It could be easy to dismiss Ingrid Goes West as an attack on society’s newfound reliance on social media, perhaps a not too distant cousin of some Black Mirror episode; but the truth is somewhat more layered. Yes – Ingrid focuses on a troubled woman (Aubrey Plaza) consumed by the ideal Instagram lives of others (Elizabeth Olsen & Wyatt Russell) to the point where she moves to LA and befriends said Insta-couple so as to be EXACTLY like them. Which (to be fair) paints a rather ‘stalkery’/Talented Mr. Ripley-esque portrait of social media. Yet the film also showcases how Ingrid finds herself through her apps – a coming of age story, if you will. Through crafting a ‘fake’ Instagram life, Ingrid’s able to turn her digital persona into, well, herself. As the old saying goes – ‘Fake it [online] till you make it.’
In speaking with director and co-writer Matt Spicer, he seems to share this conflicted relationship with social media, at once drawn and repelled by its allure. It’s this push-and-pull that gives Ingrid Goes West an extra oomph, making it far more interesting than your typical (en-vogue) anti-tech film.
In the following interview with Matt Spicer, the filmmaker discusses his conflicted relationship with Instagram, how the Ingrid script changed in development, and gauging the film’s dark comic tone on set. For the full interview, read below.
Of note: there are minor spoilers below…
Just to start off – what was the initial kernel of an idea for Ingrid Goes West?
Matt Spicer: It came out of a lunch between [cowriter] Dave [Branson Smith] and I. We were having a friendly lunch and talking about the topic of social media, Instagram specifically. We both love Instagram and send each other memes all day… but there’s also this love/hate relationship with it that makes us feel bad about ourselves, that we’re not cool enough or we don’t go on enough vacations or we’re not wearing the right clothes. Dave threw out this idea of ‘wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Talented Mr. Ripley or a Single White Female but with ‘social media’ in it?’ ‘We laughed about it, but as I was leaving I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I called Dave a couple days later and said ‘I really can’t stop thinking about that idea. Would you want to write this with me and go do it?’ And he was 100% – so we started outlining and shooting. It all just came out of a lunch conversation about us not being from LA and feeling like outsiders here sometimes.
I mean – Ingrid feels very LA centric. Do you notice that this ‘Instagram culture’ is LA exclusive or NY exclusive?
Spicer: I actually feel like it’s a worldwide phenomenon; but I do feel like in LA, there’s so much emphasis put on building your ‘brand’. My sister’s a YouTuber and her career has blown up since she moved out here. It’s so ingrained into the fabric of LA: this idea of ‘self image’…
Did you look to your sister and how she deals with creating a ‘self-image’?
Spicer: It’s funny – [my sister] brought it to my attention, because she didn’t know anything about the script and I hadn’t really made the connection. She asked, ‘what’s [the script] about?’ And I said ‘Oh, it’s about a girl who moves to LA to pursue her dreams and blah, blah, blah…’ And my sister was like, ‘Wait a second. Is this about me?’ But it really wasn’t. There was an inadvertent overlap there.
Did you look at particular Instagrams for inspiration on Ingrid?
Spicer: Not one in particular. We had a ton of them. When Lizzie [Olsen] and Aubrey [Plaza] signed on, I gave them a ‘mixtape’ of all my favorite Instagram accounts. Some of them are totally ridiculous…
What are your favorite Instagram accounts?
Spicer: My personal favorites are Meme accounts: Hoodclips, Fuck Jerry, Official Sean Penn… Those are my favorites but I follow people and I’m aware of ‘personal brands’ and all that stuff. While we were writing, we would digest more Instagram accounts than we normally would.
What did Aubrey and Elizabeth think of all the Instagram accounts you gave them?
Spicer: I think they loved it. I think it was helpful. Lizzie’s from here – so she’s grown up in the world of fashion and all these things. She brought so much to the table, even just the way Taylor talks, these little touches that Lizzie understands innately just from being from this world. I didn’t have to explain anything, which makes things so much easier. Same thing with Aubrey, who just understood Ingrid so well.
When Aubrey & Elizabeth come onboard, how much does the script change?
Spicer: I don’t think we did a major re-write… There would be little things like, ‘Oh, that’s not quite how Aubrey would deliver that.’ We had conversations about scenes and lines and they both had tons of great ideas we wanted to incorporate. Any time an actor would come aboard the film, we would do another pass [on the script] to tailor it a little bit more to them.
How many drafts did you go through?
Spicer: Countless. I have a Dropbox somewhere that has like sixty final draft versions of Ingrid. But if you re-read the drafts, you’d see a lot it is still the same. It’s just little things that make it feel richer…
How similar was that first draft to what’s getting released?
Spicer: All the scenes are pretty much the same. There were things we had to cut, things we changed… The beginning was a little different. Originally Ingrid went to live with her sister after the mental hospital; but we realized, after we shot that stuff, by giving her the safety net of a sister, it didn’t feel like the stakes were high enough for Ingrid. Once we took away the sister, Ingrid becomes completely alone in the world – so you have a greater understanding of what’s motivating her. Then, by the end, it’s that much sadder because you realize she has nothing to go back to. She’s nobody. We needed to take that away for [the film] to really have the emotional impact in the end that we wanted it to.