Alice Foulcher and Gregory Erdstein.
Director Gregory Erdstein and actor Alice Foulcher are the husband-and-wife duo behind indie comedy That’s Not Me. The film follows Polly (Foulcher), whose dreams of making it as an actor are shattered when her identical twin sister lands a lead role on a HBO show. The couple wrote the script together, and it is both filmmakers’ feature debut. They talk to Jackie Keast about how they met and the journey of their working relationship.
Greg and I met at film school, at the VCA. We got together towards the end of year.
We didn’t start collaborating for another couple of years after leaving film school, really. We started out by helping in reading each other scripts, and then there was a certain point where we started writing together.
We wrote this short film with the idea of just using two cans of 16mm footage and just shooting it over the course of a couple hours at the most. It was called Picking up at Auschwitz. It was the most successful out of any of the shorts that we’d [each] made to that point. He directed in it and I acted in it. I hadn’t acted in years and didn’t realise how much I missed it. That was the first time we started operating in that combination, and we found it worked really well. Before then I’d been making more sincere heartfelt dramas and he’d been making these weird nightmare comedies. When we combined the two we found that we had something more like a heartfelt social satire, which we quite liked. So we made a couple more like that.
We then had the idea that we could either try and apply to get some funding and make a calling card short, like a substantial, longer short film, or we could just try and make something ourselves longer-form.
We had a little nest egg of inheritance, and we went away for eight months to this writing residency in Paris. That’s where we wrote the script for That’s Not Me together. We then came back and worked with a script editor to punch it up a bit more, and decided to just to try and make it for cheaps on deferred payments. It’s been a long journey.
We don’t write side by side. He was actually editing two shorts that we’d just worked on at the time when I wrote the very skeletal first draft [for That’s Not Me]. We do a lot of passing it back and forth. But it’s more like we’d each have a go at it and come to a happy medium.
The shoot was the best; that was my favourite part of the whole process so far.
Greg really helped me get a performance that I’m happy with and that I felt was even in tone with everyone else. He’s so skilled at getting performances that aren’t too broad, particularly for comedy. He’s taught me an incredible amount about performance and humour, and having a cool head.
We’ve really seen the film through every stage of production and distribution. Now we’re self-distributing the film alongside Palace Cinemas it means that Greg and I are essentially a distribution company now (laughs).
But we’ve become very self-sufficient, and we work very well together. Aside from being able to motivate each other to get stuff done, the best thing about working with your partner or someone you’re really close with is just that it’s just so much more fun.
There’s a comfort in having someone else in scary situations or unfamiliar situations, and also getting to experience things together and share them. I can’t imagine doing it on my own.
Alice is definitely the more driven of the two of us. After we got out of film school, she was already planning the next short that she was going to direct. Whereas I felt quite paralysed coming out of the film school process.
She was trying to push me that I should just make something, just anything. I was a bit hesitant about that. But she just kept on pushing and pushing. She said, “Even if it’s just a two-hander that we shoot with other a couple of other people, we need to start making stuff again.”
So that became our first collaboration, Picking Up at Auschwitz, which we shot in less than a couple of hours on one roll of film. It cost a couple hundred bucks and was far more successful than either of our graduate short films which we spent thousands of dollars on. So that was real lesson for both of us: never try (laughs). No, conceptually that film was quite strong; we spent a lot of time on the script. It was the merging of our two creative sensibilities.
It’s both the best and the worst thing [working with your wife], in that there’s no escaping it. In some ways it’s really good, because a project like this [That’s Not Me] is all consuming and you’re so personally invested in it. We’re able to push each other and pick each other up off the ground if we’re having dark moments about the whole process.
But the flip side of that is that is from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed, it’s pre-occupying us. A lot of what we speak about is nothing but the film.
Alice has a background in film festivals and at Palace Cinemas; she has an amazing level of organisation and [industry] knowledge. That’s really gotten the film to where it is in terms of being able to be seen. My skillset is probably more technical. I’ve taken on the role of more of a post-producer, where I’ve overseen the film from its edit to the grade, to the sound mix to the composition. My background’s in graphic design, so I’ve been doing the poster, flyers, pretty much any artwork. Alice is really good with logistics, drive and determination, and I’m really good at doing what I’m told (laughs).
The whole process has had lots of ups and downs, light and shade. This time last year, even this time six or seven months ago, things were quite dark. We didn’t know whether the film would ever be seen, whether we’d be doing a handful of screenings, or would it just be something that we put on iTunes or on Vimeo ourselves. So to be where we are now, having gone through those lows, I think we’re both so grateful and so appreciative. We’re always there to remind the other how incredible it is that we are here and not to take it for granted.
It’s an incredible thing to be doing at all, let alone with your partner in life.
‘That’s Not Me’ is in cinemas now via Palace.
This article originally appeared in IF #178 August-September.