in life that is just like that. Snap judgments are exactly what they are. Things are not exactly what they seem and that is the beauty of it.
For A Good Time, Call... opens in theatres August 31, 2012.
Watch the trailer to "For A Good Time, Call...: