Quibi’s been around for a few weeks now, dropping brand new content every single day, and one of the latest “movie in chapters” to join the growing library comes from The Killing and Seven Seconds writer-producer, Veena Sud. The Stranger stars Maika Monroe as Clare, a young woman who moves to Los Angeles to become a writer. Days after arriving in Hollywood, Clare starts working as a ride share driver and that’s how she meets Carl E (Dane DeHaan). When he first hops in the car, he seems like a nice enough guy but it doesn’t take long for him to reveal the game he’s really playing; Carl is a killer and Clare is his next target.
With new chapters of The Stranger dropping on Quibi daily, I got the chance to hop on the phone with Sud and Monroe to talk about their experience making one of the very first “movies in chapters” for the new mobile-first streaming service. Check out the conversation below to find out what excites them about the Quibi format, how they think it could further change the game for storytelling down the line, and what it was like doing a full schedule of night shoots. Monroe also talks about making a ride share genre movie right around the time when her boyfriend, Joe Keery, was working on one of his own, Spree. (Click here for our Sundance 2020 interview with Keery on that film). Sud also offers up some social distancing binge-watch suggestions and so much more. Check it all out for yourself below.
VEENA SUD: I think Quibi is meant to be consumed along with all the other type of media we consume, and for me it’s 100% true. As a maker though, what it offers is a way to create potentially a new type of storytelling around a device that is so attached to basically how every single person in the world lives now. And so it’s like a really cool, unique opportunity to interact with content in a way maybe we never have.
MAIKA MONROE: Yeah, I feel like there’s something even more personal with the Quibi platform because, I mean, obviously we all are using phones constantly, and I think there’s something really cool about this content that can travel with you everywhere. So yeah, I don’t know. It’s definitely pretty interesting to be at the forefront of this new platform.
You guys are kind of the guinea pigs with all of this so let’s say down the line, another filmmaker gets the opportunity to be in a Quibi movie; what advice would you give that person based on your own experience?
MONROE: It really wasn’t so different for me from any other project that I’ve done so I don’t really know!
SUD: Yeah, you know what? I think what Quibi offers filmmakers and storytellers is a different type of sandbox. Because again, we’re just the beginners in this world, so there is a lot of doing things the way we’ve originally done them in terms of how we tell stories on the screen. But with a Stranger, you know the big cool challenge was if someone’s gonna hold the phone vertically the entire time, how can I ensure that that person gets as rich of an experience as you would with a much bigger screen that’s horizontal, that’s cinema, that’s what we’re used to seeing in the theater and in our homes. So that itself created a new way of looking at a story.
So Clare was constantly kind of moving through different novel spaces. There was a lot of kind of camera follow and lead. There was a lot of depth in the frame because I wanted to make sure it was a full experience, again, were someone to just hold it vertically the entire time. And so the palette itself led to that innovation. So I’m hoping the next generation of the Quibi filmmaker, talent, director, writer will be able to go even further and say, ‘Okay, so what’s another cool thing that we can do that we’re just not used to doing, because we’ve never had to do it before?’ Or, this is an interactive device, these phones; is there a way to use that interactivity to be part of the story, in a non kind of cheesy way and again in a completely new way?
And then lastly, I mean, maybe this is a little bit too far in the future, but it’s the first time I felt that this whole Quibi experience, we’re creating content for these devices we actually hold and interact with, and we might be that missing link that people have been looking for for a really long time in terms of making the VR space satisfying as a storytelling space and not just a gaming space. Because it’s like the middle ground between traditional viewing and complete immersion. So yeah, I think that this whole kind of Wild West of a phone being the storyteller is just the beginning of some pretty cool stuff.
Maika, can you tell me about wanting to jump into a role that requires you to be at an 11 for, I would say, 95% of the shoot. Is that something that excites you or is there anything about that that’s daunting?
MONROE: I think both of those things! [Laughs] Reading the script, it was so fascinating. I had to know how it ended, which is always so fun when reading a script. Also, I’ve done a couple movies, when you’re reading the script, you’re like, ‘Holy crap! Like, I’m actually gonna have to physically go through this,’ you know? It’s always a challenge, and especially with Quibi, we have so many shots to cover. So as an actor, you just have to be prepared to be doing these emotional scenes a lot.
How about having to do night shoots for an entire film? I imagine you’ve probably done that before, so have you come up with any tips or tricks to get yourself to readjust to that schedule?
MONROE: Well, actually I have never done an all night shoot. I’ve done films where we will do a week of night shoots or every other week we’ll kind of switch it off, but I’ve never done an entire night shoot. So it was brand new territory for me. Initially going in, it was really hard to be honest. Just, the human body is not used to getting up, going to work when it’s dark out and then trying to fall asleep when it’s light out. So the first two weeks it was really, really challenging. But then as we started to get in the swing of things, I actually came to really enjoy it for this particular project because she’s going through something really, really intense and I think the night shoots kind of helped out with the emotion. I came to, I won’t say enjoy it, but it was a part of the film.
Veena, to back up a little here, what inspired the story? Or maybe, what came first – the idea of writing something for Quibi or the idea of writing this particular story?
SUD: What came first is definitely the challenge of Quibi. It’s a very different type of story than The Killing and Seven Seconds. It’s really super high octane, there’s different camera movements. It just keeps going. The story is not slow burn in the least. So the actual palette, again, was really the driving force behind how to tell a story that keeps you engaged, that is visually lush on a small screen and that this keeps going so that you would want to tune in day after day after day to figure out what happens in the next chapter. So that’s where it came from; the Quibi world motivated it.
This might sound like a silly question, but I’m always fascinated about where character names come from, so why Clare?
SUD: [Laughs] You know what? I have zero idea where any of my character names come from. I literally am just like, I’ll just know her or his name usually pretty quickly. It’s an anagram for Carl E. so – and now I’m trying to remember whether that came before or after the naming of our hero.
That was my next question! Speaking of Carl E., Dane comes across as one-of-a-kind in the role. How did what you read compare to what Dane actually did with the role on set?
MONROE: Dane was really, I mean, I don’t know what you envisioned Veena, but he really kind of kept this kind of spooky air to him even when we weren’t filming, which I thought was really helpful. And we actually were talking the other day and he said that he would – which is very creepy, but also very fascinating; he would Google me like a bunch off set, and then come back, we’d come to work and he would ask me questions that he already knew the answer to and see how I’d answer them. I thought that was so interesting. That’s such an interesting way to get into this very creepy character.
SUD: The best thing for any writer is to have an actor come in and just blow it up, and make it far better than I could imagine the character. And definitely for all my cast on the show – for Maika, for Dane, for Avan [Jogia], these guys came in and just breathed a type of life that I had not imagined. You can only go so far on the page and then the characters become theirs and, you know, you hope that they’ll make them full and they really did. [Laughs] They really took these guys and ran with them. It was alive every second. I felt every second between these two especially was alive, and terrifying, and delicious.
The presence of Pebbles also stresses me out to no end! What inspired the addition of a dog on this journey?
MONROE: [Laughs] Pebbles. Sweet, sweet Pebbles.
SUD: Dogs are tough on set. There were two of them, two sweetie-pie boys. But, you know, it’s tough to shoot with animals. But what inspired Pebbles was the story of Dorothy and Oz and Toto, you know? And what really was like a big – I met this little dog named Pebbles in real life about a year ago and this little girl had been beaten and her leg was broken and she was left in a box in a playground and a friend found her and nursed her back to life. And the first time I met Pebbles, the teacup Yorkie, she strutted into a room and just was diva. And there were like five dogs in the room and like 10 humans and she took center stage. So that’s my homage to the real life Pebbles. But it was definitely a nod to Dorothy and Toto.
So you’ve got a movie here that is a hugely entertaining thrill ride, but it also taps into some timely topics, too. What was it like finding the balance between saying something and also creating a fun, wild ride?
SUD: The misogyny of an asshole man is definitely the inspiration for part of the story. And so yes, that is there no doubt, front and center, and then a woman saying no more and turning the tables on him is a huge part of the story. I think that the fine line between the two is making the story rich, but also having cast that make it feel human and grounded, versus a parable about a bad guy who’s a misogynist, and a woman turning the tables. And so I think the difference is, it’s literally Micah and Dane and Avan bringing real humanity to all these roles and ideas of sexism and a woman finding her own power, and making it hugely entertaining and also like hugely relatable.
Maika, I know that this is largely something that Dane’s character gets into, but did you learn anything about technology while making this movie that’s stuck with you?
MONROE: Oh, I mean, absolutely. It’s extra crazy. Just last night my boyfriend’s Twitter got hacked, his phone got hacked. And it’s a really scary thing because you have all this information that you think, ‘Oh, it’s safe,’ but it really isn’t. And so I definitely think that, working on this show, it really made me pay attention more to what information I’m putting out with social media. I have such mixed feelings about it all, but it definitely made me more aware of just being cautious of the information that you’re sharing.
Did you ever talk to Joe [Keery] about Spree and the fact that you were both making ride share horror movies?
MONROE: Definitely! Yeah, no, we both were like, ‘This is actually amazing. We’re both working on a project where we’re ride share drivers and some real scary stuff happens.’ But, yeah, it’s pretty great.
It feels very worthwhile to ask what you’re binge watching right now. What are you doing to brighten your day that you could recommend for our readers to check out?
SUD: Yeah, MasterClass is a wonderful way to learn how to put makeup on. [Laughs]
MONROE: Wow! That’s amazing!
SUD: And take photography lessons from Annie Leibovitz. I mean, my god. I was talking to a friend of mine who, her dream has been to get one of those giant, what are they called? It’s not an RV, but it’s this type of thing that you can outfit, and so she’s been whiling away her days fantasizing about how she would outfit her van and all the different routes across America she would travel when it’s safe to do so. So it just feels like, for me at least, hobbies and plans for the future of things that you never have time to do, but now we’ve got time.
MONROE: Actually, Veena, I just signed up for the MasterClass series as well and it is amazing. It is so, so cool the amount of classes that are on there. Yeah, it’s kind of the same for me. I’m doing stuff that I’ve always been interested in, I’ve just never really gotten around to. And like painting. I’m not an incredible artist or anything, but just being able to paint has become very therapeutic for me. And then I’ve got a list of movies that I’ve always wanted to watch and so I’m kind of going director by director. I’m right in the middle of Todd Haynes right now, which is amazing. His movies are really so fun to watch.